Crates: A good thing gone bad

black and white dog in a crate

Sunny crated after knee surgery

You might wonder why I am choosing to go on a rant about crates (this is a warning that a bit of a rant is headed your way). In an attempt for full disclosure- I have a wire crate with the door closed, behind me with a puppy snoozing in it. Crates can help with housetraining and transporting dogs. They can keep our houses safe when we aren’t around to manage a destructive dog. A crate can provide a refuge for a fearful dog. My crate was providing a place where the pup could chew on a bone without having a bigger, bone stealing dog, bother him.

What I wonder is when did it become acceptable to confine an animal for most of a day, and why do we think they’d be happy with it? “My dog loves his crate!” you say, and so he should, but it is my contention that the overuse or misuse of crates is contributing to many of the behavioral problems owners and trainers are experiencing. Want a puppy? Be sure you have a crate! Work 12 hours a day? No problem, get a crate! Have a young, developing dog who is exploring his world with his mouth? No worries, get a crate! Need some time to relax and not deal with a dog seeking attention? Stick him in a crate! Housetraining a puppy and don’t want to risk your carpets? Confine her to a crate!

Young dogs can suffer the most from excessive confinement. While their brains are developing, instead of exploring and learning lessons from the world and other dogs, they are stuck in a crate. One of the most frustrating questions I am asked is how to stop a dog from barking while left alone in a crate, especially when they are left for far too long. Dogs are social animals and being left alone can be scary. I realize that it is flippant and unrealistic in many cases telling someone that not leaving a dog in a crate is a good way to stop them from barking when they’re in it. People have chosen a dog and do not have the time needed to adequately address their needs, and have a houseful of shoes and table legs they prefer not to have chewed. So now what? Let the punishment begin! Spray the dog, put a bark collar on it, throw things at the crate, yell at the dog. It’s the beginning of a downward spiral.

As for loving their crates-I love curling up in my bed with a good book, but not for 16 hours out of 24. I’d especially be unhappy about not being able to do more than just stand up and turn around while I was in it for that much time. If there were other dogs or people in the kitchen or playing games in the living room, I’d probably want out. If I heard a spooky noise coming from the basement I’d probably want the option to either check it out or get the heck out of the house. To make it worse if I had no way of knowing (as young, inexperienced dogs don’t) that my confinement was limited I might begin to become stressed and anxious when I had moments of really wanting OUT and had no idea when or if that was going to happen soon enough for my liking. The alternatives of being tied up outside or left alone in a fenced in yard is not much better and can lead to an array of behavioral problems.

The lack of exposure to novelty is one of the leading causes of fear based behaviors in dogs. It is during their early months when this exposure is key to the development of tolerance and resiliency. Puppies who do not have the opportunity to have social interactions with other dogs, children, men with beards and hats, can become fearful or aggressive.

Keep your crate but use it thoughtfully. Plan crate time for when a dog is most likely to appreciate it. Build a dog’s comfort with their crate by making it a place of good things and allow the dog the choice to leave BEFORE they become upset and have bad associations with it. Most of all, be realistic in your expectations for these fabulous, sensitive creatures we choose to share our lives with and who don’t have much choice in the matter themselves.


24 comments so far

  1. Pat on

    I use crates for my fosters to separate them when they are eating, when I’m away and at night. When housebreaking I use belly bands and diapers until the pad is clean when I take the band off to go outside. Then I take it off. Even formally house broken dogs will have accidents when they go to a new place. I also belly band my personal dog when a new dog comes into the house because he has been known to mark when a new one is there. So for a week or two, until he is comfortable with the new dog he wears his band. People have told me they don’t like them because they have to wash the dog more or because they are a pain to put on and off but my guys all stand to have their bands put on and off and bathing their bellies every few days makes them more comfortable with their baths! I would much rather have to deal with belly bands than to have to track down the places where my dogs have marked and scrubbed carpet, walls and furniture

  2. Candy Blakeslee on

    When Betsy was a puppy, she had a crate. Somewhere I heard that you should only crate your dog for 1 hour per month of age. So a 2 month old puppy could be crated 2 hours a day. Betsy did sleep in her crate at night…right by my bed. She had a huge crate — we called it her condo. I also put her in her crate to keep her safe when we were going to be gone…and I kept to the rule.

    When we found Norman on the street he had never been inside of a house much less in a crate. No matter how much I tried, he was not going in a crate.

    It was only fair that Betsy would not have to sleep in a crate — so she is crate free.

    Crates can keep dogs safe; however, I agree they are WAY over used.

