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I Crate My Dogs: Why and How

I do. I lock my dogs in metal (or plastic) boxes. And I leave them there. For hours. Everyday. It’s not a secret. This is one of those circumstances where dogs are better than kids. Crating kids, trouble on so many levels. Dogs though, its a ‘management technique’. Many dogs requires many crates. Which doesn’t make for enhancing the decor in a particular (large) corner of my house. Consequently, its never made the blog photo cut. Not glamourous.

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Super functional. Wire cages. What is that? Industrial chic? It matters not. Ugly or no, it’s an absolute necessity of this dog household. Always has been. Even when I had two dogs (there was a time, however brief) crates were part of our reality. I like to say, crates saved my relationship with my dogs. That’s the why. Let’s start with the how.

Happiness & Joy. As in, the crate is a place of. This seems counter intuitive, and it is. No one wants to be locked in a box – kids or dogs. But, dogs we can condition. To view this limited space as their own. As a place where only good things happen (Food! Treats! Chews! Toys! You’re Home!). If you, as the owner, as the trainer, aren’t willing to drink the Kool-Aid on this one, if you aren’t buying your own argument, then your success here will be limited. If you think of the crate as bad, as uncomfortable, as a punishment, then you’re going to have a heck of time selling it to Fido. In our world crates aren’t bad. They are day to day life. Part of our routine. So much so, that those Springer girls in the picture were voluntary participants. They usually are. On any given night, about half my dogs will kennel themselves up for bed . When I leave for work in the morning, they run for their crates spinning and barking for treats. This is not punishment. This is a spot of their own. Sanctuary. No one is disturbed in the crate. The crate is not invaded. There is no nice bedding. My dogs prefer the odd assortment of old sheets, blankets, towels, fabric and dog bed parts they can rip, shred, and hamster nest to their hearts content. I do insist on washing it once a week. Winnabelle does not appreciate that.

Start Slow. I’ve crate trained a lot of dogs. Puppies to seniors, with a varied level of familiarity. As foster parents, we had to. For almost all dogs, living in this house means a crate. I introduce them slowly. Place the crate in the area its going to live permanently, leave the door open, and let it become part of the landscape. Toss in an extra yummy treat. See if they go for it. I’ve had adults who clearly understood this game, ran right in, flipped around and looked for more. Puppies are usually easy too. Occasionally, there has been luring. Sitting on the floor together, tossing goodies progressively further back into the interior. Meals have been eaten with just heads in the crate. Because from the time they get here, all meals are eaten al kennel (like al fresco). This is also the prime spot for raw bone chewing. I don’t care how you do it, but crates should mean food and goodness from the get go.

Tough Love. During all that positive association building, I try to keep crate interactions brief. I don’t worry about latching the door, sometimes only closing it for half a second. In a perfect world, I would work on this forever. Painstakingly slowly, increasing the time incrementally, never more than they were comfortable with. Then there’s how my life really works. I have a 70lb foster Dalmatian who I’m pretty sure will eat my couch if left unattended. I’m damn sure he will upset the house full of other dogs safely stowed in their crates. He might just go through the picture window if the mailman walks in the yard. And I need to leave for work in the morning. Unceremoniously, in the crate you go Buddy. I’ll make a lot of concessions. I’ll come home at lunch. I’ll ensure vigorous exercise pre- and post-containment, but contained he will be. I’ve yet to have a dog die from spending the day (or night) in a crate. I have certainly spent some sleepless nights waiting for an unhappy dog to bark themselves out. Eventually, we all get used to the routine, once it becomes just that, routine. Establishing it, that’s the trick.

Why put yourself and your dogs through this? It certainly seems a lot of trouble. Crating dogs is a relatively new phenomenon. It requires dedication, and it can be a serious pain in the ass. Why do I bother?

