Why use a dog crate – and is it cruel to crate a dog?

Why use a dog crate - Puppy sleeping in a crate

Photo credit: Used with permission from tuanica on Flickr

This is the 2nd part to the 8-part series, ‘Crate training – The complete guide‘.

This second installment in the series answers the question: Why use a dog crate? by listing and discussing the many benefits using a crate provides for both you and your dog.

Later in the article I also address the question that comes to most people’s minds when they first hear the idea of using a crate: Is it cruel to crate a dog?

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 2 Is Crate Training Cruel? Is It Cruel To Crate A Dog?
  • 2.1 But Doesn’t Crating Cause Psychological Problems?
  • 3 The ‘Dogs Are Den Animals’ Defense of Using A Crate
  • 4 A Recommended List Of Dog Crates
  • 5 Conclusion
  • 6 More information:
  • Why Use A Dog Crate? What Are The Benefits Of Crate Training?

    There are a large number of benefits to using one for both you and your dog.

    Let’s go through the main ones you and your dog can enjoy:

    A Crate Provides A Feeling Of Safety And Security

    By providing a crate and effective training, your Labrador learns to see it as their own special place they know as their own, where they go to get away from things for some peace and quiet, to relax and sleep in peace.

    It becomes a familiar place where they feel safe and secure and once properly crate trained, you’ll find your dog will sometimes go to it of their own accord as they learn to love it there.

    Nowhere else in your house can they truly get away from things because there will always be people stepping over and around them which is not what they want when looking for peace and quiet or sometimes sleep.

    A crate provides them the security they’re after when looking for down time and is especially important in a house with children where dogs can find it very hard to have any peaceful time away at all!

    A Crate Provides Safety When You Cannot Supervise Your Dog

    Crating your Labrador will keep them safe when you cannot supervise them for short periods of time. Especially useful during the puppy and adolescent stages when they can get into all sorts of trouble if left alone.

    For the short time you’re in the bath or dealing with a visitor, placing your lab in a crate will remove the possibility of them chewing on things or getting into unsafe places when you can’t have your eye on them.

    Why use a dog crate - A picture of a dog not crated who swallowed a ratchet spannerIt’s a sad fact that a large number of dogs are injured (or worse) every year due to chewing wires, eating poisonous substances or swallowing inedible foreign objects found lying around the home.

    They can’t do this from inside of a crate.

    Crating Speeds Up The House Training Process Dramatically

    Wild dogs and wolves are born in dens where they spend the first few weeks of their lives. And dogs are born with a natural instinct to want to keep their den where they live and sleep, free of feces and urine.

    You can take advantage of this innate instinct to keep their den clean to dramatically speed up the house training process.

    By keeping your puppy in the crate for short periods of time, they learn bladder and bowel control, to ‘hold it’ as long as they can while in there.

    Then when you remove them from the crate they’re almost bound to want to go toilet, so you can instantly take them outside and they’ll be very keen to go.

    This will help you to form a connection in your puppy’s mind between ‘eliminating’ and being outside. And because you’ll be more able to catch them in the act, you have more opportunities to praise them for going to toilet in the correct place more often.

    Also, if you wish to teach your Labrador puppy to ‘eliminate on command’…and this can be very useful for times when you’re in a rush…then being able to predict when they’re going to go means you get more opportunities to use the command and they will learn it far quicker and more easily.

    Finally, putting your puppy to sleep in a crate overnight takes advantage of their desire not to soil their den to cut down dramatically on ‘accidents’ in the home, stopping the bad habit of going to toilet inside from ever forming.

    Safer And Less Stressful Car Travel

    why use a dog crate - a labrador in a car travel crate, much safer!Riding in cars can be highly stressful and cause fear in some dogs. It’s an unfamiliar, weird, bumpy and noisy environment where they have no control.

    Also, a loose dog in a car is a very dangerous distraction for a driver if they’re free to climb around.

    And if there is an accident, even in relatively low-speed crashes which wouldn’t normally pose much danger, a loose dog can cause real injury to passengers, especially Labradors if they weigh 60 pounds+ and slam into you from behind.

