‘What is The Great Crate Debate?’ you may ask.
Well, the use of crates for domestic dogs is actually quite a contentious topic. Proponents believe them to be useful tools. Opponents believe that their use is cruel.
Who is right?
Let’s consider the pros and cons of crate training and then you can make your own assessment.
Has the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic had any impact on the use of crates?
I conducted a survey to try to establish whether or not there has been any impact. I’ll show the results and attempt to draw some conclusions.
1 What is a Dog Crate?
OK, we can’t have a Great Crate Debate without knowing what a dog crate is, can we?
A dog crate, sometimes also referred to as a dog cage or indoor kennel, is usually made of a wire frame and has a removable tray base for the dog’s bedding. It commonly has 2 doors; one at the front and one at the side. It can be flat-packed for easier transportation.
They are available in a variety of sizes – obviously, one that is ideal for a Chihuahua will not be ideal for a Great Dane!
2 Proponents and the Case For the Use of Crates
The Great Crate Debate – Proponents
When considering which organisations are associated with dogs and their breeding and welfare, who do you think of?
In the UK, it is likely to be:
In the US, it is likely to be:
Clicking on the links attached to the name of each of these organisations will take you to a webpage where they discuss the advantages of dog crates and how you should go about training your dog to use a crate (Crate Training is discussed later in this post).
In addition to these organisations, a great many dog breeders, vets, and trainers also recommend crate training.
Give some thought to the names of the most well-known dog trainers and behaviourists today. Keep those names in mind when you reach the Crate Training section.
The Great Crate Debate – Advantages
So, what are the advantages of dog crates that are advanced by proponents?
- Limiting exercise. There are times when, on the advice of your vet, it may be necessary to restrict the amount of exercise that your dog gets. For example, if recovering from an operation.
- Dog protection. If you are unable to supervise your dog, or, in particular, puppy, then a crate is an ideal safe place for them until you are able to resume supervision. In addition, if you are a multi-dog household then it may be useful for separation of the dogs at feeding times to prevent any aggression.
- Sleeping area. A crate can be a great way of providing a warm, safe place for your dog to sleep at night.
- Puppy protection. There may be times when there are other dogs, or cats, in your home and you need to protect your puppy from getting into trouble.
- Home protection. Protects the contents of your home while you are unable to supervise – furniture, ornaments, carpet.
- Cat socialisation. If you have a cat and then acquire a dog, or a dog and then acquire a cat, it will be necessary to make gradual introductions such that neither party is injured.
- House training. A dog crate can be invaluable in helping your dog to become house trained.
- Preventing separation anxiety. Crate use can prevent separation issues. It can also, with appropriate guidance from a professional behaviourist, help to resolve any such issues.
- Transport. Transporting your dog in a crate is far safer than letting him run free.
- Holidays. Many providers of holiday accommodation now permit dogs to stay at their properties but often with the stipulation that the dog is in a crate at night, and also if you need to leave the dog in the property for any reason during the day.
3 Opponents and the Case Against the Use of Crates
The Great Crate Debate – Opponents
The group that seems most opposed to the use of dog crates is:
PETA is an animal rights group. Their philosophy is :
… we believe that it would have been in the animals’ best interests if the institution of “pet keeping”—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as “pets”—never existed.PETA
Frankly, I’ve struggled to find any other well-known organisations that are opposed to the use of crates. There are, of course, individual opponents, as there are individual proponents. In the interests of balance, if you know of any such organisations please let me know in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of the post and I’ll consider amending this section.
That said, it has to be noted that there are countries, like Finland and Sweden, where the use of dog crates is illegal.
The Great Crate Debate – Disadvantages
Let’s take a look at what opponents of dog crates believe the disadvantages to be.
- House training. A crate does not help with house training because puppies can’t ‘hold it’ for their first few months of life.
- Separation anxiety. Crates cause separation anxiety, fearfulness, depression, ‘cage rage’, hyperactivity, and other types of behavioural problems.
