Crating your Dog - Is it Cruel or Kind?
I’ve noticed a lot of controversy and mixed opinions about whether to crate your dog or not. There are LOTS of benefits to crate training but only if done properly otherwise it can be downright cruel to your dog.
I’ll briefly explain when crating is KIND and when it’s CRUEL so that YOU can decide for yourself what’s best for you and your dog.
WHEN IT’S KIND – the benefits of crate training
When a dog is properly crate trained the crate feels like a den for them. It is a safe and cosy place for your dog and as a bonus it:
- Makes potty training easier. Puppies naturally don’t want to soil their den so placing them in a crate at night can help speed up potty training.
- Keeps your dog safe and stops them from chewing things in the house. And keeps your house safe. I’ve known puppies that will chew holes in walls when they are teething!
- Most anxious dogs benefit from crating. Anxious dogs tend to feel safer in a crate and relax more as it feels like their private den. However, some anxious dogs don’t like being confined in crates so you will need to figure out how your dog reacts to it.
- Crates can help stop dogs that patrol at night to settle down and sleep instead. A well-rested dog and a well-rested owner makes for a much happier household!
- If your dog needs to stay overnight at the vet, or travel on a plane, or be confined due to injury it will be less stressed as it is used to being in a crate.
- Crates are easily transportable and can be used to keep your dog safe when travelling in the car, staying overnight somewhere new or camping.
- The crate is your dog’s only private space! Like a teenager’s bedroom, your dog will appreciate having its own special place to relax and sleep.
WHEN IT’S CRUEL – the cons of crates when used incorrectly
- When the crate is the wrong size. Your dog should be able to stand up in its crate and turn around comfortably. However, it is important to not have the crate too big when potty training or your puppy will toilet at one end of it. You will either need to buy new crates of the appropriate size as your puppy grows OR make or buy a safe divider that you can use to expand the size of the crate as it grows.
- Using crates as a punishment. If you lock the dog in the crate as a punishment it will develop a negative association with the crate. It becomes a jail rather than its special den!
- Leaving a dog confined in a crate for more than a few hours at a time so that it can’t go to the toilet or has no mental stimulation. Don’t lock your dog up while you go to work for 8-10 hours during the day, let it out for only a few hours and then place it back in the crate for another 8 hours at night. Dogs need enrichment! They need to play, exercise and explore the world!
- When there is no bedding at all in the crate. The hard plastic floor of a crate would be very uncomfortable for a dog to sleep on for 8 hours or more. If your dog is a chewer, then invest in chew proof bedding or matting.
- Leaving a dog in a crate once it has soiled in it including on puppy training pads.
- Leaving a dog in a crate for long periods of time without water or food. The only exception is at night when your dog naturally sleeps through the night.
How to crate train your dog
To train your puppy or dog to like its crate make it a comfortable and fun place for it. The crate should be your dog’s private den so don’t allow kids or other animals to enter it. It should only have the smells of your dog. Place comfortable bedding in the crate and its favourite toys.
Make the crate a positive place for your dog by feeding all their meals inside the crate and giving them treats inside it. Start with the crate door open and then gradually close the door for a few minutes at a time. Slowly increase the time your dog spends in the crate.
You may have a new puppy that you need to crate at night for its own safety. For the first few nights your puppy may cry and whimper while they get used to being in a crate. Do persevere as it can take a little while for dogs to get used to a crate, especially puppies as they are used to sleeping with their litter mates. Do comfort them for the first few nights by having the crate near your bed and place your hand near them. Don’t let them out of the crate if they are barking or whimpering as it will only reinforce that behaviour. If you do need to let them out, just wait for that moment when they are quiet and then open the crate. Please remember, that puppies often have small bladders so you will have to let them out of their crate to go to the toilet at least every two hours and maybe more depending on your pup’s bladder control. Thankfully they do develop better bladder control as they grow older! It should only take a few nights before your puppy gets used to its crate and settles down to sleep at night. My two dogs even put themselves to bed in their crate at night. They absolutely love it!
If you do need to confine your puppy or dog while at work, then set up a play pen that is attached to their open crate or set up a dedicated puppy room. Give them toys and enrichment activities such as Kong toys stuffed with food and snuffle mats to keep them occupied.
Make the crate a fun, positive and private den and your dog will soon learn to love it!
Dr Erika Alacs is a biologist and professional dog trainer. Erika and her husband Phoenix are the developers of Brave Puppy app which is an innovative sound socialisation/training tool they developed to help their own dogs overcome their noise phobias and over-excitability.