    Finally, many dogs that survive accidents unscathed are then lost, injured or killed because they’re disoriented after a crash and wonder off alone or into oncoming traffic.

    A crate cures all of these problems!

    If your dog’s already comfortable being crated, they’ll gladly ride in one in the rear of your vehicle.

    Being in their familiar and secure place reduces any stress or fear they may feel, it prevents them distracting the driver, and in case of an accident it stops them being a ‘flying danger’ to other passengers and prevents them wandering off so they will always be returned to you safely.

    Making Air Travel As Comfortable As Possible

    Though not nearly as common as traveling by car, a lot of dogs will travel by air once or more in their lives. And the only way to fly is to have your dog in a crate in the hold.

    This really can be a frightening experience, but one that’s made so much easier if they’ve been effectively crate trained and feel safe and secure in a crate with familiar items of their own for comfort.

    Less Traumatic Time In Kennels Or Boarding

    If you ever need to crate your Labrador in kennels whilst you travel, or have them quarantined before travel themselves, the experience will be far less traumatic if they’re accustomed to and comfortable being confined in a relatively small space.

    Dogs that have never been crated that go into kennels for any reason can find the experience extremely scary and distressing.

    By crate training your puppy, you’re preparing them as best you can for the future possibility of having to board in kennels. And most dogs will need boarding at some point in their lives.

    Reinforce Chew Toy Habits And Protect Your Possessions

    Puppy-hood is a time where habits are formed, both good and bad. And when you leave your little Labrador puppy alone they’ll find things to entertain themselves with, more often than not involving mouthing and chewing, forming bad habits.

    why use a dog crate - a lab puppy sitting in a room he has destroyedIf they’re regularly able to chew on shoes, slippers, wires or chair legs, the habits will be hard for you to break and rectify later on.

    So when you can’t supervise your puppy for a short while, crating them along with chew toys, especially food-stuffed chew toys like a Kong for example, means they won’t be able to chew on your possessions and form these bad habits.

    On the contrary, they will slowly become fixated on the chew toys that you want them to chew on because they spend so much time involved with them.

    Occasionally crating a puppy with their toys is a great way to turn them into chew toy addicts and turn them away from habitually chewing on your belongings.

    You Can Use A Crate For Time Outs

    Sometimes you may need to remove your dog from a situation for a short ‘time out’ to calm themselves down. For instance if they get over-excited when playing with children, or get a little too physical in a multi-dog household.

    I’m not saying to send your dog to the crate as a punishment, just for a 30 second to 2 minute time out. Not to lock them away!

    You can do this without causing your lab to hate the crate, because you will never scold or punish your dog whilst they’re in there. Only by doing so will they begin to hate it!

    We’re talking here about calmly speaking, taking them to the crate gently and closing them inside for just a few short minutes until they’re calm and can again be released.

    When crate training has been truly effective, you will even have the ability to tell your dog to crate themselves and they’ll do so quite happily.

    You Can Use It As A Management Tool

    Why use a dog crate - Labrador sitting nicely instead of jumping upWhen trying to solve behavior problems…and let’s face it, most dogs develop one or two in their lives…The process is usually divided into the two parts of ‘training’ and ‘management’.

    The training aspect is where you work on fixing or re-directing the behavior, the management aspect is where you prevent your dog from getting into situations where the problem behavior occurs, preventing it being reinforced and continuing.

    As an example, let’s take an extremely boisterous Labrador that likes to jump up on people when they first meet them.

    The training aspect will be holding your Lab on the leash and asking people to come near, not letting your lab say hello until they’re calm and relaxed, feet on the floor. This is training an alternative behavior.

    But what if an unexpected visitor comes to your home? You can’t use these times as training sessions, yet you don’t want your Lab jumping up and reinforcing the behavior. You need to prevent it occurring.

    So you manage the situation by temporarily crating your dog whilst the unexpected visitor is in your home, not allowing them the chance to jump up.

