Crating dogs is a practice that can sometimes raise eyebrows. Individuals who do not understand the natural instincts of dogs might think that owners are subjecting the dog to a cruel or, at least, unnatural situation. However, dogs like to create dens and, when left to their own devices, will often seek out small, dark areas to sleep in. They might even dig out burrows in the owner’s yard. In addition, dogs are a crepuscular animal, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. Dogs sleep at night and during the day, thus making confinement to a crate during those times quite natural. Crates used correctly can provide the dog with an alternative that is safe and secure and can make life much better for both the dog and its human families. Puppies should be introduced to crates early in life. Crates are safe and can keep puppies from getting into mischief, making the owner feel better, too.
Selecting a crate
Select a crate slightly larger than your dog and with enough room for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfort. Many people select a larger crate than necessary, thinking the dog needs more room than it does. Actually, most dogs would choose a smaller crate if given the choice. If your dog is still a puppy, consider a crate with partitions that can be adjusted as the puppy grows. You might also consider borrowing a crate and then purchasing your own when the puppy is fully grown. When making your selection, consider where the crate will be located, how important the crate's appearance is, and how secure you need it to be. Consider if the crate is for traveling only or if it is intended to confine the dog or puppy for extended periods of time without supervision.
Types and sizes of crates
There are three basic types of crates, which come in a variety of sizes. Most common are wire crates and plastic airline crates that have solid sides with wire doors and windows. In addition, soft-sided crates are popular for traveling. Soft-sided crates are only for trained dogs and usually best for travel or in a situation where there will be supervision. A puppy should never be left in a soft-sided crate because it is apt to chew its way out. Soft-sided crates can also roll if not anchored properly or placed between large furniture or against a wall. Some crates come with grated bottom inserts that will keep the dog cleaner, but make sure its toes do not get caught in the grates.
Many dogs like to sleep on a smooth, hard surface. There are mats for the floor that are designed to give good insulation and comfort and are chew proof. If you choose to put a blanket or dog bed in the crate, make sure the dog doesn't chew on it. If it does, remove the bed immediately. A wire crate is good in hot weather because of better air circulation, but it doesn’t offer as much privacy for the dog as an airline crate. Sizes of crates are usually listed as 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, and 700. The 100 size is for toy breeds and the 700 size for giant breeds. In selecting a crate, consider whether you will need to move the crate often or if it will be in a permanent location. Some wire crates fold up to a compact size for ease of transport, while others need to be dismantled. Airline crates can be broken down into two parts but will take up more room than the metal crates that fold up. Airline crates, however, are generally lighter in weight than metal crates.
To get a dog accustomed to a crate, place treats in the crate and praise the dog when it goes in to get the food. At first you may need to place the treat on the floor right in front of the crate and then place the treat closer each time until the dog is inside the crate. Do not close the door to the crate when first introducing it to the dog. Close the door only after it is comfortable and settles down to sleep. Ignore the dog when it comes back out of the crate. Consider feeding the dog all of its meals in the crate. Dogs that are fed in their crates are more apt to like the crate because they associate it with something they enjoy. Each time you ask the dog to go in the crate, say the same thing, for instance say “crate” or “ kennel up.” Be sure to give the dog a treat as soon as it gets in the crate and turns around. In time you will find that as soon as you tell the dog to go to its crate, it will run to the crate in anticipation of the treat. In fact, many dogs who sleep in crates at night will ask their owners to let them go to their crates when they are ready to go to sleep at night. Never use a crate as punishment. The dog needs to associate the crate with positives such as food and sleep.
Do not to play with the dog before it is put in a crate. Some owners think that because the dog is going to be put in a crate they should give the dog extra attention beforehand. Actually that is not a good idea because the dog will associate the crate with the loss of the attention it craves. A better idea is to ignore the dog before it goes into the crate and provide a treat and a safe, nondestructible toy for the dog once it is inside.
If the dog whines or barks and appears to want you to let it out of the crate, it is important to not give in. The dog should be let out of the crate only when it is quiet; otherwise, it will quickly learn to make a fuss each time you put it in the crate. Always be sure the dog has had an opportunity to empty its bladder and bowels before being confined to a crate.
Consider using a fan near the crate if you are concerned about the air circulation, but do not aim it directly at the dog. Even in the winter, a wet dog will dry off better if you leave a fan running for air circulation. Fresh water should be available at all times. A bucket hung from the side of the crate will be less apt to spill when the dog moves around than a bowl of water on the floor. Never leave anything in the crate that a dog might chew on and swallow. Even a dog that has ignored a dishcloth placed under the water bucket for a year, may suddenly decide it makes a good chew toy and end up swallowing it. In addition, be sure to remove the dog's collar, especially a training collar, to prevent it from hooking the collar on the crate.
If a dog had been previously exposed to a crate and the training was not successful, you will need to start slowly as explained previously. This will provide positive experience and help the dog to slowly overcome its reluctance to being crated.
Finally, keep crate times to a minimum. If the dog sleeps in a crate at night, it should not be in the crate all day, too. If you absolutely must be gone most of the day, consider having a neighbor let the dog out while you are gone, or use baby gates or other barriers to confine the dog to a room where it cannot hurt itself or ruin your belongings.
Elizabeth Wells, Ph.D. - Michigan State University