The Crate Debate

crating dogs

The Crate Debate

You would not put your kid in a crate, why would you put your dog in one?  I hear this all the time as a dog trainer, so I decided to write a blog post on the matter.  Despite the supposition that putting your dog in a crate is neglectful or abusive, I actually support crate training wholeheartedly.

Dogs are our children.  But in some ways they differ from our two-legged ones.  This is one instance where your dog parenting and your human parenting will be radically different (or maybe not so radically depending on if you send your kids to their rooms or stand in a corner).  I am not a human parent but I would probably shy away from actually crating my kids...the child protective services might not find it as funny as we might.

Dogs are little sensory machines.  Their intense smellers and attune ears need a break sometimes.  The safe place to decompress is the crate.  It is a place where they can escape the inundation of sensory overload that is the world for them.  I like to cover my crate on three sides with a blanket (one without stuffing because sometimes they like to pull the corners into the crate and suck on the edges).  I also like to put bones or chew toys (again stuffing free) in there.  I also feed my dogs in their crates to create a sense of den.  In the natural world, a dog would try to whelp in a den environment.  The puppies would first suckle from their mother and then later the pack members would come and regurgitate meals for them in the den.  By feeding your dog in his or her crate, you are recreating the den environment and conveying to him or her in a very basic way that this is a safe place.  Here's a fun factoid:  when you see dogs kissing another dog's face or poking the corners of the dog's mouth obsessively, it's a behavior that conveys the kissing dog sees the other dog as a source of nurturing.  It is what wild puppies would do to older pack member to solicit a regurgitated meal.  The behavior has been solidified in doggy language as a gesture meaning "you take care of me" or "I see you as a role model."

Soft (indigestible) blankets help make the space in a crate feel comfy.  Some dogs might pee on these or be heinous shredders, so you may have to revoke blankie privileges in the crate at times but it should not last forever.

How long can you leave your dog in a crate?  This is a big debate among dog lovers.  No more than 8 hours for an adult dog is the general rule of thumb but I do not like leaving pet dogs in the crate any longer than necessary.  Here at Camp Sammy they only eat in the crate (and some sleep in there if they are going to destroy things that might hurt them).  Working dogs actually spend more time in their crates initially than pet dogs do.  This creates a drive or motivation to work when the dog is out of the crate.  Drive is great for working dogs...not so great is you want a calm, affable pet.  So limit the crate time to a couple hours to up to four if you can get away with it.  Any longer than that and you should start looking at doggy playpen setups instead to give your pup more freedom to move around.

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What size should the crate be?  The dog should be able to stand up fully and turn around.  If a puppy is put in a crate that is too large, they may be tempted to piddle in the corner and be perfectly happy because he or she does not have to sit in the mess.  Crate dividers are included with a lot of crates for this purpose so you can buy a crate and adjust the size as needed without having to purchase multiple crates throughout the lifetime of your dog.

As with anything there are caveats.  Some dogs are so prone to destructive separation anxiety they destroy crates trying to escape.  Many times they hurt themselves in the process.  For these dogs, it might not be feasible just to leave them out and about.  The destruction may continue to your baseboards, electric wires, drywall, etc.  I have even heard of dogs with extreme separation anxiety crashing through windows.  So they have to be contained somehow for their own safety.  How do you do that?
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The answer is twofold.  The first is discuss medication with your veterinarian coupled with dog appeasing pheromone therapy.  Doggy psychiatric medicines has taken leaps and bounds over the past couple decades.  If a dog is hurting him or herself due to extreme anxiety, as the owner, it is your responsibility to explore medication options to help your pooch correct his or her brain chemistry.  Just like people, they need help balancing their brains as well.

You can get dog appeasing pheromone options here:

They come in a collar, room spray and a diffuser.  Do not worry- only your doggo can smell them.  You will not catch a whiff of it.  Of course, this all goes better with behavioral remediation and modification therapy.
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A heavy duty specialized crate can be purchased for these types of dogs, but they come with a hefty price tag.  Camp Sammy purchased one for a shelter dog who kept getting returned for severe separation anxiety.  The crate went with him when he was adopted into his forever home.

For most dogs a wire crate is sufficient although you may have to add some carabiners if you have a Houndini.  Also fun factoid #2: crates are one of the safest ways to transport your pooch in the car...although not as fun as hanging one's head out the window, for sure.

There is my two cents on crates.  Most well balanced pooches tend to like their crates in the long run.

Sammy the Dog Trainer



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