Crating dogs remains a controversial, divisive topic, with dog owners typically falling into one of three camps. Pro-craters tend to believe that every dog should always be crated when a dog is not supervised by a human. Con-craters tend to believe that there is no valid use for crating a dog, ever. Often, con-craters have seen the results of when a dog has been crated too much, and the negative psychological and physical issues that result of over-crating.
Then there is the middle of the pack; people who believe that crating can be a useful tool, and that some dogs will take to crating while others will not ever learn to like a crate. Most of the middle of the pack camp tends to believe that a dog should at least learn to accept a crate with good grace, when needed. This article discusses some of the issues about crating and arguments both for/against crating.
One of argument I’ve seen against crating is that crating is a new phenomena catering to owners who are either lazy, want the easy way to control their dog, and/or are un-knowledgeable about how to handle a dog. Crating certainly has become more prevalent, but I can state for a fact that at least as early as 1967, dog crates were sold for the express purpose of containing a dog in a very limited amount of space. I know this because in 1967, our family got a puppy, and yes, she was taught to accept a crate. The crate I remember wasn’t nearly as nice as the commercially sold ones today; it was a small wooden box with a metal gate on one end. Limited airflow, limited view for the dog, and it seemed awfully small to me even then. However, the point remains that crating was done even back in the 1960’s. It’s not new.
A second argument is entirely based on emotion: if you can’t have a dog without crating, then perhaps the potential dog owner should have a cat (or no animal) instead. The rationale behind this thought appears to be that crating is psychologically and physically worse for a dog than being in a shelter. The reality however is that many dogs do not leave shelters alive. For example, my pit was an inner-city rescue. I lived alone with two cats when I snatched her (about four crates away from being euthanized at a Philadelphia shelter). She was on the euthanization list for that evening, and was being held in a section where potential adopters were not allowed to browse. She had ZERO chance of being selected for adoption. Fully 50% of dogs entering the Philadelphia shelter system are euthanized. As a single person with two cats, when I pulled her, I knew I’d have to crate her while I was at work. Her first crate (a nice Midwest wire crate) was destroyed within 48 hours and I had purchased it for her based on the breed/size recommendation. It had been in the basement, and on the second full day of work, I came home to find out that she had destroyed that crate and begun working on the door, doorframe, and floor around the door that separated the basement from the rest of the house – causing several hundred dollars worth of damage. The second one lasted significantly longer – based on her anxiety on being crated, I got her the largest crate I could find – big enough that I could sit in it with her. And I did too (sit in it with her). She eventually destroyed the second crate, by selectively pulling the vertical wires in the crate door. She’s in another super-large crate, and doing well. Where I used to have to pull and push to get her in the crate, now I simple tell her “mommy has to go to work” or “crate” and she goes in – not thrilled, but with a resigned acceptance. Still – and this is humanizing things – I’d like to think she’d rather be crated when I’m at work than be dead, which was her only other option.
Another argument against crating is that it is, or can be used, as a form of punishment, and it should not be. Most canine behavioral experts agree that using a crate as a form of punishment is unhealthy for the canine and hinders the development of the bond between the dog and human handler. However, ANY tool, when used inappropriately, is a problem; that does not invalidate the potential benefits of crating when properly used. So what are the potential benefits associated with crating?
Teaching a dog to at least accept a crate provides the basis for a dog to stress out less when crating/kenneling might be necessary, such as at the vet’s, a boarding facility, when transporting a dog (especially for longer road trips). Some dogs love to lie in a crate, even (or especially with) the door open, using it as a sort of den.
Having the ability to crate a dog allows the owner the ability to ensure that during unusual events, such as having workers in the home, remodeling, etc., that the dog remains in a secure place. Yes, your dog might be just fine being shut away in a spare bedroom or mudroom, but you run the risk that a worker might “forget” that the dog is shut in the room and open the door just when you aren’t looking. The worker could claim that he/she was looking for the bathroom, got turned around and opened the wrong door by accident. If that happens to be just the wrong trigger for your dog, you could be held liable for any injury your dog causes. The same holds true for having the occasional large party or celebration, when your home may be open to people your dog is not familiar with.
Conversely, even if your dog is super friendly, if the worker(s) are also bring materials in/out of the house, it could give your dog the opportunity to bolt outside, off-leash. However, if your dog is secured in a crate, any worker is going to have a hard time claiming that they were looking for the bathroom by opening up the dog’s crate!
I’ve also had workers, such as telephone and cable service technicians, literally refuse to enter my house when they realized there was a dog in the house (one of whom happens to be a pit bull/Amstaff – who earned the AKC CGC designation). Crate training allows nervous workers to relax and just go about doing their job.
Many shelters with fostering programs require that fosterers have the ability to keep the owned and fostered animals separate, particularly during the first few days. In part, it gives the foster home the ability to make sure that they can observe the foster dog over several days to help make sure he/she isn’t sick and doesn’t get any in-home animals sick by sharing food/water/toys, etc. I also found crating was useful when we fostered a pair of kittens; I kept them in the foster crate while my dog worked on realizing that kittens aren’t food. After some work, Lucky accepted them as non-food critters, and both kittens were able to be adopted into households with a dog as a result. Because I’d crated my previous canine fosters in that same crate, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for my pit to understand that these kittens were under the same protection as our previous canine fosters.
Crating can also serve as a deterrent for food fights and general resource aggression. As it turns out, my pit is food aggressive with other animals. My third canine foster (a Jack-Chi cross) was extremely food aggressive with humans and dogs; his food aggression was intense enough that if I had not agreed to foster/rehab him, he would have been euthanized by the shelter. As a result, feeding time in our house has become an in-crate ritual so that everyone stays safe. The dogs just hear me getting the food ready and come running into their individual crates, and then patiently wait for their food.
The case for appropriate use of crating is stronger than the case against appropriate use of crating. That is the key that each dog owner/fosterer/handler needs to determine: what is appropriate for each dog. Still, it is better to have the ability to crate if needed, rather than to not have it as a tool in case it is needed.