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To Crate or Not to Crate – and for How Long?

A well-known European breeder, someone whose opinion I respect, has created a bit of a stir by posting on his Facebook page that he will not ever sell a puppy to a home with a “cage,” or crate as we normally call it. Almost a hundred visitors chimed in, almost all agreeing: crates are “never acceptable,” the devil’s handiwork (!), in fact illegal in some countries. The consensus of the majority seems to be that if you don’t want to have your dog with you at all times, why bother having a dog at all?

Nobody seems to have asked the dogs. Quite a few of them probably would tell us they wouldn’t mind getting away from their humans for a little peace and quiet in their own private place sometimes, regardless of whether you call that space a cage, a crate or a “covered bed.”

Many dogs appreciate having a place of their very own where they can find a little peace and quiet for a period of time. The sense of security afforded by a crate that is closed on one or more sides creates their own little safe haven.

I don’t want to be flippant about this, though, because it’s a serious question, and there are certainly people in most parts of the world who abuse the very real advantages that crates can offer. If a dog has to spend a large part of its life in a crate, this obviously equals animal abuse, but that doesn’t mean that all use of crates is inhumane – quite the opposite. There is obviously a distinct difference in attitude between the Europeans, who believe a crate is, in and of itself, a thing of evil, and the rest of the respondents, who mostly seem to come from America, and were shouted down by a vociferous group of crate haters.

As someone who is unabashedly pro-crate, let me state conclusively that it is definitely possible to shut the crate doors on occasion, while still loving one’s dogs and providing them with a good quality of life. The important questions really are: First, how long do you leave the dog in the crate? Second, what are the reasons the dog is in the crate in the first place? And third – and possibly most important – what does the dog itself think?

Not even dogs who are comfortable in their crates should be shut up for more than a couple of hours during the day, and if your dogs spend the night in their crates, they should absolutely be let out first thing in the morning and last thing at night – and ideally the crate should be outfitted with a water device of some kind as well.

A Matter of Safety

The main reason I like crates is that the dogs are completely safe in them. It’s easy to say that all your dogs should be friends, but even if that appears to be the case, you don’t know what happens when they are left on their own as a group. A small grumble may escalate into something serious if nobody is around to stop it; one of the dogs could find a hidden chew-bone and the others get jealous. I have never had a fight among my dogs, and I hope I never will, but I also can’t forget the experience of a friend whose champion bitches, usually left loose together without any problem, got into a fight when the owner was gone. When she returned home, there was blood everywhere, one of the dogs was dead and the other one nearly so. The only reason for the fight that anyone could think of was hormones running amok. It’s an extreme example of the kind of nightmare that a safe crate will eliminate.

Dogs are pack animals, and the pecking order may not always be apparent to a human, but when that order is challenged in some way, chaos – even tragedy – may ensue. I found the posted comment that “dogs should be free” particularly ironic, since we’re talking about a species that has been domesticated for many thousands of years. What makes a dog a dog, in fact, is that they gave up the “freedom” that wild animals supposedly have in exchange for the security and care that human beings can provide. It’s part of our responsibility to make sure we live up to this part of the bargain. Dogs are not “born free” and cannot “live a life of freedom” – but then, according to most zoologists, neither do supposedly “wild” animals. (That’s a different subject for another day, though.)

Another reason for crating dogs when they cannot be supervised, especially still “uncivilized” youngsters, is of course that the dog runs the risk of endangering itself by chewing on or eating unsuitable or dangerous materials (electric cords!). There’s also the risk that dog might do serious damage to house and home, either because it isn’t yet used to being left alone and panics, or because it gets bored and decides to have a little too much fun by ripping up the couch, chewing off the legs of the furniture, etc.

What the dog thinks of being crated is really the bottom line, of course. We all too often see a strong reaction in dogs that are not used to being created when they must be crated for a specific purpose – at the vet’s office or while being shipped, for instance. If the dog does not consider the crate as a safe haven, as it should, it must be incredibly stressful to suddenly be confined with nowhere to turn and walls on every side shutting out every possibility of escape.