  3. Zardra on

    We used a crate for Lily for sleeping at night when we first got her until she started sleeping thru the night (and eventually joined us in bed, which helped with getting thru the night). Now her crate is in the living room without its door; she comes and goes into as she pleases, and we are not allowed to reach in and pull her out because it’s my fearful dog’s safe place.

  4. AnnMcHugh on

    I totally agree crates are over used by people that don’t know/anticipate the trouble a young puppy can get into. I used to use justa cardboard box for puppies at night, nxt to my bed, but i stopped that the morning I discovered my little eskie puppy had tipped over the box and started using an electrical cord for teething!!! Went out that day and got a crate I still use 35 yrs later for puppies when they are by my bedside as they grow up. Many a night I have slept with my hand in a crate comforting a young puppy -but they are safe while I sleep and usually pretty well housebroken when they outgrow that crate.
    I DO think dogs need to be comfortable in a crate for their safety -they don’t have to “love”it, just at least tolerate it without getting hysterical. I use crates at dogshows and obedience trials so my dogs can rest, but they are usually right by my chair. Sure i’ve had som chair rungs chewed, a piddls where they don’t belong but I knew that could happen going into ownership and my dogs ae more than worth it!! You can replace a chair and clean a floor, but not the adoring look you get from one of your sweet canines or the contented sigh when they fall asleep at your feet as more than one has done as I type this…..

  5. KellyK on

    I kind of have a love/hate relationship with crates. I’m very thankful that we crate-trained Diamond as thoroughly as she did. When she had knee surgery, there were other dogs in for surgery who had never been confined, ever. So the experience was even more traumatic for them than it was for her–they went totally nuts. And she didn’t like not being able to run around, but she was at least used to the crate.

    The downside is that after she was healed up, she wanted nothing to do with the crate. We now close her in the bedroom during the work day and give her free run of the house if we’re going out just for an hour or two. That seems like a good balance, but we really need to get her back to the point where she’s okay with being crated. I’m thinking starting from scratch with a new cue and the crate in a different spot. (She used to respond beautifully to “kennel” but I think it’s pretty thoroughly poisoned after her surgery.)

  6. fearfuldogs on

    Being able to be comfortable in a crate is a great skill to give a dog. Vet overnights, or groomer visits will be less stressful. They sure do have their uses but more people are keeping prisoners rather than pets IMHO.

  7. JJ on

    The sad part about all of this is that this should be obvious. But then, most people get dogs and think that they should be fireplace ornaments with remote control on-and-off options, pre-programmed obedience, and other silly things….So getting things like this across can prove difficult.

    Nice points.

  8. Donna and the Dogs on

    I do crate two of mine when we’re not home, but they’re adults,and are rarely left alone for more than six hours at a clip – usually less. Toby was crated initially, because he was destructive. (An adolescent Labrador). When we finally tried leaving him out of the crate, we left him for only fifteen minutes, and came home to find him in his crate anyway, panting, and his head was soaked. The best we can figure is that our eldest dog, Leah, was mouthing him in our absence, and he went into his crate to get away from her. 😦 So we now keep him in the crate, for his own safety and comfort.

    Meadow is our fearful one, and when something happens to frighten her – a knock at the door, thunder, fireworks, things that could easily happen while we are out – she panics and tries to cram herself between furniture – so we crate her for her own safety too. In the crate, when she is scared, she curls up in the back in just lays quietly until the frightening thing passes. I have a feeling she may always need to be crated, to prevent her from hurting herself.

    But I totally agree about time limits, and not overusing crates. Dogs are not toys that you can just put away in a box when you don’t feel like playing with them.

  9. Candy Blakeslee on

    I just love this quote — “Dogs are not toys that you can just put away in a box when you don’t feel like playing with them.” I think that sums up the crate issue.

    • KellyK on

      I agree. I think that sums it up perfectly. If you want a toy dog, get a stuffed one from Toys R Us.

      • Candy Blakeslee on

        You know we have some dog toys that are dog shaped and bark…maybe that would be a better choice for people who love to keep their dogs in crates for long hours.

  10. Marika S. Bell on

    I too have a fearful dog who loves his crate, and I do recomemend crates to my clients regularly, but always with the warning that crate time should be no more than 4 hours in a day unless there is an emergency.

  11. Frances on

    I think crates are used less in the UK than in the US – perhaps because more dogs have been house, rather than yard, dogs for longer. I have been rather shocked to see how often on US based dog forums people are told that of course they can have a puppy AND a full time job (plus a family of young children, in some cases) – just leave the pup in his crate. And if he barks, spray him with water, or bang the crate HARD, because he has to learn … Add in the number of people who believe a 15 minute leashed walk several times a week is all the exercise a dog needs, and developmental and behavioural problems become almost inevitable.

