How we care for and treat our furry best friends has changed tremendously over the years, from new tools coming into play to brand new realizations taking root.
Crate training is one such technique that has finally found its time in the spotlight in the last decade, helping dog owners worldwide give their pups a life that is both fair to the animal and fair to the human.
That being said, crate training isn’t for everyone; there are pros and cons to consider, as with any decision.
The crate gives your dog personal space, help leave your pup home alone safely, aid with potty training, make traveling easier, and can save your dog’s life in an emergency. However, anxious and claustrophobic behaviors can worsen. The crate can be dangerous if not properly used, some medical conditions prevent crating, and complacency can happen.
In this article, I will give you a constructive and objective look at the benefits and drawbacks of crate training - so that you can decide if this dog training tool is right for you and your family!
Ready? Let’s dive in.
The rewards of crate training are many, which is why this training tool has become one of the best options around!
Although dogs are not people, there are many ways our two species relate (that’s probably why we’re such good friends!). One is the desire to have personal space to decompress from others.
With the home being such a shared situation, it can be hard for your dog to find their own little zone away from the presence of others. A dog crate can serve as such a space.
Honing in on a dog’s natural denning instinct, crates provide a comfortable, dark, and temperate environment similar to a den.
In the canid family, dens have long been used to hide, sleep, and rear puppies - it’s a fundamental living location for wolves, wild dogs, and other members of the canidae family.
Even though our furry companions have been removed from their wild ancestors for thousands of years, their urge for denning hasn’t gone away. As such, a crate can put a dog at ease and give them their own private place to relax and keep to themselves.
Granting your dog this opportunity can rectify many negative behaviors as, over maturity, your dog can learn to monitor their own behavior and put themselves away if they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.
If you have guests over or another dog in the home, instead of your dog snapping because of the overstimulation, your dog can go to their crate instead!
Another pro to crate training is the ability to leave your home with peace of mind. As much as we want to trust our dogs to behave while away, even the most trustworthy dog can sometimes break and do something bad. They are not robots, after all!
Our human world carries many risks and dangers, as what may seem mundane to you can be toxic or life-threatening to a dog. For example, accidentally leaving a small toy out that your dog can swallow or forgetting to cover a wire or outlet that a teething puppy may want to chew.
Crate training your dog allows you to confine the dog into a safe space when you aren’t there to supervise them in full.
The crate can help make potty training so much easier in young puppies and lead to fewer messes to clean up for you (always a huge plus)! This is because puppies will typically not soil where they sleep, specifically if your crate is the correct size.
When you take your puppy out of the crate, you should immediately take them to the potty area - this mitigates accidents in the house and teaches the puppy where the appropriate place to relieve themselves is!
If Fido is apt to come on travel adventures with you, crate training can make this situation a lot easier as well! It’s much safer to have your dog contained in a proper crate in the vehicle than to keep them roaming the seats.
Allowing your dog free reign of the car can put both of your lives at risk, as distracted driving is as dangerous as it gets! Keeping your pup contained calmly in a designated car crate keeps all parties safe.
As much as we don’t expect emergency situations to happen, it is something to think about.
Consider what may happen to your dog in the case of an evacuation, a fire, a medical emergency with you, or even just your pup getting loose and being caught by law enforcement.
A dog that is well conditioned and comfortable with a crate can be easily put in one by emergency personnel, firefighters, animal control, and police officers alike without causing harm.
A dog that is comfortable with a kennel won’t be overly stressed, anxious, or otherwise uncomfortable. Even if they are a bit (which is natural to happen), it won’t be a huge fuss. This can make an already difficult situation tremendously better for everyone involved.
As much as the crate is beneficial, it can also be detrimental in some circumstances. Therefore, knowing the downsides is just as important as recognizing the upsides.
Some dogs are more prone to anxiety than others, and the crate can sometimes lead to anxious behaviors.
This is most prevalent if the dog associates the crate with prolonged separation from you, the dog was not properly introduced to the crate, or you have a rescue dog that has had some past trauma you may not be fully aware of.
If the crate is spurring anxiety, it is best to work with a certified dog trainer to figure out the best course of action for your dog.
However, the behavior could also be provoked by improper use of the crate. If the crate is used as a punishment, the dog will gain a negative association with the crate and/or small spaces, leading to claustrophobia.
The crate should always be a positive space, not something riddled with fear or bad vibes.
As much as the crate is used as a safety net, it can also be dangerous if not used correctly.
A crate that is too small for the dog can cause many problems, such as joint pain and permanent structure damage!
A properly sized crate should allow your pup to enter without having to crouch down, your dog can stand up freely, and your dog should be able to comfortably turn around with the crate door closed. There should be about 2 - 4 inches of wiggle room on either side of your dog.
You also have to make sure that the crate is constructed correctly. A fragile or improperly put-together crate can fall into your dog. If this doesn’t injure your dog, it will certainly break their trust in the crate, which can be hard to remedy!
Equally so, a crate made of poor material could cause the dog to chew out, which can lead to all sorts of problems ranging from a sliced-up mouth to the dangers of swallowing pieces of the crate.
A crate with little to no ventilation can cause your pup to overheat, leading to dehydration and eventual heat stroke. A crate placed in the wrong place with no cooling system causes the same thing to happen. You have to remember that a crate also traps your dog, so if they are in distress, there is nothing they can do to escape it!
Leaving a dog in the crate for way too long, not providing your dog with water while in the crate for too long, and other such neglect also causes consequences (as you can imagine).
Not all dogs are good candidates for crate training - older pups with incontinence issues, muscle problems, or joint issues may not be able to be crate trained due to medical reasons.
It is best to have your pup routinely examined and speak with your vet about what is appropriate for your particular pup.
Spending too much time in the crate can be detrimental, even if it’s of the dog’s own volition.
Many people tend to get fairly comfortable with their dog enjoying the crate and choosing to lay in there for many hours in the day, forgetting that Fido needs a walk or two to keep healthy!
The crate can cause physical complacency, leading to medical problems down the line. The same principle applies to people; sitting on the couch all day and never exercising is bad for us too!
If you find that crate training may not be the right fit for yourself or your pup, there are alternatives that achieve a similar result!
The goal is to allow your dog their own personal space, boundaries for what they are permitted to do, and peace of mind when your pup can’t be supervised.
Instead of a crate, you could consider a playpen instead! A playpen is a barricaded area that gives your dog a lot more free reign than a crate but in an enclosed and designated space.
Alternatively, you can set up baby gates in your home to simply disallow your dog from entering unsafe parts of the home and give them free movement otherwise!
Doggy daycares or a pet sitter are some great ideas when you can’t quite watch your pup consistently. This is especially a great idea for breeds bursting with energy and want to be social!