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!"