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To Crate or Not to Crate? That is the Question

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Crate training is an incredibly valuable tool for training our dogs. While some people may initially have reservations about confining their puppy or adult dog to a crate, it's essential to understand that when done correctly, crate training offers numerous benefits for both dogs and their owners. I want to take a look at the advantages of crate training and why it can be an excellent choice for your dog's well-being and safety.


In our house, we've arranged crates in different rooms to cater to the needs of our two dogs, Cailín and Mango. Under my desk in the attic, you'll find two wire crates with the doors removed, allowing the girls to move in and out freely. These have been draped with blankets to create a dark, calming area for them to nap in while I work. In our bedroom, we have two lightweight fabric crates that can be easily folded up and moved around. They're typically left open too, except when our baby is sleeping in the bed with us. In this case, we close them at night to make sure they don't step on her if they do jump up. We also use these ones whenever we take the dogs in the car. In the living room, we've incorporated two wooden crates that look like furniture, offering a practical solution for situations requiring crating. It means that when our daughter, Ellie, is crawling around, they have a safe place to go where she can't pester them.


A desk with two dog crates underneath. On the computer it shows the Doctor Loulittle Dog Training logo.
My current desk setup with two wire crates for Mango and Cailin

Provides a Safe Space

Crates provide a secure environment where your dog can relax, which can be especially useful during situations like thunderstorms, fireworks, or when guests are over. If you have a dog who reacts to external stimuli like noises outside, a crate can also help to muffle out those sounds which can help them to relax and sleep better.


Aids in Housetraining

Crate training expedites the housetraining process. Dogs typically refrain from soiling their living space, so a properly introduced crate encourages them to wait until they are taken outside for their business, reducing indoor accidents and fostering successful housetraining.


Prevents Destructive Behavior

Crates are an effective tool in preventing destructive behaviours like chewing on furniture, cables, or other dangerous items when you're not around. Dogs left unattended can get bored or anxious, leading to unwanted chewing. Using a crate during your absence helps keep your dog and your belongings safe.



small grey dog in a wire crate after a vet visit
After a veterinary procedure crate rest may be advised.

Eases Travel and Veterinary Visits

Dogs accustomed to their crates experience reduced stress during car rides, ensuring their safety. One study by Volvo suggests that crating our dogs while travelling actually reduces stress and heart rates in both dogs and owners.

Moreover, a familiar crate at the vet's office provides comfort and security in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. In cases of accidents or surgeries, dogs are often crated at the vet's, and prior crate training significantly eases the procedure's stress. This principle also applies at home; should your dog fall ill or become injured, your vet may recommend crate rest. It's much better to begin this training when your dog is healthy, rather than when they're unwell or in pain.


Promotes Good Behavior

Crate training encourages desired behaviour. When introduced correctly, a crate can help to reinforce desirable behavior and boundaries. Dogs learn to respect personal space, remain calm during mealtimes, and wait for their turn during play or attention. It also prevents unwanted behaviours from becoming a habit. If they can't get to the shoes, they can't chew the shoes.


Facilitates Independence

Crate training also promotes a sense of independence. When your dog is accustomed to spending time alone in their crate, they become more self-sufficient and comfortable with solitude. This can be particularly useful if your dog needs to spend time alone for short periods while you're at work or running errands.


Supports Safety

Crate training is a safety measure for your dog, especially in situations where they need to be kept separate from children, other animals, or senior dogs. A crate can ensure a controlled and secure environment, allowing for peaceful coexistence between dogs with different energy levels and temperaments. When introducing a puppy to a senior dog, a crate can be a valuable tool to keep interactions safe, as puppies tend to be more exuberant and may inadvertently overwhelm or hurt their older counterparts.



Types of Crates and Their Pros and Cons:


Selecting the right crate for your dog is a crucial aspect of crate training. There are various types of crates available, each with its own set of pros and cons. Here's a breakdown of some common crate types:

black spanish water dog sleeping in a wire crate
One of the multiple crates that we have set up around the house.

Wire Crates:

Pros: Wire crates are affordable, durable, easy to clean, and provide excellent ventilation.

Cons: They may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option, and some dogs may not like the open feel.


Wooden Crates:

Pros: Wooden crates can blend seamlessly with your home decor, offering insulation from temperature changes and sound.

Cons: They are typically heavier and less portable compared to other crate types. They're also less easy to clean.


black spanish water dog in a furniture style crate
Furniture-style crates can blend in with your decor as well as serving a purpose.

Plastic Crates:

Pros: Plastic crates are lightweight, easy to clean, and provide a secure, enclosed environment.

Cons: Ventilation might be limited, and some dogs may not like the confined feeling.


Fabric Crates:

Pros: Fabric crates are foldable, lightweight, and great for small spaces.

Cons: They are less durable than other crates and are not suitable for dogs prone to chewing.


Furniture-Style Crates:

Pros: These crates are designed to complement your home decor, offering a functional and stylish piece of furniture.

Cons: They tend to be more expensive, prioritising aesthetics over practicality for some dog owners.


