by Healey Lockett
I recently read a post by a trainer who said crates were completely unnecessary. That in 38 years of training she had never once used them…except for that one time when it was absolutely necessary. In addition to being contradictory, this trainer used inflammatory language, calling it a cage and cruel.
I mostly disagreed with this trainer. Crates provide safety, for your dog, for your house, and belongings. I consider them essential in most cases. They help you teach your dog appropriate behavior in the house. They keep your dog safe from harm by keeping dangerous items out of reach, like electrical cords or poisonous plants. They act as a ‘seat belt’ when your dog is in your car. I did feel though, that one completely valid point was made:
A crate should never, ever be used as a holding device for extended periods of time.
I hear, more often than I should, about dogs being left in a crate during the entire length of a workday. For most people, this translates to 9 hours at a job, plus1 hour minimum round-trip commute time. This means the dog is in the crate for 10, 11, 12 or more hours!
No. Just no. (Okay, one, but only one exception – and I’ll get to that shortly.)
When I try to gently educate these people that this is harmful to their dog physically and mentally, want to know what I usually hear?
“Oh, I can’t trust him. If I don’t crate him he’ll just destroy my house.”
This makes me sad for the person and the dog. We all want to love and trust our dogs, but this doesn’t happen magically like Lassie. It takes time. However, in our high-tech, high-speed world it’s easy to forget this. We’re also programmed to look for shortcuts, and for some the crate becomes this shortcut – a dog-storage device.
Crates are tools
Highly useful, multifunctional tools, but like any tool, a crate’s efficacy is limited to the skill of the person using it. Any dog will love, or hate, the crate based on their experience with it. A dog can be taught that a crate is positive, safe and reinforcing. Or a dog can be taught that a crate is a negative place of punishment. Typically, negative reactions to crates are due to either rushing the crate training process, or excessive time in a crate.
What a dog learns is up to you
We, the dog parents, must teach our furkids how to behave. In today’s society this includes asking our dogs to sometimes behave counter to their wishes or instincts. There are so many Do’s and Don’ts we require of them:
• Don’t pee there! Go potty here!
• Don’t chew that! Here, chew this!
• Don’t bark at that! Now let’s make some noise!
Your dog’s behavior is pretty much entirely up to you. No excuses. To get the behavior you want involves a certain amount of time, patience and dedication. You have to be willing to put in the effort. Shoving your dog in a crate while you’re at work all day is lazy, and cruel.
Yeah, I’ll go there. A dog is not toy, or an appliance that you play with or ignore at your pleasure. If you can’t trust your dog in your house, then you need to figure out a plan to develop that trust. You’re the one with the big brain and opposable thumbs!
Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be worth it? Absolutely! How do you even start? Here are some basics to keep in mind while formulating your plan.
• Dogs can comfortably ‘hold it’ for about 4 hours on average.
• Provide a space that can safely contain your dog yet allow some freedom of movement. Allow enough room for a crate, a water bowl and floor space for your dog to stand up, change position and lay down. Use baby gates, or an exercise pen (X-pen) to make this safe zone.
• Schedule regular potty breaks, either by coming home midday or hiring a dog walker.
• Increase your dog’s exercise. This will burn off excess energy and help your dog be more relaxed when you leave.
That one exception I mentioned? A very large crate can provide a safe zone for a very small dog. If you can fit a small crate or bed, a water bowl, and there’s still floor space in the crate for the dog to move around and lay down it’s okay to use it to hold your dog while you’re at work. You still have to give your dog a potty break every four hours though.
A crate is no more evil, or cruel, than a leash, or collar or harness. It’s all in how you use it. But you do have to learn the ‘how’. Part of responsible dog parenting is committing the time and effort to learning how to train your dog. This doesn’t mean you need to train a MACH-level agility dog, but you do need to teach your dog the rules of living in human society.
The good news is, this is a whole lot of fun, and I teach you the ‘how’ – how to understand your dog, how to communicate, how to train so that you really will be best friends for life. I cover crate training, and how to teach your dog house manners in my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS in easy-to-follow detail.
Follow this link bit.ly/dct-ftg and use the coupon code dct-ftg at checkout for 15% off!
Healey has 20 years of experience training dogs and 10+ years of exotic animal training at the San Diego Zoo and other institutions to draw upon. “I’ve trained wolves, cheetahs, and sea lions – and even taught a porcupine to walk on a leash! I’ve found that any animal is trainable; it’s the humans who need the help.”
She is the author of Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, and her goal is to teach people how to craft a training program that suits their dog.