Learning to Like the Crate

Since all dogs will most likely have to be crated at some point in their life, it’s definitely best for them to learn to like their crates. This can be done very simply, starting while they are still “in the nest” with their mother and siblings. When I was still breeding, my bitches nursed their puppies in a large crate, and the puppies slept there at night. That pretty much guarantees a positive early view of the crate as the puppy’s “home.” Once the puppy moves to its new family, it’s the owner’s job to continue the education. Following are parts of the recommendations I sent home with all new puppy owners:

“The upheaval in the puppy’s life, going to a new home from mother and littermates, will be overwhelming at first. He or she needs patience, time to adjust, peace and quiet, and a lot of kindness. The puppy will eventually become VERY lively, bark, bite, chew, mess up your house and get in the way of everything you do, but with the right upbringing he will soon grow up to become a civilized, easy-to-care for adult and will repay your efforts with unquestioning affection. Having a Whippet puppy is a little like having a squirrel in the house, and you will need to set some limits for both your own and the puppy’s sake.

“You absolutely need a crate where the puppy can be safe while sleeping and when you cannot supervise it. The puppy will be used to sleeping in a crate already (although they will LOVE sleeping in bed, too!), but he will be very lonely at first and miss his brothers and sisters. Put him in the crate with something to chew on when he’s tired, has eaten and been outside, put in a puppy-sized soft toy, close the crate door, turn on the radio or TV nearby — and hopefully the puppy will fall asleep after a little grumbling. Eventually he will get used to being alone in the crate. This is a very important step in adulthood: every dog should be able to ‘be crated’ without problems.

“It is important not to leave the puppy in the crate for too long: when he wakes up after falling asleep, it’s time to go outside again. The crate should be the puppy’s ‘safe house,’ where he can go to rest and be left in peace whenever he needs to during the day. Eventually you will find the puppy going into the crate to sleep on his own.”

My own adult dogs spend most of the day with me in the office or on the couch watching TV. They are in the dog room, with a crate for each of them, for maybe an hour during the day, but even when the gates are open they would as soon be in their crates as on the couch. The only occasions they are shut in their crates are when the house cleaner is visiting, so they don’t get in her way, and if I leave the house for a couple of hours – just as an extra precaution, so I won’t have to worry about two adult bitches possibly getting into a fight. They get along just fine, but why take any chances? The dogs certainly don’t mind having to be in their crates for a while on occasion.

What Kind of Crate?

If you’ve come this far, basically all that’s left for you to decide is what type of crate to get. It must be large enough that the dog can stand and turn around comfortably, but not so large that a puppy feels “lost.” To avoid having to buy different size crates, I used to put a couple of bricks wrapped in towels in an adult-sized crate, so the remaining space was comfortable for a single puppy. Definitely don’t get a soft-sided crate that the puppy could bite its way through, or a wire crate without solid sides, which wouldn’t provide the safe den feeling that dogs appreciate.

There are beautiful, expensive wooden and wicker crates that look great if you want the dog room to look like it belongs in Architectural Digest. I found a Luxury Pet Residence Dog Crate in mahogany for $799 online that “provides ultimate comfort for your pet and doubles as an attractive piece of furniture.” However, sharp puppy teeth would make short work of this, so get one of the hard-side plastic crates that can also be used if you need to ship the puppy. They cost anything from under $50 to over $200, depending on size, and they will provide your puppy with a wonderful home-away-from-home feeling.

Trust me: the crate doesn’t have to be a dog’s enemy. If you do things right, it can be a part of the dog’s life that both you and your dogs appreciate.

Written by

Bo Bengtson has been involved in dogs since the late 1950s and judged since the mid-1970s in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Japan, China and Russia. He has judged twice at Westminster, twice at Crufts and four times at the FCI World Show, as well as the U.S. national specialties for Scottish Deerhounds, Whippets, Greyhounds and Borzoi.
Comments
  • Pam April 24, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Although we bred rarely, I always advise our new owners/extended family to utilize a crate. I have long been of the opinion that a dog that isn’t supervised will do one of two things: sleep, or get into some kind of trouble. When my husband and I both worked full-time, I got up VERY early in the day so the dogs could have a few hours out before we went to work. They were let out again as soon as we got home and got to spend some cuddle-time in OUR bed before they retired to their crates for the night. On weekends or if one of us was home otherwise, they were out all day. Now that I have retired, the dogs are out with me from early morning to bedtime UNLESS I have to be gone for an hour or more: then, they go back to their crates (where they have water bottles, toys and comfy beds) to nap until I am back home.