Safety. I’ve come home to a lot of things. Doo-doo has occurred. My house has been broken into. People get stuck at work. They get stuck in traffic. The power goes out. What I’ve never come home to is the aftermath of a dog fight. Or a to find they’ve eaten something inappropriate (and scary). Not to shredded furniture or scratched doors or holes in the lawn. All their doo-doo is at least contained. And I am absolutely certain of who isn’t feeling well. In general, I come home to dogs who are happy to see me, and would really like to go pee, please. My dogs spend their days sleeping inside. I’ve never had neighbors complain about barking. I’ve never had a delivery person file a grievance. I’ve been able to provide temporary housing for dogs with unknown histories and no place else to go without compromising the safety of my own pack. All this because of our strict crating policy.

Convenience. There’s a practical element to this as well. All dogs will need to be crated at some point in their lives. At the vet, for travel, in some pet sitting situations. Even if you don’t need to kennel your dog daily, it makes sense to have them acclimated. Do it before it’s a necessity. I can talk all altruistic, but my reasons are selfish. I can go out to a movie anytime I want. I can run errands. I can come home super late or leave early (within reason). This eliminates a lot of worry and concern around these activities and having dogs. I know they are safe and sound at home. Just how I’d like them.

The current exception to our crating rule is Ford, along with other old-timey foster dogs before him. Instead, he hangs out with the crated dogs, also sleeping. I’m not sure our ancient Maltese has the facilities to be trained in much of anything. This is not a failing of crate training, rather a perk of his hard won senior citizenship.

Crating. Cruel and inhumane? Safe and convenient? Somewhere in between? Do you crate your dogs? What are your reasons why or why not? Your training tips and tricks?

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Comments

Suzanne
Reply

I think this is great and if we had two dogs (or weren’t such a wuss with ours when we got her) we would do this as well. Question – how did you decide who goes next to who? So is the pug next to his best buddy? And *where* do you put all of these crates? Basement (whole room?)? Logistic interest me! Nice to hear Ford gets to hang out uncrated.

dogsordollars
Reply

We have a ‘dog room’. Its also the TV room with the couch the dogs are allowed to pile and snuggly on. One whole wall is dedicated to the row of crates. Order of who’s next to who was established long, long ago and just doesn’t change. Everyone kennels into their spot. The Dalmatians switch it up occasionally, but then Hannah remembers she doesn’t like to be next to the Pug. ;) Honestly, I don’t think I put that much thought into it. It was just adding on to the crate train!

Tracy
Reply

We only crate occasionally. The dogs are spoiled and sleep in our beds. This only becomes a problem with our daughter stays the night with a friend and we end up with all 3 in our bed. I just can’t sleep with them all so I will put two of them in a crate together (They are little dogs and we have one big crate). The chihuahua is supposed to be crated every time we leave the house but we forget so I have to wash the rug :(
And yeah they are not really asthetically pleasing in the house but they do the job. We actually have one crate with the door off – we call it the Man Cave. My dogs love to sleep/lay in the crates and don’t fuss too much when we close the doors on them. I do put up gates when I leave the house so the dogs are confined to the kitchen – just in case we have a mess (which is seldom).

dogsordollars
Reply

You not being able to sleep with the 3 tiny dogs makes me feel better about my failed attempts at sleepovers with all 6 (or 7). Every once in a while I get a crazy hair. And no one has a good night. It’s only a queen size bed.

Kimberly C
Reply

I’d always been told that crates were absolutely not the place to feed or put food, because then the pups will be more likely to poo in the crate later. And I somewhere along the way accepted that idea. But, now I find that I can’t build a concrete argument to back it up. Have you heard of people believing this before? I’m curious about this mythos I’ve built up around no food in crates. Hmmm.

My little separation-anxiety beagle had to learn to be crated pretty late to the game, and there was a lot of very very miserable moments in the training process. But, now she seeks out the crate for seclusion and comfort. It makes me smile when she does. We’re strict crate-always-when-home-alone with all three of our pups.

dogsordollars
Reply

What Karawynn said. Association with food makes them less likely to defecate in the crate. Its the age old rule, you dont poo where you eat. And Ive never heard the counter to that.

Good for you on succeeding with later in life crate training!