    Managing and training for problem behaviors is the best method to solve them and a crate is a very useful tool in this process.

    Besides, I’m sure if your dog could speak they’d say it’s far better they relax a short while in a crate and the bad behavior didn’t occur, rather than you get angry and they be punished for when it did :-)

    Prevent Bad Habits And Problem Behaviors Forming In The First Place

    Effective use of a crate takes away the opportunities your dog has to do things wrong and not be corrected.

    If your dog is free to roam around unsupervised it will have all the chances in the world to do something wrong and get away with it, never receiving correction for their error. And if they aren’t corrected bad behavior may become habit, or they may simply learn they can do what they wish when you’re not around to watch them.

    In order to tell your dog they’ve done wrong and re-direct their behavior, you have to literally catch them in the act. It’s no good telling them off for something they did minutes ago, they just won’t understand. And telling them off long after the fact will just make them think you’re unreasonable, unstable and get angry for no apparent reason. This can damage your relationship and the respect they have for you.

    But when your dog is crated if you’re not there, yet out of the crate and supervised when you are, they will very rarely do anything wrong that you don’t see and are able to correct and re-direct them for. So they won’t have the chance to develop any bad behaviors or learn that they can do as they wish when you’re not around.

    This will massively help them to develop into well-behaved and well-rounded dogs by adulthood.

    It Allows Your Puppy To Succeed More, Fail Less And Strengthens Your Relationship

    The use of a crate as described above takes away a lot of the opportunities a puppy would normally have to misbehave, get into trouble and need to be disciplined and re-directed.

    Video: Why use a dog Crate...How to teach Puppy or Adult Kennel Command

    This creates a greater ratio of ‘happy positive experiences’ Vs ‘confused and negative’ experiences.

    Your puppy will succeed more, get praised more, scolded and told off less for doing wrong things and this means a happier dog, a happier you and a stronger relationship between the two of you.

    Is Crate Training Cruel? Is It Cruel To Crate A Dog?

    This depends entirely on your intentions. How, when and why you use one and how you train your dog to use it.

    Is it cruel to crate a dog - A black abs head seen through a crate wall

    In the great debate of ‘cruel Vs kind’, lots of people argue that a crate is a cage is a prison. It’s inhumane and causes psychological harm to a dog.

    A crate in itself isn’t cruel, but people can be cruel in the way they misuse it…and I stress the word MISUSE.’

    If you were to lock your dog away for 16 hours a day, 5 days a week for 12 years, then yes you would be cruel and can cause your dog psychological harm. I’ll say that again, YOU would be cruel, not the crate, it’s just the tool you will have chosen to misuse for cruelty.

    A leash and collar is cruel if you use it to tether your dog alone to a post 16 hours a day, or drag and yank them about by their necks when on walks.

    But used correctly, a leash and collar is a useful tool for the safety and management of your dog that benefits both of you.

    And think, no dog likes a collar and leash when you first try to put it on them. You spend time with your dog to acclimatize them to a leash and collar, so they learn to accept it and really do not hate it all. You then use them correctly for the benefit and safety of your dog.

    It’s the same deal with a crate. You have to spend time to acclimatize your dog to a crate, teach them to accept and even love it, and then you use it correctly (and sparingly) for the safety and benefit of your dog.

    Note: Most of the negative attitude towards the use of a dog crate seems to come from campaigns by PETA. The falsity of their claims is discussed and partly debunked by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C in the following article: The Politics of Pet Dogs and Kennel Crates

    But Doesn’t Crating Cause Psychological Problems?

    All of the psychological problems the critics say crating causes are a direct result of misusing the crate as a punishment tool and for inhumane long-term confinement and isolation.

    Separation anxiety, obsessive habits like licking and chewing, depression, withdrawal, inability to bond with humans, muscular atrophy – these could of course be the result if you locked your dog away alone for 16 hours a day, 5 days a week, with no interaction, no exercise, no life.

    But a dog should only ever be crated for a few hours per day at most, and some days not at all.

