The Right – and Wrong – Way to Use a Dog Crate
by Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., CAAB & Dan Estep, Ph.D. CAAB, Reprinted with permission from their free e-newsletter “Pet Behavior One Piece at a Time,” www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com, Littleton, CO
We’re not sure when dog crates became so popular. Our families didn’t use crates with any of our childhood pets. Now they seem to be routinely recommended by breeders, shelters and veterinarians. However, dog owners too often receive insufficient information about how to use crates appropriately and safely.
One dog owner wrote us about her Husky that had been spending all day in his crate while she was at work. Now she is retired and the dog is chewing and swallowing stuffing from his toys when he’s free in the house with her. Another visitor had been crating her dog to prevent him from being destructive during thunderstorms, but the dog is breaking out of the crate. These stories illustrate two of the most common mis-uses of crates.
We’ve crate trained all our dogs for the last 30 years. We believe crates are wonderful tools for training puppies, preventing young dogs from getting into mischief and for keeping dogs safe while traveling in the car. One advantage of having a crate trained dog you might not have thought of is that a dog that is comfortable being confined in a crate will be more easily managed in a disaster situation.
However, spending 8 hours plus a day, 5 days a week in a crate, for 10 or more years is not our idea of a good quality of life for a dog. Some dogs, in addition to being crated while the owners are away at work, are then put back in the crate to sleep at night. This means they have maybe 5 hours a day of freedom. We have trouble sitting at the computer for more than an hour at a time without getting up to stretch our legs. Being confined to the computer chair all day would be agony.
With this kind of restricted, impoverished environment it’s no wonder we often see dogs develop self-injurious behaviors, be quite reactive, excitable and difficult to train, become possessive of objects, or show abnormal behaviors such as pica (eating non-food items).
Using a crate to stop a dog from being destructive when alone is risky. If the destructive behavior is motivated by any sort of fear – separation anxiety, noise phobias, etc., - the dog is going to become more panicked and quite likely injure itself trying to escape from the crate. We can’t imagine the degree of terror these dogs must feel that they will actually break teeth to get out of the crate.
Our take home points are:
1. Use or recommend crates for training, NOT as a way of life. Dog owners should know how and when to transition their dogs out of routine crating.
2. Avoid recommending or using a crate to manage existing home-alone problem behaviors until it is clear these behaviors are not fear motivated.
3. Accustom a dog gradually to not only being confined in a crate, but being confined when alone.