SnugasaBugUsing a dog crate or cage can sometimes be an emotive subject amongst the dog owning public. Many people are averse to the idea of their pets being ‘caged’ and there are merits to this train of thought since dog crates can be subject to inappropriate use by some people. Andrea Gordon, Holidays 4 Dogs Midlands Area Coordinator and dog trainer discusses the use of crates and includes her own personal experience and views on their correct use

At Holidays 4 Dogs we believe that crates have a useful place in terms of pet dog management and if introduced and used by owners in the correct positive manner can be invaluable pieces of canine equipment. However, we do not support the use of crates for long term incarceration of dogs and puppies and while we are happy for Holidays 4 Dogs carers to gratefully accept an owner supplied crate and for clients to make use of them, we only expect them to be used for the short term; for example while the dog dries off after a wet or muddy walk. In such instances crates can really come into-their-own and as such we feel they can be invaluable. Furthermore, crates are a much safer way for dogs to travel in vehicles and can be very useful for temporarily keeping a puppy or dog safe while you receive visitors for instance or are otherwise unable to supervise him for brief periods.

Crates should never be used as a long term option for containing dogs. I have heard of instances where dogs are left in crates for 7 hours per day while their owners go out to work. This is unacceptable, poses welfare issues and is something that Holidays 4 Dogs would never condone.

Many dog owners who have crates, myself included, find that their dogs view their crates as nothing more than a comfy place to sleep. My own dogs treat their crate as their bed and since I only have one crate, they can often be found squashed together in it, or else, as one vacates the ‘bed’ the other will nip in and settle down! It is also a fairly regular occurrence to find one of the cats and a dog curled up in the crate together! I am able to separate the two dogs by shutting one or the other in, if for any reason I need to and I also use the crate for my collie when receiving visitors since she is of a nervous disposition and apt to snap if startled. The crate provides both her and the visitor with security and me with peace of mind! Once she has been able to smell and view the visitor from the comfort of her den, I can confidently open the crate door knowing she has had time to calm down and accept the newcomer. For such behavioural issues, the crate can be an invaluable tool when used in conjunction with a positive training or desensitization programme.

I do find the crate most useful for containing wet dogs; since my house is quite small this saves some considerable time in floor cleaning and given that we have recently had some of the wettest weather ever recorded I doubt I could have done without my dog crate! By covering the base of it in an old sleeping bag and towels; once the dogs have been towel dried outside, they dry off very quickly once in the crate and are always apt to go straight to sleep after their walk anyway. If you wish to avoid splatters from a wet dog shaking in the crate; just cover the top with an old towel. You can also purchase fabric or plastic crate covers which are useful for car travel (cutting down visual stimulation for reactive dogs), or to create an enclosed ‘den’ feeling which the dogs do seem to appreciate.

What to look for in a dog crate

Most people opt for wire coated crates when choosing one for their own dog. There are also many fabric crates on the market, but these can only be considered if your dog is not prone to chewing. Puppies for instance are liable to make short work of a fabric crate and they will be less easy to clean should your puppy have an accident in it.

You can purchase fabric pop-up crates or tents which are primarily intended for car travel. I have one of these which is very handy for using on the back seat of a saloon car. This keeps my dog secure and my car clean! The added advantage of these fabric crates is that they are much more light-weight. The pop-up variety are also excellent for holidays since they pack away flat, but can be used when camping or staying in a hotel or holiday cottage. However, you do still need to bear in mind the chew potential of these products.

Wire crates are ideal for more permanent home use or as a permanent set up in your vehicle. Some wire crates are more substantial than others so it is wise to shop around. Also, it is a good tip to think about where you want to use it and how the doors are positioned on the crate. My particular crate has two doors; one on the long side and one on the short end. I can position it right near to my entrance door where the wet dog can enter the cage; then, once he or she is dry (usually after about half an hour or so), they exit via the main door. This means I can avoid a trail of muddy paw prints to the cage itself!

Whichever type of crate you decide on however, you must make sure it is big enough for your dog. Thus, your dog should be able to lie down flat and sit up straight without having to bend his neck.

Covers are a useful addition; either a sheet or towel draped over the top or a custom made plastic one from a pet shop which can be wiped down easily. Make sure the cage is still well ventilated though if you are using a cover, especially during the warmer months and if using the cage in a vehicle. Clip on water bowls are an essential add on for any cage and can be clipped easily onto the inside of the mesh so that your dog always has access to water. This is especially important if you are containing your dog after a walk.

Introducing Your Dog to the Crate

The way in which you introduce your dog or puppy to the crate is crucial to how your dog will subsequently view it. Never purchase a crate and shut your dog in it straight away as he will most likely become distressed and immediately try to escape. This negative experience will mean that your dog will not view the crate in the best light and will make training much more difficult thereafter.

The best way to introduce your dog to the crate is to set it up in your chosen spot. Put your dogs usual bed in it, or some other soft mattress type bedding specifically made to measure for various sized crates and readily available from pet shops. Simply leave the crate door open and wait until your dog discovers it; which will be fairly quickly! Once the dog goes in, try not to make a fuss but ignore him and let him settle down and sleep for a time in the crate.

Once he has discovered the crate in this way, he will always view it in a positive manner and will happily return to it again and again. In order to get to the stage where you can close the door, you will need to make further positive associations with the door closed. The best way to do this is to scatter titbits on the floor of the crate; while the dog is occupied with these, carefully close the door and stay near to the crate. Once the dog has eaten the treats from the crate, feed the dog some more titbits through the mesh; keep this short and open the cage door before the dog has chance to become distressed in any way by whining or scratching. Always give your dog his meals in the crate and close the door while he is distracted with eating. You may also do this with a dog chew which may take the dog longer to eat. During these times you can begin to move further away from the crate with the door shut.

It is also important that you get your dog used to you reaching into his cage, so the use of treats can help with this. For example, reach in and ‘trade’ one toy or chew for another. You must not let your dog become possessive over his cage so that he will not allow you near it.

Build up the time you expect the dog to stay calm in his crate very gradually and if you find the dog becomes agitated always go back a few steps. Most dogs are usually very accepting of crates in a short space of time if they have been introduced to them in the above manner.

Crates, then, can be very useful if introduced and used in a responsible way. So it is important to remember;

  • Crates must not be used to contain a dog for more than a couple of hours at a time.
  • Never use the crate as a form of punishment.
  • Do not allow children to use the crate as a ‘wendy house’.
  • Place the crate in a draught free area but away from direct heat – the corner of a room is ideal where the dog can see and hear you.
  • Never punish your dog while in the crate – for example; if he accidentally soils it.
  • Crates are not for caging a dog while you go out to work all day.
  • Remove collars and tags which may catch on the door mechanism.