Crash-Tested Crates:

Pros: These specialised crates have undergone rigorous testing to ensure your dog's safety during car travel.

Cons: They can be relatively expensive, but they provide the highest level of safety in transit.


Puppy Pen vs. Crate: Pros and Cons:


When it comes to providing a safe and secure space for your puppy or dog, both crates and puppy pens have their unique advantages and drawbacks. Here's a comparison of these two options if you're not sure which is right for you:

puppy pen setup
When we have foster puppies we usually use a puppy pen with crates for sleeping areas


Crates:


Pros:

  • Provide an enclosed, secure space.

  • Ideal for housetraining.

  • Prevent destructive behaviour when unsupervised.

  • Aid in travel, including car journeys.

  • Promotes setting boundaries.


Cons:

  • Limited space for movement.

  • May not be suitable for all dogs, especially those who dislike confinement.

  • Not ideal for extended periods of time.


Puppy Pens:


Pros:

  • Offer more room for movement and play.

  • Greater flexibility and adaptability.

  • Enclosed play area for exploration and interaction..

  • Ideal for a less restrictive environment.

  • Can be used as a room divider.


Cons:

  • May not be as effective for housetraining.

  • Requires more supervision.

  • Potentially less secure compared to a crate.

  • Lower pens can be easily scaled by agile dogs.

The choice between a crate and a puppy pen ultimately depends on your dog's specific needs and your training objectives. Many dog owners find that a combination of both can be beneficial, using the crate for creating a safe sleeping space, and the puppy pen for play and exercise. The decision should take into consideration your dog's temperament and the goals you wish to achieve. You can find my tips for setting up a puppy pen here.



When Should You Not Use a Crate:


While crates can be a valuable tool in many situations, there are instances when they should not be used. It's essential to recognise when a crate may not be appropriate for your dog:


Excessive Confinement:

Avoid leaving your dog in a crate for extended periods, especially when you're at work or running errands. Dogs need exercise, social interaction, and mental stimulation, and being confined for too long can lead to boredom and restlessness.


Punishment:

Never use a crate as a form of punishment. It should always be a positive and safe space for your dog. Associating the crate with negative experiences can cause anxiety and resistance towards using it.


a black and tan puppy climbing over the edge of a puppy pen
A pen is no match for some determined puppies!

Overcrating Puppies:

Puppies have smaller bladders and higher energy levels. Overcrating them, especially during housetraining, can lead to accidents in the crate and hinder the housetraining process.


Unattended Dogs with Separation Anxiety:

If your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, confining them in a crate without proper preparation and training can exacerbate their anxiety and distress.


Health Issues:

Dogs with specific medical conditions may not be suitable candidates for crating. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best approach for your dog's specific health needs.


Understanding when not to use a crate is as crucial as knowing when it is beneficial. Always consider your dog's well-being, temperament, and individual needs when deciding on the use of a crate in your training regimen.


Finding Affordable Crates


You can often find affordable crates or puppy pens on second-hand websites like Wallapop or Facebook Marketplace. Additionally, consider joining Facebook groups like "Madrid Pet Lovers" where people often sell or donate gently used crates. This can be a cost-effective and sustainable way to acquire a crate that suits your needs.


A bedroom with a fabric crate and a puppy pen. A small, grey puppy sleeps on the bed and a puppy sits in the pen.
Puppy pens and crates can be a great way to divide up your sleeping area if you would like your dogs to sleep in your bedroom.

Sizing Considerations


When selecting a crate, ensure that it is the appropriate size for your dog. Your dog should have enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. As a general guideline, the crate should be at least 15 cm (6 inches) longer than your dog's body length (from the head to the start of the tail) and at least 15 cm higher than their shoulder height. Proper sizing is essential to make the crate a comfortable and welcoming space for your dog. This is especially important when choosing a crate to fly with as airlines are extremely strict on their measurements.


Creating a Positive Experience


Remember that crate training should always be a positive experience for your dog or puppy. It should feel like a safe, cosy space- not a form of punishment. To achieve this, introduce your dog to the crate gradually, using food and praise. In the beginning, I like to remove the door entirely or prop it open. I normally feed the dog in the crate every mealtime, and during the day I'll randomly drop treats or chews into the crate for them to find. After a few repetitions, they'll start looking in the crate in the hope that the magical treat elf might have come to visit!

If your dog tends to pick up the chews and bring them to another area, you can always try tethering a Kong to the inside of the crate, so they're learning to lie down with it while relaxing in the crate.

When I start closing the door, I start with very short periods, basing the time on how comfortable the dog is. Normally I'll do it while they're sleeping or chewing something. I'll open the door again before they cry, bark or scratch to get out. Gradually, I'll start increasing the time that they're in the crate, making sure that they are comfortable at every stage.



Crate training, when done right and with the appropriate crate, offers numerous benefits for your dog and you as a pet owner. Selecting the right type of crate, finding affordable options, and ensuring proper sizing will help make crate training a successful and positive experience for your canine companion. If you need any help choosing a crate or starting training, please don't hesitate to get in touch!



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