Border collie resting in crate
Source: Photo by Ayla Verschueren on Unsplash
Crate use has long been a topic of discussion between pet guardians and those in the animal care field. Ask ten different people and you’re sure to get half on the “Crate Train” side and half on the “No Crate” side. In my experience, the main concern both sides have is whether or not the crate is seen as punishing to the animal. While there will always be a certain number of animals that see the crate as a ‘scary’ place, most can be taught (or re-taught) to accept and even enjoy appropriate confinement within one.
The main uses of crates are for management during house training, confinement when you are away at work, or traveling to the veterinary hospital. While these are certainly some of the great ways to use a crate, they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
The Crate as a Safety Tool
It may seem strange to put your dog into their crate if you’re just taking out the garbage, but in the short period of time that you are gone, your dog will have the opportunity to grab the steak you are thawing on the counter or chew up that table leg. Crating can also keep your dog from running outside when the door is left open because your hands are too full. A crate can be a great way to safely manage where your pet is during those times when you cannot directly supervise them.
Cat in carrier
Source: Image by paperelements from Pixabay
It should also be noted that many dogs and cats have severe noise, storm, and fireworks phobias. When those triggers are present, it is very important that the animals are kept safe so that they cannot harm themselves. The use of a crate can not only create a safe space to “ride out the storm,” but can also be very helpful in alleviating anxiety, as the animal can have a sense of security in being enclosed in their safe space.
The Crate as a Management Tool
Proper management is the foundation of good animal care. Animals aren’t “pre-loaded” knowing what to do in all of the human situations that we put them in and this can cause some strife in our relationships with them. It is not uncommon to hear of a dog who bit a party guest or a cat who attacked his housemate after returning from a vet visit. Using a crate can help us more easily manage where our pets are during times when things might be a bit crazy in the home.
We often leave pets unprepared for the hubbub of a house full of people. The noise, movement, and people trying to pet them are all things that increase their stress, which can lead to additional fear as well as even a snap or a bite. Confining your pet ahead of time can help give them a safe space to be during the festivities but will also send a clear message to your guests to leave your pet alone.
The Crate as a Health Tool
The crate is often overlooked as a way to help with the health care of your pet both at home and at the veterinary hospital. While it’s expected that when your dog or cat goes to the vet clinic they’re housed in kennels, many pets have never been in a crate or kennel, which leads to increased stress during an already stressful time. Crate training at home can help alleviate that additional stress as it prepares them for confinement when hospitalized. The crate is also very helpful as a post-procedure tool to restrict exercise after surgery or to confine your pet when they need to be monitored more closely, such as cats who are having urinary issues.
The Crate as a Relaxation Tool
Pug resting in crate
Source: Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash
One of my favorite uses for the crate is as a “chill space” for dogs who are over-aroused and need a break to settle down. Not all dogs relax equally and many dogs need to learn how to relax, as it doesn’t come naturally to them. When introduced properly, crating helps the dog to feel more secure and helps to lower overall arousal. After a period of time, many dogs will then start to seek out their “Fortress of Solitude” when they are starting to feel overwhelmed or need a moment alone.
How to Crate the Right Way
When using a crate for safety and management, it is important that the animal is comfortable being confined. Remember the following:
Properly teach your pet to go into and be comfortable with the crate.
Never use the crate to punish your pet.
Don’t confine your pet just so you don’t have to supervise them.
Don’t leave your pet in the crate for long periods (eight hours or more).
Have an appropriately-sized crate for your pet.
Make sure that your pet has ample enrichment when they are in or out of the crate.
If you use the crate for long periods, make sure that your pet gets equal or more time out of the crate.
Regardless of which side you may fall on when it comes to crate training, the crate can be a very useful tool in animal training. Whether it is used for safety, as a management tool, or as a way to facilitate relaxation, the crate can be easily accepted when trained in an appropriate manner.
Jenn and her pups
Source: Jenn Fiendish
For more information on crate training check out the ACVB’s handout on Crate Training in 4 Steps.
Jenn Fiendish, CVT, VTS (Behavior), CPDT-KA, CTDI is a Certified Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Technician Specialist in Behavior, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She owns Happy Power Behaivor and Training.