The Great Crate Debate

I have two puppy books in my possession. Both are modern and against the use of traditional, punitive, measures. But when it comes to the subject of crates, they could not be more opposite. I’m not going to name the books or authors because, running the largest dog group on Facebook, I already have my quota of haters. However, who is right? According to book 1, if you use a crate there will be no possibility of separation anxiety developing.  The rationale here is that they will always feel safe in the crate so can’t get anxious. Book 2 says the dog is trapped in a crate so is not safe. The rationale here seems to be that there are no doors on the dens of free-ranging pups and that safety requires the ability to leave at will. So, which is it? There are no absolutes, it depends on many factors. Book 1 is woefully misleading and takes absolutely no other factors into account and doesn’t even inform the reader of how to properly crate train a puppy.  Is it likely that the only reason for separation anxiety is that the dog isn’t in a crate? No, so providing one is never going to be the fairy dust it’s made out to be.  Book 2 is much better but I’d argue that we are not raising free-ranging dogs. Free-ranging dogs have a very high mortality rate with up to 80% not reaching the age of 7 months (Paul, et al., 2016). I guess the mortality rate for companion dogs would be pretty high too if we didn’t use doors. So actually, I’m unable to agree with either of these authors.

It’s not just these authors. There is a big divide amongst the dog training community regarding the use of crates. And arguing with passionate dog lovers is a tough gig. It’s akin to trying to change somebody’s religion or political allegiance. But what do I think? Whilst trying to avoid splinters, from sitting on the fence, I think there is merit in arguments from both sides.  I don’t think crates are appropriate for long-term use, for dogs to spend the day in with no opportunity to find other resting spots. I don’t think pups should be placed in there as an easy fix, as punishment, or to lock problems away.  But I do think that when pups are introduced to crates slowly, and with choice (not immediately locking them in, but allowing them to acclimatise and feel safe) they can be a great asset in keeping pups safe if we are unable to watch them for short periods. An alternative may be to use an indoor dog pen. A second reason for crate training is obvious too.  If the dog ever needs to stay over at the vet or wait at the groomer’s salon, it stands to reason that this stressful event will be made slightly easier if the dog has been crate trained previously.  In an ideal world, we would be available to watch the puppy 24/7 and they’d never need to stay at the vets, but I must consider what’s likely, not just what’s ideal.

Ref: Paul M, Sen Majumder S, Sau S, Nandi AK, Bhadra A. High early life mortality in free-ranging dogs is largely influenced by humans. Sci Rep. 2016 Jan 25;6:19641. doi: 10.1038/srep19641. PMID: 26804633; PMCID: PMC4726281.

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