Crate training is not a novel concept in dogdom yet it is a highly important, underestimated, underutilised and fundamental education system for a long-term and short-term practical benefit for pet owners and their dogs.
Many dogs suffer from claustrophobia due to their inexperience with confinement. Any dog that cannot tolerate being caged is a nightmare for veterinarians, boarding kennels, grooming parlours, animal travel agencies, pet transport systems, and their owners.
All dogs are capable of learning to comfortably and calmly tolerate being kept in a cage, portable kennel, crate or pet carrier provided they are taught this method during the impressionable early puppyhood period. The sensitive imprinting period is from 3 weeks to 4 months.
Initially, teaching a pup to adapt to a “crate” or cage would be by confining it for only short periods e.g. 20-30 minutes. Once this is accepted, the restriction time is gradually increased until they put up with confinement for lengthy periods. Crating a puppy is a system used by many behaviourists, breeders, trainers and well- informed pet owners, to housetrain puppies. It is not simply the principle of enclosing a puppy in a small space but allowing the puppy’s acceptance of it with a relaxed and composed demeanour.
The size of the crate must be sufficient enough for the pup to stand up, turn around, stretch and sleep with ease. A small puppy in a large cage defeats the purpose. The function is to capitalize on puppy’s instincts to keep its den clean. It is extremely rare for an animal to defecate and urinate where it sleeps. Puppies normally amble over to an area far removed from food and bedding to answer the call of nature. Crate confinement teaches bladder and bowel control. Crate training prevents claustrophobia. Crate training prevents separation anxiety and excessive vocalization. Crate training teaches enormous coping skills, independence and inner security.
Crates can be made of fibreglass, plastic or heavy gauge wire. There is a metal barred door and good ventilation. The wire ones can be folded up while the others are bulky. All types are easy to clean. In the more closed up crates the puppies feel far more secure.
Initially, pups can be put into the crate backwards, a more safely accepted and instinctive reverse movement into the “den”. Later on, puppies can be coaxed into the crate with juicy titbits. Never force the pup into a portable crate, rather allow the pup to go in of its own accord and feed it inside with the door open. Once the puppy enters without any hesitation then the door can be closed behind it.
Never allow the puppy to exit its crate if it is barking or crying. It must be done on your terms and not on demand.
Another good idea is to place the crate in the bedroom at night so the puppy can see, smell and hear its owner. This offers up to 8 hours of remote companionship that one would not have had the time for with a busy daily schedule. Noisiness can be ignored, quietness can be rewarded and every few hours the pup can be taken out to mess until the intervals of toileting lasts the entire night. It is surprising how quickly pups adapt to and accept the crating arrangement as their own personal space.
Once the pup is comfortable with its crate, it becomes a place of safety and security, very similar to a cat climbing into its own “basket” “cave” or “igloo”. A single command can be used for the pup’s entry and the young dog can learn, in a very short time, to enter its own crate and go to sleep.
The crate can be used for travelling purposes and as a kennel in one’s bedroom at any hotel or resort that permits pets.
Crating a dog when a mother is busy with her kids helps to ensure pup’s safety and whereabouts. The crate can be placed in every area of activity in the house when required.
To avoid the pup being hurt when the house is full of guests it can be crated for a few hours.
Overseas, where space in a home is at a premium and people have a multi-canine household, the dogs are taught to enter their own crate at bedtime and stay there until they are let out first thing in the morning.
A crate-trained dog is advantaged for life!
A pup never taught confinement to a crate can develop into an undisciplined, anxious, stressful and destructive adult dog. These dogs will destroy cages, howl incessantly, injure themselves and suffer physiological stress e.g. diarrhoea. These animals suffer through lack of education. Many institutions gauged to deal with dogs may reject their admission due to compulsive claustrophobic and intolerable behaviour.
Why is crate training under-utilised?
Many people are unaware of the benefits of its application.
Most pet owners today are emotionally very soft, unassertive, impatient and cannot deal with seeing their cute “coochie-poo” staring at them with “pleading eyes” through the mesh of the crate. This very common attitude, unfortunately, has a detrimental effect on the potential coping abilities of the dog.
One can never predict when the dog may need to face the situation of confinement e.g. crating the dog to travel overseas, hospitalization at a veterinary hospital, boarding at a kennel etc.
To place a claustrophobic pet in a hospital cage for necessary medical treatment or surgery and expect it to recover when its stress of being caged detrimentally aggravates its health condition is an almost impossible expectation. Some dogs trash their cages, chew up the food and water bowls, tear the blankets, howl incessantly and harm themselves while chewing on the bars or digging under the gate. Such a dog is nothing more than a menace. The culpability lies at the door of its owner!
Dobermann Pinschers, genetically, has the lowest threshold for being contained. The dementia they exhibit in a caged environment can hurt anyone’s emotions and psyche. The panic and phobia state can be avoided in puppyhood, if the owner is prepared to make an effort. Once an adult dog is set in this way it is incurable.
All this nonsense and inconvenience can be avoided by doing what’s right, from the beginning. Emotion must not overrule rationality. It is only the “kind” people who eventually cause their dogs to suffer by not teaching them to tolerate cage restrictions. The crate is never used as a punishment, only as a positive reinforcement.
It might appear to some people as a jail but, for the dog, it can be a favourite safe haven. It is nothing more than a suitable microhabitat for a puppy; pro rata it is similar to a child spending time in his/her bedroom in a townhouse or sleeping overnight in a train compartment.