There are very good reasons why crate training is one of the five pillars of dog training. It provides so much value to us and our relationships with our dogs. Much of which is too-often overlooked by large swaths of the dog industry. We often come across trainers, daycares, boarding facilities, and groomers who market themselves as cage-free. This seems to be largely due to this new wave that we’re seeing in dog training culture that looks to train in the most humane way possible. It’s a noble concept to be sure. However, issues begin to arise when we make the mistake of humanizing our dogs to a detrimental extent. When we do this we seem to inadvertently put our own emotional needs before those of our dogs. The downside of this is that we avoid things that can be of great benefit to our dogs because of how we feel about them as humans. In that scenario, I’m afraid it’ll be the dog who will pay the price for this in the long run.
Here’s an example of this over-humanization in action. We know that canines, including domesticated dogs, are den animals. That is to say, they have a strong natural urge to seek a tight space to serve as a protective shelter. You often see this not only with crates but with dogs going under furniture, owner’s legs, under a crawlspace, etc. They find a sense of comfort and control due to the limited access to them, their food, their toys, or puppies. Mind you, this isn’t to say that they necessarily distrust the owners. Two things can be true at once. For example, it’s entirely possible to have a dog who trusts you completely and loves you to no end. However, it’s also possible that this dog has just had or is about to have a litter of pups. Therefore, this dog may be spending a disproportionate amount of time in a tight space such as a crate or a corner of a room with lower traffic. If the owners go to play with the new pups the mother dog allows this as she trusts and loves her owners. Why then, will she continue to keep her pups in a tight space in the house? Not out of distrust or some negative feeling toward the owners. It’s an innate behavior that has been passed down the genetic timeline from canines of old doing what they must to ensure the health and safety of their young.
With this deeper understanding of dog behavior, let us get back to the benefits of crate training. Aside from a sense of security, there are quite a few other examples of how crate training can be beneficial. One of the most popular ones being potty training for younger dogs. Having a dog learn when and where they should go potty is endlessly beneficial as it directly equates to the amount of freedom to roam the home that a dog may get to enjoy. There is also an important aspect of routine development as potty training allows for the possibility to create a potty schedule. No more guesswork, or being woken up at night to howling because they need to go, or coming home to an accident. It’s unfortunate, but, I’ve even come across quite a few people who have either purchased or adopted a dog only to return them shortly thereafter because they didn’t anticipate having to deal with potty training, so the dog ruined their expensive carpet.
Let’s expand on this idea of routine development a bit. Not only can we come up with a potty schedule, but a feeding and sleep schedule as well. Imagine the endless value of knowing exactly when your dog is hungry. This goes both ways as you’ll often see dogs who seem to have a pretty good estimation as to feeding times. As they acclimate to their feeding schedule, they tend to show this by heading to their crate or bowl around feeding times. My dogs, for example: if I pick up their bowls, they all run right for the crates and stare at me from inside of them, wide-eyed in anticipation of food. It’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see! But a valuable tool that I use to help me shape our daily lives, nonetheless.
As useful as the overall daily routine is in its own right, it also can serve to give our dogs a healthy sense of grounding under otherwise changing circumstances. For example, traveling to visit family can be stressful for our dogs. Whether we take them with us or we leave them to be cared for either at a kennel or at home by a sitter, this can be quite stressful to the dog because of the series of abrupt changes to their lives. In any of these situations, it’d be of great benefit to have our dogs on a regular schedule that we can best emulate, in order to give a reassuring breath of familiarity to this unusual event. I take my dogs with me to Thanksgiving, and they love seeing everyone, but they are also bombarded with kids, smells of holiday food, and dealing with the long drive. It’s a stressful time for them. I can offset this stress to a notable degree by keeping them to their routines. When they are overwhelmed by everything going on (Thanksgiving is on another level in our house!), I put them away to relax and unwind in their crates for a bit. Regardless of where I am, I know when they’re hungry. I know that none of the kids are going to stumble across any of the dog’s bowls as they eat in the crates behind a closed door in the room I’m staying in. The same goes for the dog at home or boarding at a kennel. They may be a bit nervous due to the changes, but keeping them to their schedule will help them feel at home as quickly as possible.
Safety is another important factor to consider when looking into the benefits of crate training. There are many reasons to crate your dog when necessary. However, there can be no reason more important than to ensure the safety of your dog. A crate is an excellent way to limit your dog’s access to things that may be dangerous for them. I have heard more than a few horror stories of dogs chewing on extension chords or tugging on the table cloth till it comes off with the heavy set of dinnerware on it ready to slam to the ground and shatter. That’s if it doesn’t hit the dog on its way down. I’ve worked with dogs who suffer from severe separation anxiety who have gone so far as chewing through the drywall, to breaking out of the window of their 2nd story apartment in Santa Monica when dad was leaving for work. Needless to say, these things don’t end well.
We must also consider the safety of others if we have a dog that can be reactive. I have clients whose dogs can be quite protective of the home. This makes for the potential of danger when friends or family come over. Especially when we consider the possibility of someone bringing kids, pets, elders along with them. In times like these, it’s a smart move to consider crating your dog to eliminate the potential for something going wrong. The last thing anyone wants to do is deal with the stress of a bite to someone. Not to mention all the potential peril this may mean for your dog should the city be notified.
All things considered, crate training is an incredible tool that can absolutely change a dog’s life. Please do consider crate training with your dogs. I strongly encourage it!
Thanks for reading!