Parkway Animal Hospital's
PET OWNER'S GUIDE TO
The Dog Crate
WHAT IS A DOG CRATE?
A dog crate is a rectangular enclosure with a top & a door. Constructed of wire, wood, metal, or molded plastic, its purpose is to provide guaranteed confinement for reasons of security, safety, housebreaking, protection of household goods, travel, illness, or general animal control.
The dog crate has long been accepted by dog show exhibitors, trainers, obedience & field trial competitors, breeders, groomers, and veterinarians.
CRUELTY OR KINDNESS?
As the Pet Owner Sees It:
“It’s like jail! It’s cruel! I’d never put MY dog in a cage.” If this is your first reaction, you’re a typical pet owner. You value your freedom, and by the pet being an extension of your family, you wish that freedom for your dog. But, you are not a dog!
As the Dog Sees It:
“I love having a room of my very own! It’s my private place & I don’t mind having the door closed.” (If the dog could speak.) A crate helps to satisfy the ‘den instinct’ that has been inherited from the dog’s den-dwelling ancestors, so there is no fear or frustration when closed in.
So, to you it may be a ‘cage’. To the dog, it’s ‘home’.
WHY USE A CRATE?
A dog create, correctly & humanely used, can have many advantages for both you and your pet. With the help of a crate:
- Enjoy complete piece of mind when leaving the dog unsupervised, knowing that nothing can be damaged & the dog is comfortable and protected
- Can housebreak your dog more quickly by using the den instinct to encourage control, establishing a regular routine for outdoor elimination
- Can effectively confine your dog at times of stress (visitors, workmen), or family meals, or confusion (neighborhood kids). Or, when the dog is ill.
- Can travel with the dog, knowing the dog is not only controlled, but also comfortable in its ‘home’.
- Can enjoy the privacy & security of a ‘den’ to which (s)he can retreat when tired, stressed, or ill
- Can avoid much of the fear, confusion, and punishment caused by your reaction to problem behavior
- Can more easily learn to control bowels and to associate elimination with the outdoors
- Can be spared the loneliness and frustration of being isolated as ‘an outdoors dog’ or quartered in the garage or basement (dogs enjoy heat and A/C, too)
- Can be included in family outings, visits, and trips instead of being left behind
You want to enjoy your pet & be pleased with his/her behavior. Your dog wants little more from life than to please you. A dog crate can help to make your relationship what each of you wants & needs it to be.
USE – BUT DON’T ABUSE
The use of a dog crate is NOT recommended for a dog regularly left alone all day, though some dogs may learn to tolerate it. If it is attempted, the dog must be well exercised before and following crating, given lots of personal attention, and be allowed freedom at night (including sleeping near the owner). Most important, however, the crate must be large enough to permit the dog to stretch out fully on his/her side and have ample freedom of movement. Sufficient water in a non-spill bowl (or one secured to the crate) insures adequate hydration. Ideally, someone should visit during the day to provide a period of attention and exercise.
In the case of a puppy, the crate must be associated with pleasure (play pen) and security (den). Bedding at one end, food & water in non-spill containers nearby, and possibly newspapers covering an area separate from bedding and food. Although a puppy can be raised in this manner, limited human supervision may result in a socially poorly-adjusted pet that is difficult to housebreak or train.
Crate, or no crate, any dog constantly denied the human companionship it needs and craves is going to be a lonely pet – and may still find ways to express boredom, anxiety, depression, and general stress.
WHAT KIND OF CRATE IS BEST?
The most practical dog crate for the pet owner is the collapsible wire mesh type. Lightweight and easily handled (most sizes), it allows total ventilation & permits complete visibility of the surroundings. We have successfully crated our dogs using the plastic (airline-type) crates at home, but ventilation & visibility are restricted.
WHAT SIZE CRATE SHOULD WE PURCHASE?
The crate should be of sufficient length to permit a dog to lie down on its side without being cramped. You will need to predict the fully-grown size of your dog. While this may be done easily for pure bred dogs, it is more challenging for hybrid models. But, it’s better to purchase a crate too large than not.
For a fully grown dog, measure from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail (not the tip). Manufactured crates have the correct height & width for most breeds based upon this measured length. There are some specialty crates designed for use in station wagons, mini-vans, and hatchbacks.
For puppies, measure above, then add 12” for rapid growth. If a small crate is unavailable for temporary use, reduce the size of an adult crate by blocking off a portion via an inverted box or movable partition. Note that a crate of excess size for a puppy can defeat the purpose of the crate … delaying the desired housebreaking behavior.
