As Christmas approaches and many dogs and puppies are welcomed into new homes, the great crate debate arises anew. On one side of the aisle are those who believe that a crate is a desired and even necessary piece of dog training equipment, while on the other side are those who find them cruel and abusive. So the question remains, is it cruel to crate? My answer: Sometimes, but certainly not always.
A crate can be an invaluable piece of the potty training puzzle, and in my opinion is an essential piece of equipment for training puppies. I advocate the purchase of a wire crate with a divider panel, so that you can purchase a crate sized for your pup as an adult, but use the panel to make it the right size as he grows. Puppies are born with a natural desire not to foul their beds, and using this instinct will help you to housebreak your pup. For house training purposes, your pup should have just enough room to stand up, turn around and lay down. Block the excess space with the divider panel, and use the crate to establish a schedule for pottying.
Puppies, and adult dogs new to a home, need to be taught the household rules. Initially, they should only be loose in the house when they can be supervised. Watching them allows you to monitor their behavior and get them outside as needed to potty, and also allows you to stop them from chewing on your furniture and electrical cords, unstuffing your couch cushions and helping themselves to the roast left on your kitchen counter. If you want to watch your dog but are afraid you’ll be distracted by the TV or computer, tether your dog to you. When you tether your dog you leash them, and attach the other end of the leash to yourself.
This keeps your pup in your proximity and allows you to monitor what they’re doing. By supervising your dog, you can gently redirect them to appropriate behavior when they go astray.
A crate is also a safe place to leave your dog when you aren’t home. Not only does it prevent damage to your home, it prevents your dog being hurt. If your dog should chew an electrical cord or get into chicken bones in the trash can, you might come home to a veterinary emergency. The safety of a crate prevents such things from happening. It performs the same duty at night.
While crates can be valuable for your dog’s safety and your peace of mind, improper use of a crate is cruel. A crate should never be a cage where your dog is confined for hours on end. If you crate your dog in the morning before work and leave him there for eight or nine or ten hours, you are abusing your dog. The general rule of thumb for crate use is that your dog should be in the crate no longer than his age in months, not rounding up. In other words, a 10-week-old puppy should not be crated for longer than two hours at a time. On average, no dog should be crated for more than four to five hours at a time. If you need to be gone longer than that, you need to arrange to come home briefly to let your dog out, or hire someone to come in.
Crates should also not be a place where your dog is punished. While it is acceptable to place your dog in a kennel for a short time out, you should not scold, shout or otherwise correct him while he is there, and you should release him quickly. A dog should view his crate as a safe place of his very own, where he can go to relax and feel safe.
My Gemma was never crated. However, there are always empty crates at both my home and at my training academy. Often Gemma would go sleep in an unoccupied crate. Once at the academy when all the large crates were occupied, Gemma shoved herself into a crate sized for a much smaller dog. I’m not sure how she managed to get into it, but I had to help her get out. I’ve also found two of my girls shoved into one crate on more than one occasion.
Crates are a tool. They can be effective and impactful when used properly, or cruel and harmful when abused. As with many things, the measure is in how they’re used.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.