Our house is filled with dogs! Four resident, usually a foster dog or two, daycare canine visitors and doggies on holiday with us. There are beds and there are crates. The crates are the most sought-after places to hang out and it surprises me how much dog can be squeezed into how little a space!
Many of my clients have an adverse reaction when I first mention crate training their dogs. Some express immediately that they feel uncomfortable with the idea whereas others question it silently but go ahead and try it because I’m the dog expert they hired after all. Only when I hear them say later, often with surprise in their voice, “My dog likes her crate!” do I know they had had their doubts too.
Why is there such resistance? Looking at a crate most people see a cage. And, fair enough, it is a cage. However, the word cage is loaded. We don’t want to imprison anyone. Our pets should be free, not locked up like the poor souls in the pound.
When I encounter resistance to the idea of crate training I invite people to change their frame of reference. What if they saw a crate as their dog’s den? A safe, comfortable, calm space. A place to retreat and chill.
A crate-trained dog is a dog that has acquired an important life skill. You never know when your dog might have to spend a night at the vet. Being unfamiliar with confinement adds to the stress of being injured or ill. If, however, they know a crate is a safe and comfortable place they’ll be more easily able to relax.
Having your dog love their crate also comes in handy when going camping or when traveling or when relocating inter-state or overseas (especially when air transporting). It can be a huge help when toilet-training your dog. It is an invaluable training tool when working on teaching your dog house manners. Dogs with anxiety and dogs that don’t know how to switch off also can benefit greatly from crate-training. And dogs that go to a professional groomer on a regular basis too – where usually they are crated before and after they are being groomed.
Unless a dog has had a bad experience with being crated before, most dogs immediately love their new hang-out place. A comfy bed inside, maybe a treat, their favourite toy and a sheet to cover all but one side of their den. But even the dogs that are not so sure to begin with or have had an unpleasant previous experience can be helped to change their minds.
Successful crate training results in the crate being no longer necessary at some point. The dog knows its sleeping place and doesn’t sneak off to snooze on the couch, raid the bin or chew up the remote control.
Some people spend time each night to dog-proof the house … putting chairs on the couch, the bin on the kitchen bench and trying to remove all items that could be chewed up. Inevitably, they forget something and their dog misbehaves, once again. Reinforcing that when everyone is sleeping they can get away with pretty much everything. So, they never learn how to be a dependable companion, an awesome family member. They are never allowed to leave their ratbag status behind. Misbehaving is not what makes a dog cute! A well-behaved dog still has all its personality AND the skills to live a long and happy live. They don’t die from a massive blockage of having eaten too many socks. They don’t get dumped in the pound, re-homed or medicated because behaviour that was so adorable when they were a puppy has grown and escalated into an unbearable and unmanageable nuisance. They don’t get locked away whenever visitors are coming over.
If your family includes young children that still yet have to learn to respect a dog’s boundaries the crate can be your dog’s safe haven, their children-free zone.
Let’s have a look at soft crates. These are usually made from sturdy polyester material and the doors zip up. They don’t look so much like a cage and they are more easily portable than their wire cousins. The problem they can pose is that dogs can chew their way out or learn how to unzip the door. They often are more pricey too.
If you are getting a new dog – whether a puppy or older rescue dog – consider crate-training them. It will make your life so much easier and therefore the dog’s life happier. Upset people make for upset dogs. Dogs communicate their upset through behaviour – usually of the kind people don’t want like crying, barking, chewing, etc. – which in turn upsets people. And so the downward spiral begins.
If you are having an out-of-control, misbehaving dog, consider crate-training them. It’s not going to solve all your problems magically. It’s a starting point and a managing tool.
Whether new dog or old dog, investing in effective dog training by hiring a suitable trainer will pay off. How do you know a trainer is suitable? Ask for recommendations from people you know that have well-behaved dogs. Research on-line. Ask in your local Facebook group. When you think you have found someone suitable, ask them about the training method they use and make sure it is in line with your values. Find out what support they offer beyond their lessons. If available, read reviews.
Be realistic about dog training. Just like it doesn’t work to just buy a gym membership – you actually have to go and do work-outs – just hiring a dog trainer is not enough. You have to be committed to following through with what you are shown and practice. Be consistent. Without your participation no method will work.