I posed the question earlier this week: Is crating ok?

First a definition, just so we’re all on the same page.

By crate I mean an enclosure that’s large enough for a dog to stand up in and turn around but not large enough for him to take a stroll in or do a cha-cha. Usually made partially or totally of wire, they’re sometimes called pens or indoor kennels.  Travel crates — also called carriers — are smaller, and serve a different purpose. I’ve never had a problem with the idea of using a crate to keep a dog safe in a car or on a plane (where they’re required),  as long as the dog is acclimated to it beforehand.

But in general…

1) Crates seem unnatural

Calling it a crate doesn’t change the fact that we’re talking about a cage: an enclosure that doesn’t open (those things that do… they’re called dog houses).

I know, dogs don’t live in crates permanently like zoo animals. But that doesn’t make their incarceration any more natural. Here’s what PETA says about crating:

Crating… deprives dogs of the opportunity to fulfill some of their most basic needs, such as the freedom to walk around, the chance to relieve themselves, and the comfort of stretching out to relax. Crating began as a convenience for people who participate in “dog shows” to keep their dogs clean, but they did not take into account their dogs’ social, physical, and psychological requirements. … Forcing dogs to spend extended periods of time confined and isolated simply to accommodate their guardians’ schedule is unacceptable.

Read the rest of the article here.

2) The crate = den analogy is bogus

People who defend the use of crates love to compare them with wolf dens, lupine safe havens. But many of these same defenders critique Cesar Millan’s domination training methods, which, they say, are based on an inaccurate conflation of wolves with dogs and inaccurate depictions of actual wolf behavior. Why should the wolf den = dog crate analogy get a pass?

Even if you accept the premise that dogs are wolves, there’s still an essential problem. Wolves weren’t locked into their dens, even for brief periods. If danger lurked, they could escape.

But if the wolf den analogy is bogus, there is one that makes more sense. The wolves that became dogs sought out human encampments for protection as well as for food. So instead of a den, why not compare a crate with a crib or a playpen, enclosures that keep our young charges safe. And also keep them from destroying stuff.

3) Almost all tools for modern interactions with dogs are unnatural

Collars, leashes, car seats… pretty much everything contemporary humans use to deal with dogs is unnatural. And can be abused (think shock collars or chains that keep dogs tethered outside all day). Good dog owners seek to minimize discomfort while maximizing dog-human communication.

4) Crates can be a good training tool

Several of my Twitter pals sent me information about the advantages of crate training, especially @Keeping_Awake, who only describes herself as “A girl and her dog.” She particularly recommended Patricia McConnell’s For the Love of A Dog as offering a wonderful primer on properly introducing a crate as soon as you bring a pup home. And trainer Leslie Fisher (@LookWhatLabs) provided me with an excellent article on the topic by writer and training guru Pat Miller. I found a link to a version of the piece, called “Crate Training Made Easy,” in one of my favorite publications, the Whole Dog Journal.

5) What’s wrong with a little convenience, particularly when…

Athough crates are rarely used in Europe — or at least in Denmark — according to another Twitter pal,  @Kenzo_HW, those randy Danes do have a use for them. Kenzo sent me a link that suggests a crate might be helpful when a couple is attempting to make love. (At least I think that’s what the article says; it’s in Danish, but “sexliv” seems like a good hint.)

I do know that dogs can be lust busters, whether because they think your partner is trying to harm you or because they think you’re playing and they want to play too. So a crate is appropriate if you can’t keep a dog out of your bed during intimate moments in any other fashion.

30 thoughts on “The Friday Five: Crate…with Caution”

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  2. Great article. So conclusion it is a unnatural but necessary tool like we use leashes, car setas etc. which we should handle with care and be aware of our responbility? Like we don’t have the leash on the dog around the clock so neither should we put them in a crate the whole day?

    1. Yes, that’s it. And feel free to send in a translation of the Danish sex article… 😉

      1. Sure, anyone interested knows where to find me. But like you said it is pretty easy to find out of even when you don’t speak Danish 🙂

        I was not aware of the crate=den analogy being used. Let’s hope it puts some questions marks behind the whole alpha/pack-leader/wolf-based theory. It has good angles. But expecting it to be the answer to ALL is too much, glad you made a strong point in the case of crating. Hope new subjects that touch that subject will follow.

