Caroline has more than 12 years of experience solving canine behavior problems either with families, in rescue or at her own home.
What Is a Dog Crate?
A dog crate is basically a small, enclosed box that is specifically designed for dogs to sleep in. They can be made of fabric, plastic, and wood, but most are made out of metal and are essentially just cages for dogs. This is why many people are put off by them. I can understand that point of view—after all, I’m sure you didn’t get a dog just so you could lock him away in a cage. I know I didn’t!
However, we are looking at the crate from a human's point of view; if we start looking at it from the dog's point of view, we now see a secure and cozy den that is especially for them. When you look at it that way, it’s little wonder that dogs that have been introduced properly to their crates grow to absolutely love them and actually choose to sleep in them long after the door is left open, just as my dog does.
What Are the Pros of Using a Dog Crate?
- Facilitates Toilet Training
- Prevents Teething Accidents at Home
- Provides a Safe Sanctuary for Your Dog
- Offers Quiet Time
- Provides Travel Safety
- Facilitates Pet-Friendly Holidays
1. It Will Make House Training Easier
There are many good reasons to get a crate for your dog or puppy, the most obvious one being for the purposes of house training. House training can be a frustrating process at the best of times, so why not make it a little easier and use a crate?
It works because dogs and puppies don’t like to pee or poop near where they sleep or eat. The crate reduces the amount of space the dog has to a comfortable sleeping area; this reduced space encourages woofers to hold on until he can get to a more appropriate place.
Of course, this means that he will need to go as soon as you let him out, and as long as you take him to a place you approve of, you should have an opportunity to praise him. Basically, using the crate means fewer accidents and more opportunities for reward, which will vastly speed up the whole process for you both.
2. It Will Minimize Destruction While Teething
The crate is not just for toilet training, it also provides a safe place for your teething pup when you are unable to supervise him, giving you peace of mind and keeping him and your furniture safe. Just remember to provide a chew toy that is safe to munch on while he is in his crate, just in case he feels the need.
3. It's a Safe Zone for Your Puppy
A pup that uses a crate will also be much calmer and feel safer while he is in it; it is one of the reasons that many dogs return to their crates to sleep long after you have stopped closing the door. Due to the lack of room, the den-like space encourages nap time and prevents your pup from wandering and pacing, leaving him no option but to settle himself, a valuable skill that many dogs could benefit from learning.
If your family has young children, your pup may like the sanctuary that his crate offers, just remember to teach the little ones that the crate is a special area that is meant only for your dog.
4. It's a Good Place for Training "Time-Outs"
The crate can be used as a safe place too, especially if your excitable puppy needs the occasional time-out. It is not to be used as a punishment though, just a quiet place where your pup can settle himself down and chill for a few minutes. Just don’t forget to let him out as soon as he is calm.
5. It Provides a Safe Way to Transport Your Puppy
It also offers a safe way to travel in the car or caravan. Hopefully you are never involved in an accident, but if you are you will be glad of the crate. Not only will it stop your dog being thrown about and causing injury to himself, it also keeps him from colliding with another passenger in the car, which could cause injury or in some cases, even death.
6. It Makes Traveling With Your Puppy Easier
Lastly, some pet-friendly hotels and holiday apartments also insist on crates being used in their rooms. They just want to be sure that their room will be returned to them in the same condition as they gave it to you, and I think that’s fair, especially if it means that more and more places can feel confident enough to allow dogs to stay in the future.
I am sure there are many more good reasons to get a crate for your dog, but I think I have covered the main ones here. If you can think of any, feel free to add them in the comments section below.
What Are the Cons of Using a Dog Crate?
I spent quite a bit of time searching for any negatives to dog crates and apart from a couple that only arise as a result of misuse, I could only really find two. So as long as you use it properly and introduce it gently you will avoid many of the pitfalls that some people have experienced.
- Encourages Lazy Training
- Can Cause Stress If Overused
- Can Be Inappropriately Used as a Punishment
- Some Dogs Just Don’t Take to Them
- They Look Ugly and Take Up Space
1. It Can Encourage Laziness on the Part of the Owner
The first possible problem I considered is that the crate can encourage laziness; it should not be used as a substitute for training, but as a tool to aid training. It is not OK to shut a dog in a crate for hours on end just because it is easier or you don’t know how to teach your dog good manners.
2. Overuse Can Lead to Stress
Also, a dog may become stressed if the crate is overused. It should mostly be used when you are not around and only for a maximum of four hours during the day, as well as overnight.
If you are home, your dog should be with you where you can supervise and train him yourself. If you leave him for any longer than this, your dog will likely become quite anxious whether you use the crate or not, but if they are in a crate they are at risk of injuring themselves if they panic and try to get out.
3. It Can Be Inappropriately Used as a Punishment Method
The crate might be used as a punishment for a dog or puppy; this is not an appropriate way to train your puppy or use the crate, and will only teach your dog to associate it with negative experiences and it will lose its usefulness. Any associations with the crate should always be positive.
4. Some Dogs Just Don't Like Crates
It is also fair to say that, as with everything in life, there are some dogs that just don’t take to them and that is fine, there are lots of different ways to train a dog. Thankfully though, the ones that don’t grow to love them are pretty rare as it is such a natural environment for a dog.
5. They're Unsightly and They Take Up a Lot of Space
Finally, two cons that have nothing to do with how you use the crate, first, they can be ugly and second, they do take up a lot of space, both important considerations before you spend your hard-earned cash on one, although I think the benefits far outweigh the poor aesthetics.
