To Crate or Not to Crate, & Why

I'm writing this in response to a discussion on a dog trainer's list that occurred recently.  As most doggy people know the use of crates as a form of dog management has increased monumentally over the last two decades.  Back in the day people used dog runs or cages to put their dog in for various reasons - but you wouldn't have seen crates sitting in bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms like you do now.  You wouldn't see so many dogs essentially living their lives in a crate until their owner comes home from work.
 
The crate can easily be misused - as so many dog trainers like to say, "It's not the tool, it's the fool".  Or, "any tool can be misused".  This is true and too many owners (and even many trainers, ouch!) see nothing wrong with confining a dog in a crate all day long and much of the night too.  "It's the quality time that matters", they say, "not the quantity".  I must disagree.
That, in my opinion is simply inhumane.  This will probably offend many, but in my opinion using a crate in that fashion is *just as* "inhumane" as using a shock collar or any other tool that makes an individal cringe.
 
In the discussion that prompted this blog a trainer was adamantly stating that it was perfectly fine to confine a dog to a "housetraining sized" (very small) crate for the entire day while the owner was at work.  This was a dog who had never been crated at all and who exhibited anxiety at any sort of confinement.  What would this experience be like for that little dog?  It's not that hard to imagine the stress she underwent spending an entire day with no water in a box too small to allow her to move much at all.  Just the thought of it makes me cringe.  And guess what?  The owner responded two days later that the dog had now started eliminating in the crate!  What a surprise!  Imagine the dog's anguish as she realized she was simply going to have to go right where she stood - while  meanwhile the trainer is lamenting about how "stubborn" the dog is.  Yes, it's true.  And the piteous thing is that there are so many more tolerable methods that will teach the little dog the more appropriate habits.
 
I may sound bitter and perhaps a bit hostile - but after so many years of training I admit that occasionally I do become extremely frustrated when listening to what some other trainers are offering to the public, and by extension, what they are making so many dogs undergo.  This is not a blog about teaching what to do to solve behavior problems; this is a call to think about the quality of life we impose upon another creature, about what is inherently acceptable and what should be unacceptable.
 
So, should you ever use a crate?
I think the crate can be a marvelous tool.  A dog can learn to be patient and to calm themselves while in a crate.  There are a plethora of good sitations in which a crate is a great managment tool.  Caveat:  use it on a short-term basis!  As Aunt Hattie said so long ago, "it ain't right, it just ain't right!"

Comments

Valerie, I completely agree with your sentiments. 25 years ago, I was the first one in my circle of friends who crate trained. I'd just gotten a new Irish Setter puppy and was introduced to it by people in the kennel club I'd recently joined. It was a godsend to me and I was amazed at how easy house training could be! I was also a stay at home mom, so I was able to put the puppy on a reasonable schedule with him never being crated for more than a few hours at a time. I remember the looks I'd get from my friends when they came to my house and saw, egads a cage!!! I'd get the "You lock your dog in a cage?" inquisition from most everyone. They were shocked and some downright disgusted. And then I'd go to their houses and where were their dogs kept? Most of them were chained outside, especially when no one was home. In fact, one of my friends would chain the dog in the bathroom to the pipes under the sink all day long while away at work. But I was the cruel one. So, needless to say, I've been pleased to see crate training go mainstream through the years, but unfortunately as you've said, it's gone way too far. In my puppy orientation I tell the puppy parents flat out that crate training can be very effective, but dogs were not meant to be in crates for more than a few hours at a time. In fact, I say no more than 2-3 hours tops during the day (crating at night is acceptable), and that's with the crate being big enough for the dog to stand, lay down and turn around with ease. I also tell them of other options such as doggie daycare, having a pet sitter come over and walk/play with the puppy midday, or corralling the puppy in a safe room with puppy pads or one of the portable puppy potties with sod/grass etc. Unfortunately I know a good many of them will still continue to crate all day. Some just can't afford the other options or don't have an appropriate room in which to put the puppy. Some are just too lazy. :( For those people I just try my best to at least get them to get their puppy out of the crate when they get back home and provide exercise and quality time.

I was so pleased to read your blog about crating. As a relatively newly-minted trainer, I've struggled with the issue of crating, since I've never crated my own dogs. Certainly I can see the value of crating, particularly for housetraining and traveling, but the trainers who trained me crated their dogs for what seemed to me far too many hours a day. They actually want their dogs to be almost half-crazed to get out of their crates because they believe it increases the dogs' drive and focuses them totally on the trainer/owner, since it's only with the trainer/owner that the dogs get any exercise, stimulation, play, etc. While it's true that their dogs do exhibit very strong drive to perform for and please their handlers, and many of these trainers do very well in a variety of competitions, the dogs seem to me to be perpetually stressed and anxious. I became a trainer because dogs have always tremendously enriched my life; I want to enrich their lives in turn, not constrict them, and I think "it just ain't right" to use the crate to transform these intelligent, loving creatures into manic, ego-boosting toys.

to see both of your agreement on this topic. I will in particular never understand how trainers, especially those who like to think of themselves as very positive and humane, can somehow justify leaving their dogs in crates for at least six hours every day, or often much more. They seem to believe that their dogs "like" being crated that much - perhaps because the dogs exhibit acceptance since they really have no choice. The best place for a dog to be is at the side of their owner as much as possible - after that, somewhere where they can sniff, move around and play a bit if they feel like it. I too have seen the philosophy of leaving a dog isolated before work so that they will be hyper-focused and energetic - it's actually sort of sad to think that the only way they can motivate their dogs is to build up an artifical energy by depriving the dog of stimulation....

