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The great crate debate: Is crate training your dog necessary or cruel?

As the debate continues, we look at the benefits of responsible crate training as well as when not to crate.

Dog crate debates have two clear camps: those who see crates as beneficial training, travel, and comfort tools...and those who reject them as unnecessary and cruel cages.

Even if crates are pretty much the mainstream these days, the oft-quoted idea that “I wouldn’t put my child in a cage, so why a dog?” always pushes back.

But, as much as we call our pets “fur babies,” dogs are different from children and if used properly, most veterinarians and trainers say that crates have more advantages than disadvantages.

“Crates aren’t always necessary for dogs,” says Valerie Barry, certified trainer of Dog Partners Training in North Vancouver. “But they are frequently considered necessary for the people who own dogs.”

Meaning, crates can make your life a lot easier, without sacrificing your dog’s training or happiness.

The benefits of crating

“There is no fast way to crate train,” trainer Valerie Barry tells OhMyDog!. “So be prepared to put the time in and/or acquire a dog who has been crate trained positively and properly.”

It goes without saying that a dog who is trained to love his crate will fare better when the time comes to travel, stay in a hotel (where crates are often mandatory), fall under the weather, or visit the vet.

“Because many veterinary clinics use crates to contain dogs who have had surgery, being comfortable in a crate means there won’t be added stress and negative associations built from an unfamiliar and scary crate experience.” Barry adds.

But the case for crates is strongest when it comes to behavioural and bathroom issues - the two biggies in puppy training.

When monitored properly, housetraining with a crate can be exponentially easier (and cleaner) than lining your home with newsprint and chasing down poop. Dogs naturally like to keep the area where they sleep clean, so potty training speeds up when your dog owns their own private space.

With training, crates provide a space that assures your puppy doesn’t act out and chew through the house when you can’t be there to supervise every second. It’s more than just furniture protection - it teaches your pup what’s acceptable in the home.

Barry says crates prevent and “contain destructive puppy or adolescent dog behaviours directly related to boredom or lack of physical or mental stimulation while you work on training your dog.”

And - dog dependent, of course - crates also serve as a safe space for your pup to call his own, as most dogs carry an instinctual need to nest or “cave.” This is important when scary sounds like fireworks pop up or your dog isn’t very social with new visitors.

Like anything though, there are proper crate principles and times when they are plain improper to use.

When not to crate

First rule of crate club: never use a crate as punishment. Or to teach a lesson. That’s not what a crate is for.

Crates are meant to be a safe place for training, sleeping, and your dog to identify with comfort. Potty accidents will happen of course, but those should not be punished either. Think of the crate as your dog’s bedroom and respect it as much as you want him to.

Make sure to never deprive your dog of exercise. As obvious as this seems, it’s sometimes too easy to rely on the crate for your own personal schedule. If your dog is spending too much time in a crate because you are always gone, it’s time to hire a dog walker or find a proper doggie daycare.

Even if you decide you want to be a crate household, the fact is, your dog might not connect with a crate. The dog you adopt could not be wired to accept one, or worse, might have previous trauma with confined spaces.

“This happens to puppies and to rescue dogs from other countries all the time,” says Barry. “Crate training will be very difficult, and in some cases impossible, for that new owner and dog - not to mention what a horrible experience it is for that dog.”

Dogs who suffer from serious separation anxiety may not be good crate candidates either. It’s a good idea to consult your vet before committing.

“Using a crate to contain a dog who has separation anxiety and cannot be left home alone safely or comfortably is inhumane without training. A crate may ultimately be a good choice for that dog, but much training, and working in conjunction with a trainer certified in separation anxiety, must be done first.”

A Proper Introduction

Baby steps, folks. Experiment with timings and don’t start with a long stretch. You want your dog to warm up, and eventually enjoy their crate. Favourite blankets, chew sticks, and toys can help make a crate a much more comfortable retreat.

Size Matters

A crate will feel like confinement if it’s too small for its resident. Your dog should be able to stand up, stretch, and turn around comfortably.

On the other hand, if a crate is too large for your dog, it might hinder the training process. Oversized crates can encourage dogs to use its generous corners for bathroom breaks, as well as not feel like a cozy, safe, or private place.

Timing, Timing, Timing

As no dog is the same, there is no blanket rule among trainers and owners about time in a crate. But everyone will agree crates are not to be overused.

It is commonly recommended that dogs spend no more than 8 hours at night in a crate. And during the daytime, new puppies will need to get out almost every hour, whereas adolescent puppies might stay comfortably for 3-4 hours at a time.

Of course none of this is set in stone when bladder and bowels have their own rules and schedules. Listen to your dog and gage their reactions. Reward quiet behaviour and reward pay forward successful potty walks and gentle playtimes.

When home and attentive, some owners find it helpful to keep the crate door open for their dog to wander in and out at his leisure. You might be surprised to find your dog choosing the crate as his default place to chill out.

The bottom line

Ultimately, the crate debate is settled case by case, dog by dog. Crates should be positive spaces, and if they are not, it’s up to each owner to adjust right away.

“Whether it’s necessary for you depends entirely on your lifestyle and depends on your dog and what their needs are,” concludes trainer Valerie Barry. “Some dogs really like their crates and need to have them available for when they need a safe spot.”

“It comes down to your ability to commit to a proper training process for your dog.”


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