Why use the crate?
A correctly used crate can have many advantages for both you and your pet.
* Can enjoy peace of mind when leaving your dog home alone, knowing nothing can be soiled or destroyed, and that he is comfortable, protected and not developing any bad habits.
* Can housebreak your dog more quickly by using the close confinement to encourage control, establish a regular routine for outdoor elimination, and to prevent "accidents" at night or when left alone.
* Can effectively confine your dog at times when he may be under foot (meals or family activities), unwelcome (guests or workmen) people in his environment, over-excited, ill or bothered by too much confusion or too many children during some rare family activities.
* Can travel with your dog without risk of driver being distracted or dog getting loose and lost, and with the assurance that he can easily adapt to any strange surroundings as long as he has his familiar "security blanket" (crate) along.
* Can enjoy the privacy and security of a "den" of his own to which he can retreat when tired, stressed or ill.
* Can avoid much of the fear, confusion, or punishment caused by your reaction to problem behavior.
* Can be spared the loneliness and frustration of having to be isolated (basement, garage or outside, etc.) from comfortable indoor surroundings when being restricted or left alone.
* Can be conveniently included in family outings, visits, and trips, instead of being left behind, alone at home or in a boarding kennel.
USE -- BUT DON'T ABUSE!
The use of the dog crate is NOT recommended for a dog regularly left along all day, though some individuals may learn to tolerate it. If it is attempted, the dog must be well exercised both before and after crating, given lots of personal attention, and be allowed complete freedom at night (including sleeping near his owner). It is also most important that the crate be large enough to permit him comfortly to stretch out fully on his side and have ample freedom of movement; it must also be equiped with a clip-on dish for water. Ideally, someone should come in during the day to provide a period of attention and exercise. Crate or no crate, any dog constantly denied the human companionship it needs and craves is going to be a lonely pet -- and may still find ways to express boredom, anxiety, depression and general stress.
WHAT KIND OF CRATE IS BEST?
The most practical dog crate for use by the pet owner is the collapsible wire mesh type. Lightweight and easily handled, it allows total ventilation and permits the dog to see everything going on around him. A wooden, metal or plastic crate will certainly also serve the purpose, but it restricts air and vision and is less convenient to handle, transport and store.
WHAT SIZE SHOULD THE CRATE BE?
A crate should always be large enough to permit any dog to strench out flat on his side without being cramped, and to sit up without hitting his head on the top. It is always better to use a crate a little too large than one that is a little too small.
For a fully grown adult dog, measure the distance from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail (not tip), and use a crate close to , but not less than, this length. The height and width of most crates are properly proportioned to the length, including the convenient "slant front" models designed to fit station wagons and hatch-backs.
For a puppy, measure as above, then add about 12 incles for anticipated rapid growth. If a small crate is unavailable for temporary use, reduce the space of an adult size one (width can serve for length if the crate is large enough) with a reverse carton or moveable partition made of wire, wood or masonite. Remember that a crate too large for a young puppy defeats it's purpose of providing security and promiting bowel control, so it's space should always be limted in the beginning.
WHERE CAN I GET ONE?
Retail pet shops and discount pet food and supply stores, through catalogs, larger dog shows, or direct from some crate manufacturers. Prices depend on size, quality and make. Most brands include a removeable pan, tray or floor, some can be specially ordered with the door on the side instead of the end (or both). The less expensive brands are quite adequate for most family pets, although those made of non-plated or treated wire may discolor the coat of a light colored dog. A used crate can often be borrwed, or found at a garage or yard sale at a bargain price.
Even the most expensive dog crate, however, is a "bargain" when compared to the cost of repair or replacing a sofa, chair, woodwork, wallpaper or carpeting!
WHERE SHOULD I PUT IT?
Since one of the main reasons for using a crate is to confine a dog without making him feel isolated, or banished, it should be placed in or near a "people" area (kitchen, family room, etc.). To provide an even greater sense of den security and privacy, it should be put in a corner or have the sides loosely draped with a sheet or light blanket which can be removed ... or a piece of masonite on top can serve as a handy extra shelf or table space. Admittedly, a dog crate is not a "thing of beauty" -- but it can be forgiven for not being a welcome addition to household decor as it proves how much it can help the dog remain a welcome member of the household.
