Lately, dog crates have gotten some bad rap by animal rights activists. On PETA’s website, an article states that ‘Crating is a popular because it is convenient. But this inappropriate practice deprives dogs of the opportunity to engage in some of the most basic activities, such as walking around, stretching out to relax, and looking out a window. Obviously, it prevents them from relieving themselves or indicating the need to relieve themselves as well.‘
Fact is, no one should leave a dog in a crate for longer than 8 hours. For me personally, even 4-5 hours is a long stretch. But a crate can provide safety and stress relief for the dog – not to mention, it can help speed up the recovery from an injury or illness. There are many reasons to crate train your dog, but here is one of the most important ones: if your dog has to spend a night at a veterinary clinic, it’s the wrong time to get her used to the crate. Being sick in a strange and scary environment is enough to deal with. If it’s the first time in a crate, the confinement will make it even more frightening. A crate should be a place where your dog feels safe and comfortable. It should be big enough, so the dog can stand up and turn around.
Dogs are not people. While the thought of us being closed in a small space with no way out may be abominable, dogs like to spend time relaxing and sleeping in a den. If trained correctly, it is a safe haven for them. I have observed many dogs, who, when being overextended or tired, walk right in their crate, curl up and chill. A crate should never be used as a punishment and it should be a dog’s territory – meaning, don’t let your kid crawl into the crate with the dog in there, as cute as this may look. Respect your dog’s place. For those of us, who have high drive, active dogs, with no ‘chill button’, a crate can provide out time and give your dog a much needed break.
Here’s another great use for the crate: it is the best way to transport a dog when driving in a car, keeping dog and passenger safe. When crate training a dog, it is important to take lots of time. Don’t rush into it and don’t think, you can just shove the dog into the crate, close the door and voila!
- Put your dog’s food dish in the crate and let her eat in the open crate. Don’t close the door. Let her go in and out as she pleases.
- Put a treat in the crate and let her go in and get it. Connect a word to the action (e.g. ‘Crate’)
- When she is going in the crate reliably, start closing the door once she is in the crate, only to open it immediately again and praise her.
- Have her go in the crate without a treat, close the door, open it again and give her the treat
- Once she goes in comfortably without a treat, you can start using a treat dispenser toy like a Kong filled with yoghurt or peanut butter, or a bone, if you are comfortable with it, put it in the crate, close the door and let your dog go at it. Make sure you open the crate door before the dog is done with the treat.
- Now your dog is ready for the next step. Have her go in the crate, close the door, step away for a couple of seconds, then come back and let her out again. Repeat often and increase the time you are away from the crate. Open the door only if your dog is not barking.
If you have a dog who has severe separation anxiety or fear issues, you may have to change and adapt some of these steps and add more. I recommend starting crate training as early as possible and whenever the dog is tired from exercise.
So, yes – a crate can be a cruel confinement, if used incorrectly. But with some common sense, it is an important tool, a safe haven and a great way to transport your dog.