WHERE DO I GET ONE?
New crates can be purchased via retail pet shops, major retailers (Sears), or on the internet. Used crates may be found at flea markets or garage sales. Price is determined by size, material, and finish. Most come with floor pans. If you select a wire crate, investigate the metal finish, because untreated wire will quickly discolor and become visually unappealing.
EVEN THE MOST EXPENSIVE DOG CRATE IS A BARGAIN WHEN COMPARED TO THE COST OF REPAIRING OR REPLACING A SOFA, CHAIR, WOODWORK, WALLPAPER, OR CARPET!
CRATING THE PUPPY
A young puppy (8-16 weeks) should normally have no problem accepting a crate as his/her ‘own place’. Early complaints that may arise are caused not by the crate, but the acceptance of new controls in a new environment. In fact, the crate will help the puppy adapt more easily to this new world.
How to Use It:
Place the crate in a ‘people’ area, in a spot free from drafts & not too near a direct heat source. For bedding, use an old towel or piece of blanket (which can be cleaned in the event of an ‘accident’) and a freshly worn, unwashed t-shirt (etc.). Avoid putting newspaper in or under the crate as the odor may encourage elimination. Ideally, the crate should have a floor pan, although corrugated cardboard will suffice. A puppy need not be fed in the crate and will only upset a dish of water.
Children must understand the crate is NOT a playhouse for them, but a ‘special room’ for the puppy. However, you should accustom the puppy from an early age to allowing you to reach into the crate at any time, lest the puppy become overprotective of it.
Establish a crate routine immediately, closing the puppy in it for regular 1-2 hour intervals during the day (possibly nap time), whenever you leave for 3-4 hours to run errands, or times when supervision is not possible. Insure collars with tags are removed to avoid getting caught on the crate. At night, in the beginning, you may wish to place the crate in an enclosed area with the crate door open and newspapers nearby. Soon after adjusting to your controls, assuming no intestinal issues, the puppy will gain greater bowel control, and then may be crated in your preferred location.
Things may not go smoothly at first, but be consistent & firm. Understand that you are doing the best for your pet by providing security & preventing trouble when left unsupervised.
Increase the crate size for comfort as the puppy grows. Plan to use the crate until well beyond the teething stage (as a minimum). You may elect to leave the crate door open for brief unsupervised periods. Later, you may decide to remove the crate and leave just the bedding, as that location will have become the puppy’s ‘special spot’. However, should a behavior situation arise, the decision to use a crate into adulthood will have been made.
Even after a long period without a crate, a dog which has been raised in one will readily accept it.
CRATING THE ADULT DOG
Most problem behavior of an older puppy or adult dog is caused by feeling insecure when left alone. A crate may solve these problems; however, it must be introduced gradually, making every effort to insure the first impressions are positive & pleasant.
How to Use It:
Place a crate of adequate size in a location where the dog will feel part of the human family (yet, still have some privacy). At first, do not install bedding, but encourage the dog to investigate this new environment (using treats & praise). As the dog begins to enter the crate with confidence, install bedding material and an item carrying your scent. Over a period of several days, encourage the dog to lie down in the crate, closing the crate door for brief (1/2 hour) intervals while you are present. Modest resistance should be met with firmness, as the dog will quickly learn the desired behavior.
As soon as you feel confident the dog will remain quietly (which could be from day one), you may safely leave him alone. Unsupervised periods may be brief initially until you are confident the dog is adjusting to confinement.
DO CRATES ALWAYS WORK?
Unfortunately, no. Although a crate can be used successfully by most clients, there are always some animals which cannot tolerate the confinement. This reaction is rare with puppies but may present at greater frequency with adults, especially an ‘adoptee’ of unknown origin (having experienced trauma in confinement) or un-adaptable ‘senior citizens’.
Even though a crate may not always work, IT IS ALWAYS WORTH A TRY. Because, when it does prevent or solve problem behavior, it is truly the ‘best friend’ you & your dog could ever have!
Far too many potentially good pets are misunderstood, unfairly punished, isolated, or ‘disposed’ by otherwise loving & well-meaning owners who are unable to prevent, control, or accept common ‘problem behavior’ of puppies and adult dogs. The correct use of a dog crate could give many of these innocent animals the chance they need – and deserve- to spend their lives as the appreciated pet of a satisfied owner.