    Many, many puppies and dogs are turned-in to animal shelters every year because they “mess” in the house. In some cases, this is because the owner doesn’t want to be bothered with the vigilance required to house-train: sometimes the dog simply can NOT be house-trained. Proper crate-training would keep many of these dogs home with their owners.

  • Mike Macbeth April 24, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    I agree with everything that Bo wrote. When my just weaned Dandie puppies are separated from their dam I put them in an 8 X 4 run (of see-through plexi, so they can see their mother). In it, they have newspaper at one end, a carpet to play on in the middle and a plastic crate with the door removed, with lovely cushy bedding at the other end. Without encouragement, they immediately gravitate to it and sleep in it, all together. And the little darlings go to the paper at the other end. This is how I paper train them .. correction .. this is how they paper train themselves!
    By the time they go to their new homes they love being in their crate, it is their refuge. And when I put the door on it, to take them to the vet for their shots, they thing they are still home! I tell my new puppy owners that with the door off, the crate is a “cave”, with the door on, it is a prison. So I encourage them to continue leaving the crate door open so the puppy can go to it when he wants to have some privacy or needs to sleep.
    When puppies consider their crate their personal “cave” they don’t mind when the door is shut, and as I personally feel that dogs should always be transported in a crate when in the car, for their own safety, my Dandies have no objection to being crated and going for a car ride, as there is always a treat at the end!
    Obviously, crates become prisons when a dog is left in it for too long a period. But we assume the readers of Best in Show Daily are sensible and compassionate! Crates are a useful tool when a litter is separated from their mother and also when adjusting puppies to their new home.
    The secret is not to abuse it.

  • Mark Sachau: Duxinarow Labs April 24, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Having had large and medium sized dogs since the 1970s I can’t imagine properly caring for your dogs without having them crate trained and comfortable with the confinement at times. The times crates are most important to me is when a dog is healing from injury or illness and needs have their mobility limited or their illness isolated from others. Every vet I know employees crates after surgery or injury. Also, I never allow my dogs to ride in my car without being confined in a crate for their physical safety. My dogs happily and willingly jump into their crates to sleep or rest when the door is left open. Anyone managing a mix of unaltered dogs and bitches, unless they’re a magician or landed gentry, will agree that crates come in handy while pursuing a “planned” breeding program.

  • Kelsi April 24, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    I feed my whippet in her crate, a number of other whippet owners and breeders gave me this advice. She will often go lay in her crate on her own as we leave the door to the crate open throughout the day. She also goes straight in there if she feels threatened, like when I get out the Dremmel! I wait for her to come out and then do her nails, rather than taking her out of the crate where she feels safe.

  • Cindy April 24, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    All of my dogs (Shelties) have been crate trained, and I use them primarily for feeding and traveling. The puppies start out in crates at night until they can be trusted in the house and then they join us in our room at night. They each have a bed, or they choose the floor if they are too hot. I have found my dogs in an open crate, comfortably napping. If used correctly, not for punishment, it’s a safety/comfy factor for them. I never travel without the dogs in crates…another safety factor. I put emergency info on each crate in case of an accident, and include their personal information, emergency contacts including my home vet, plus how much I am willing to spend on treatment should I be incapicitated in an accident. I think that vets appreciate a dog who will stay quietly in a crate while at the hospital.

  • Lynda Beam (Canine Candids by Lynda) April 24, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    I recently sprained my ankle quite badly just after we moved into our new house. One of our dogs spent most of her time with me in the bedroom and I’ve had several days to see what she does during the day. She is a smaller shiba inu bitch (13-15 pounds). She has a choice of a large size dog bed (quite cushy) and also a rather small crate (might be a good travel size for her if it was not a long trip, but that’s all I would use it for) with the door off and a dog pillow inside.

    I found she spent at minimum 75% of her time in the smaller crate, and then maybe 15% of her time in the larger bed, the rest of the time she was laying about on the floor, or trying to get in bed with me. I really think they like it “cozy”

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb Eldredge, DVM April 24, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    My questions to the many anti crate Europeans are:
    1) Are they using kennels? I think most American breeders have their dogs in their homes, not in kennels.
    2) How do they safely transport their dogs?
    3) What do they do all day at a dog show?

