The Truth About Crate Training

HILLARY was courageous enough to step forward and ask: I would like [to know] the truth about crate training. I have heard many people strongly advocate crates, but I am having trouble finding this method of housebreaking and training “nice”.

ME: “Nice” is simply a value judgement you’re placing on a training tool because you’re looking at your dog as if he were a human. And that’s were you’ll run into trouble. See, dogs are motivated by drives and instincts which are completely different than ours. One of these instincts is called a “den” instinct.

What we’ve found, by watching dogs in the wild, is that they will naturally build or find a small, enclosed area that allows them to feel safe (there back can be protected when they sleep), shelter (from the weather) and to protect the young. Many dog owners will often notice that there dogs will naturally curl up beneath a desk, under a table, under a bed, or in a closet… because if fulfills this sense of security and well being.

HILLARY: How can leaving a dog in a crate, even if it is big enough for him, be humane? How can this not enforce negative behavior in the dog if it is locked up for hours?

ME: The crate should be only big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in… but not so big that he can defecate and urinate on one side and sleep on the other. How is it humane? It’s completely humane. Imagine leaving a baby– or even a toddler — in your house, unsupervised, before he has the maturity and understanding of the “house rules”. He’s going to get into trouble… right? He may even hurt himself, or worse. Maybe he’ll burn the house down. Or maybe he’ll eat something that will get lodged in his digestive tract. So… we confine him in a crib… or a play pen. Can he get out of the crib by himself? No way. That would be dangerous.

Do you understand the analogy?

You’re right… we wouldn’t leave the baby in the crib for 16 hours straight. But a few hours, here and there is okay… and at night.

HILLARY: Why are crates good? What are the effects of putting a dog in one as opposed to not putting a dog in one?

ME: Leaving a dog out of a crate, unsupervised, before he has proven that he knows and abides by the house rules is courting disaster. He’ll start chewing, digging, ripping and destroying things sooner or later, and because you’re not there (or awake) to correct him, he then starts to think these behaviors are “okay” and then they become behavior patterns which are much harder to break.

HILLARY: How long is too long to crate a dog?

ME: It depends on the age of the dog. For adult dogs, all through the night. During the day, not more than 4 hours at a stretch without taking the dog out for some exercise. Puppies may need to be taken out more frequently.

Realize this: Adult dogs spend roughly 80% of any 24 hour cycle either sleeping or resting. And with puppies, you’re probably looking at more like 90%. All you’re doing with the crate is saying, “Sleep here!” Not, “Here, then here, then over there.”

HILLARY: And if the dog is to be crated for hours, how much time should be allotted for exercise?

ME: Again, it depends on the age, breed, and drive (energy level) of the dog. You’ll know with your dog if he’s still bouncing off the walls. The crate will be one of your most important training tools.