Crating a puppy or dog often seems unappealing to humans, but it is not cruel to the dog.
A dog’s crate is similar to a child’s playpen, except it has a roof (dogs can jump out of a playpen) and is chew-proof. Also, a crate is not suitable for activity or exercise, but rather for rest. Dogs are carnivores and do not need to be constantly active during the daytime, like people (as gatherers) do.
If a crate is properly introduced to a dog (or puppy), the dog will grow to think of the crate as their den and safe haven. Most dogs that are crated will use the open crate as a resting place.
The major use of a crate is to prevent the dog from doing something wrong and not getting corrected for it. It is useless to correct a dog for something that they have already done; the dog must be “caught in the act.”
If the dog is out of the crate while unsupervised, they may do something wrong and not be corrected, or worse yet, corrected after the fact. If the dog is not corrected, they may develop the problem behavior as a habit (dogs are creatures of habit), or learn that they can get away with the behavior when not immediately supervised. A dog who rarely gets away with anything will not learn that if nobody is around they can get away with bad behaviors.
Dogs corrected after the fact will not associate the correction with the behavior, and will begin to think that corrections are arbitrary, and that you can’t be trusted. This results in a poor relationship. A dog’s lack of trust in your corrections is one of the major sources of problems between dogs and their caregivers.
A secondary advantage of a crate is that it minimizes damage done by a dog (especially a young one) to the house, furniture, footwear, etc. This reduces costs and aggravation and makes it easier for the dog and person to get along. It also protects the dog from harm by its destruction: ingestion of splinters or toy parts, shock from chewing through wires, etc.
A young dog should be placed in the crate whenever they cannot be supervised.
Dogs who are trained in puppyhood with a crate will not always require crating. Puppies or untrained dogs require extensive crating. After a year or so of crate training, many dogs will know what to do and what not to, and will have good habits. At this time, crating might be used only when the dog needs to be out of the way, or when traveling.
Crating Dos and Don’ts
- Think of the crate as a good thing. In time, your dog will, too.
- Let the dog out often enough so that they are never forced to soil the crate.
- Let the dog out if they whine because they need to eliminate. If you know the dog doesn’t have to eliminate, correct the dog for whining or barking.
- Clean out the crate regularly, especially if you’ve put in new flooring and you have flea problems.
- Don’t punish the dog if they soil the crate. They are miserable enough and probably had to.
- Don’t use the crate as a punishment.
- Don’t leave the dog in the crate for a long time after letting them eat and drink a lot (because the dog will be uncomfortable and may have to eliminate in the crate).
- Don’t leave the dog in the crate too much. Dogs sleep and rest a lot, but not all the time. They need play time and exercise. When you are at home, they should not be in the crate (except at night when they are still young puppies). If necessary, put a leash on your pup and tie it around your waist while you’re at home.
- Don’t check to see if your dog is trustworthy in the house (unsupervised, outside the crate) by letting the dog out of the crate for a long time. Start with short periods and work your way up to longer periods.
- Don’t let the dog grow unaccustomed to the crate. An occasional stint even for the best-behaved dog will make traveling and special situations that require crating easier.
- Don’t put pillows or blankets in the crate without a good reason. Most dogs like it cooler than their human companions do and prefer to stretch out on a hard, cool surface. Besides providing a place to urinate on, some dogs will simply destroy bedding. A rubber mat or a piece of pegboard cut to the right size might be a good compromise (be sure to clean under any floor covering frequently).
Next, in Part 3 of this article, we discuss how to start decreasing crate time for your dog — which is, after all, your ultimate goal, right?