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.
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?