  3. I think crating is fine. It is a tool. Like you say any one of the tools we use to keep our dogs safe can be abused. It is the balance between utility and negative affect, if any, that must be considered. We used a crate to potty train each of our dogs with great results. Also our current dog, Daisy, would become very stressed when left alone. The crate was a secure refuge for her when she was alone. In fact long after we stopped using the crate for “confinement” Daisy would seek it out whenever she was stressed. I think that is a pretty good indicator. With regard to using a crate while in the car it does not really keep a dog safe. A harness that is connected to a seat belt is far safer. A crate does keep them “confined” and lets the driver focus on the road.

  4. Amy and I have had 3 dogs together. Until they were housebroken, all 3 of them were crated overnight and when we had to leave the house. However, we had one advantage: since we’ve been together, at least one of us has always worked from home so the dogs were free to roam during the day AND got potty trained really quickly. I would not want to own a dog if I had to keep it in a crate for extended periods of time during the day – it just doesn’t seem “fair.”

  5. Crating a dog is absolutely the humane thing to do. After 3 black labs, I can tell you it’s the only way to go. Never knew about them with our first lab. Months and months of heartache, frustration, destruction — then a dog trainer to help us. Spend llots of money to save this dog. I believe people transfer human feelings to dogs too much, especially in the puppy stage. Then they can’t deal with the destruction they can cause. Lots of dogs end up in the humane society because their owners couldn’t deal with them. BUT, the crate has to be introduced gradually and lovingly — not with trepidation on the owner’s part. If done well, dogs become comfortable in their “den” and the owners have a greater chance of success with their new dog.

  6. Well, I am a crate fan when the crate is properly introduced and properly used.

    To me, the crate should be the dog’s safe, happy and protected place. It’s best used:

    * to housebreak a new pup (as he won’t intentionally soil his own sleeping quarters)

    *to protect a pup who is not yet fully trained from eating things that will harm him or, possibly, kill him when you can’t closely supervise him

    *as a temporary confinement when you are engaged in an activity dangerous to your pup: painting a room in your house, some project that necessitates leaving an exterior door standing wide open, etc.

    *as a temporary confinement when you legally have to confine the dog: meter reader visit, home repairs, etc. More and more, employees of service companies will not enter your home if your dog is not confined.

    *for travel. The crate is useful in confining while en route and at your destination, as he has a familiar, safe and happy place to call his own in a new environment.

    *when introducing a pup into a household, a senior dog often appreciates having a place to retire from the puppy mayhem. If he has this spot, he may well use it rather than correcting the pup overly aggressively.

    *when you have small kids and a dog, again, the dog has a safe place to retire from the excess of activity, stimulation (or sometimes abuse ) offered up by the kids. If he has a safe spot, again, he’ll often use it instead of correcting your kids.

    *if you have intact dogs, you may need a crate periodically to prevent ‘oops’ breedings in a multi-dog household

    *if you have dogs bred for fighting instincts, you may need to confine them when you can’t closely supervise them

    *if you have a fearful dog, the crate gives him a safe place to regroup and return to household activity when he’s ready

    If the cardinal rules of crating are followed (the crate is always a happy place, periods of confinement are brief-less than 4 hours-and it is not used for punishment) crates can be very useful as a training tool.

    Where I think people can go quite wrong with crates:

    *don’t properly introduce the crate, usually by going too quickly, so the dog doesn’t associate it with safety and positive emotions

    *use the crate for excessive periods

    *use the crate in place of training the dog to be reliable in the house without constant supervision

    Like any training tool, understanding how to properly use it before introducing it is the key. all training tools have the potential for abuse when misused.

  7. I should clarify: I have never used a crate on Frankie and never plan to — mostly because I have no reason to. He’s never destroyed anything and I have plenty of places with closed doors to keep him in temporarily if I need to. His safe place is the bed — or with me. I agree with Anthony: Crates — at least unsecured ones — are not the best way to keep dogs safe in a car. I use a seat belt secured to a halter.

    Thanks to Kenzo for noticing that one of my important points here is that dogs crates are not wolf dens. And for offering to translate the Danish article. Yes, I do have an extra room, but I don’t know that Frankie would be all that hospitable to a big Hovowart Male!

    1. I agree crates are not dens. To me the comparison is novel but really not that useful. In my opinion this is another form of projection. Regardless what is good for a wolf is not necessarily good for a domestic dog.

  8. Like many trainers, I use and recommend crates quite often. I think that they are, when used correctly, a very valuable tool.

    I don’t think the den analogy is bogus at all. Left to their own devices, dogs will tend to seek out quiet, dark, concealed places. 3 of the 4 dogs I have had in the past decade would actually leave our bed to lie in a dark corner, under a table or even in their crates.

