Crates can be wonderful tools for a dog owner. Think of them as the Pack ‘n Play of the pet world. If you can’t watch your new puppy or if you need to run a few errands and leave the dog at home alone a crate can be invaluable – especially if your dog just has a couple of personality quirks that drive you crazy.
However, dog crates are viewed by some as isolating and unnecessary and, in all honesty, it is easy to use them incorrectly. If you’re wondering “should I crate my dog?” you are not alone in trying to figure out if it’s the right move for both you and your pet.
Reasons to Use a Crate
There are many VERY good reason to buy a crate for your dog. In my own household we struggle with the following for just one of our dogs:
- Any open food or trash left unattended for even five minutes gets raided.
- Left alone for too long, our poodle Tucker starts to think that my yarn looks like an awfully fun toy (despite the 12 other toys strewn about the floor).
- Every now and then Tucker seems to feel the need to hike a leg on the curtains when he knows no one is around (I claim no responsibility for his potty training – we got him as an old man).
- Tucker likes to disappear – under beds, out of the fence, down the road – he’s a Houdini and because of this we cannot leave him unattended outside for long.
These are just my real-world examples but think of the actual harm Tucker could do if left unsupervised:
- He gets into rotten food or something toxic to dogs and either poisons himself r ends up with a bacterial infection or with pancreatitis.
- He eats a large piece of yarn and has a bowel obstruction that kills him or requires surgery to repair.
- He Houdinis his way out of the yard and gets hit by a car.
Unfortunately the possibilities for disaster are quite high. In Tucker’s case we’ve adopted the habit of crating him when we leave the house. He doesn’t always like it but it keeps him out of potentially life threatening situations.
This brings us to misuse of crates which is a very possible thing. If you decide to use a crate, you should not leave your dog in there for excessive amounts of time. You also should not use the crate as the punishment area where your dog gets sent for timeout when they do something bad. First, dogs do not have the attention span to sit in their crate for an hour and understand or remember why they were sent there. Second, if you make the crate a negative place, your dog will never want to go in there and you have defeated your whole purpose.
Types of Crates – Travel Friendly
There are several types of crates. The first one we’ll address is mostly for travel and should not be used for long-term crating at home simply because it is soft-sided and therefore very destructible. These are great if you need something relatively collapsible to travel with and use for short periods of time but they are also a fun chew toy for a bored dog kept in one for 8 hours every day.
Types of Crates – Hard Sided
The next one is my personal favorite for several reasons. It is sturdy, relatively inexpensive, and enclosed. The enclosed part can be very important. Many dogs learn to view their crates kind of like a den – their own special spot away from everything. I have one dog who loves hers more than being outside. Enclosed crates also help reduce stimulation because it is harder to see out of them. If your dog is spooked by travel in the car, having them in a partially enclosed crate can reduce that. Same thing with public places with a lot of people (I’m thinking a dog show here) – this type of crate can reduce the anxiety of having so much activity around.
The other fantastic thing about these kennels is that they have a molded bottom that contains fluids like water, urine, and vomit. Let’s face it, all of these things are going to happen. The molded bottom also provides less opportunity to get a nail or paw caught and injured.
Types of Crates – Wire
The last crate I want to mention is the wire crate. These are about the same price as the plastic crates but are maybe a little nicer to look at. If you want to give your dog more visibility to the outside world while they are crated then these are the way to go. They do have some risks, however. For one, it is very easy to catch a nail or a paw between the wire bars and cause an injury. The trays on the bottom can also be pushed out to create just enough space to try and escape (I know this because Tucker has done it). Dogs are also sometimes able to open the latch from inside the crate (Tucker again) and we even had one dog who simply grabbed the bottom wire with his teeth and pulled to create a little escape hole. Not. Cool.
What Size Crate Do I Need?
Crate size is easy to determine – your dog needs enough room to get up, turn around in a full circle, and lay down comfortably in any position. If you have a smaller dog and you want to give them lots of room this is fine but be aware that if you are trying to use the crate for any type of training – like potty training – you will want the crate to be just big enough and not have extra space. Potty training is a whole different post but if you give you puppy enough room to pee in one corner and then move away and be comfortable somewhere else in the crate then you are not using the crate as an effective training tool.
Be mindful of what you put in the crate with your dog. Don’t put any choking hazards in there – and this includes bedding. If you know your dog likes to chew things up don’t put a bed in the crate or they will destroy it and eat the pieces and then you end up at the vet’s for foreign body removal. Don’t put toys that might be a hazard in there either.
Hopefully this has helped answer a few questions. For me, crates are an invaluable tool for both training and everyday living. My dogs appreciate this as well and I think they enjoy having their people-free space now and then. I can tell you that I adapt everything I said above based on my assessment of my dog’s needs. Despite his horrible ability to get out of them, Tucker gets a wire crate because he hates not being able to see and he’s old enough not to need the molded plastic bottom for accidents. Stitch, however, gets a hard sided crate because she loves her “den” and is more comfortable lounging against the hard sides than wire.
Each household and each dog is different so pay attention to what your dog likes and don’t be scared to experiment!