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The Great Crate Debate: Kindness or Cruelty

To crate or not to crate: that is a question that provokes strong disagreement among dog owners. If you are about to add a dog to your household, you’ve probably heard both points of view.

Opponents of crating view it as a form of imprisonment and charge that it is cruel. Rather than being caged, they say, dogs should have the freedom to roam. After all, don’t dogs roam free in the wild?.

Advocates insist that dogs view the crate not as a cage, but as a safe retreat. In fact, they say, dogs inherited an instinctual drive to den from their wild ancestors, who den for protection from enemies when they need to sleep or for their young.

What’s a pet owner to do?
For the new pet owner, both arguments make sense and this can make the decision of whether or not to crate a difficult one. Whatever your opinion about how dogs view the crate, the fact is crating has a number of very real advantages for the dog owner.

First, and perhaps most important to the new pet owner, crating can really facilitate housetraining. Because a dog won’t soil where he eats and sleeps, keeping a puppy crated when you can’t watch him can help ensure that he will more quickly learn the appropriate place to toilet. Of course, for this strategy to be effective, you must take puppy outside to his toileting area immediately after releasing him from his crate.

In addition to preventing accidents in the house, a crate allows you to secure your pet at times when she shouldn’t be roaming free – either for her own safety or to meet family needs. For example, if your pet insists on jumping into bed with you at night, placing her in her crate at bedtime can break that habit. Or, if there are service people in the house, crating your dog will keep her from interfering with their work.

Another important benefit of crating is that it makes travel with your pet, as well as visits to the groomer and boarding kennel easier. A dog that has never been crated may become frantic at the prospect of being put into a travel crate, groomer’s holding cage or enclosed kennel. If the crate is familiar, however, your pet will make the transition easier.

If you decide to crate
Your approach to the crate will differ depending upon your dog’s experience with crating.

  • For a new puppy. When you introduce the crate, don’t force puppy inside. Instead, entice her to enter the crate on her own by tossing in a toy. When she retrieves it and comes back it, toss it inside again.

    Once your puppy is comfortable coming and going, encourage her to lie down and shut the door briefly. Stay by the crate so she can see you. If she seems comfortable, leave her for 5 or 10 minutes, then gradually work up to several hours. (However, never confine a puppy for more than two hours at a time except at bedtime). Once puppy is fully housetrained, you can leave the door to the crate ajar, so he can come and go as he pleases.

  • For Older Dogs — If you are adopting a dog who is already accustomed to the crate or has been crated at the shelter, the transition should be an easy. (In fact a shelter dog may actually seek out the crate for security). Until you are certain that your new dog is fully housetrained, close the door when you can’t watch your pet.

    If your dog is not accustomed to the crate and you want to crate train him, follow the same procedure as described for introducing the crate to a puppy.

Regardless of your pet’s age, be sure to choose a crate that fits. It should be large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and stretch out when he lies down. If you are planning to use the crate for housetraining, be sure it’s not too large, however, or your puppy may decide to use one corner for his toilet area. If you want to purchase a crate large enough to work when he is fully-grown, choose one that comes with a removable divider so the crate space grows with him.

Finally, be sure never to use the crate as a form of punishment. If you do, your pet will learn to be afraid of it rather than to welcome it as a safe, comfortable place.