Crate Training: Training or Punishment?

The issue of crate training dogs is a controversial one, with some people loving it and other slating it as “cruel and unusual punishment.” As with most training tools, it can be both a lifesaver and a way of causing distress to your dog, depending on the manner in which it is used. In this article I will attempt to explain the correct usage of a crate, and point out the pitfalls of using it incorrectly.

Crate training can be used in the following ways

  • As a housetraining tool
  • As a way of limiting chewing damage
  • As a way of creating a safe haven for your dog

Let’s talk about housetraining first.

A problem that often comes up in puppy classes is the problem of the dog that is hard to house train. The exasperated owner will assure me that they are doing their best to housetrain their dog, but the dog just doesn’t get it. They wonder if they managed to get the only dog in the world that never manages to understand that the doggie bathroom is outside, and not on their beautiful Persian rug. At this point I usually question them as to what their housetraining program is. Usually it consists of taking the puppy out occasionally and shouting at it if it makes a mistake in the house. Some people even admit to rubbing their dog’s nose in the mess and smacking it. Now consider this: the puppy is most likely having those accidents when it is unsupervised – for instance when mom or dad is cooking, watching TV, working on the computer. Puppy was sleeping at their feet or in his basket, but woke up un-noticed, wandered off and had an accident. If this puppy was being crate trained he would have been in his crate, woken up and cried for attention. Hopefully then his person would have taken him outside to relieve himself. Most puppies have a den instinct. They prefer not to soil in their den area. By using a crate as a den, we create a defined area that the puppy will not by choice relieve himself in. The puppy can thus be left in this den for a reasonable amount of time unsupervised. As a general rule, you can expect your puppy to “hold it” for about an hour per month of age, plus one. So an 8 week old puppy should be good for 3 hours at a time. If you consistently push the boundaries too far you will destroy the denning instinct and you will have a dog that becomes used to sleeping with his mess. This puppy will be VERY hard to housetrain. If used correctly, the crate will help ensure that you have the minimum of accidents and a perfectly housetrained puppy in no time. It is, in fact, possible to have NO accidents if you are totally committed to crate training your dog.

Secondly, the crate can be used as way to prevent damage to your home while your dog is teething. A puppy that is confined to his crate when he cannot be supervised is not very likely to be chewing the skirting boards. Give him some yummy chew toys to keep him busy while you are otherwise occupied and he will soon learn that those toys are the ones he is allowed to chew. Please note that here, as in with housetraining, the emphasis is on crating your dog WHILE HE CANNOT BE SUPERVISED. When you are at home, it is vitally important that you make time to interact with your dog outside his crate.

If you have used the crate as mentioned above, the third use of the crate will have occurred naturally. Your dog will consider his crate “his place” and will choose to lie in it, even when not required to. This will be his mobile bedroom and will make travelling with your dog much easier. With a familiar den that you can move with your dog, much of his anxiety will be eased. Children must be taught that the dog’s crate is a no go zone. This gives your dog an escape route if the children get too rough or he just needs a time out to rest.

Once you have decided a crate is a good idea for your dog or puppy, you then need to decide what kind to get. The two common types are wire and plastic. The plastic crates are usually airline approved, so if you think you may need to fly your dog somewhere, this is the way to go. The down side is that they are more expensive and are not as well ventilated as the wire crates. Some dogs prefer the enclosed space however, so keep that in mind when making your choice. Wire crates are collapsible, which makes them great if you need to travel by car. They offer plenty of ventilation and because of the open grid sides; your dog may not feel as isolated as he might in the plastic crate. Both are easy to clean.

When choosing the correct size for your dog, keep the following in mind.

  • Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably in the crate.
  • If the crate is too big, you will lose the den aspect and you may lose the housetraining value.
  • If the crate is too small, your dog will not be comfortable and will be unwilling to be crated.