Mastering The Crate for Your Dog

Is putting my dog in a crate like putting my dog in jail?

That must be one of the most commonly asked questions when training begins.

Many people see a crate as a mean and unjust way to manage their dogs (just ask PETA). In Europe, most people do not use crates (except during transport) for their dogs and don’t find it necessary in the home.

So is it cruel to use a crate? Are you being mean to leave your dog in one?

I think it depends. A crate is a tool and like all tools can be misused.

Are you using a crate to benefit the dog or are you using it to benefit yourself?

Crates are commonly used in the US for puppies and young dogs to contain them when they are not supervised. Young pups may get themselves into serious mischief when left to their own devices in a home. Destruction or damage to property and possibly harm to themselves are easy possibilities.

A crate prevents that.

Mastering the Crate for Your Dog

And a crate is also one of the best tools to initially potty train your puppy. By taking advantage of a dog’s natural den instinct - pup does not want to mess where they are sleeping - the puppy quickly learns to “hold-it” until they are let out to relieve themselves. Simple yet very effective.

Many dogs learn to love their crates and see them as their own dens. Solitude provides comfort and security. Something akin to a retreat or sanctuary.

So using a crate can be a good thing. A crate can be a great benefit to a dog, young or old.

However, there are times when crates are used in a cruel way and may actually cause more harm than good.

Proper Uses for the Dog Crate

The crate should only be used when you are not able to supervise your pup. It can be used at night when you are sleeping. It can be used during the day for up to three to four hours if you need to go out.

Using a crate if you have guests over, where the puppy or untrained dog may be a bit “much” for a small child or elderly person may be appropriate.

These are obviously instances of using a crate for the convenience of the owner but the use is not necessarily cruel.

But if you are putting the dog in the crate to isolate him, so he stops bothering you with all his energy, then you are using the crate in a way that may not be humane.

That is using a crate as punishment. As a form of solitary confinement. As a jail.

I have had to intervene with people who put their dogs in the crate and leave them there for most of the day and night. Letting the dog out for only brief periods of time until they once again drive the owner crazy and then they are locked up again.

In these situations, the dog is shut in with so much pent-up energy that predictably they will be hyperactive and uncontrollable when finally let out. So the owner locks them away to control their behavior. It’s a vicious and damaging cycle.

If your dog is in a crate for more then 14 hours in a 24-hour period, you need to reevaluate how the dog is living.

And possibly reevaluate if your lifestyle has room for a dog.

Balancing Crate Time

If you find that when your dog is out of the crate he is very energetic and seems a bit crazy, chances are this dog is not getting enough exercise and attention. Exercise is not just opening your back door and letting him out, but some real one-on-one time with you, a family member, or even another dog.

Exercise is a physical and social activity. And its benefits are for the body and mind.

The best way to get your pup to have manners and live calmly in your home is to make sure he is getting enough mental stimulation and exercise. You must “live” in the same space with your dog and give him time to be part of the family, where you can spend quality time together and naturally teach appropriate manners.

No training or learning is getting done when your dog is locked away in a crate.

If you go to work all day and you think it’s perfectly fine to lock your dog in a crate for eight hours every day, please think again. This is just cruel.

Each and every day you need to make sure that someone is taking your dog for a solid 45 min to 1 hour walk or hike every three or four hours. If this is not possible, then try bringing your dog to doggie daycare during the day.

This is many times a great option. You get peace of mind; they get physical and mental exercise.

Although it’s not for everyone…but that’s another article for another time.

But getting your dog used to a crate is usually a good idea for more than just house breaking and general house management.

Taking Your Dog Out

We are seeing a new trend in which progressive companies allow you to bring your pup to work, so long as they are contained during work time in a crate and are quiet and don’t disturb co-workers. Study after study has shown that dogs help create a better work environment. I personally love this for countless reasons and hope it catches on everywhere.

In many countries in Europe, it is the law that your dog be secured in a crate in the back of your car when driving. While it not the law in the US, the safest way to travel with your dog in a car is to put them in a secured crate.

Imagine what happens to a loose dog if you need to slam on your brakes at highway speed. Or worse, hit something. The damage to dog and driver can be horrific.

I’ll spare you the details, but I had a personal experience many years ago when a car slammed into mine at a stoplight. If my dog Rubina had not been in a crate, she would have been killed for sure.

Putting a dog in a crate when driving is the safest way to travel in the car with your dog. But it’s also essential (and mandatory) when travelling by train or airplane too.

The other reason to get your dog used to being confined to a crate is for when they are injured or sick and need to spend time at the veterinarian’s office. Dog are commonly housed in crates or cages after surgery and when they are sick. It’s much less stressful for the sick or injured dog in these situations if he or she is already used to being in a crate.

Same is true for daycare and vacation stays.

Get your dog accustomed to a crate for when you need it so they are not learning it cold when there is no other option. The process will be less stressful for both of you that way.

So, no, putting your dog in a crate does not have to be like putting him in jail. If you use it correctly. It can be like putting your dog in a crib. Or a car seat. The crate can calm and protect. It need not be a punishment as long as you are aware of it.

Have a question about crate training your dog? Email me!

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