To crate or not to crate ?
During my lifetime of owning dogs and indeed during my time studying and working with behaviour, crating has come from being virtually unheard of to being an immensely popular training tool, being used to help with puppy training and as a quick fix for unwanted behaviours such as separation anxiety issues, chewing and over exuberant/poorly socialised dogs. Crate training is endorsed and encouraged by animal welfare societies such as the Blue Cross and RSPCA but crating your dog is illegal in Australia and some parts of Europe including Finland and Sweden where it is illegal to crate your dog overnight or when owners are at work.
Crating has, undoubtedly, caused a huge divide in the training and behaviour world, the question, however, that should be asked is not ' How does crating help owners overcome problems? ' instead it should be ' How does crating effect our dog's mental and emotional health and wellbeing ? '
A dog's perspective
Many trainers cite the facts that dog's have descended from wolves and that, as crates are den like in structure, it is a natural place for our dog's to relax in . There are several flaws in this theory, the most obvious being that dogs are not wolves and that wolves do not lock each other in cages but have freedom of choice on entering and leaving their den's.
Dog's are individuals, some dogs suffer from claustrophobia and find being confined extremely stressful and even dogs who seem to enjoy sleeping in their crates are (if they are locked in) denied the choice of leaving, choosing where they sleep and in some cases (if the crate is not very large) how they sleep.
Let's not sugar coat it, a crate is a cage. When did it become acceptable for us to confine our dog's in cages ?
I'm not completely anti crate. Crates , when used responsibly, can be extremely useful in certain cases. For dog's recovering from operations, for travelling and new puppies crated at night next to their owners bed to help with security and housetraining, then they can be invaluable, but we really need to consider why we are crating and the amount of time we crate our dogs. All too often dogs are crated when owners go to work for up to 8 hours a day ,with a break in between, then again at night for another 8 hours. Before we know it our dogs are in their crates for most of their lives.
Also, sadly, crates are more and more commonly being used and advised as a quick fix to serious behavioural problems such as separation anxiety or instead of taking time to train, dogs are simply shut in their crates out of the way when they are being a nuisance. Crates are confining, there is little room in them for movement or enrichment.
Dog's need company, training and freedom of choice to be able to live full enriching lives. It is a much better solution to use baby gates to section off young puppies in safe areas, dog walkers, doggy day care or pet sitting for when you are working, management in both your dogs environment and social activities in conjunction with positive reinforcement training and enrichment activities to help keep our dogs engaged, free from frustration, boredom and excess energy can completely rule our the need for crating except in exceptional circumstances.
Ask yourself four questions before using crating as a tool with your dog
Why am I crating
How long is my dog going to spend in his crate
Does my dog have any choice ? Can he leave and enter freely ?
Is there an alternative to crating ?
Can you, in all good conscience say your dog spends minimal time in his crate and that he is happy and relaxed when in it, that it's not being used as a quick fix of problem behaviours and that your dog has only positive associations with being crated?
As long as crating is done with care, thought and the emotional health and wellbeing of the dog is the overriding objective then we, as guardians, trainers and behaviourists can only strive to continue to learn and evolve how we use or indeed phase out the use of crates