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To crate or not to crate…

by | 19 Jul, 2021

Right now I have five crates in the house, six in my training room and three in the car. They are all used regularly. I started using a crate with my first dachshund when we were competing in the conformation ring. The practice was sold to me as ‘just the done thing’, which we ignored for a couple of shows before we realised a couple of things: Sigmund would settle down and relax in his crate during the extended periods between our brief ring appearances, and we could relax knowing that he was safe and sound in his little cave.

I’ve never looked back.

I use crates for three main reasons:

  1. Travel
  2. Training
  3. Management

Let’s start with my reasons for crating for travel

Many years ago I was in an accident with one of my dachshunds in the car. She used to sit on the back shelf and watch the world go by. When we were hit she flew off and disappeared. Did I mention the accident happened at night? And that she was a predominately black dog? I couldn’t find her, even in my small car, and then I started to panic that she had jumped out of the car when I opened the door. The worry of not being able to find her far outweighed the damage to my car. I eventually found her as far as she could go under the passenger seat, curled up into a tiny terrified ball. Since then all my dogs have been crated in the car – at least then I know where they are and they aren’t going to fly around the car like missiles in an accident.

Now three good reasons to use crates in training:

  1. For your dog: 
    1. When we are at training, we’re working. Not playing. I don’t want my dog to get exhausted interacting with other dogs and getting over stimulated before we start. Maybe afterwards, but not before. And definitely not during.
    1. Crate time also allows your dog to think and reflect on the training that has just happened. There is empirical evidence reported for both horses and dogs that shows improved learning if the animal is given time to for a mental break that allows them to refocus.
  2. For yourself: 
    1. You want your dog to give you 100% when you are competing or working. So the least you can do is give them 100% of your attention during training.
    1. When things just aren’t working, calmly putting your dog in the crate gives you time and space to reflect on what just happened and adjust your plan. It’s not punishment – it’s just a time out.
  3. For your trainer: 
    1. You have presumably come to training so that you and your dog can learn something from the trainer. It makes it a lot easier for your trainer to explain exercises and discuss what they observe if she can have your full attention. You can’t give that if your dogs are wandering around or on your lap.
    1. You might think your dog will not cause any problems, but can you safely predict how other dogs in a class will react to them? Don’t put your trainer into the awkward position of having to deal with the fall out of unpleasant incidents – take responsibility for your own dog and keep it securely crated when not working.

And one final reason:

  1. Etiquette. Even if you aren’t serious about the training time, others there probably are. Allow them the space to work their dogs without having to worry about yours.

Finally, crating for management:

When people come to my house, I like to put all my dogs into their various crates. That is to stop visitors playing with my dogs, because energy and excitement levels get out of control VERY quickly with the dogs I currently live with. Once all the humans are in and settled, I’ll let the dogs out.

I have dogs that get fed in crates. Eleanor takes herself into this crate outside my kitchen every meal time – she wasn’t trained to do that, she just decided that was ‘her’ spot.

I use crates when my dogs have puzzles or things to chew – they all take different amounts of time to finish these tasks and by keeping them separate I prevent any drama.

My dachshunds sleep in crates – only because Pandora pesters the living bejeezus out of my poor long suffering Mouse while she’s trying to sleep. Crating Pandora gives us all a good night’s sleep.

When Tendai had a cruciate operation at six months I had to keep this helium balloon of a baby Bouvier calm. If he hadn’t been crate trained it would have been a nightmare. He knew his crate as a settle-down-and-be-calm spot. Perfect. He still chooses to sleep a good part of the night in the big crate in the bedroom.

When Pandora hurt her back recently, the look of relief on the vet’s face when she was told the dog was crate trained was sad to see. There are times when keeping a dog calm in a confined space is vital for recovery. Why wait until you need it?

Resources

I’ve seen first-hand dogs stressing out in cages at the vet. Yes, the context is scary, so why throw them under that particular bus without preparation. Emily Larhalm (Kikopup) discusses this in her “Crates and tethering: Good or Bad?” video

Dr Tanya Grantham of Animal Health and Hydro in Benoni discusses crate training in this Facebook Live.

The COAPE International article she mentions can be found here.

There are many, many wonderful resources on line for crate training. Here are just a few:

For a comprehensive text version, have a look at Sue Ailsby’s original Level 2 – you just need to scroll down a bit to find the section on crates.

And then there are videos – loads of them. My suggestion would be to start with one of the following:

Susan Garrett’s Crate Games https://dogsthat.com/product/crategames-online/

Donna Hill’s videos:

Crate training tips https://youtu.be/KusNb_iAtjw?t=3

Steps to Crate Train your Dog Part 1 https://youtu.be/SfrziJQ7AXU?t=2 and Part 2 https://youtu.be/xTU2pxM9ta4?t=3

And if you end up with your dog on crate rest after surgery, Donna has a great video of 20 activities to keep his and your body still and mind busy.

I must emphasise – I do NOT crate my dogs for extended periods (apart from the dachsies when they are asleep), and I am certainly not advocating using a crate in place of training. For me crates are a practical lifestyle tool and crate training a valuable life skill.

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Liz is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer and offers private and small class dog training. She uses force-free training methods and believes in developing the handler's skills as much as the dog's. She has worked with many different breeds, ages and ability of dogs. Liz doesn't use a cookie-cutter approach to training – each dog and their human get what they need to meet their goals.