As a child did you ever play “house” under a sheet-draped table? Did you ever make a snow fort or a tree house? Did you ever pull the covers over your head and pretend you were in a cave? If you have done any of these things, you have taken part in one of mankind’s most basic instincts–to feel secure in a small, enclosed space.
This need to feel secure is not limited to young humans. It is part and parcel of every day life for many animals, notably the den dwelling members of the canine family. As the human-dog relationship changed from one of hunting together to that of its present one of the human “bringing home the bacon” to the waiting dog, the need for humans to understand the dog and its physical and emotional requirements have become of utmost importance.
First-time visitors at dog shows or large kennels are often dismayed at the dogs being in “cages”. The dog needs a safe, secure place to rest and to sleep. There is no cruelty present or intended by taking advantage of an animal’s natural desires.
Just what is a dog crate? It is a six-sided enclosure long enough for the dog to lay down, tall enough for him to sit up, and wide enough for him to lay on his side, legs outstretched. One side, usually an end, contains a door. Crates can be made of almost any material. Wire, wood/wire, plastic and combinations of all of these in as many shapes and sizes as one can imagine.
Once you have discovered the advantages of owning a crate-trained dog, you will never want to raise a puppy without including the crate in your plans. Unlike humans who consider confinement to be the least desirable of human conditions, for dogs, a place to go where no one else can or will enter is a blessing.
There are many tales of dogs being discarded by their first owners as untrainable only to become loving, well adjusted family companions when properly introduced to what in effect is the dog’s home-in-a-home, as well as a home-away-from-home.
Many breeders place puppies in their new homes with a crate and precise instruction on how to continue using the crate to the dog’s and the owner’s best advantage. There are several excellent books which take a new owner through all the steps of acquainting a puppy with a crate if it has not yet been introduced to one. Using the same techniques, you can train an older dog to enjoy the crate as a place of rest and security.
If you are new to using a crate, there are some precautions you should heed:
1. Never put young dog or puppy in a crate to punish it;
2. Always remove all collars before closing the door to the crate;
3. Let your dog sleep in his crate (in your bedroom if at all possible. If not, be sure it is located in a well-used part of the house); and
4. Keep one toy in your clothes hamper and let the dog have it in his crate only when he is confined and home alone.
Your puppy should look at his crate as his very favorite place to be, short of in your immediate presence. He should be fed in his crate often enough that when the need arises; he will accept the idea. Eating in his crate as a very small puppy will help reenforce the idea of keeping his nest clean. His dam taught him to stay clean where he ate and to relieve himself as far from his sleeping/eating place as possible.
Any crate has mesh of some kind, either all over wire, or at least, a wire mesh door. Those squares or rectangles of mesh can easily capture a tag or a ring of a training collar and then turn, defying release by pulling. Even the brightest dog does not understand that he might be released by going towards the thing that has captured him. At least, you will return to a dog with very sore ears and throat, at worst, a dead dog. Remove the collar, hang it on the crate door if the dog can’t reach it, place it on top of the crate or on a hook or surface nearby. Replace it as soon as you open the crate door.
Your puppy or older dog, while cherishing his crate, still wants, needs, to part of the family he considers his pack. When we confine the dog in a remote part of the house, we are rejecting him is his way of looking at our relationship. The dog wants to be the center of attraction, much like a three or four year-old child. A well-adjusted dog will be content to take part in the family activities, even if confined in his crate, if he is nearby.
Years ago we would give a puppy our old clothing to sleep with and old shoes to play with. We know better now. Puppies have no way of knowing the difference between our best and our oldest clothing or shoes. To avoid having the dog become confused about what belongs to him and what is ours, we keep our things to ourselves. However, the young dog (and often the older dog also), needs the reassurance that he is part of the pack and that his family has not left him forever. A toy that smells of the family is often all he needs to be content in his crate. He will spend most of his time “home alone” napping, not soiling or being destructive.
If you are planning to get a puppy, please plan to introduce him to a crate when you first bring him home. You will find that years later you and your dog will still be enjoying the advantages of that plan. If you have an older dog, there is no reason for not introducing a crate at any time in his life. Properly introduced, your older dog will be as pleased as a puppy to finally have a place of his own.