    The crate is most useful for management and training during the puppy and adolescent stages of life, and as most dogs reach adulthood and become skilled at living in a human world, when we’ve properly trained what’s expected of them, the crate is needed less and less.

    But until then, the average Labrador sleeps 14 hours+ a day anyway, so spending a few of those asleep in a place where they feel safe and secure doesn’t cause any problems at all.

    And for the vast majority of their lives, your dog will spend quality time with you as a loved, respected and wanted member of your family. Not locked away inhumanely. It’s only the person that can be cruel by using a crate incorrectly, not the crate itself that is cruel.

    After proper training, you’ll even find your dog retreating to their crate of their own accord, because they learn to love it as their own little comfortable, safe and secure place of rest.

    The ‘Dogs Are Den Animals’ Defense of Using A Crate

    Is it cruel to crate a dog - 2 wolf cubs peeking out from their den Many people argue that crating a dog is natural, because dogs descend from wolves and wolves are den animals. Therefore to den is in a dogs nature.

    By providing a crate we’re appealing to their natural denning instinct and giving them what they want.

    This is only partly true as Wolves and wild dogs only den during particular times of life:

    • An expectant mother will create a den to give birth and live in with her pups for the first weeks of their lives.
    • Puppies are born into and live in dens until they’re fully weened and then use the den as a base to explore from. But as they grow they spend less and less time in a den before eventually leaving it completely.
    • Sick or injured dogs will seek out a den for a feeling of safety and security to convalesce, get themselves better or at the end of their life, lie down to die.

    For the rest of their lives, wolves and wild dogs very rarely if ever use a den.

    Video: Police accused of cruelty for keeping death row dog in tiny cage for 2 years

    The same is true for domesticated dogs. They will naturally den as mothers and puppies, seek out a den like area if they’re sick or injured, but wouldn’t naturally use a den at other times of life. We have to train them to love and want to be in their crate at other times.

    Also, there are of course differences between a den and a crate. Both offer a feeling of safety and security in a small enclosed space, but only one can be completely closed.

    But after successful training, dogs in crates can feel perfectly comfortable and show no signs of distress with the door to their ‘den’ being closed and they happily go to the crate themselves to relax and to sleep.

    So there is some truth to the ‘dogs are den animals’ argument, but it’s not the whole story. What is true though is dogs are naturally predisposed to denning at certain times of life, so training them to use a den at other times isn’t hard or distressing for them. It’s a familiar situation and with effective crate training, the vast majority of dogs take to it naturally.

    A Recommended List Of Dog Crates

    If after reading this long list of benefits that crate training can provide for both you and your dog, you would like to give it a go. Be sure to read the rest of the articles in my crate training series that you can see linked to at the bottom of this page.

    And for a hand picked list of the best and most highly rated dog crates available, please click here.

    Conclusion

    By providing a crate and undertaking effective training, you and your Labrador can enjoy the many benefits I’ve described above.

    But a crate must be used correctly and humanely as a place you teach your dog to love and use for peace and quiet, a place you use to confine them for safety, but NOT a place to imprison them for punishment, for entire days or just to ‘keep them out of the way.’

    Being regularly locked away for extended periods of time is a miserable and isolated way of life. This isn’t what a crate is for and this is when it’s cruel! If you even consider this correct, if you need to lock your dog away for most of every day, then maybe you shouldn’t have a dog at all?

    You should only have a dog because you want to share a life with them, spend quality time with them and do the best for them that you possibly can. A crate fits into this ideal.

    It is a tool you use for the benefit of your dog, to help them fit into a human life and family more easily whilst providing them a little place of their own for comfort and security.

    More information:

    This was part 2 in an 8-part series that details everything you need to know about the use of a crate and crate training your puppy. The information applies equally well to dogs of all breeds and not just Labradors.

    The Entire series is linked to here:

    I’ve tried to cover literally every question I could imagine on dog crates and crate training in the article series above, but of course it’s hard to cover every question that people may possibly have.

    So if there’s anything you need to know but cannot find an answer for above, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below and I will happily give all the help I can :-)

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