Crates: How we ruin our relationships with dogs.
Puppy Crate Training
When you get a new puppy, everyone starts out by learning about crate training. You might be apprehensive, but everyone insists their dog loves the crate. Obedience class sessions are not complete without the discussion on consistency and patience with puppy crate training. All methods boil down to "never let the puppy out of the crate when he/she is crying". You doubt this wisdom, because your heart is not made of stone, and when the pup starts out his pitiful song - you call the breeder, the trainer, or look for advice on internet, and it quiets your conscience. Everywhere you look, it advises you to ignore the lonely cries, and that is exactly what will help you to get a well behaved, healthy dog, and at the same time will keep your socks and furniture intact.
After a few sleepless nights, with a busy life, and a full time job, it is easy to get into a routine: as soon as the puppy becomes a handful - you put them in a crate, and voila, the house goes back to normal, the dinner is made without silly interruptions, and you remind yourself "the pup is learning his lesson, and is staying safe, everyone does it, dogs are den animals." Before you know it, every time you leave for work, every time the puppy becomes an inconvenience, you learned to lure or simply shove him into a crate, and it no longer takes much out of you to listen to those cries. Stick the kong filled with peanut butter inside, and your conscience is cleared just looking at the happy pup licking away the treat. Besides, the pup is growing by the day, and is smart enough to recognize, the whining doesn't work. Before you know it, you have achieved your goal - a safe, quiet dog in a crate.
Passing on the wisdom: the cycle.
And then it happens. Your neighbor gets a puppy, and you become the go-to expert. When your neighbor begins to question the fairness of crating the pup for hours on end, you insist your dog loves the crate, and that the key is to ignore the puppy while it's whining and to reward him, while he is quiet in his crate. If anyone even as much as implies the cruel reality of locking up a bundle of energy inside a small cage, your defensive side takes over. You know you LOVE your dog. I mean it. This is not an "I like my pet", this is one of the strongest emotional attachments in your life, your dog, your puppy, you LOVE him. How can anyone imply that you are unfair to him? What do they know? You've done your research, trainers, co-workers, veterinarians convinced you this is in the best interest of the pup! You are doing it for him! Right?
And so it goes on, you insist that it is only natural for the puppy to whine a little, but every dog learns its place, and learns to love the crate. And your friend nods and listens, and agrees to try, and soon enough another puppy is crate trained.
Is it so wrong?
No, I don't think that it is wrong to keep a 4 month old puppy-pirrhanah in a crate overnight. Who will watch her if she wakes up in the middle of the night? I think it is perfectly reasonable to crate your pup as you are taking a shower, or if need be, for 2-3 hours a day after a rigorous play or exercise. But we have come to an outrageous point where many households crates are used to house Boxers and Border Collies for 8 hours Monday through Friday, and then another 8 hours at night time. Working breed dogs, herding dogs, and every other breed in between, with a plethora of energy are isolated from the world, locked up and made to stare at four walls, and no one is understanding why these dogs are filled with anxiety, have no manners or patience.
What's missing in this picture?
Let's consider the alternatives.
What would a life of a puppy look like outside the crate? I hope you don't think I'm proposing leaving a two months old Rottweiler puppy unsupervised in an empty apartment, because I'm not. I also hope you don't think I'm recommending leaving a dog of any age, any breed outside unsupervised, because I'm not. What I'm advocating for is hard work on the part of the owner to provide higher quality of life for our dogs.
A pup should be watched at all times, tethered to their owner with a leash, or kept in the same room by the means of a door or a gate. Every time she decides to chew on chair, taste the socks or check out the trash, a quick correction and/or a distraction with an appropriate chew toy should be offered. A variety of toys and long-lasting treats should be available to keep an active mind of a clever animal busy and entertained. With just the right amount of walking and playing outside, and short daily training sessions, your pup will develop a habit of resting by your side with a chew toy. With consistency and patience, the pup will quickly learn the items that are off limit. Additionally, you and your pup should be in class to help you both develop the skills to interact with each other. What are your options during the workday? I don't know. What would you do with a baby? Certainly you would find a capable relative or arrange for daycare to resolve the problem. You would have to be just as creative when it comes to a new puppy. I'm not talking about spoiling a dog, I'm talking about being ready to take care of a live animal that deserves something better than 8 hours a day in a crate.
The reality is, the more time you spend together, the more time your pup is spending interacting with the world in a positive manner, the quicker good habits will develop. The more time your pup spend in the crate, the better he will become at sitting behind a locked door.
More article about alternatives to crating:
- Can you raise a puppy without a crate?
How can you raise a puppy without a crate? Should you even try? Going against the popular advice, here comes a different approach to raising a dog.
- How to teach puppy to calm down (without a crate).
Crate training is an easy answer for an energetic puppy, but if you are looking for new strategies on teaching your puppy to settle down outside the crate, here is something to consider...