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

Kimberly: I think generally dogs are reluctant to defecate where they eat, so I think feeding in the crate would have the *opposite* effect.

I’ve never crated Tessa, though I would have if there had been a real need. When she was a chewy puppy one or both of us were home most of the time and could supervise. By the time our job situation changed and we were both gone all day, she was grown up and very well-behaved. She used to like to sneak up on our old couch, which was theoretically off-limits, and look out the picture window, but that was as much misbehavior as she ever dared. (Once we got the leather couch she lost interest.) She just naturally doesn’t bark — we got wildly lucky there. She just curls up in her bed, or lies out on the back deck.

dogsordollars
Reply

Ahhh the blessed one dog household. ;) You are even more fortunate as the owner of a herding dog, it could have gone very, very differently, as I’m sure you know. Good dog Tess!

Laura
Reply

I crate two of my three dogs. The one I don’t crate is 14 y.o. and confined to the kitchen by a baby gate.

I wish I’d always crated my dogs…Previously, a former dog ate the stair banister (old house), peed on the carpet (old house) and ate a chocolate bar while we were asleep and became very ill.

The crating depends on the season and time of day. My large dog is always crated at night and has no problem with it. The younger terrier, if given the choice, will always prefer to sleep with me rather than in her crate.

During the day, if the weather is good, the dogs have free run of the fenced back yard. Bad weather? They spend their day in the crate listening to the local radio talk shows. They both could probably give us advice on politics and the economy. I do go home and let them out at lunch.

The only two drawbacks I see to crating are: Where in the house do you put a crate for a 50 lb dog and make it look okay? As you implied, they aren’t decorator items. I also am always worried I’ll be killed in a car accident and no one will realize the dogs are in their crate, and they will suffer.

dogsordollars
Reply

There are fancy solutions to the ugly crate problem. Covers – look for them on etsy, and even end table/crates that are really pretty cool looking. Den Haus makes some classy options too. Classy and expensive.

I am too paranoid to leave my dogs in the backyard all day. Too much barking and squirrel chasing would ensue. It’d quickly become the bain of the neighborhood. I’m sure.

Both an eaten banister and chocolate ingestion. A more sound argument for crating, I’m not sure I’ve heard. ;)

Betsy Voss
Reply

Should you ever have to evacuate your home and either your pet goes with you, or ends up at some sort of “safe” house, your pet needs to be accustomed to being in a crate. Knock on wood, I’ve never had that situation, but I truly believe that you should own a crate for each dog. It would serve double duty, being a way to confine, but also serve as “comforting” confinement. My dogs are never crated when I’m home, though… and they do sleep in the bedroom, either on the bed or one of their beds on the floor. The only dog I will not crate is the old puppy mill breeder. I swore when I brought her home that no one would ever put her in a cage again. I actually think she wouldn’t mind so much, but the idea offends the hell out of me. Toothless and 18, we’re in no danger of the couch being eaten. ;-)

dogsordollars
Reply

I apply a similar reasoning to my old dogs. God knows what their lives have been like. I’m not going to worry about the crate issue.

Also thanks for another good reason to crate train, disaster preparedness!

cassadega
Reply

crating is a MUST. I have never had a puppy or foster dog that didn’t immediately get acclimated to a crate. I’m with you all the way, sister. And, like your dogs, if a crate is available, prefer to sleep and hang out there (door open or not…doesn’t matter).

Lindsey
Reply

I have two Irish Wolfhounds who are too large to kennel. We have a dog room, with a twin mattress for each dog, and a doggy door out to the backyard. (A human could come in through the dog door, but, as the husband says, “If you saw a dog door that big, would you risk crawling in through it?”) The dogs have never, ever, pooped in the house, torn up anything…we leave feed out in big buckets and they pretty much graze all day. Sounds like we are pretty lucky, in terms of their behaviors.

dogsordollars
Reply

You have Irish Wolfhounds. :) In my experience with them (limited, but still) these sorts of behavior problems aren’t an issue, so you are a lucky lady. What behavior problems do Wolfhounds have actually? They always come across as gentle giants to me.

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