CRATING THE PUPPY
A young puppy usually has no problem accepting a crate as his "own place." Any complaining he might do at first is caused not by the crate, but him learning to accept the controls of his new environment. Actually, the crate will help him adapt more easily and quickly to his new world.
Place the crate in a "people" area, in a spot free from drafts and not too near a direct heat source. For bedding, use an old towel or piece of blanket which can easily be washed, and some freshly worn (unlaundered) article of your clothing such as an old tee-shirt. Avoid putting newspaper in or under the crate, since it's odor may encourage elimination -- corragated cardboard is bedding if there is not a floor pan. A puppy need not be fed in the crate and will only upset a dish of water.
Make it very clear to children that the crate is NOT a playhouse for them, but a "special room" for the puppy, whose rights should be recognized and respected. However, you should accustom the puppy fro the start to let you reach into the crate at any time, least he become over-protective of it.
Establish a "crate routine" immediately, closing the puppy in at regular one or two hour intervals during the day (his own chosen nap times can guide you), whenever he must be left alone for three to four hours, during any short period of time when he cannot be closely supervised by a responsible person. Be sure to remove collar with tags as they could become caught in an opening! At night, in the beginning, you may prefer to place the crate, with the door left open and newspapers nearby, in a small enclosed area such as bathroolm, laundry room or hall; crying or complaining at 5 a.m. is easier to endure or ignore if you know that the puppy is not uncomfortable. Once adjusted to his new life, and if he has no intestinal upset, he will soon show greater control by eliminating only once, or not at all through the night, and then may be crated all night in his regular place.
Even if things do not go too smoothly at first -- don't weaken and don't worry. Be consistent, firm and very aware that you are doing your pet a real favor by preventing him from getting into trouble while left alone or not being properly supervised. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Increase the space inside the crate as the puppy grows so he remains comfortable. If you are not able to use a crate permanently, plan to use it for at least five to six months, or until the dog is well past the teething phase -- then start to leave the door open at night, or when someone is home during the day, or when he is briefly left alone. If all goes well for a week or two, remove the crate itself and leave the bedding in the same spot. Although he will probably miss the crate enclosure, the spot will have become "his own place" and the habit of good behavior should continue. Should any problem behavior occur at a future time, however, the decision of whether to use the crate longer, or perhaps permanently, should be made.
Even after a long period without a crate, a dog which has been raised in one will readily accept it should the need arise for travel, illness or behavior, and may really welcome it's return.
CRATING THE ADULT DOG
Much of the usual problem behavior of an older dog is caused by lack of feeling secure when left alone. Although a crate can fulfill this need, it must still be introduced gradually unless he is used to having been crated. Every possible effort must be made for the dog's association with the crate to be positive and pleasant. It must also be stressed again here that a dog crate is NOT intended for frequent long hours of usage for the convenience of an otherwise absent owner.
Encourage the dog to investigate the crate by tossing in treats such as dog cookies or cheese -- praising him enthusiastically. When he begins to enter the crate confidently, place his bedding and something of your's which you have worn inside the crate -- coax him to lie down and relax.
Continue this pattern for several days while sitting beside him and while he is inside, later working yourself out of the room, but where you are audible to the dog. Do not hesitate to meet modest resistance with consistent firmness and authority so the dog is clearly aware of the behavior you desire ... your goal may have to be acceptace and not contentment.
As soon as you feel confident the dog will remain quietly (which should be from the beginning), you may safely leave him alone. Give him a chew toy or a safe bone to absorb his attention and be sure he has nothing around his neck which might become caught.
DOES THE CRATE WORK?
Unfortunately, not always. Although a crate can be used successfully by most pet owners, there are always those dogs which cannot or will not tolerate this form of confinement. This reaction is not nearly as common with a puppy as with an older dog who may have suffered a traumatic experience while crated.
If, despite every effort at positive and patient conditioning and real firmness, a dog is obviously frantic or totally miserable when confined to a crate, forcing him to use one is indeed inhumane and can result in real physical injury should he attempt to chew his way out.
Even though a crate may not always work, it is ALWAYS worth a try -- because when it DOES prevent or solve a problem behavior, it is truly the "best friend" you and your dog could ever have.
Your biggest reward and peace of mind to crate usuage will be when you cannot find your dog and had him loose in the house ... and discover him peacefully napping in his crate that he crawled into all by himself ... thereby claiming and affirming "this place" as "his space!"