- Confinement. A crate is not similar to a den. Dogs are prevented from engaging in basic normal activities and learning.
- Crate love. Dogs do not love their crates. They do as you ask because they love you.
- Tool. A crate is just a convenience tool for humans.
4 Crate Training
When we mentioned Crate Training in part 2 I asked you to think of some well-known dog trainers. Who did you think of?
Victoria Stilwell. If you’ve watched any dog training programmes on TV then the chances are you’ll be familiar with this lady. She is a dog behaviour expert and one of the key figures in promoting the use of Positive Dog Training rather than the use of more ‘traditional’ dominance-based training.
If, on the other hand, you’ve obtained your dog training guidance from online sources then you are probably more familiar with these individuals:
Zak George. Zak has presented TV shows too but is probably best known for his YouTube training videos (see below for one on Crate Training). He is another keen proponent of Positive Dog Training methods.
Emily Larlham. Emily is best known for her ‘Kikopup’ dog training videos on YouTube. She believes in dog training that does not involve any form of physical or psychological intimidation. A ‘Kikopup’ Crate Training video is shown below.
Karen Pryor. Karen is a leader in the field of animal training and a recognised world leader in the science and application of marker-based positive reinforcement training (often called ‘clicker training’).
Sarah Whitehead. There are many expert dog trainers in the world, and Sarah is among them, but when you think of expert dog behaviourists it is likely that you think of Sarah before anybody else.
The key point to remember with your crate training is that the crate should be a place where your dog feels safe and secure. It should never be used as a form of punishment.
That is, it is a ‘safe haven’ not a ‘sin bin’.
OK, let’s look at a plan for crate training with your puppy or dog.
1. Size does matter!
You should choose a crate that is big enough for your dog to be able to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down to its full, stretched out, length. What works for a toy breed will not work for a giant breed, and vice versa.
Wire crates are very useful. From a training perspective the space between wires allows for treats to be easily thrown in. From a temperature control perspective they allow for the free flow of air and this help ensure the cage doesn’t become either too hot or too cold. And from a transport perspective they are a light lighter to handle.
2. Pick a good spot
Give some thought to where you are going to put the crate.
It should be in a relatively ‘low traffic’ area so that it is a calm, relaxing place for your dog to go to. Children should be told that they need to respect that this is the dog’s space – they should leave him alone when he is in there.
It should also be somewhere that allows your dog to go to it whenever he likes, without needing any human assistance. If he wants a quick nap he can go in it … and when he feels like leaving it again, he can.
3. Comfort is king
This is going to be your dog’s place to sleep and rest. Help to reinforce this in your dog’s mind by making the crate a comfortable place to be.
You can put a dog bed in the crate, and/or some Vet-Bed, a blanket, old towels. Find out what your dog likes. You may find that your dog chooses to ‘arrange’ the bedding in a different manner from how you put it in the crate! This is fine, let him do whatever he finds comfortable.
You may also wish to consider putting a blanket over the top and sides of the crate. This helps to make the crate more den-like and ensures that any direct sun is blocked.
You should also have a water bowl or bottle for your dog in his crate – refresh it daily.
Finally, from a safety perspective, you should never leave your dog’s collar on when you are leaving him unattended in the crate as there is a risk that it becomes hooked on the crate.
4. Fun, fun, fun!
The objective here is to create a happy association with the crate.
Leave the crate door open and have some treats and toys to hand. As soon as your dog goes near the crate (he will be curious!) then immediately reward him with a treat or by playing with a toy. Repeat a number of times to strengthen the association.
Next, it’s time for the ‘in and out’ game.
Throw a treat into the crate. When your dog goes into the crate to take the treat throw another treat outside the crate so that they come out again. Then repeat.
If you struggle with this then you may need to up the value of your treats – use your dog’s favourite treats in the crate and lesser value ones outside the crate.
Keep these sessions relatively short – they can be quite taxing for your dog.