    My dogs are rarely crated but when they need to be they are perfeclty comfortable with the situation.

  • Sharyn Hutchens, Timbreblue Whippeta April 24, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Like others here, I cannot imagine raising a puppy without a crate…what do you do when you take a shower, for heaven’s sake? At the same time, I think crates are over-used at times by both some pet owners and some breeders. I make a point to add up how many hours my dogs are crated each day. If, including night hours, it is more than half the day, we make changes. Crates are necessary for a dog’s safety and security, but if you find yourself using them for doggy storage, it may be time to rethink either the number of dogs you own or whether at this time in your life you would be better served owning a cat. Dogs need lives of their own and safe places they can spend time playing and lounging around outside a crate! However, all I can say about the Europeans who think crates are cruel is that I’ll bet our furniture lasts longer than theirs!

  • Mary Beth McManus April 24, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    Would like to add my input to all of the good reasons for crating given herein for the Europeans and other non believers in crate training to consider. Dogs are den animals and given the chance they most often prefer to have their own little space at various times of the day/night. You wouldn’t let a baby or toddler run loose unattended in your home would you? How many dogs end up in shelters because of behavior problems that would be avoided had they been crate trained for housebreaking at the very least. Finally, think of it this way: Crating is a SKILL you teach your dog for it’s safety in transporting, emergency, and medical situations.

    After Hurricane Andrew in ’92, I assisted with the rescue efforts at one of the staging areas. Dogs that were crate trained were adopted or chosen to be flown out to other cities and rescues well before those that clearly were not. In the 20 years I did rescue (since retired), I never adopted out a rescue dog to anyone who refused to use a crate for transporting at the very least, or if it was deemed necessary (i.e., puppy, housebreaking, behavior/situational need, etc.); and as a breeder I always ask potential homes their experience with and opinion of crate training a puppy; if they don’t believe in it, they don’t get a puppy from me, and if they don’t have an appropriate sized crate to take their puppy home, I give them one free. Overuse of a crate &/or confinement is abusive. But crating is a skill and a true gift you give your puppies that can save their lives well beyond the moment they leave your door….
    Mary Beth McManus
    Marbet Maltese & Japanese Chin

  • Kathy Sylvia April 25, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    In October 2012 I was in a roll over accident on the way back from the UKC Gateway shows. If it were not for crates, my dogs would have been ejected from the van and killed on the freeway. Additionally, the destructive power of a Newfoundland puppy can be the stuff of legend. Crate trained puppies are less likely to make that $1,000 emergency room visit because they decided to eat something on the not-approved list at 2:00 a.m.

  • Robin Gates April 28, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    Just go to the dog shame website and you will see hundreds of examples of where a crate is useful. Many of the dogs have their picture taken with a funny note about how bad they are. What many don’t see are these dogs dumped later because the cost and inconvenience of damage becomes too great.

    I have terriers and cannot imagine my life without crates. My dogs get a break from us and have their own place to hang out. They love their crate.

    As a breeder, i would never sell a puppy without the new owner using a crate. I see myself as a responsible breeder and owner in doing so.

  • Ute Ach November 11, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    Very well written Bo Bengston… Could not have explained our cave dwelling canines
    need for a place away from us humans. We love our Dogs, we care for our Dogs so gently, we would never hurt them and crates are the safest places to protect them from any harm. Un-educated people regarding crate issue need to educate themselves on both sides of the issue – and not dictate what is Right and what is Wrong for ALL. Thank You Bo. Ute.

  • Iva Kimmelman
    Iva January 19, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Thank you Bo for your topic.
    And thank you to the sensible respondents.
    The most important response was the one about crating dogs in a car. I know of four(!!) whippets that died in separate car accidents because they were thrown into the shield, or out of the car upon impact.
    Crates are used around here and no puppy leaves until they have learned to eat and sleep for several hours in a crate. The dogs have choices of couch, fluffy beds and crate. Often I find two of them in a crate and the beds empty.
    Used sensibly, crates are a component of responsible dog ownership.

