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Is it Cruel to Crate My Dog?

Any dog owner has probably asked themselves this question at least once, and if they haven’t asked it themselves someone else has asked them. Are you going to crate-train them? Isn't crating your dog cruel? As you begin to ponder the pro’s and con’s you get conflicting answers and inputs from a variety of people. How do you know who you can trust with advice? How do you know which advice to follow? 

To answer any of those questions - we need to break down the uses of the crate, the balance required for crating, and the science of why crates exist in the first place. This way you can decide what is best for you and your four-legged friend.


Why Do We Use Crates?

Dog Sleeping in small crate

If there's so much back and forth about whether or not to use a crate, why do we have them in the first

place? 

A crate is an extremely versatile tool in dog training and in the dog world, in general. It can be used for anything from separating your dog for a time if need be, keeping them contained while you are out of the home, or even just giving them a place of comfort during the day. Regardless of why you're using a crate, it is important to understand why a crate might be beneficial to your dog.

While dogs and wolves are not inherently the same, some behaviors do carry over, the main one being denning. Dogs thrive when they have a quiet space to call their own, using a crate as a “den” can help a dog have the option of “me time” where they can go to relax, cool off, or de-stress. Dogs with a safe space are more likely to choose a retreat option when put under pressure or stress, because they now understand that they have the right to say “enough of this'' and go where they can't be bothered. This is extremely useful if you have kids or another animal to let you see when to redirect them away from your dog as he/she shows you by going to their den that they want to be left alone for now.

Yorkie dog in white dog house

Aside from just giving them a space, crates are a useful tool when considering how to efficiently potty train your dog or how to help curb separation anxiety. Dogs are unlikely to have accidents in places they nest, which will improve your ability to set them on a routine and show them where to appropriately use the bathroom. This tactic works for both puppies and a new rescue as both are getting used to your household and routine.

Likewise, dogs - especially ones prone to separation anxiety - can be shown early on how to cope with being alone in a healthy manner. Showing them how to detach themselves from your side and handle minor stresses alone will help them develop into a more confident dog as they age and adapt to your home. Crating your dog can be an extremely versatile tool in helping them develop to a well-rounded, confident canine that can self-soothe.


How Long Is Too Long?


Nothing is good in excess, and the crate is no exception to this rule. Crating a dog too long or too often can create an opposite effect for anything that you are using it for. It is very important to find a balance in the amount of time you may need to crate them.

In regards to potty training, crating a puppy too long will likely cause them to have accidents in their crate. If they do manage to hold it, holding their bowels for too long can lead to serious kidney or intestinal problems down the line. If you are concerned about how long is appropriate for potty training, the rule of three is a good place to start. Taking your puppy's age and dividing by three will give you a rough number for what is appropriate (i.e. 9 weeks old = about 30-60 minutes,  12 weeks = 1-3 hours, and increasing from there). A dog should never be crated for more than 8 hours at a time, regardless of age, and even that should ideally not be a regular occurrence. This number may decrease as well depending on size of the dog since smaller dogs have shorter intestinal tracts and smaller bladders than larger breeds.

Small dog getting groomed

On the other side of things, crating an anxious or nervous dog too long will deteriorate the safe space that the crate was meant to be for them. Instead of a retreat, it is now a prison - and it is extremely difficult to break that mindset once it exists. With an anxious dog you also want to build up time from a small number up to however long you think you'll need them to be crated at max. Using the crate as a “nap time” space can help you build up that separation time slowly throughout the day, and it will show your anxious pup that you are outside somewhere and will always come back to them. 


What if I Don't Want To Crate?


If you decide not to crate your dog, that is perfectly fine! You are welcome to let them free roam while you are gone and during the day at home! It is still beneficial for them to be desensitized to a crate, even

Small Dog at the vets

if you aren’t going to use one regularly. In the event of an emergency, it is good for everyone if your dog can be safely crated. If something were to happen to you or a family member in the home, a response team may crate your dog to safely assess the situation without the added stress of a panicking pooch. A vet will utilize the crate for any dogs coming out of a medical procedure or anesthesia. A groomer may crate a dog while they dry or while waiting to be picked up, since they need to keep the other dogs separate. If your dog were to get loose, animal control would crate them to transport them either back to you or to a shelter for holding, where they will also be crated until you respond.

If you want your dog to free roam while you are out of the house, there is nothing wrong with that as long as they are not destructive or anxious without your presence. Anxious dogs may do better with a crate - even if they aren’t crated because it creates a routine for them while you are away and sometimes a more confined space adds security to them, avoiding them becoming overwhelmed.


Regardless of your decision to crate or not to crate, having a dog understand that going into a crate is not the end of the world is an important skill for them to have. At Final Call Dog Training, we can help assess your potential crating needs and develop appropriate exercises that make the crate a fun and safe space for your pup to enjoy. We can help you decide on both a style of crate and its desired use while working with other aspects of you and your dog's life that will help both of you have a smooth walk through life together.

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