    Mine have a soft crate in the car, mainly for safety but they took to it so quickly that I presume they like it. I have another smaller one that I use when I want to work with just one dog. Everything else has been managed by waiting until I was in a position to wait until I could be at home with the time needed to raise and supervise a puppy. If you want to keep an animal in a cage until you get home in the evening, get a hamster, not a dog!

  12. latrenda on

    great! thanks

    • fearfuldogs on

      The information on your blog about medications for storm phobias is wrong. Sedatives are different from anti-anxiety meds and neither takes time to build up in the dog’s system, those are the anti-depressants. Telling someone not to use an anti-anxiety medication because it’s probably too late once you notice the dog’s distress is bad advice, because it’s not accurate.

      • KellyK on

        My understanding of anti-anxiety meds is based more on the human than canine side, but there’s also a difference between SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, etc. for humans and Clomacalm for dogs) and benzodiazepines like Xanax.

        The SSRIs are a daily maintenance thing and do take time to build up in your system. In humans, they’re used for both depression and anxiety. The Xanax is more of an as-needed thing and works instantly. It slows down the central nervous system, so it’s something of a sedative, but it’s calming. It also has a stronger effect and can be habit-forming.

        So, it all depends on what you’re calling an anti-anxiety medication versus an anti-depressant versus a sedative. Whether an anxiety med will work immediately or take weeks to have an effect depends on what kind it is.

  13. fearfuldogs on

    If you are going to be giving advice to pet owners about whether or not it is worth giving a dog a medication it behooves YOU to be clear on the definition of medications.

    Meds are classified. That an antidepressant works to help lower anxiety, as do anxiolytics, or has a sedative side effect is beside the point, it’s still an antidepressant and its use and administration is different from the benzodiazepines commonly used for dogs, such as Xanax. It is recommended and appropriate to administer an anxiolytic to a dog even if they are already anxious.

    The difference between the SSRIs such as Prozac, and Clomicalm for dogs, is that Clomicalm is a TCA, not an SSRI, but it is the same medication, clomipramine, which is used by people.

    • KellyK on

      Thanks very much for the clarification, though I think you might have mistaken my reply as being from La Trenda. I’m totally not qualified to give people advice regarding meds for their dogs, nor do I claim to be! (I hate to see knee-jerk negative reactions to a med that’s helpful, but that’s about it.)

      Also thanks for catching my TCA vs. SSRI mistake. I don’t know if I read incorrect info where the two were lumped together, or if I misread something.

      I’m 100% in agreement with you that the “probably too late to start now” advice is an incorrect overgeneralization that applies to TCAs but not to anxiolytics.

      For that matter, the post is from June 23rd, so at that point, a dog who needed to be on Clomicalm and started it then might already be doing somewhat better by the 4th of July. It would have two weeks to start working by that point, so it’s not likely to be fully effective, but it might well have started to help.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Oops. Sorry Kelly you are right I did think your response was from La Trenda, who truth be told I suspect is not an actual person but a front for a pay per click website the fills itself with content and that the original comment to me was actually spam. I had a feeling about it, but followed the link to check it out and found the article. I didn’t want to register on the site to post a comment so did it here.

        I was grumpy about it. No offense to you.

      • KellyK on

        No problem. And you’re right, the comment does seem spammy.

  14. Toby Jon on

    I only used a crate when my corgi was a puppy and since then we haven’t used it. But I am going to have to get him re-accustomed with a crate, since we’re planing on moving to europe and he’s going to fly in a crate for 8-9 hrs 😦
    He didn’t cry in his crate when he was a baby, I hope he won’t cry now 😦

  15. Ted Doodle on

    Hi, I came on this site to get an idea of the current thinking on crates for dogs. As a breeder of Labradoodles I am often asked for advice on crating dogs. None of my dogs have ever been crated, the puppies grow in an enclosure (no roof) and get to gallop around the house 2 or three times a day, to explore and run around. We share the house with the adults, they are not prefect by any means, a couple of things chewed, a few indiscretions but nothing major. we don’t have a crate or barrier in the car either as the two sit in the back (we have an estate). I get the idea of a retreat or den, but I would argue that they are comfortable in the whole house and don’t need a retreat. i would argue that there is a training issue. having a dog is similar to having a child they need commitment and effort, feeding, exercise and training. They are a domesticated wild animal, they are not born with a innate knowledge of how to live in a house with humans, they have to be taught. Especially when a puppy leaves us with strangers, leaves his siblings and parents he needs to loved and cared and not crated. have I missed the point?

    • fearfuldogs on

      I don’t think you missed the point at all. Crates can be useful in some situations and if a dog is going to go to a groomer, vet or be transported in a crate, it’s nice if they feel comfortable in one.

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