    I think the key difference between crates and “pack theory” is that dens and the associated behaviors actually do exist in both wolves and dogs.

    1. Small dark places are one thing — humans sometimes seek them out too, especially if they have large-screen TVs in them, and you could say they’re analogous to caves — but locked small dark places are another thing. Sorry, I’m not convinced.

  9. I think crates are good when used for short periods of time like an hour or two at most, but I also believe that educating new owners on how to properly use a crate is very important. I have heard stories of people who will crate their dogs for 8 hours while they are away at work which seems a bit cruel to me.

    I personally don’t have a problem with people crating their dogs, but what bothers me is when I hear crating being touted as essential to paper training your dog and being a necessary part of a puppy’s early life.

    I didn’t crate train Penny in the traditional sense, but she does have her own room that is puppy proofed and gated which I guess amounts to a huge “crate”. I didn’t want her to have to be confined to such a small crate when my wife and I were away, so opted for a larger space. We do have a travel crate in there which serves as her “den” and when we are home she has free run of the house. When I think about it…she has it better than I ever did when I was growing up…! 😀

    1. I agree with you about the travel carrier — I don’t consider that a crate — and see no reason that a puppy-proofed room shouldn’t be used instead of an actual crate. I suppose crates are good for people who don’t have that option. Frankie does have to stay in a cage when he overnights at the vet so I suppose it might have been useful to accustom him to that but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, aside from the being-away-from-me part.

      1. Before we got the carrier we used to use a cardboard box turned on it’s side with a towel partially covering the opening as her “den”, but once she entered into her teething stage that box didn’t last too long. The carrier is a good,
        indestructible alternative den which we use with the door off. It makes a nice resting / get away from it all area for Penny.

  10. I’m in the camp that thinks crating is fine when the crate is used properly — and, in fact, makes housetraining a whole lot easier for all concerned. My own dog, who’s seven-and-a-half *loves* her crate, and frequently goes into it on her own.

  11. Crates are useful training tools and are especially helpful to people with new dogs and whenever you have to keep your dogs safe from events happening in the household. It’s funny you mentioned playpens when talking about kids; that’s what my mother bought for her two Shih Tzus – they didn’t like the crates and barked themselves silly, yet were little angels, well…that may be an exaggeration, but they were happy and quiet in the pens.

    The Danish use of the crate is hilarious!! I’ve never been one to use crates (uh, not referring to the previous sentence!) – luckily I’ve always be able to somehow get the new family member into a routine without too many of the mishaps that lead to recitivism. It was only when I got involved in the shelter field that crates came into view as really useful tools in preventing returns:) Thanks for this look at crate use and the great links!

  12. I have crate trained all of my dogs for years. It’s a huge help when house training a pup. Plus they are adapted to the idea if they must have a vet hosp. stay. My dogs are always crated when riding in the car – it is a matter of safety: like putting a baby in a car seat or wearing my seat belt. In a collision a loose dog becomes a projectile. I know the dogs are comfy in their crates because those in the house for adult dogs have no doors on them and the dogs use them as their beds.
    Like so many things it is a great tool but can be misused.

  13. I think that crating is okay as long as it is used in a proper manner. When Jersey was a puppy we had to crate her if we went out for the night. If we didn’t there would be something destroyed when we got back.

  14. Wow, the crate-with-caution proponents have spoken (and welcome several of you who haven’t been to my site before). Of course, it’s very easy for me to critique a practice that I have no reason to turn to. I’m sure that, under the proper circumstances, I’d be a fan. But now that you’ve confirmed the efficacy of the playpen, Mary, at least under some circumstances, I’d probably want to go there first. Baby paraphernalia is often far less expensive than dog gear.

  15. I keep a large wire crate in my office, open most of the time. One dog or another will choose to go into it, I suspect because it serves to give them some privacy from other dogs. When I take dogs here to board I appreciate it if they are happy and comfortable in a crate so that I can put them in a crate and know they’ll be safe, as will my house and the other dogs, if I need to be away for any length of time.

    I don’t crate my own dogs as a matter of course, but because they do go to groomers and unfortunately may end up at a vet’s, I think it’s good that they don’t freak out in a crate as that only adds to the stress they’ll experience.

    It’s been ages since I’ve had to housetrain a pup and back then crates weren’t commonly used. I was a teenager and slept on a couch in the basement so I could sleep with my new pup, dogs were not allowed in bedrooms (at least while my parents were home anyway). I remember getting up a bunch in the middle of the night to take her out so she didn’t pee on me. Oh and I also skipped school so I could go home and play with her and take her out. I did finally get in trouble for that, but by then she was housetrained.

