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How a Crate Affects Your Dog
Is it cruel? Is it mean?
To answer simply, no. A crate, when used correctly, is a safe place your dog can go to relax and avoid trouble. It's used as a prevention tool to help your dog make the right decisions and remain a comfortable and contributing member of the family.
Often, crating gets misused by pet owners as a type of punishment. They think of it as a system of discipline similar to the time-out method a parent might use in raising their children. This is a marvelous method for human beings, as we have the ability to think about our actions and their consequences. A time-out allows for an extended period in which to analyze and reason out our mistakes, or just calm down in general. This simply does not work for dogs in the same way and is exactly how NOT to use a crate. A dog's ability to associate and reason has a much shorter time frame in which they are able to work. Crating, used in this way, is a horrible dog training tactic!
Correct Use and Purpose
Crates are for preventing mistakes when you are not able to keep a watchful eye on your dog.The first thing you'll ever use one for is to keep your new puppy from going potty all over the house while you are still training him to go outside. Crating prevents innumerable bad decisions that your dog can make if allowed to roam your house unsupervised. House training and destructive chewing are only two areas crating can help with. Prevention is key to successfully breaking many of your dog's bad habits.
Crates prevent injury. They limit the access your dog has to dangerous objects while you're not looking. Houseplants, cabling, other pets, batteries, electronics, garbage, furniture can all be dangerous when ingested. Using a crate can prevent a trip to the vet, expensive surgery, and even death.
Crates act a safe haven for your dog and it's important that he sees his crate in this way. Children should be taught not to bother him here to reinforce his feeling of safety. The crate should never be used as punishment, but instead he should receive treats and chews that are exclusive to your dog's time spent here. Making his crate a comfortable and positive place to spend time is extremely beneficial. It keeps him happy when you crate him and leave the house, or crate him for overnight.
If the crate ever becomes a negative place for your dog to spend time, it's likely he'll avoid it as much as he can. When he does get tossed in to keep him out of the way, he'll spend the whole time stressing and obsessing, building energy that will need an immediate outlet upon his release. In this way, crating as a punishment will cause additional problems. Once he's out, he may engage in a running fit, knocking over people or furniture. He might look to express energy in grabbing food from the garbage or chewing the remote control. Your dog might even urinate in the house within minutes of his release.
It cannot be stressed enough that a crate should only be used in positive ways. Make it comfortable. Make it special. Don't associate it with excitement, however. A happy-calm is the feeling you want cultivate. You don't want to give lots of attention when he's inside, but other rewards like toys, chews, and treats. It's his alone time.
Your dog's crate should be large enough for him to stand up and turn around in easily. Plastic crates usually create a more comfortable, den-like space for your dog, but a wire crate covered with a blanket will do the same. Be mindful that your dog can grab a blanket and pull it through the wire, providing himself with a new chew option.
Certain chew toys should not be left with your dog unsupervised as they are a choking hazard, but are perfectly acceptable to have in his crate while you are home. Some are discussed in another article here. Remember that one of the purposes of a crate is to keep your dog from getting into things that can be dangerous to him.
If you plan on leaving your dog locked inside his crate while out of the home or asleep, be sure to remove his collar before hand. Your dog's collar can get caught on the crate and he can choke to death trying to free himself. This is a completely preventable accident.
Used properly, a crate is an excellent tool every dog owner should have. It is extremely beneficial to your dog's safety and well being.