Dear Didi: Isn’t it cruel to crate a dog? -Dog lover in Lathrop
Dear Dog Lover: It all depends on your intentions. For example, let’s contemplate a baseball bat. It is a common piece of sports equipment located in a large percentage of American homes. However, it can be a murder weapon in the wrong hands. It is not the crate that is cruel. A crate is a tool that we can use to help us in a variety of ways to train and strengthen the bond with our four legged family members. Humans tend to anthropomorphize dogs’ desires and behaviors. This means we reason that dogs want the same things we do or feel the same way we do. In some instances this may be true. They definitely want their dinner, just like us! However, humans want big cars, lots of land, mansion sized homes, etc. Dogs are pack animals and den animals. They feel safest when surrounded by their pack family and in a snuggly tight area to sleep. Many dogs experience anxiety when left with the 2500 square foot house to wander and no other pack members around. When used correctly, dogs begin to see their crates as their personal bedrooms. A safe house. A place to retire to when they want some peace and quiet.
Crates can significantly speed up the potty training process. Puppies are still learning what signals their body gives them that mean, “I need to pee”. So if they are distracted by all the fun smells in your home, toys laying around, or just running with others, they may not get enough warning to make it outside. They certainly won’t be able to wait and figure out how to signal to their human that the door needs to be opened. Puppies have a natural instinct not to mess where they sleep. When a crate is employed correctly, it helps them focus and learn to build bladder control.
Like it or not, your dog will likely be crated at some point when you have to go away on a trip. Your dog will be boarded and possibly already stressed without you. Let’s not put additional stress on them because they also have never experienced having to stay in a crate/kennel. The same holds true for unexpected illnesses at the veterinarian’s office. Not a fun thought or experience for your dog. By teaching him to be okay with being crated, you can help reduce the amount of anxiety he may experience.
If you are lucky enough to have a mild temperament dog, you may not understand that some of us have wilder, more driven dogs. Crates are an essential lifesaving tool in those moments where the dog can’t be directly supervised. Much like a playpen allows a baby to stay safe while mom uses the restroom quickly. Some dogs are capable of serious destruction to property in only minutes. Worse, those same dogs may swallow things they are chewing on which is potentially life threatening due to poisons or intestinal blockages. A responsible dog owner uses prevention and good management tools to avoid pain, distress, loss of life, and personal property damage.
All dogs develop a behavioral issue at some point in their lives. The crate can be used to help manage the dog during this time, which gives training time to work. I have been an Animal Behaviorist for 30 years. In that time, I have either seen or experienced the full potential of some dogs. Most are fully capable of jumping our 6 foot fences. It is just a matter of what motivates them to try. A stray dog on the other side or a child teasing them could be enough for them to realize their abilities. More than once I have seen dogs break through glass windows to get to something in their front yard. The results of stomachs grazing broken glass as they clear the obstacle is not pretty. I’ve even personally experienced a dog chewing through the wall of a home in less than 15 minutes to get out to the owner.
The crate itself is not cruel. The way in which it is used can be. If someone leaves their dog in a crate 12 hours a day, five days a week, for the dog’s entire life … then the person is cruel. Not the crate.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. E-mail your questions to Didi@californiacanine.dog.