Crate training has become a bit of a controversial subject amongst the doggy community. Some love it, some hate it and some just can’t decide. Well, like all things there is no right or wrong answer. It is very dependent on the individual dog, how it has been introduced and how long the dog is in the crate for.
Personally, I am a big fan of crate training when done gradually at the dogs pace and used correctly. For example, crates can be used for your dog to have a safe space they can choose to retreat to if they want to snooze undisturbed. For this to work, your dog must know that nobody goes into this space whilst they are in it. It is their safe space. This can be especially helpful for families with young children or when you have visitors.
Last week we had visitors stay for 2 nights. This is something both my dogs get very excited about, but neither of them are particularly used to. So for the first night, both Coco and Jemima wanted to spend time getting fussed by our guests – they had a great time! But the next day, Coco in particular was exhausted. She normally spends most of the evening snoozing, not interacting with guests. So the next day she chose to sleep in her crate rather than the bed she has at the other side of the living room. It was clear that this was to ensure she could sleep undisturbed which is exactly what we allowed her to do. Our guests knew when she was in her crate that they shouldn’t go over and interact with her as she wanted to rest so it worked well for everyone.
Another positive reason I have personally used the crate is for recovery after surgery. Coco had to be contained in a safe but small area to allow her wound to heal. Crate training allowed us to do this relatively stress-free. We were lucky to have plenty of notice before her upcoming surgery so could spend extra time crate training to make it a really positive place for her to be after her operation. Unfortunately, we don’t always get plenty of notice before a dog needs surgery, so I always advise crate training for this reason just in case.
For puppies, a crate may keep them and your home safe. It may be a good area to use to encourage them to have naps during the day as puppies need a lot of sleep! It can also be used to prevent the puppy trying to steal food from your plates, from another dog in your home etc.
It is important that when introducing a crate that it is done gradually and positively. I do this by giving them food and special treats in their crate. I also spend time training – the dog gets rewarded for staying in there whilst the door is closed etc. For those interested in learning how to crate train, please get in touch and we can work through some guidelines together.
As you have read, there are many positives of crate training, so how about the negatives? Well firstly, if your dog or puppy looks or acts stressed when in the crate, whines, barks, pants, licks their lips and yawns excessively then they are not comfortable in there. Leaving a puppy to cry it out is not only inhumane, but it can also lead to life-long insecurities and anxiety. When teaching your dog that their crate is safe, you need to start with what they can cope with now. Be it walking into the crate, or sitting in there for 10 seconds with the door closed. We want to let them back out of the crate before they start barking, whining or crying.
Crates should not be used for long periods of time. When in a crate, a dog can not regulate their temperature as easily, they may also struggle to get fully comfortable. Dogs will often get up, stretch their legs, wander and then re-settle. Dogs also like to sleep on a variety of different sufaces which isn’t always possible inside a crate. I always advise making it as comfortable as possible, but also having a blanket or something similar that they can move around and adjust to make themselves comfortable. For example, inside Coco’s crate we have a memory foam mat to offer her comfort and support. On top of that is a single duvet which she regularly rearranges depending on how she wants to sleep. Coco also gets her favourite cushion which she likes to use as a pillow. So other than night-time, a dog being in a crate for hours on end is not okay. Obviously, this excludes if your vet has said your dog must stay on strict crate rest for medical reasons.
I personally am not a fan of crating dogs when I am out of the house. Many dogs find the confinement unsettling and may even try to escape from the crate which could cause them injury. I have worked with many dogs who are fearful of being home alone, and am yet to find a dog who has been more relaxed inside the crate when left than they are when given space to roam. A classic example of this is my own dog Coco. She is very relaxed and comfortable when home alone free roaming, even if it is just one room she has access to. If I leave the house whilst she is confined to a crate, she will get stressed and start to panic, despite being completely comfortable in there when I am home.
You may hear of trainers and other dog owners recommending “special” tough crates for dogs with separation anxiety. These do NOT work. They simply protect your home from your dog’s symptoms of separation anxiety. Dogs do not need a den to feel safe, and a crate does not mimic a den for many dogs either. There is no scientific evidence that a crate will help with any kind of anxiety. If your dog does struggle when home alone, then please do get in touch so I can help and support you in teaching your dog that they are safe when left.
When house training puppies, we often use crates to keep them safe and stop them destroying the house whilst they are teething. I am sure many of you are thinking, well how do I do that if I can’t crate them when I leave? With puppies I tend to advise a crate inside a large penned off area when they are left home alone, or using a room which has been puppy proofed. Of course, for both of these options, or even if your puppy is being left with free reign, you will need to teach your puppy that they are safe home alone before you leave them.
Like I said at the beginning, there is no right or wrong answer and every dog is different, but I would always recommend crate training for when you need it. Just don’t over-use it.