Why Should You Crate Train Your Dog?

First of all...let's clear something up. A dog "crate" is NOT a medival torture device! You are not being cruel to your dog if you train him to sleep in one.

Let's DEFINE a ''Crate" or a "Cage", as it pertains to a dog. A dog "crate" is an enclosure made of wire, fiberglass, wood or metal, and most recently, mesh cloth, available in sizes appropriate for all ages and sizes of dogs. They can be purchased through pet supply stores, wholesale catalogs, at dog shows and many large feedstore chains and discount department stores. A good used one can often be purchased through newspaper ads, or at garage sales and flea markets.

Some of the better wire crates fold for storage but these tend to be heavier than molded fiberglass. Some are easy to set up and break down. Some can be pretty tricky. All can give you one very nasty pinch and a few broken nails if you aren't careful. (Yes, that is the voice of experience.) They also rust in the best of conditions, regardless of the manufacturer's claims. Even the EPOXYED wire will chip, allowing the exposed wire to rust.

Wire crates offer total ventilation and give Fido a panoramic view of his surroundings. But they also allow food and water spills, shedding hair and the worst gastrointestinal disasters access to unprotected floors.

(Uh-huh, MORE personal experiences.)

In spite of the obvious shortcomings of wire crates, we own several and would not want to be without them. They are cooler in hot weather, and the fold-up feature comes in handy on many occasions.

Metal and wood crates are not as readily available to the average pet owner. They can be very heavy, most do not break down for storage, and they provide less ventilation at more cost.

Fiberglass, or plastic crates are the choice of many dog owners and breeders because they are lighter weight, easier to clean and sanitize, and even come in "designer colors" if you (or your dog) desire. They are also the one of the CHEAPEST. Most spills are contained inside, (unless your dog likes to back up to the door!) and the new models have epoxyed "windows" and doors. Fiberglass crates do not provide as much ventilation as wire, but many dogs prefer them because of the privacy they afford.

Last, but not least....CLOTH. I'm sure most readers can see right off what the disadvantages could be. Cloth, or MESH crates should ONLY be used with stable dogs who are ALREADY crate trained and do not try to escape, or chew on their crate. Mesh crates are easily destroyed by a destructive puppy or dog. They can be ripped open, allowing the dog to escape, they can be tipped over by a rowdy dog jumping around inside, and they could pose some real cleaning problems if some "gastastrophy" happened to a dog inside one. They are not the best for travel in the car, as they afford little protection in the case of an accident.

On the up side, they set up and fold relatively easily, weigh only a few pounds, and take up little space for transport. Some of the smaller ones have an opening at the top so the dog can be lifted out. Most dogs like them because they can see out from all angles, but they still feel comfortably enclosed. Most normal doggie dirt can be hosed out and the crate dries quickly outside on a sunny day.

However, the DOG is not paying for, cleaning up, or carrying this thing around! Choose one that fits YOUR lifestyle. If you wish to travel with your pet....choose one that will fit comfortably in your vehicle. If you drive a van or a wagon, you will appreciate the light weight, more economical fiberglass. If you drive a two-door econobug you may have no choice but to turn to the wire crate that folds like a briefcase.

NOW!! For those who think of a crate as "DOGGY JAIL"...believe a crate to be "mean" or "inhumane"....let me attempt to change that image.

First, please try to look at this subject from a dog's point of view. Most dogs, if trained to a crate properly and early in life, look at their crate as their "DEN". It's their own little private hideaway. Once they get used to it...(and yes, that may take a little time, a good set of ear plugs, and a solid resolve)...they are NOT afraid of the crate. They do not resent it and do not hate your guts for putting them in there. It gives them a sense of security, a comfy place that they can snuggle up in. This is THEIR place....a haven that is off limits to intruders...(or certainly SHOULD be..)..much like your OWN bedroom. In motel rooms and shows this is their "home away from home", and takes away much of the insecurity and fear they may experience while traveling.

Too many pets are disposed of because they are OUT OF CONTROL. This is NOT the fault of the DOG. Proper use of a crate can curb unwanted and unacceptable behavior before it gets out of hand. A dog needs guidelines and must understand what is expected of it. If a dog could talk he might tell you that he would PREFER to be KEPT OUT OF TROUBLE  in the FIRST place. Why ALLOW him to screw up and THEN punish him, if you could have prevented it before it happened?

What are some of the advantages for the owner? Correct and humane use of a crate can give you peace of mind about leaving your dog home alone. He can't poop on your Oriental rug or chew the arms off your leather couch if he doesn't have access to them.

Housebreaking usually goes more smoothly. Most dogs don't like to lay in their own mess. Use a crate that is the right size for the dog....one that is large enough that he can stretch out in it, turn around and stand comfortably, but NOT big enough that he can leave a big smelly pile in the back of the crate and still have room to get away from it. (What's worse is when that pile is in the FRONT of the crate and you have to try to get Rover out past it so you can clean it up!)