    I’m all for management tools that benefit the dog as much as they provide convenience to their owners. I suppose one would have to look at each situation individually to determine whether a balance was being achieved in regard to the use of a crate.

    1. Balance is good, and trying to achieve it our relationships with our dogs is a great goal to aim for. Perfection — not so possible.

  16. As weird as this may sound, I am for and against crating your dog. When my dog Gretchen was a pup, I crated her while as not home for at least the first 6 months. After that…no more crating. For me, it was a way to keep her out of trouble (she was definitely known to get into lots back then) and for my own personal assurance that nothing could happen to her while I was not there.

    As I said, I haven’t crated her since and she’s 7 now. Once I felt confident that she would be ok with being home alone and she became more self sufficient, I felt it was time to lose the crate.

    In my opinion if you crate your dog on a regular basis, you should:

    Considering a laid-back breed

    Providing the largest crate possible

    Considering alternative confinement to one safe room

    Providing a soft bed, safe treats and toys

    Making arrangements for at least a short walk at noon

    Providing a nice romp every evening to help your dog relieve stress and feel good about himself

    Dog crates can be a good thing. But, as with anything, too much of a good thing can be bad. The question is: how much is too much? There seems to be a wide range of opinions and the question truly may not have one definitive answer.

    1. That doesn’t sound weird at all, Marsha; it sounds like you made excellent use of a crate as a tool and then didn’t rely on it as a crutch when you need it any more. Kudos.

    2. Not weird at all! That’s mainly how I use them as well! Once the dog was trained, we didn’t need to use it except for travel (so she’d have ‘her own place’ to use in strange locations) and the occasional surprise need to confine, for example when the meter reader comes by (and he legally can’t enter the house if the dog is not confined, so in she goes for 5 minutes.)

      I think there are an awful lot of people who use them regularly with pups and then not thereafter. If I were constantly introducing new dogs to my house or had small children, I might use it more. But many one-dog owners use them exactly as you have described.

  17. Our dogs were never crated. We did think (and I still do) that crating is a good tool to assist with potty training, but Jasmine thought otherwise.

    We did get a crate, and she did like it just fine, as long as the door was open. The moment we closed it, she became very unhappy. So that lasted about a half a second … LOL

    There seems to be dogs who like being in the crate, but I don’t know one personally and Jasmine surely wasn’t one of them.

    1. Jana, I tried to crate Frankie at one point, and he had the same reaction as Jasmine. I finally came to the “why bother” conclusion — he does okay in a crate at the vet, and I’ve never had a reason to confine him at home.

  18. Two dogs ago I was aghast at crates. I was of the “I would NEVER lock my dog in a cage!” school of thought.Then crates=cruel. I have since had the good fortune to work with reward based dog trainers who see crates as indispensable training tools for puppies. So, now I guess you could say I’m a convert. For example, when Sadie was a puppy I took to heart the advice to keep your puppy in a safe, secure space when you are not able to give her 100% of your attention. I made it my business to make lots, LOTS, of time for Sadie to have all my attention. But, sometimes I had to prepare dinner, use the bathroom, eat lunch, or work at the computer, and during those early months sending Sadie to her crate, which she had learned to associate with yummy food puzzle toys, was a godsend.

    As for dogs preferring dark dens…Sadie? Not so much. She’ll take a cushy couch or comfy dog bed out in the open over an enclosed space such as that under a table every time. In fact, I used to leave her crate open for her to use or not. She chose it a few times and then ditched it for the couch.

    I no longer crate Sadie in the house, but she does happily jump into her wire crate in the car–for her safety and mine.

  19. My dog is crate trained (I got him as an adult).
    Initially, the crate was useful when introducing him to the household cats (one of which is known for attacking dogs on occasion).
    Later on, when get got Epilepsy, the crate was a godsend. At periods when his medication isn’t working well to control his seizures, I crate him when I’m not home so he can’t hurt himself if he has a seizure.
    Also, I noticed that after a seizure he is very frightened, and crating him then calms him down and lets him relax and rest.

  20. I have used a crate since I got my 1.5 year old whippet as a puppy. I had used crate training with my previous dog and knew it was great for house training and safety while I was away. However, my dog suffers from mild separation anxiety and, although I would like to have her out of the crate when I am at work, she gets stressed, cries loudly, and pees in the house. She is ok while in the crate (now), but I would like her to feel ok on her own in the house. Does anyone have tips for getting her to be confident when alone and out of her crate?

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