  • Dottie Everett January 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    I totally agree with all of the pro comments, and have but one more to ad—Are there any vets who allow dogs to run free in their clinics? Do you really want the first time your dog sees a crate to be when he/she is sick or injured or other wise stressed? I love mydogsenough to cratetrain them!!

  • kristiburrus
    Kristi January 19, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Bo is obviously preaching to the choir here. It has been suggested to me that this anti-crate rhetoric is AR propaganda to make them illegal. I can’t see any way to breed, show, and have several dogs without utilizing crates. So, it seems it would effectively be a death sentence for the fancy.
    I am curious as to why these restrictions such as anti-docking/cropping, anti-crating etc. are so much more successful in Europe and the UK, but I suppose that is a topic for another discussion.
    Am I paranoid? I don’t usually buy into conspiracy theories, but make an exception for AR groups such as PETA & HSUS. The first I heard of this anti-crating campaign was on the PETA site. Their successes seem to be proof of the dedication they posses and that they should not be underestimated.

  • Elaine Saxen January 19, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    I leave the crate doors open, and guess what, all the OES find their ways into the crates for naps. I guess if the well known breeder won’t sell to people who crate, then we just won’t ever consider buying one of his pups!

  • Ann Chamberlain January 19, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Living in Africa when I got my first Rhodesian Ridgeback, I never heard of a crate! I won’t go through the entire list of destruction that ensued, but suffice it to say, it was monumental. I worked half days, true, but even I went down to the hotel for a beer, mayhem was wrought.

    When I came back to US, I saw crates. I thought, wow, what a concept. I raised my next pup in a plastic crate with wire on the sides as you described. I had to leave him in there while I worked. I think he lost his marbles in there. I use one outside with the door removed for the pups when they are growing up and I’ll go out mid-day to count noses and everyone, the entire litter, is piled in the crate, snoozing away.

    However, for a single dog in the home, I always recommend wire crates. My next pup and all those thereafter have been raised in wire crates. I will not sell a puppy to anyone who refuses to crate-train. i will not let a dog ride in the car unless crated.
    Broke a puppy’s foot once when I had to slam on the brakes. Dogs can’t jump out of the car and get lost, either.

    So many, many reasons to crate-train. Our dogs do sleep in bed, though.

    Thank you for saying in a public forum what I have been saying for many, many years.

  • Maggie G. January 19, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    Many of those same European dog owners think nothing of having their dogs outside in fenced runs for much of their life, away from their human companions. I think that is much worse than crating a dog for a few hours when leaving the house.

  • corgimom January 19, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    Untrained dogs are the main reason rescues are full ~and housetraining, or lack of,is the biggest problem ~ crate training is an indispensable tool.

  • anitathomas
    Anita Thomas January 19, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    People who object to crates do not know what they are for, and definitely don’t know what they should about dogs.

  • Eva Engvall January 20, 2014 at 6:20 AM

    We should use the term “den” instead of crate or cage. Wolves, the ancestors of dogs, have to build their own dens. We provide the dogs with their dens, and dog dens are usually much more comfortable than wolf dens, as they are supplied with den-pads and sometimes with toys and food and treats.

  • gaydun
    Gay Dunlap January 20, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    As a breeder/exhibitor for over 40 years…amen to all you say, Bo. But, whoever said this is preaching to the choir is right. How can we effectively get this word out to the public? I agree that AR folks love to crucify us in any and every way they can and this is a prime example. How about convincing AKC to create a pamphlet out of your amazingly well-conceived explanation of the importance and value inherent in the use of “crates.” And please folks, whenever you can, correct those who use that dreaded word “cage!” Bad connotation.

  • Marilyn Oxandale January 24, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    Would you be willing to give me permission to reprint this great article in my Club’s newsletter. I’m the editor of the “Tailwagger” for the Gateway Miniature Schnauzer Club”
    Thanks
    Marilyn Oxandale

    • kayla
      kayla January 25, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Hi Marilyn, thank you for writing and thank you for being part of the Best In Show Daily community. We would be please to give permission for reprints, both print and electronic. Would you need a pdf or will you be able to pull from the site? We only ask that you maintain our trademarks, copyrights, authorship and masthead. all the best,
      Kayla

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