Crating training is a somewhat controversial topic in the world of pet parenting.
When I adopted Copper (the first dog that was 100% mine), I wasn’t interested in putting him in a crate. BUT then I left him unsupervised for 2.5 seconds. He tried to eat a lamp and destroyed a $200 computer mouse. It wasn’t because he was a “bad” dog. And it also wasn’t because I was a lazy trainer. At that point, I was working with a behaviorist and Copper knew around 30 tricks. When we were out in public, people often thought he was a service dog, that’s how good he was. But he was still a puppy at heart, and he took advantage of every unsupervised second.
It is impossible for a single person to keep their eye on an active dog every second of the day. For the sake of my sanity, my belongings, and Copper’s safety, I decided to learn more about crate training. What I learned is that crate training isn’t cruel, and it’s not putting your dog in a “cage.” When you do it right, crate training is always in your dog’s best interest.
Here are a few reasons why most dog trainers and vets recommend it.
We’re Responsible For Our Dogs’ Safety
The biggest reason why I changed my mind about crate training was because Copper simply wasn’t safe when he was left alone—even if it was for only a few minutes. Dogs don’t know that chewing on electrical cords could kill them. They don’t understand how swallowing random objects could land them in a world of pain. Puppies and young dogs especially have a talent for getting into trouble. You can’t watch them every second of every day, and crate training is the responsible way to keep dogs safe. I’m not saying you should keep your dog in a crate all day. That’s not what crate training is.
Crate Training Provides Dogs With A “Happy Place”
I know that looking at your dog from behind metal bars can be heart wrenching. But a crate is not “doggy prison.” When training a dog, the crate is never used as punishment. Instead, you create a space that is your dog’s happy place. It’s where they go when they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or simply need some downtime. For rescue dogs or other dogs with nervous personalities, this is especially important. The crate is usually the only area in the house that is off limits to humans. Dogs need an area where they feel completely safe and relaxed.
When you use positive reinforcement, dogs learn that their crate is a great place to be. My dog Bailey has access to three dog beds, an insanely comfy couch, and three human beds, but she prefers to relax in her crate. I never forced her to go in, and now she chooses her crate all on her own.
Save Money and Protect Your Stuff
Remember that lamp and computer mouse Copper ate? Yea, those cost money to replace. I consider myself lucky, because I’ve heard stories of people who have had it a lot worse. There are dogs that completely shred sofas and chew their way through walls. It’s not selfish to be concerned about your dog destroying your things. Lamps can be replaced, but what if your dog destroys something with sentimental value or something large and seriously expensive? Crate training is a way to avoid those situations. You’ll also save money on vet bills. When your dog jumps on the counter and eats an entire tray of brownies, you can bet that trip to the ER vet won’t be cheap.
Help With House Training
Bailey was three years old when I adopted her, but her rough past meant she had never been fully house trained. We started with crate training the first night she was home, and it was a big help in teaching her to only go potty outside. Dogs typically don’t like to go to the bathroom in the same place where they sleep and relax. A crate can be used as a tool to teach dogs and puppies bladder and bowel control.
Make Traveling and Emergencies Easier
My opinion about crate training is a lot like my opinion about driving a stick shift car. It’s a skill everyone (or every dog) needs, because you never know when it’ll come in handy. Even if your dog is a perfect angel when they’re left alone, crate training is still important. There are situations in life when being in a kennel is unavoidable. This happened to me when my husband and I got military orders to move from Hawaii to Maryland. Obviously our dogs went with us, and they needed to be in their kennels for about 12 hours during the flight and time at the airport. If they hadn’t been crate trained, that would have been a traumatizing experience for them. But since they were already comfortable in their crates, they basically slept and chilled the whole time—I was the one who was a nervous wreck.
After the flight, we had to stay in a hotel for two months. The hotel allowed dogs, but they were required to stay in their crates if we weren’t in the room with them. If they hadn’t been crate trained, we probably would have gotten kicked out because of noise complaints. My point is, you never know when you’ll need to keep your dog in a crate. Natural disasters, emergency travel, injuries—basically anything could happen. It’s better to prepare your dogs with the skill they’ll need to cope and be comfortable in any situation.
Enjoy More Freedom With Your Dogs and Peace of Mind
Now that I know my dogs do just fine in their crates whether we’re in our house or a hotel, my husband and I enjoy a lot more freedom to travel. We can take the dogs with us almost anywhere we want to go. Spontaneous weekend cabin trip? Awesome, grab the dogs and put their portable crates in the car. A lot of rentals and hotels are pet-friendly only if those pets stay in crates when unsupervised. It’s so nice to be able to take our dogs with us and know they’ll be comfortable in their crates.
When your dog is safely in their crate, you can go out to dinner or a friend’s house without worrying about their well-being. Are they chewing up your shoes? Did you remember to clear the kitchen counter of anything remotely edible? What if your dog sees a cat through a slightly open window and forces her way outside? Even putting your dog in a bedroom or bathroom while you’re away is dangerous. There’s so much that could happen and so much to worry about. Your options are basically to stay home forever or crate train your dog.
There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to crate train a dog. You want to use positive reinforcement to show them that their crate is always a good thing. Copper and Bailey love peanut butter, so I made it a rule while we were crate training that they only got peanut butter treats when they were in their crates. No crate, then no peanut butter. There were no exceptions. I would even hide PB-filled Kongs in their crates when they weren’t looking. They would randomly find the treats and started to think their crates were magical PB dispensers. It worked really well, and now I never worry about them when I leave the house.
Ultimately, the decision is 100% yours to make. Getting your dog comfortable in a crate won’t happen overnight, and it will take a bit of work. But from my experience, that extra effort is always worth it.