Dog Crates - Next to You, They're Your Dog's Best Friend
by Danny Canino
First conversation between two new puppy owners:
Owner #1: "...The breeder of my puppy wants me to get a dog crate to put my puppy in periodically until she's housebroken and past the teething stage, but I just can't bring myself to put that adorable puppy into a cage like an animal. I love her too much to do that to her and besides, I think it's cruel."
Owner #2: "...I got a crate for my puppy and I don't think it's cruel at all. I was able to housebreak him in about five days, and now that he's teething, I put him in his crate when I'm not there to watch that he doesn't destroy anything or get into anything that might hurt him or kill him. I really love my puppy enough to give him this protection and my puppy really grew to like his crate."
One week later, same two puppy owners:
Owner #2: "...Why don't you bring your puppy over today to play with mine?"
Owner #1: "...I can't. She was rushed to the Vet this morning for emergency surgery. She was chewing on something, we're not sure what, and it lodged in her intestines and the Vet is trying to dislodge it. They don't even know if she's going to live. The Vet told me that I should have had a crate for her during this teething period."
THIS SCENARIO ISN'T HYPOTHETICAL! IT HAS HAPPENED NUMEROUS TIMES. EVERYTHING IN YOUR HOME AND YARD CAN BE SAFE, IN PARTICULAR YOUR PUPPY, IF YOU LEARN ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF USING A DOG CRATE FOR AN UNTRAINED PUPPY.
You might look at a crate as a cage, but to your dog it's simply a bed with a door on it or an indoor doghouse. Dogs are by nature den or cave animals. Therefore, a crate is not such an unnatural setting to the dog's basic instincts.
Bringing a new puppy into your home is quite an event, not only for family members, but for the puppy too. Sometimes, it's quite devastating to a puppy to discover not only how tall his new littermates or pack members are, but also that they don't have fur, don't walk on all fours, and they bark in a foreign tongue. So a crate is a very comforting place to retreat to.
By instinct, dogs do not want to soil their den, so using a crate inside your home to housebreak the new puppy is the fastest way to insure that your puppy will come to know your entire house as his den. Thus, he will eventually not want to soil any part of it.
It's important to remind yourself that your puppy is not a human being - he is a dog. He is neither capable of thinking and reasoning like a human nor acting like a human. You have to learn to think like a dog thinks. You have to realize that even though the dog has been domesticated for centuries, it still instinctively thinks like a dog. They are still pack animals that are looking for "pack leadership." It's important that we establish to the dog early on that we are going to be the "pack leader." So when you start crate training your puppy and they balk at the idea, DON'T RELENT. Talk calmly to the dog as you physically put him into the crate.
Relate to this: "If this puppy were still in the wilds with his mama, she would make him go into the cave for his own safety. By 7-8 weeks of age she would teach him to soil outside the cave and would scold him severely if he soiled inside the cave. If he protested going into the cave, she would show him her wrath TWOFOLD, and he would never again argue this point with mama."
So when your puppy balks the first couple of times you try to crate him, just remember how his mama would handle this situation. You're not going to bite him like his mama would, but you're not going to relent and give in to his protests. Remember, you're doing this for his own good.
To answer the question that I know is on your mind:
NO, YOUR DOG WILL NOT HAVE TO SPEND HIS ENTIRE LIFE LIVING IN A CRATE!!
The crate is to get him through the early stages of his life, including housebreaking and teething. Once good behavior has been established (including basic obedience training), your dog can be completely integrated into the household. He can be trusted not to use your home as a bathroom and not use your furniture as a teething ring. Don't be surprised if, when you leave the crate door open, that your puppy periodically goes into the crate on his own.
Just think of how nice it's going to be not to have to scold your puppy constantly so that your relationship with him becomes negative. Instead, every time you let him out of the crate for bonding time, your relationship will become positive. Furthermore, a crate will avert you from "giving up" on this dog because you think he's too destructive, untrainable, or just plain stupid, only to find that you encounter the same problems with the next dog you get. You'll also discover that the crate will enable you to take the pup (or grown dog) with you on vacations. He can travel safely in the car and will be accepted at many motels because they'll know that he can't destroy anything while in his crate.
The size of the crate depends on the size of the dog. If you want to get a crate that the dog can use as an adult and you're trying to housebreak him, simply block off one end of the crate until he's housebroken. If the crate is too large, he'll eliminate at one end and sleep at the other end.
If you are introducing an older dog to a crate, try putting his food in the crate with the door open each time you feed him. A hungry dog will accept an area or new situation quickly. Let the dog get used to this new object as something pleasant before you close the door. Once you close the door, sit beside the crate for a few minutes and only leave him in it for short periods of time in the beginning. You'll be surprised how soon an older dog too, comes to accept this as something comfortable and pleasant.
There are so many different uses for a crate that the list is almost endless. Just think of the professionals that you respect that use crates: veterinarians, groomers, dog trainers and the breeder that you got your puppy from. If you're still in doubt, just ask these people about the benefits of using a crate. I guarantee that by the third person you talk to, you'll be on your way to your local pet supply store to purchase one.
Besides being your pup's second best friend, a crate will save your sanity and it just might save your pup's life.