06 Jul Should I crate train my dog?
This is a question I am asked time and time again by dog owners and with increasing frequency as some animal rights groups spread the message that crating is ‘inhumane’. What is a crate? First things first, lets cover the basics. A crate is a cage used to secure the dog at times when it is inappropriate or potentially dangerous for the animal to have free access to its surroundings. The dimensions of the crate are dependent on the size of the dog but should always allow room for the dog to stand and turn in a complete circle. It should not be too much bigger than this. Are dogs denning animals? Technically speaking no. Despite marketing ploys to claim otherwise, dogs are not technically den animals, and neither are wolves. What we do know if that whilst as adult wolves and wild dogs will not den, they do use ‘maternal dens’. This is a den space that mothers will rear puppies in usually for the first 10-12 weeks of life. What we do know is that dogs are polyphasic sleeper- meaning that they sleep in short periods and then like to get up and move around. Often they will choose to move from surface type to surface type to aid regulation of their body heat. Crating a dog doesn’t allow for this type of behaviour, and we instead teach our puppies to adjust their sleep schedule to better fit with that of our own. Are they humane? Despite this ease of adjustment many still argue that crating a dog is inhumane. In fact you only have to type ‘ are crates humane’ into Google and the first result that comes up is a article from PETA (written by an animal rights author with no canine related qualifications) stating that crates are ‘harmful’ and you should ‘ fire your dog trainer’ for suggesting using one! Some people clearly hold some very strong opinions on this tool. It is therefore important to consider both sides of the argument before deciding whether or not this tool is appropriate for your own situation. So why crates? Many people reading this article will about now be thinking to themselves ‘but my dog loves his crate!’ And indeed, every dog I’ve raised or worked with has learnt to love their crate and in fact seek it out for naps or when feeling stressed and overwhelmed. With a little work to build a positive association most dogs love these quiet spaces and adjust to confinement here brilliantly. Lots of trainers are big advocates for crate training, not because it is a fun and ideal environment for the dog, but because as a temporary measure it is a safe and controlled way of containment. I don’t think that anyone would argue it’s an exciting place to be, but a great tool to keep your dog safe and secure. Imagine this scenario: Your dog has emergency surgery and is put in the vets nurse room to recover. Now, for a dog that has been conditioned to not mind a confined space this is no issue, for others this can make the whole situation a highly stressful experience. Even if this scenario were to never arise, you are still then faced with the dilemma of what to do during car journeys. Research from surveying the British public has even shown that 48% of people are unaware that dogs must be restrained in vehicles and are potentially breaking the law by not using a harness or crate. Puppies and Crates? Crates can be the number one most invaluable tool in training your new puppy. Used correctly they prevent destructive chewing, eating of hazardous objects and separation anxiety as well as speeding the process of toilet training. Used incorrectly they can worsen anxiety and make dogs really hard to toilet train in later life. Proper usage never exceeds a few hours and the dog/ puppy must have al its needs met before crating (exercised, fed, watered). For a more detailed explanation of what proper crate training entails see my other article on ‘Crate Training Any Dog’. On the other side of this debate, some dog experts argue that toilet training in this manner is unfair as dogs are forced to either hold their waste or eliminate and lie in it. Indeed if owners are not around or even observant enough to know when their puppies body language is indicating they need to toilet, this tool can be very detrimental to the welfare of the animal. Unfortunately, at present date, there are no studies observing the potential stress and psychological impact improper crated toilet training can have on a dog and so we are left to take on board both sides of the argument and make up our own minds. Puppy owners are then also encouraged to crate their dog as a way or reducing the amount of destructive behaviour. This means, that crating is seen as a way to prevent chewing sofas, access to dangerous cables and eating any food that’s left out. Some trainers argue that managing access to these behavioural patterns now will prevent them from becoming habitual and lessen the likelihood of continuing destructive behaviour into adulthood. On the other side of this argument are people who teach that crating a dog means that the environment they live in stays new and accessible for far longer, which could in turn lead to more destructive behaviour as they explore for longer later in life. This is a complexed question with many separate components to consider. For me, crating is a necessary evil for most to nearly all of my clients. In an ideal world where they could be home and supervising 24/7 of course a crate isn’t necessary and takes away from the animals quality of life. The reality is however, that most people would be completely unable to raise a puppy without use of proper crating and restricted toilet access.