The Case Against Crate Training.

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ppor pup in crateWhen you were growing up, did your friends have dogs? Were these dogs housebroken and generally well-behaved? Odds are the answer is, “Yes”. Then I ask you, were these dogs kept in cages? Odds are your answer is “Never!”.

Several Years ago a new phenomenon emerged among dog trainers called “crate-training”. As far as I am concerned, “crate-training” is simply a euphemism of keeping a dog in a cage.

Crate-training (I’m going to refer to it as “caging” from here on), was touted as the perfect solution to the problem of housebreaking. And it was. After all, dogs kept in cages didn’t have access to their owner’s homes and carpets.

Caging relies on the fact that our dogs are clean by nature and won’t soil where they have to sleep or stay. But caging never teaches a dog how to be housebroken. In essence, it’s an avoidance technique which doesn’t address the task of housebreaking.

You don’t know how many calls I get from people who have caged their dogs for housebreaking purposes but don’t know when they can trust Fido enough to let him out of the cage.

For years, responsible professional breeders have cage-trained their dogs successfully. The operative words here are “responsible professional breeders”.

First of all, these people know how to use cages effectively.

Secondly, good professional breeders devote their time to their dogs.

Being a professional breeder is a full-time job and breeders are generally there with their dogs for most of the day. Since they are there to supervise their dogs, breeders don’t need to cage their dogs for hours on end.

This does not hold true for the average family. In the average household, both spouses work outside the home at least 8 hours a day. They also sleep approximately 8 hours. So far that’s 16 hours that Fido will be in a cage. Add a couple of hours for shopping, errands and dinner out and you’re up to 18 hours a day that the dog is confined.

Three-quarters of a day is too much time for any dog to be confined. If you say that your busy life won’t permit you to devote more time to a dog, you’re probably better off with a pet that requires less maintenance – like a fish!

In my over quarter-century of working with over 40,000 dogs, I’ve never used a cage. You won’t find the use of cages for housebreaking in my dog training book How To Get Your Dog To Do What You Want: A loving approach to unleashing your dog’s astonishing potential.

Instead, housebreaking is achieved by regulating your puppy’s food and water intake, putting him on a regular walking schedule, watching your puppy for the tell-tale signs that he has to “go”, and confining him in a small gated area (the kitchen is ideal) when you cannot watch him with a hawk eye.

By using gates, you can start off with a small area (sat 3′ by 3′) and when the puppy has shown he can keep that area unsoiled, you can gradually increase the area of his confinement. As housebreaking proceeds, you’ll be giving your puppy more and more space. Your ultimate goal is to give your dog the entire run of your house. Gates afford you the flexibility of increasing the area of confinement – cages do not.

Don’t get me wrong, crates (carriers) are important and every dog owner should have one – for transporting your dog. They afford your dog protection when he’s in your car and you come to a sudden stop or, heaven forbid, if there’s an accident.

And you’ll definitely need a crate or carrier for Fido if you plan to do any air travel together. If Fido spends the vast majority of his day in a cage, he’ll never have free run of the house.

Underscoring my belief is a recent study published in 1996 by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: Risk factors for relinquishment of dogs to an animal shelter:

“Dogs who spend most of the day in the yard or in a crate were at an increased risk for surrender to the shelter.
The study was not able to determine whether these dogs had been relegated to the yard or a crate as a result of behavioral problems or whether keeping dogs in these situations resulted in isolation from the family, with less attachment and less training, thereby increasing the risk of relinquishment.”

I am seeing an increasing number of dogs who are under-socialized and, in some cases, actually aggressive. Kept in cages, these dogs don’t have the opportunity to interact with people and other pets.

Another problem that’s on the increase is coprophagy – stool-eating. Many a dog confined to a cage would rather eat his or her stool, than have to lie with it in a cage.

I’ve heard a few misguided dog owners say that Fido likes to sit in his cage. ” He feels secure.” What they are really telling me is that their dog is not secure in the home environment. The dog feels threatened unless he’s caged!

Other advocates of caging say it gives the dog a place of his own. My dog Rio has his own bed in my bedroom, but nine times out of ten times he’d rather curl up and snooze on the living room floor – if that’s the room I’m in. My home and my presence is all Rio needs to feel secure!

The so-called “experts” rationalize that cages are okay because dogs evolved from wolves and wolves have denning instincts.

To that I say dogs have been removed from their lupine ancestors for millions of years.

Dogs have been living with man for tens of thousands of years. Even the earliest cave paintings depict dogs as man’s companions! We cannot take a dog into our human environment, treat him like a wolf, and expect him to respond like a human.

Our dogs are beloved family members and need to be treated as such. You wouldn’t keep your child confined to his room for his entire youth and adolescence, would you? You’d have one maladjusted young person!

You want your child to be an active, full participant in your household and your life. The same goes for our dogs. And cages will never permit this to happen.