The use of dog crates has been a divisive subject since their invention. Supporters argue that crates provide a secure haven for dogs, aiding house training, preventing destructive behaviors, and offering a retreat for canines seeking solace.
On the flip side, critics argue that confining dogs to crates is cruel, akin to imprisonment, and may lead to psychological distress. Let’s examine both perspectives to better understand the complex relationship between dogs and their crates, and consider the potential benefits against the ethical concerns raised by critics.
Is the use of dog crates a necessary tool for responsible pet ownership? Or are dog crates cruel?
Let’s take a look at the great crate debate from the critic’s point of view, looking at some of their more common objections.
Crates are used as ‘dog storage’ until such a time when we’re available to interact with them again, like a toy box.
Although this is not the way they were intended to be used, they can indeed be used to put the dog into and out of our way. Gardens and yards have been used for decades for this purpose, a space where the dog can be put out into and left in relative safety. The dimensions of the space may be different but the purpose behind the dog’s placement is the same. We just want them out of the way for a length of time.
Dogs can and will suffer from psychological distress if they are placed into a small container and left to ‘cope’ or ‘cry it out’. Anxiety will rise, they may vocalise by whining or barking, and they might become so distressed that they eliminate through anxiety (pees, poops or vomiting)
Being confined to a crate which is too small can result in discomfort. Not being able to stand up, turn around or lie down in the space will clearly be detrimental to the dog and even result in growth problems for puppies.
Long Term Confinement
Using dog crates to confine and restrict a dog’s movements for long periods of time can clearly negatively affect a dog. For this reason, most welfare organisations will recommend no more than 3 hours of crate time in one 24 hour period.
Dogs learn by association and if they’ve become distressed or anxious previously in the crate then they will associate the crate with feeling that way and shy away or flatly refuse to go back into the crate again.
Lack of freedom
Critics argue that removing a dog’s freedom has an effect on their mental well-being and removes their ability to perform natural behaviors such as not being able to stretch out and relax, walk around or relieve themselves.
Supporters of dog crate use state that when a dog is trained to use the crate, rather than just being placed inside it, the crate becomes a useful tool in several different situations.
Dogs are less inclined to pee or poop where they sleep so being contained encourages them to hold it a little longer.
Puppies, however, don’t have the physical ability to hold it for very long so the puppy still needs to be taken out frequently (throughout the night as well) at a timescale appropriate for their age. The crate will still encourage them to hold it until the time when you take them out.
For example, a 12 week old puppy can hold it for 3 hours, so they should be taken out at least every three hours. Leaving them in the crate for a longer time won’t help as they physically can’t hold it any longer, will do it in the crate and then the crate becomes useless in toilet training because they’ve learned to pee in the crate now.
Dogs seek out a den-like environment for several reasons, which are rooted in their natural instincts and behaviors:
- Safety and Security: In the wild, dogs’ ancestors sought out dens or burrows to find a safe and secure place to rest and protect themselves from predators. The enclosed space of a den offers protection from potential threats, both physical and environmental.
- Comfort and Warmth: Dens provide a cozy and warm environment, which can be especially appealing to dogs during cold or inclement weather.
- Privacy and Solitude: Dogs, like humans, sometimes need privacy and solitude.
- Stress Reduction: Dens can help reduce stress and anxiety. When dogs are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, retreating to a den-like space can provide a sense of safety and comfort, helping them calm down.
Multiple Pet management
Using dog crates can be an effective way to manage multiple dogs, especially in situations where you need to ensure their safety, control their behavior, or provide them with a designated space.
Dogs in multiple dog households should have their own crate, be properly crate trained before using them and they can be used to give each dog their own one on one time with their owners.
They can also be used on a ‘crate and rotate’ basis whilst introducing two dogs or resolving a behavior issue between two dogs (but only if they’ve been previously trained to use a crate).
As an inpatient, your dog will be crated pre and post surgery and if they’re already crate trained then this will be far less stressful for them. Groomers also routinely crate dogs while they’re waiting their turn or awaiting pick up by their owners and again, this will be an everyday occurrence for a crate trained dog, but a little stressful if it’s something new to your dog.
Crate training is all about making positive associations between the dog and the crate. Treats are fed in the crate, mealtimes in the crate, comfortable bedding and a soft toy are in the crate. Punishing your dog by using the crate to confine them will spoil all that hard work you spent crate training your dog properly, so it’s never used for punishment.
Are dog crates cruel?
So yes, they can be used in cruel ways if you don’t know how to use them correctly. We agree with the critics on all their points of argument when crates are used without training or without thought and compassion for the animal, they can be cruel.
But if a dog’s owner has taken the time to introduce the crate in a positive way, reinforce positively everything to do with the crate and take care to train at the dog’s speed, never pushing them or forcing them into the crate, then dog crates can be a good, positive experience for your dog.
How can I make sure I don’t use the crate in a cruel way?
But there are ways that you can 100% make sure you’re not using them in a cruel way and here’s how;
- Crate train your dog correctly. We have a free guide that you can follow, just pop your email in the pop-up box and we’ll send it to you (reload the page if you closed the pop-up already)
- Don’t use the crate for punishment
- Recognise what stress signals look like in a dog
- Don’t crate your dog for longer than 3 hours in any 24 hour period
- Use alternative confinement (such as a room, doors or baby gates) if you need to give your dog a ‘time out’
All articles on tetradog.com are written by qualified behaviorist and dog trainer, Cheryl Walker.
- · Foundation degree (Level 5) in canine behaviour management
- · WSDA instructor (World Scent Dogs Association) and level 1 competition judge
- · ADTB Puppy level instructor Diploma
- · Diploma in Puppy Training
- · Diploma in canine behavior training
- · Canine First Aider
- · Veterinary Support Assistant Diploma
- · Completed Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Sirius academy
- · Owner of an extraordinary working Cocker spaniel called Huckleberry