I have the luxury of working from home so my dog only goes in the crate for a few hours max when I'm out. I think maybe once it was five hours. I start getting uncomfortable at around three hours, but my max is four.

Anyway, when I leave my dog goes in the crate, he gets a tough toy in there (one of those blue translucent plastic ones, that are soft but seem to be indestructible) and a small treat. I quarter of a "roll-a-round" or even a little less as a reward for going in. Those treats are only used for two things, the crate and trading. I don't think he touches the toy while I'm gone, but does play with that toy when I'm home.

I just posted about this, but I think he loves the crate. The command is "go in" but I don't really need it anymore. He can tell when I'm about to leave and runs into the crate, and will even go back in if I've just come home and let him out if he thinks I need to leave again. And right now, for some reason when I want to play fetch and grab the fetch bone he interprets that as needing to go in the crate and won't come out even if I try to lure him out with treats. He'll come out when I go back to my business kind of like, "why aren't you leaving?". He loves fetch. I'm so confused, but I think it's because I grabbed some roll-a-rounds once to use as fetch rewards. Now the fetch bone also became a cue to "go in".

I can tell he's proud of himself. If I take to long getting ready to leave he'll come out and go back in again like, "See, I know what to do!"

It makes me feel good that I've done a good job on this, that's he's definitely not afraid of the crate. But his love for the crate confuses me. Because it's so different that what a human would feel. I find myself having confusing emotions and feeling bad that he loves the crate so much. :-)

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http://doxienews.com

I don't know that I would interpret this as your dog "loving" the crate so much as that you have a good rapport with him and several well-conditioned responses and cues. I might wonder if he is a bit submissive or subordinate in general; in other words very compliant and responsive to you. He is very willing to go in, that's for sure. The fact that sometimes he won't even come out makes me think that he does not want to do the "wrong" thing so he stays in to be sure. Also, the fact that you don't feel that he plays with the toy while you're gone is another indication of his comfort or anxiety level while in there. Still, it does sound as if you've introduced and established the crate and going into it as a positive thing as much as possible.

In my ideal world, I'd have a big house with lots of land and my dogs would never be crated except as little pups for manangement sake. But none of us live in an ideal world. Crating during the day has probably saved many a dog his home. If dogs are destructive during the day, a better idea would be doggie day care or a dog walker but not all clients can or will do that. Yes, ideally they would not be crated all their lives as they calm down and grow up and we trust them more and more. In a busy household, a dog's crate may be his haven, his place to rest and be away from all the noise and people. My dogs go in their crates with the doors open and lie down. They even go in each others and lie down.

But I never recommend it for separation anxiety. That's a whole other issue and a topic all of its own.

Lydia McCarthy Playful Pooches and Parents Dog Training 513-939-dogs

I guess I'm cruel and inhumane. I crate my 3 yo Rhodesian Ridgeback pup during the day when I can because she has hip dysplasia and if left outside will run herself to the point of pain and distress barking at birds, passers-by, the wind, etc. so on so forth. I would like to think I'm doing her a kindness by keeping her in a comfortable place with her blanket, her bones and chew toys, and other creature comforts. I mean, she could be napping on the soft concrete of the back porch instead.

What's really inhumane is my other pup. I would love to leave him out around the house, but so far he's eaten through the front wall of the house twice. He's an abuse case, and has some bad associations with the crate... or any confinement at all, really. Is it that bad to try and re-condition him so that he sees the crate as a good thing? So that his bed is in there and he's fine sleeping during the day in there when I'm not home to watch him? Or should I leave him outside in the thunderstorms that blow up here instead? Or should I continue to perfect my drywall repair skills? The crate seems to be the least evil of those choices.

I'm still glad to see crating go mainstream, and I think owners who have pups with 'issues' who don't crate ... and then who lose it over the resulting destruction and mess ... do themselves and their pups a disservice.

As Lee Mannix said during a behavior seminar he presented to my rescue early this year, "I don't understand why people want webcams so that they can see what their dog is doing while they're at work. Do you know what your dog is doing during the day? IT SLEEPS. Dogs are most active at dawn and dusk."

Also: a few bad pet owners does not a case of "ain't right" make.

The Katzke Dog Blog

It's just weird. I should mention, I never tried to directly lure him out with treats, in which case I would have expected him to probably come out. I was in the same place I was when I tried to start the fetch game, about 10 feet away, and just said, "come on kody, fetch!" and did a human version of a play bow. I had his fetch bone and the roll-a-rounds in my hand, which I think he thought he would get if he stayed in the crate. I didn't want to go over and directly lure him out of the crate because I thought it would be a mixed message. Instead I gave up on the idea of fetch and sat on the couch, at which point he left the crate and joined me.