Continue to make a good association with the crate by leaving some of your dog’s favourite toys at the back of the crate and also by giving him his meals in the crate.
Do not, at this stage of the training, be tempted to close the door – let your dog come and go as he pleases.
As your dog starts to go into the crate more readily you can add a verbal cue – use something simple like ‘crate’. Use the cue as your dog is going into the crate and reward immediately (with a high-value treat or toy).
5. I’m staying in
OK, so your dog is now happily going in and out of his crate. The next step is to extend the length of time that he is in the crate before he comes out again.
Continue to leave the crate door open – we want your dog to stay in because he wants to, not because he is forced to.
You now need to see how quickly you can ‘stream’ treats to your dog while he is in the crate. Position yourself by the crate, but not blocking the door – rather than giving the treats through the door it is probably best to do it through the side or top of the crate.
As soon as your dog enters the crate you should mark the action (with a verbal ‘Yes’ or using a clicker if you have one) and immediately give him a treat. As soon as he has taken that treat repeat the process of marking and rewarding before your dog leaves the crate. And repeat again. Aim to ‘stream’ at least 5 treats initially.
Eventually, your dog will start to look at you while waiting for the next treat. This is exactly what you want. You can now start to, gradually, extend the time between treats so that you are increasing the time that your dog is in the crate without leaving. You can also start to drop some of the treats a little distance away from your dog, but still in the crate, again with the objective of extending the time in the crate.
6. Shut that door!
In addition to extending the duration of the time that your dog spends in the crate, we need to get him used to the door being closed.
Initially, while your dog is having one of his meals in the crate, just move the crate door to the halfway point – not closed but not fully open.
Once they are happy with the half-closed door, next time slowly push the door closed but don;t latch it – so that your dog can just push the door open if he wishes. Once happy with this you can, with subsequent meals, move on to latching the door.
You can then look to extend the period with the closed door by treat-streaming once your dog has finished his meal. This helps to teach your dog that the door isn’t only closed during mealtimes.
7. It’s all in the timing
Continue to practice crate training with your dog until your targets are met.
Try to arrange your training sessions for when your dog has been exercised so that he is already a little tired and will be more likely to relax and, hopefully, actually go to sleep in the crate.
As you progress, your dog will become more and more relaxed and comfortable in his crate and will come to see it as a safe resting place where good things happen. Often, if you leave the door open, they will seek out the crate voluntarily to go and have a rest.
- Have a plan! Try to arrange the introduction of the crate for when you will have some free time available to spend training your dog so that you can build up duration gradually.
- Use Positive Dog Training techniques.
- Ensure that your dog has access to water while in his crate.
- Include chew and treat toys in the crate. Kongs are particularly good for providing food over a period of time.
- During training, release your puppy or dog from the crate before he starts to whine – this avoids the dog making the association between whining and being released from the crate.
- Use any sort of force or intimidation to pressure your dog into using the crate.
- Leave your dog’s collar on when they will be left in the crate unsupervised.
- Use the crate as a form of punishment.
- Leave your puppy or dog in the crate for an excessive amount of time. The RSPCA advises that dogs should not be left alone for more than 3-4 hours at a time.
- Leave in the crate any toys that are easily destroyed and which could be a choking hazard.
Let’s finish by looking at a couple of videos from two of the trainers mentioned above.
Zak George :
Emily ‘Kikopup’ Larlham :
5 Crates and Coronavirus
As I write this post, in April 2021, the world has been in the grip of the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic for a little over a year. In order to prevent the spread of the potentially fatal virus, Governments across the globe have put their countries in lockdown.
In other words, a great many people have been working from home instead of working at premises belonging to their employer.
What impact, I wondered, would this have on the use of crates for our dogs?
So, I undertook a small survey and you can see the results in the images shown below.
1. Crate use
First, I asked a couple of general questions to establish what reasons people had for using a crate and whether they had ever tried managing without one.
