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The Crate Debate; When and How to Use Them Correctly

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Crate training. A highly debated topic in dog circles. Should you use them at all? If you do, how long is too long? Which type do you use? Do you need to "train" them to use the crate? All these questions will be answered here.

Should you use them at all. My opinion, yes! Especially when your dog is new to your home and family. Our oldest dog Bailey (the German Shorthair) was crate trained as a puppy and was crated whenever we left and over night about her first year of life. Frankly, it was a safety net. She could not get into trouble while we were gone if in her crate. We managed her behavior (i.e she couldn't get into things she was not supposed to) and once she was older we started giving more freedom with the crate set up but the door open when we were gone short periods of time increasing until she could be free most of the house (bedroom and bathroom doors were closed when we were gone). Yes, as with any tool there can be abuse with crates. Keeping a dog in a crate that is too small for them is abuse. We've all seen the puppy-mill ads with dogs in wire crates that are not cleaned and some don't have the plastic bottom so they are walking on the wire. Total abuse. Then there's the extreme sector who believe being crated while you're at work is a abuse. I do not in any way agree with this statement. Working in veterinary ER I can tell you many pets came in having ingested things they shouldn't while left alone. Its almost impossible to perfectly dog proof your home. Once your dog is potty trained you can increase the size of their crate and put kongs in there with them to keep them happy during the day. You'll know if your dog is spending too long in the crate because they will BOLT out of it and will be reluctant to go back in when it's time (provided they are properly crate trained in the first place) Freedom and trust is earned through good behavior. Our Shepherd mix Stella is 1.5 and still crated at night and during the work day because she will still chew things if left unattended.

Which type, there are a few options. Its tempting to start with a wire crate. They are cheap, easy to break down, and familiar. But I do not start puppies or new dogs in wire crates. The reason being I've seen dogs break apart the plastic tray and injure themselves on it. Besides that they can injure themselves on the bars when getting out, either punctures, oral injuries, or paw injuries. I only allow dogs in wire crates after they are thoroughly crate trained, if ever. Personally I do not own wire crates. The next option is your hard-sided "airline" crate. This is my preferred style of crate to train with. They can still be broken out of, but can be a little tougher and generally dogs seem to like them more. Use caution putting blankets over the top as they can pull them through the holes and chew them. The crates I use are this style but they are from Ruff Land. These are one piece, injection molded, impact rated crates. There is no seem to break out of (some plastic crates are two pieces screwed together) and the door actually has two latches so its much harder for them to bust out of. (I'm sure there's a dog out there that can do it, but they're not common) These crates are super easy to hose out and they're a US company which I also really like. Being impact rated they can withstand a crash and leave your dog relatively unharmed, all my dogs travel in these crates when in the car with me. Safer for them and safer for you. (They have YouTube videos you can watch of their testing) I buy mine from Cabelas but you can get them online too. They also make soft sided crates, these are NEVER for crate training. They are not secure at all. Only trustworthy dogs should use these crates and under direct supervision.

Finally, yes they need to be trained on the crate like any other tool. You should start by allowing them to investigate the crate and praising them when they do. Throw treats in the back of the crate and encourage them to go in and get them. Feeding your dog in their crate can help as well. Put their food bowl towards the back of the crate. The first time you do this leave the door open, the next time close it behind them, and after that increase the time the door is closed. Praise them for any quite and calm when in the crate. If they are whining (such as if they're sleeping in there overnight) only open the door once they are quiet. Then put their leash on, take them out, give them 5 minutes, and put them back. Only allowing them out when they are quiet, and being matter of fact about out to potty and back in will discourage them whining just to get out. Puppies will whine, but think of it from their point of view. They now don't have their mom and litter mates and are in a new environment. This is not an argument to not crate train, they will learn to self soothe and enjoy their "room". Again if they BOLT out of the crate and refuse to go back in when it's time, go back to the conditioning steps. This should be their safe place where they like to go. Bailey has not had to be in a crate now for almost 9 years, but sometimes she still goes in her sisters crate when the door is open because she values the space. If you have any crate training questions please reach out! We'd love to help.

For the Dogs,

Christina, DTFC

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