It’s so important to question normal, everyday practices.
That’s why I appreciated it when someone commented on one of my posts that they find crating a dog cruel during the potty-training process, and in general.
Every dog expert I can think of, every dog training book I’ve ever read, had a chapter or two on crate training, and multiple references to using crating as a way of management when working on undesired behaviors.
Crating is just what dog people do.
And yet, I rarely have my dogs crated with the door closed.
In fact, I recently had to pack up their crates to make room for our new kitten’s supplies.
But, just to be clear, I do not think it’s cruel to crate a dog – but I do think it’s a tool we take for granted, and maybe overuse at times.
Are Dogs Really Den Animals?
One of the primary reasons dog experts say it’s important to crate-train is because dogs are den animals. Dogs learn early on to curl up in a small space, which they will naturally avoid soiling.
That’s why most dogs will not pee or poop in their crate, and will learn to “hold it” when crating during the potty-training process.
But what about wild dogs and wolves?
When I think back to the most feral dogs I’ve ever known, the roaming Chihuahuas that ruled the streets of my semi-rural California town, I think of dogs that slept out in the open.
They often napped in the middle of the road, forcing drivers to swerve around them. And yes, sometimes they did get hit by cars, unfortunately.
But those wild Chis of the streets felt no reason to hide. They yapped and nipped at passersby between long road naps on the hot concrete.
Surely, many of them must have returned home to curl up on a patio or, with any luck, indoors on a couch. And perhaps the less ferocious ones would prefer to nap in secluded corners.
They do dig dens, or take up residence in dens left behind by other animals.
But they mainly use dens to contain and rear their puppies. As puppies, a den is an enclosed, safe space. The mother wolf keeps it clean by licking up her puppies’ wastes, and exits to relieve herself outside of the den.
Once the puppies are big enough to travel, the wolves may sleep out in the open or take shelter in large dens, big enough to share with the pack.
So it’s not one wolf per tiny den, sleeping alone.
It’s all of the wolves, sleeping in shifts, alongside their pack members – which is usually made up of their relatives.
And no wolf, nor feral Chihuahua, would huddle up in a locked den that they cannot leave of their own volition.
So, I say this – dogs are sort of den animals, and they’re not naturally crate animals.
But… that doesn’t mean that crate training is cruel. All I’m saying is, labeling our dogs as “den animals” is a bit too simplistic.
Why Crating Is Sometimes Necessary
Dogs may not be “crate animals,” but they certainly benefit from crating.
Crating a dog, especially when they cannot be supervised, can keep them safe from life-threatening hazards like chewing electric cords, consuming household chemicals, fighting with other pets, and running outside.
An anxious dog may feel safer in their quiet crate when they’re feeling stressed about houseguests, fireworks, thunder, or any number of stressful situations.
Is Crating Used for A Time Out?
Crating your dog should never be a punishment. A crate is your dog’s safe space where they cannot get into harm’s way, and they can be gently encouraged to wait to relieve themselves.
That said, when a puppy or dog is being unruly, unmanageable, or making us angry, crating may need to happen.
Crating can help prevent unwanted behaviors, but after the fact, it does not serve to teach the dog a lesson.
But it can be a huge help if you ever get frustrated with your dog.
It happens to all of us – even those of us who subscribe to a positive reinforcement based training style, and (mostly) see success with it.
Putting your dog in their crate, stepping away, and taking a deep breath can be absolutely necessary if you feel like you might lose your cool.
Dogs are resilient, and they can learn to love being in their crate.
For some dogs, crating is necessary through puppyhood and beyond depending on your household, other pets and family members.
Would most dogs prefer to have their crate left open to come and go as they please? Of course.
But they may also prefer to roll around in poop, run into the street, and bother the cat.
Crating can be a safe, kind way of setting limits and boundaries. And for many of us, it just makes sense.
When Is It Cruel To Crate Your Dog?
Adult dogs sleep up to 13 or so hours per day.
So, if your dog sleeps overnight for around 8 hours, that’s still about 5 hours during the day during which they will happily nap.
While locked in a crate, a dog has no way to relieve themselves, and may be left without water.
Many adult dogs seem to be okay to stay in a crate through an entire workday with no breaks. But they’re not thriving. They can’t tell us how thirsty they are all day, how much they need to go potty, or how their muscles cramp after laying down for hours.
But maybe that’s easy for me to say. I’ve always worked from home, so I don’t know what it’s like to have to leave my dogs alone for more than a few hours at a time.
Dogs need water. They need potty breaks at least every 4-6 hours. And they need to get up, move around, and interact with other beings.
For the long-term, I’d suggest placing your dog in a safe bedroom, rather than in a crate. They should always have clean, fresh water. And, if possible, some kind of stimulation – a doggy sibling, a window to watch out of, some soft music to soothe them.
This all might be needless to say. As dog lovers, we’re not looking to do the bare minimum above cruel – we’re always trying to give our dogs the best life we can in a way that’s manageable and realistic.
As always with my blog, I never intend to guilt anyone. I just hope you’ll feel inspired, question everything, and most of all… love that dog.