But it really appears that he's making the choice that crate is better than fetch, although I don't think he's exactly saying that. He's definitely not afraid of doing the wrong thing, he's in a great mood, he just gets super excited when it's time to go in the crate. It's the same kind of excitement as if we're going in the car or going for a walk. It is very very strange. It's like a child getting excited to take a nap. Maybe parents should give their kids treats right before a nap? If only kids like dried lamb meat instead of sugar.

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http://doxienews.com

...but my dog is just not reliably potty trained! My almost three year old puppy-mill survivor is a great dog, except with the potty training. We've been to the vet to rule out physical causes, so I guess she just learned bad habits in the puppy mill. The odd thing is that while she can hold it just fine in her crate, and she'll ask to go out if we're around, if no one is around to let her out, then she just kind of goes where ever she is. So, she is crated during the day while we're at work.

I'm not a big fan of crating her all day long like that, but try to make it up to with lots of walks, training sessions, and play time, PLUS my 20 pound dog has a crate that's been sized for a 70 pound dog! She doesn't seem to mind being in her crate- she pops right inside in the mornings- and she'll hang out in there on the weekends, too. It's not ideal, but I've done all I know how to do.

So, I guess I agree that crates can be used too much, and I know we're bordering on that line, but I don't know what else to do with her. It's impossible to potty train a dog when you aren't home!

Crystal and Maisy RL1 AOE-L1 CGC
St. Paul, MN

Valerie,

Reading through the comments, I understand there are some specific situations where a dog has to be crated during the day, and that it may be the only option for him staying in the home. But as a trainer, like you I see a lot of people who DO have other choices and don't make any attempt to make use of them, either because they honestly don't know any better or because the crate is more convenient. So many of those dogs could be confined to a gated-off area with wee pads and bedding at the opposite end of the setup, water nearby of course. And as you pointed out, many of those crated-all-day dogs start eliminating in the crate, which can cause problems with the housebreaking process. So for the record, I agree, if there are other feasible options and no extenuating circumstances, dogs should not be crated all day long.

One common thing I notice with everyone in this thread is that you are using the crates for valid sound reasons, and not for punishment. I work with rescue animals as an adoption counselor, and too often prospective adoptees mentions using the crate as a form of punishment for unwanted puppy or dog behaviors.

I just stumbled upon this thread while doing some searching, and want to add my thoughts & concerns. 

I do not want to start or enter into a debate.  I simply realize that many times (more often than not) when a belief or paradigm becomes "popular", then those that disagree (whether correct or incorrect) remain silent...as to not offend others (or because they don't want to be attacked).  So here it goes ---

I totally understand the need/desire for a 'safe place' that is den-like.  At nearly 60 years old, having had pets all my life, I know that some dogs pick a particular place; others don't seem to have the "need" at all, and others choose random spots 'as needed'.  It is great for a puppy to have a crate filled with blankies, toys and love for it to 'call it's own'.  And crates are fantastic for potty-training.

However, a dog is a social pack animal with a *need* for companionship.  It is ALWAYS animal abuse to keep a dog crated "all day" or "during the day" when one is at work...no matter how much "quality time" is spent with them afterward.  Those that say "if I couldn't crate him/her while I'm at work, I couldn't have a dog"...should absolutely NOT have a dog!  That's the same as saying, "the only way I can have the benefit of a loving social animal is if I stuff it in a small box (that I absolve myself by calling a 'crate' every day of it's life"...and that is nothing less than selfish abuse!  No more, no less.

Accepting responsibility (and receiving the benefits) of having any animal for a pet requires a great amount of sacrifice.  If a dog is not adequately potty trained, that is SOLEY the fault of the trainer - and learning how to undo past bad training/habits and working with the dog to overcome it, is something that may take far more time than one has to spare.  The solution is not to shove the animal into a dark box 8 hours a day...whether it's currently vogue or not.  The solution is to admit your limitations (and the harm/abuse those limitations are creating), and give the dog up for adoption.  And then get a new dog ONLY IF one has researched the various training methods fully,  learned the potential problems & benefits of each method (so that if one doesn't work, you'll know why and what to do about it - rather than causing your dog to suffer through *your* irresponsibility).

Dogs are social animals - they REQUIRE more companionship than a few hours daily.  They REQUIRE sunlight for their health (just like human, this is not something that can be 'supplemented').  They REQUIRE the ability to move more than a few steps in each direction for the majority of the day (just like POWs & prisoners require cells that give them the ability to move more than a few steps; and if that's not provided we recognize it as what it is..cruel & inhumane abuse).

After potty-training, ANY dog that has had the benefit of an owner that is knowledgeable & patient will utilize a crate willingly when it needs it (and stay in it happily during those times when a crate is necessary for transport, safety, or as a training tool).

And that's the truth (no matter what happens to be vogue or popular in any give decade).

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