To Crate Train or Not to Crate Train?
As the days of “rub their nose in it” housebreaking techniques drift further and further behind us and the future enlightens us towards more and more compassion for animals, even those that wind up on our plate, the question of whether or not to crate train our dogs can be a difficult one. According to a Business Week article written in 2007, Americans spend an astonishing $41 billion a year on our furry friends! We clearly love our dogs and therefore probably don’t want to put them in a “cage”. But, we also love our carpet, furniture, car seats, couches and all those other treasures we have worked so hard to pay for that Rover would just as soon chew up or poop on. Do we love Rover enough to give up on all worldly possessions? Does our employer offer maternity leave to house train our new four-legged arrival? Probably not, so this is where the dilemma begins. What can we do to teach Rover the rules of the house as humanely as possible and will the use of a crate be necessary or appropriate?
In this blog we will look at some important points when considering a crate:
- The difference between crating and crate training.
- The semantics of crate, kennel or cage.
- Housebroken vs. house-trained
- House vs. apartment living
- Excessive vs. appropriate crate training
- Ongoing vs. end goal crate training
The main reason most people would be considering a crate is for the purpose of housebreaking or house-training a new dog. Housebreaking, to most people, has only to do with going potty outside but there is more than that, so let’s call our goal house-training. In my view, house-trained means not only that the dog won’t use the house as a toilet but also that they will not destroy anything, get into the garbage, climb on furniture or any other shenanigans. A crate may or may not be required to achieve this level of trust in the house. That really depends on a lot of variables. Whether the use of a crate is established or ruled out, the end goal is to train the dog to the point where it is unnecessary. Not unlike a playpen and diapers for a child, right?
In my opinion, crate training does not mean training a dog to stay in a crate, it means using the crate as a tool for training the dog to be appropriate in the house. My apprehension with ongoing crate training is the lack of an end goal. It does not include eventually removing the crate from the equation. I know (and have debated with) plenty of other trainers who recommend crating dogs on a regular, ongoing basis. They see the crate as a never-ending part of having a dog. While they have their justifications, it’s just not my style. I am a freedom seeking being and try to give my dogs that same respect. I make a conscious effort to make sure that the meat, eggs and milk I (and my dogs for that matter) consume come from cage-free sources. I can’t see giving my dogs less freedom than my meat. The key is to give them only as much freedom as they have earned and can handle. It is our responsibility to teach them what is expected to be a part of our world and a member of the family.
"I cannot see giving my dogs less freedom than my meat."-- Chad Culp
With that said, I do often recommend crates for those having housebreaking issues but I do not like the idea of putting a dog in a crate all day. While most literature and trainers will say not to crate longer than 8 hours I think even that is excessive. I can see 8 hours as in sleeping through the night but I have a hard time with another 8 all day. Let’s face it, an 8 hour work day plus lunch and commute equals 10 or more hours in the crate. That’s way too much. I only recommend having them sleep in the crate at night, for short periods when you cannot keep an eye on them and maybe in the car for safety reasons. The rest of the time they must be within your site or on leash while in the house. You cannot train a dog how to behave indoors simply by sticking them in a crate. If you have a yard with shelter for the dog you may never need to use a crate which is great, but if you want them to sleep indoors you may find something wet or stinking waiting for you in the morning.
Forgoing the crate altogether becomes the most difficult for those living in condos or apartments. Without a yard for the dog to stay in, you will likely need to put them in a crate when you are not there, at least until they are house-trained. A dog that absolutely must be in a crate all day should be exercised before you leave and as soon as you get home. If this is your situation I would highly recommend that you hire someone to take them out at least once during the day. Notice I said at least once, twice would be better. Depending on where you live, doggy daycare may be an option for you as well.
“A dog that is going to be in a crate all day should be exercised before you leave and as soon as you get home-as well as coming home for lunch or hiring a dog walker.” – Chad Culp
Crate training can be a useful tool but calling it “training” does not excuse neglect and a crate should NEVER be used as punishment. Even the crate training zealots agree with me that there are at least two inappropriate uses for a crate.
- NEVER use a crate as a punishment.
- Do not crate dogs all day that are lacking physical exercise.
By my standards #2 would eliminate many of the dogs out there. We are going to assume that our dogs are getting plenty of exercise, attention and proper training. Therefore a crate would be a fine choice for housebreaking so long as it is being used properly. I would simply say that if you can get the job done without a crate, go for it, but if it seems like you need one just be responsible about it and follow these rules:
Chad’s top 10 rules for crate training:
- Condition your dog to enjoy the crate.
- Use the crate as little as possible but as much as necessary.
- Never punish your dog with the crate.
- Exercise before and after any lengthy stays in the crate.
- Avoid crating all day.
- Hire a dog walker or do doggy daycare if you can’t come home for lunch.
- Think of it as a temporary tool and train your dog as quickly as possible.
- Use baby gates, play pens and a leash/tether as other housebreaking tools.
- Max. Crate time = age in months plus 1 (3 mo. old dog = 4 hr.) never exceed 8 hr.
- Did I mention NEVER use crate as punishment?
So as I wrap this up I hope I have inspired any long term craters to extend their dogs some more freedom and train for the end goal of not needing the crate. I would also like to help ease the mind of those who may have come to realize they need a crate but are still feeling badly about it.
“I just don’t feel right about putting Rover in a cage.” – Dog Lover
Believe me, I totally get that and used to feel the same way. For starters we need to avoid the word “cage”. We need to think of it more like a den–a nice, safe, comfortable place for them to sleep and rest. Some people even feel more comfortable with the word kennel rather than crate. Many dogs will get so well-adjusted to the crate that they will choose to go in there on their own. In this case you would do well to keep the crate on an ongoing basis and just remove the door. If it becomes an eye sore in the house you can move it outside for a dog house.
A crate is just like any other tool, it can be useful or it can be harmful. A knife can be used to spread butter or to stab someone; same tool just depends on whose hand it is in.
Chad Culp–Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Consultant, Certified Holistic Chef for Animals
Copyright 2005-2013 Chad Culp, Thriving Canine. All rights reserved. Chad@ThrivingCanine.com