When training a puppy you may have to start with a smaller crate than what you will need once he is an adult. You may be able to borrow or rent one, but even if you have to purchase two crates it's a lot cheaper than replacing your favorite chair or your carpet!

Housebreaking a small puppy will take some vigilence on your part. Little puppies are BABIES...and they can NOT "hold it" for long periods of time. They are not fully developed and it is a physical impossibility.  If you work all day and come home to a stinky crate and messy puppy you are leaving him alone too long and need to make arrangements to allow him time out of the crate more often. As he grows he will be able to keep his bed clean longer and longer. But, confining a baby puppy to a crate ALL DAY without sufficient breaks can make housetraining MORE difficult and may defeat the crate's purpose.

A possible alternative, if you MUST leave for several hours, is to use that full sized crate, put a box for sleeping in one end, and papers to potty on in the other. Again, this is likely to make crate training more difficult and slow down your progress.

Puppies need human companionship and supervision, and FREQUENT POTTY BREAKS. Lack of any of these can result in a socially maladjusted canine.

Other advantages to crate training your dog include:

Keeping your dog's paws out of your supper plate and off fussy guests clothing.

Allowing the dog peace and quiet from the noisy play and prodding fingers of small children.

Travel with your pet is safer for BOTH of you. (The dog can't get under your feet when you are trying to hit the brakes, and he won't fly through the windshield when you do. He has his "seat belt" on and his "security blanket" with him.

And, there are still a FEW motels that will allow him in the rooms...IF he is CRATED.

If you put the crate in an area where the dog can see you and what's going on around him he is not going to feel "banished". Put him in a "people area" but still in a cozy corner where he can also get some privacy.

Bedding for the crate is a consideration. Some feel that newspaper should not be used as bedding because it may cause the puppy to "do-do" just what you don't want him to do. We use it because the recommended blankets, old t-shirts, etc., tend to wind up in the puppy's digestive tract. My fear is that all that "fiber" (which is great for us old folks), may become a serious problem with a baby puppy. Especially an elkhound puppy, who can eat a rose bush, thorns and all, or a two by four right down to the last splinter. If you decide to use any type of cloth bedding with your youngster please watch him carefully and be sure he has his own toys to chew on. Nice blankies and expensive crate pads can always be added later, when you feel he is ready and reliable.

Small children should not be allowed to play in the crate!!!! Make them understand that this is the puppy's ROOM, and that they must respect it.

If the kid needs a crate, get him one of his OWN!

On the other hand, the puppy must be taught to allow family members to reach into his crate at any time with NO growling or snapping. Such behavior is totally unacceptable.

Establish a routine. Put the puppy in the crate for an hour or two several times a day. When he wants to take a nap he will let you know. If you put him in the crate when you know he doesn't need to potty, and he throws a fit...don't rush to him and take him right back out. He will be the trainer..and you will be the one getting trained.

TRY to wait until he's been quiet awhile, even if it's only a few seconds, BEFORE you let him out. Hopefully he will learn to bark in his crate only if he really needs to relieve himself, and you will soon learn the difference between his  "I wanna PEEEEEEE!" bark and his "I'm P.O'd, I'm bored, and I wanna PLAAAAY!"

As a helpful hint, we've found that when a dog barks in his crate for no good reason a squirt gun is a handy item! A little water in the face and a firm "NO" can work wonders. And it doesn't hurt the dog.

When he is put in his crate give him a toy or two to distract him. Take off his collar and tags so they can't possibly get caught between the wires. When he wakes up take him immediately outside to where you want him to potty. You want him to get down to "business" outside....so don't divert his attention from the job he's there for by playing with him. You should at least wait until after he has pottied for fun and games. It's best to praise him as soon as he gets the idea and take him back INSIDE for play time until he is fully trained. It's very easy to give a puppy mixed signals. If you play with him when you take him to his "bathroom" he may forget why he wanted out in the first place and wait until you give up and take him back in the house to piddle....or worse.

At night, starting out, you may wish to close him in a room he can't destroy, leave his crate open, and put some papers on the floor. Then, if you have to listen to a few 4 a.m. arias, at least you'll know he's only lonesome, (and testing you), not physically miserable.

Another thing that works for some new puppy owners is to put the crate in their bedroom close to their bed. The puppy has a feeling of security because his family is near, and you should be able to hear his first whimpers. Either way, expect a few sleepless nights.

It may take some time to accomplish your goals. As with all training, you must be FIRM, FAIR, and CONSISTANT.

DON'T WIMP OUT!! You are doing what's best for your puppy in the long run. (Even if NEITHER of you believes it at first.)

A crate does not ALWAYS work.

There are those dogs who just will not tolerate this kind of confinement no matter how hard you try to get them to adapt. But it is ALWAYS WORTH A TRY! When it prevents damage to your home and curbs or solves behavior problems that would make him an unacceptable pet, you will be glad you decided to use a crate.

And believe it or not, your dog will be happier too.