Why Crate The Dog?
DEAR DIDI: I don’t understand why people are putting their dogs in a cage these days. We never did that growing up with our dogs. They were perfectly happy outside and now my trainer is recommending that I crate my dog inside to potty train her. How is a cage indoors better than letting her have the entire backyard to run in? - Manteca Dog Owner
DEAR DOG OWNER: I will defer to the cliché, “times have changed.” There are a lot of things we used to do and now know better! We took dogs for granted for a very long time. Behaviorists were busy studying chimpanzees, dolphins, and whales for decades. We now know, thanks to some scientists that bothered to look at the domesticated canine, that we have grossly underestimated the intelligence and abilities of dogs. I believe what we know now only touches the tip of the iceberg and that even more will be discovered about canines over the next 10 years.
Overall, humans these days want a better relationship with their dogs. Many of us now think of them as four-legged family members. We want to take them places with us and do more activities with them than we used to. We have also learned that the dog wants a closer relationship with us! Relegating them to the backyard separates them from us and limits our interactions. They tend to develop different attitudes as a result. Many dogs get bored outside and seek to entertain themselves by racing along the fence barking at things, digging, chewing up plants or sprinklers, or finding ways to escape the yard altogether. Every dog is unique. Every breed has unique characteristics that give some individuals the desire to defend territory, rip up plants, chase squirrels, bark incessantly, be nervous about unknown noises, or just lay around and take everything with a grain of salt. No one technique or training method will ever work for every single dog. The ‘art of dog training’ really comes down to modifying methods and approaches to what works best for the particular animal being worked with. I think all parents can agree that what worked with one of their kids may not have been effective for a sibling.
I know that some humans look at dog crates as being ‘cages’ but it is interesting that those same people never thought twice about putting a human infant in a playpen or crib. The only difference is that your puppy or dog needs a top to the playpen because they climb better! The crate allows the dog in training to be amongst the family and experience the smells, sounds and movements that go on in the household without getting in the way or causing damage. Dogs, unlike human children, are denning animals. They instinctively feel more secure in a small, dark, enclosed den underground. This is especially true for when they sleep. They are born with instincts not to relieve themselves where they sleep because it could cause disease. So if a crate is properly fit to your dog’s size it helps encourage your dog to not have accidents between ‘outs.’ Obviously if you give the puppy a big meal, tons of water, and then lock him in a crate for five hours you will have a huge mess, and the dog will learn to override instincts in favor of the need to ‘go.’ The crate is a tool only to help develop good habits.
Think of the crate as a crib or playpen that keeps your dog and your home safe while allowing the four legged family member to live in close proximity and develop a bond with the humans. Dogs that have better relationships with their humans will listen to directions better and be less likely to cause problems. When used appropriately, crates are a fantastic tool to help in that process.