As you can see, by far the most common response was that the crate is used as a safe place during owner absence. And an even larger proportion has stopped using a crate after initial use.
2. Longest continuous period in crate – Pre and Post Coronavirus
This was the area that I was particularly interested in – has Coronavirus had any impact on the use of crates? I looked at 2 areas – the longest continuous period and the longest total amount of time.
Unfortunately, I think perhaps my question phrasing wasn’t sufficiently clear as there is a figure of 38% for ‘None’ before Coronavirus.
That said, we can still see in when comparing Before and After that the ‘None’ proportion has increased and that the ‘Longer than 6 hours’ entry has gone completely.
3. Longest total period in crate – Pre and Post Coronavirus
Again, we can see in the Before and After data that crate usage has decreased. In particular, we can see that there are no entries for longer than 8 hours and only 9% for the ‘4 – 8 hours’ category.
4. Reaction to being asked to use crate – Pre and Post Coronavirus
Here, I wanted to see whether there had been any change in the behaviour of dogs that use crates.
Note that the combination of those choosing ‘Hated it’ or ‘Reluctant’ went from a combined figure of 9% to just 2%.
And for a substantial proportion of respondents, the crate was no longer used at all (‘N/A’).
5. Crate use Post Coronavirus
Here we can see whether changes as a result of Coronavirus have had any impact on whether people will either stop using crates altogether or reduce their usage.
So, what do these results tell us?
Well, crate use certainly seems to have reduced as a consequence of the increased number of people now working from home. I think this probably indicates that people don’t crate their dogs for longer than is absolutely necessary – if they have to go out to work they use a crate, if they don’t, they don’t.
Let’s hope that something good can come from this pandemic and that those who wish to can work from home more frequently – and spend more time with their dogs. I’d certainly be happy with that outcome.
6 The Great Crate Debate – Conclusion
So, what is the answer to The Great Crate Debate?
Are crates Canine Cruelty or Dog Delight?
Well, as is often the case, I think the answer is ‘It depends’.
… whether your dog views it as five-star accommodation or a prison cell is up to you …Sarah Whitehead
If they are correctly introduced to a dog and they are not used excessively then I believe that they are useful tools.
This view seems to be supported overwhelmingly by various organisations, vets, and trainers.
And, if you have concerns after reading the section about PETA and their views, I would invite you to read an article by Stanley Coren in Psychology Today.
It makes interesting reading and looks at the issue rationally (and psychologically!). The conclusion regarding the claims of PETA is summarised as follows:
I believe that PETA really has no scientific evidence to support the complete abolishment of the use of the kennel crate. It seems to me that their actual desire for banning crating is that in so doing they would make keeping dogs in the house more difficult and the housebreaking of puppies less reliable. This advances their anti-pet agenda by taking away some of the pleasure of pet keeping and in that way it would further their programme aimed at denying us the companionship of our dogs and cats.Stanley Coren
If you do decide to use a crate then we have found the wire type to be excellent – solid construction but collapses easily when you need to move it or put it away. Easy to put up (and down), robust, and Harv loves being in his crate! (as you’ll have seen from some of the pics).
And so to bed …
7 Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some FAQs related to The Great Crate Debate. If you have any questions that you’d like to ask please let me know in the Comments section below.
Is it cruel to keep a puppy in a crate?
Crates are very useful tools and their use is not inherently cruel. What should be avoided is using them for excessively long periods of time. The RSPCA advises that dogs shouldn’t be left in a crate for longer than 3-4 hours.
Is it better to cover your dog's crate?
Covering a crate can be a good idea. Adding a ‘roof and sides’ by draping an old blanket over it can reinforce the feeling of safety and security experienced by a dog.
Should you put your puppy in a crate the first night?
Many people adopt a ‘start as you mean to go on’ approach and immediately put a new puppy into a crate.
However, keep in mind that this is your pup’s first night away from his mother and littermates and that he is sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings – it may be better, therefore, to have him in your room for a few nights until he is settled.
9 The End
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