Pet Talk: Crating can be positive for dogs

Rene Knapp

Many people believe crating a dog for any length of time is cruel and they refuse to consider it. Thousands of dollars are spent by families every year because of the damage done by a new puppy who is given the run of the house while their owners are at work or out for an evening.

For those owners who enjoy coming home to the puppy who decided to pee on a new couch and destroy new Victoria Secret slippers, you can stop reading this column, because crate training is obviously not for you. However, what will happen is that couches, tables, bedding and other expensive items may be chewed to pieces while rugs are ruined because of urine stains. The crate is a proven way to train dogs who act like ... well, dogs.

Not punishment

The first and hardest thing to get into your mindset is that a crate is not for punishment. Crates need to be a positive place where your dog can find security and pleasure. An attractive crate makes for a welcoming den — a nice blanket, yummy treats, a favorite toy and a chew stick help to make the pup comfortable. The crate needs to be in a place where your dog will not feel isolated (our dog’s crate is in our bedroom), so the pup feels like part of the family.

Eleven years later, our Dogo Argentino, Daisy, still loves her crate. When Daisy first comes in from outside she is a wild woman, running through the house, jumping on furniture, scaring the cats and refusing all direction. If we crate her for the first half-hour with a favorite chewie, she calms down.

When the crate is opened, she calmly walks out to us and plops down on the couch. When we are not home, Daisy is usually out in her large kennel, but during the winter, Daisy is an indoor dog because of the cold. She can now stay home outside the crate, but five years ago she would have destroyed my house. She loved to rip things up when she was alone, and if we had not used the crate, we would not have been able to keep her.

Using a crate properly establishes limits for your dog when you are away from the house and unable to monitor your dog’s behavior. A crate is also a safe area for your dog to be if you’re having a party and have a less-than-social canine. Dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks often find refuge in their familiar crate.

The best way to get your dog to live happily with his crate is to introduce it when he is a puppy. Rather than have to punish him when he messes or chews your favorite pair of shoes, you can crate him before the trouble actually happens. While crates certainly don’t train your pup for you, they are a useful tool in housebreaking.

You need to make sure the crate is the proper size for the animal. If the crate is too big, the puppy will use part of it as the bathroom, and that won’t help in the long run.

You also have to be around to hear him. If the puppy is whining, chances are he needs to go to the bathroom and should be taken out. After meals and naps and before going into the crate, there should first be a trip outside.

Find the right size

Choosing the right size and the right type of crate is essential to the perfect fit of crate and dog. The crate should be big enough to allow the dog to stand up and lie down comfortably. If you know your dog is going to grow into a big dog, then consider getting a divider so you will have the proper size crate in the beginning and the crate can grow with the dog.

It should be put in a room where there is activity. Starting the puppy or dog in the crate for a few minutes at a time and working your way up in time is the best way for the dog to learn he is not being abandoned or “caged.”

Your dog will get accustomed to his crate and will enjoy the security of having his own space, but do not leave a puppy crated for longer than three or four hours at a time, or an adult dog for longer than eight hours. If you crate your dog at night, you should make sure he has plenty of uncrated time during the day, or vice versa.  If left too long, your dog will start feeling trapped and frustrated.

Also, a crate is not a cure for canine compulsive disorders such as separation anxiety. Sure, the dog is prevented from being destructive, but he could injure himself as he desperately tries to get out of the crate.

There are also many types of crates available: Aluminum, plastic, foldable tents, mesh or fabric, fiberglass, plastic, wicker and wire. All have pros and cons, including cost, ventilation, cleaning, etc. You will need to see which crate will work best for you.

Norwich Bulletin contributor Rene Knapp can be reached at helpingpaws@sbcglobal.net