How to Choose a Crate for Your Dog
So you have decided to give it a go, good for you. The next step is to choose one that is going to suit you and your dog. The most common type is the wire crate (pictured above). These are secure and virtually escape-proof. They don’t look great, but I advise everyone to throw a blanket over it anyway to make it snug and den-like, so the look of it might not necessarily matter.
You could also choose a fabric or wooden crate. Both of these look nicer but are not as easily cleaned or secure as the wire version.
You could also go for a plastic one, though these generally suit smaller dogs better. They are secure and easy to clean, and they usually have a handle on the top so you can easily carry them around—assuming the dog inside is light enough, that is!
Whatever style you choose, you must choose one that is big enough for your dog or puppy to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch without touching the edges, remember if you are buying it for a pup he will grow quickly, so make sure you allow for that when you pick one out, otherwise you might have to replace it as he grows.
Introducing Your Dog to a Crate
Now you have your crate, choose a place in the house that is comfortable for your pup, for example, not in a drafty place or by a hot radiator, just use your common sense and pick somewhere that is out of the way.
Once set up, I suggest you throw a blanket or towel over the top of it so that all sides are covered, leaving just the door open. Next, place a nice soft bed inside and throw in some of his favorite treats and toys.
Now you are all set up, it's time to let your pup in for the first time. As with all things that are new, they can seem scary at first, but just be patient with him and he will go in in no time, just open the door and sit back and wait.
Don’t make a fuss of your pup if he goes in or not, it’s not important at this stage, he will go in when he is ready. When he does venture in, he will probably take out some of the goodies you have left for him, quietly add a new toy or some more treats, and next time, when he goes in give him a command that suits you such as “Into bed,” that way he can start associating the command with the action and in time you will be able to just tell him to go in.
Don’t be in a hurry to shut the door on the first day; just let him go in and out freely while he familiarizes himself with his lovely new bed.
On the second day, you could try closing the door while he is inside and then opening it almost straight away, again use lots of treats and praise so he associates it with only good things. If he is happy for you to close the door, try leaving the door closed for increasing amounts of time while you sit beside him.
On the third day, assuming day two went well, it is time to close the door and leave your pup for the first time. It is better to be gone for only a very short time the first time you leave him, maybe ten minutes or so, to see how he gets on, and from there, as long as he is coping well you can increase the time to half an hour, then an hour and then finally, four hours.
You might also consider using a DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) spray, you can get this from your vet and it should help to reduce anxiety, it is especially good for young pups but will help any age of dog, or if you prefer, lavender oil is also helpful, just add a few drops to his bedding to help him sleep better.
Whatever happens, your success at introducing the crate lies in your patience, don’t rush your dog or puppy, let them accept it in their own time, all you need to do is to keep it positive and rewarding for him and he will love his new bedroom in no time.
What If Your Dog Hates His Crate?
If you have taken your time introducing the crate properly, you shouldn’t expect too many problems, but we are working with dogs, not typewriters, and they don’t always follow the rules, so here are a few issues you might encounter and how to overcome them.
The first problem might not have anything to do with the actual crate; if your dog is becoming stressed, it is possible that you have a dog that is suffering with separation anxiety. In extreme cases a dog can become anxious just because they are not in direct contact with you, you don’t have to leave the room or house to upset a dog that is suffering with this type of anxiety! If this is the case, it would be easier to work on solving that problem first, you can think about introducing the crate at a later date.
Most experts agree that you should avoid letting your dog out of his crate if he is whining or crying, this is because you don’t want him to think that if he makes a fuss you will feel sorry for him and let him out. So what do you do if he is barking when you get home and you need to get him out?
The solution here is to set an alarm for two minutes and when the alarm goes off, you can quickly open the door regardless of how he is behaving. If you do this every time you want to let him out, he will soon start to associate getting out with the alarm, not you, and as an alarm is not easily manipulated, he will soon start to wait patiently for it to go off. Continue to use it for at least a couple of weeks after he has settled just to be sure. He'll soon forget he ever cried in there.
However, if he gets into a complete panic state in the crate, you should let him straight out in case he injures himself. If this happens, it is likely that either you rushed the introduction process, or something frightened him while he was in there and you were out, maybe someone rang the doorbell or the window cleaner visited. In this case, try to find out what might have frightened him, solve that problem and wait a few weeks before you try again—this time using extra time and patience, and re-introducing it over a longer period of weeks, not days.
If you experience any other problems using the crate, it is always worth considering getting help from a qualified, experienced behaviourist who can give you specific advice for your dog and situation
The crate is a useful tool as long as it is used as a tool and not as a substitute for training; it should never be used to punish your dog. You can use the crate for up to four hours during the day, as long as you are out for most of that time (the occasional time out will be fine), and in addition to that, you can use it overnight.
Your dog will naturally hold his bladder and bowel while he is in it, which is why they are so effective as a tool for house training. With that in mind, it makes good sense that you should give your dog plenty of opportunities to relieve himself before he goes in, and again straight after he comes out.
It is also important to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise, so increase the amount of time you spend on your walks and playtime to compensate for the amount of time he will be inactive during the day.
Apart from that, I am sure you will soon be enjoying the benefits of your dog crate, and you and your dog will be so pleased you got it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2016 Caroline Brackin
Afrixicanprincess on August 16, 2016:
Crates are better than kennels as for e.g some people are scared of dogs do this would help them attend many places that they want to go to