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Crates Or Prisons?

Recently I came across the following information about the use of crates in dog training..

In recent years there has been a large increase in the number of dog trainers and behaviourists that recommend the use of a crate to solve behaviour and training problems.

The idea is that you introduce your dog to the crate, which they should come to regard as their den. The theory follows that you then lock them in their “den” when you are out sothat they can’t do any damage and feel secure while they are alone.

This may sound like an excellent theory until you examine it in greater detail. Firstly, when the door is locked, the status of the crate is changed from a den to a very small prison. Secondly, it is very unlikely that any behaviour problems will be solved, they may in fact be made far worse.

The trouble with making the behaviour worse is that a vicious circle will be generated that is very difficult to get out of. As the problem gets worse, the crate is used more often – leading to a worsening of the problem, and more use of the crate and so the circle is never broken. The crate is used as a matter of course and the dog continues to suffer.

Crates were originally intended to be used rather like playpens for children, somewhere that the puppy/dog could play safely. Recently crates have developed into an instant crutch for owners. Using the crate means that there is no need for owners to understand their dogs, they simply lock the dog away when they can’t cope with their behaviour.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t do anything for the dog, it doesn’t teach them anything other than when they are alone they must be confined. Once resigned to their fate, dogs can become depressed and lethargic, leading the owner to believe the crate has quietened their dog down.

There are many more humane ways to solve problems other than crating. The big advantage of humane methods is that they tackle the cause of the problem rather than the effect of it. This means that once the problem is gone, it is gone for good and you won’t make the problems worse or risk subjecting your dog to depression through confinement in the process.

Courtesy of Animals in Mind Charity www.animalsinmind.org.uk.

I admit I was a little stunned at how crates were being portrayed. The description given doesn’t fit with the picture of my dogs who actively put themselves into their crates in the van even before it’s time to leave, or the safe place my dogs perceive them to be when they are frightened by thunder or fireworks.

Ella's serious 'game on' face - what reward produces the same response in your dog?
Ella at work with me in her ‘office’ 🙂

But do you know what? I can understand why people who have had to deal with the aftermath of dogs frightened or miserable in the presence of a crate due to human ignorance or active cruelty might feel about them. It makes me pretty mad that people would misuse them and break the trust of an animal as magnificent as the ones I’m privileged to live with and work with every day.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t the crate that is the problem.
It’s the way that people have chosen to introduce them and use them.

Ella on cage rest after surgery to fix a broken toe

Crates are quite often a useful and necessary part of dog ownership. Here are just some examples of places where your dog may need to be kennelled or crated:

  • As a puppy when they can’t be supervised
  • Veterinary surgery
  • Groomers
  • Cage rest after injury
  • Travelling by car/ boat/ train/ plane
On a boat to Spain where Spud & Ella travelled in the kennel area
Puppy Jade travelling in the car

I have no problem with people who choose not to use crates in their day to day lives with their dogs. My priority is to make sure whatever training methods and advice I give sits comfortably with the person I’m working with, because ultimately a happy person whose confident with what they’re doing will end up with a happy, confident dog.

But I do have a problem with generalising and throwing out a piece of training equipment because people COULD use it badly. My job is to let them know the options and educate them so that whatever they choose to use is used appropriately and well.

Do you use a crate with your dog? What’s your experience of them? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 🙂

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