I’ve read and been told by people that crate training is cruel, and that leaving a dog in a crate is abuse.
This is a post on why Kasper needs a crate.
Kasper is a 5 year old Border Collie x Springer Spaniel that we adopted when he was 9 months old – aw look, baby face 🙂
When Kasper came to us he had quite a few behavioural issues:
- Fear of people, including us. This involved putting a harness on him, putting a lead on (either on a collar or harness), stroking him, drying him, brushing him etc
- Terror of men. This has been a really tough thing to help him overcome, although we have made gigantic strides. He used to cower from people and growl at them and, if we got him to the point where he was okay with them, it would take one mistake for his fear to get the better of him
- Resource guarding, several times Kasper growled and even air snapped at us when he had a high value item. With careful management and much training it’s not a problem at all anymore, unless we mess up. He does still resource guard from other dogs, but again this is fine with management
- Lack of basic training – this was the easiest thing to overcome!
- Separation anxiety; he would gather everything he could and take it to his bed, to chew. Hairbrushes, oven gloves, books and even my expensive Ipod speakers – yay! He also chewed halfway through our door. Hmm.
Then, just weeks after he came to us, we bought him a crate.
We introduced the crate slowly and positively – it’s very important that the dog sees the crate as a nice place to be. We spent a month crate training Kasper before we could leave him happily in there.
Kasper started off in a 36 inch crate, but gradually we upgraded him; now he has a 48 inch crate that we use when we’re out and, if he needs some time on his own, he has a zone around the crate where he can rest.
So, how has the crate helped us?
1. Separation anxiety
Kasper’s anxiety was bad enough that we couldn’t leave him on his own – which was fine because we didn’t have any other responsibilities at the time, and I wanted to spend all day every day with my first ever dog!
However we knew it was something that needed working on, and it was then I read about crate training.
The crate became Kasper’s safe place, his den. Because we built up leaving him in such a slow, gradual way he began to look forward to going into his crate and he was happy to be left. He always had a chew toy and a Kong, and usually a meal.
The crate was also extremely important as it prevented Kasper from a) causing damage to our house (not good for obvious reasons) and b) it stopped him from eating things he shouldn’t, such as strips of carpet or splinters from the door. And yes, Kasper does eat inedible objects.
Kasper has never had a problem since with separation anxiety; when we are out he is either emptying puzzle feeders or sleeping. That’s pretty much it.
2. Resource guarding
As newbie dog owners we found Kasper’s resource guarding upsetting and hard to manage…I still remember the first time he growled and snapped at me (looking back it was SO CLEARLY my fault, but at the time we had no idea) and how scared I was.
The crate became the place where Kasper had all his high value items…Kongs, bones, rawhides (yes we fed him rawhides and bones then). It was a lovely safe area where we could leave him to eat his special things and we wouldn’t have to worry about him resource guarding.
At the same time as leaving him in his crate with high value items, we also began teaching Kasper that he didn’t need to resource guard.
This was mainly ignoring him when he had high value things (no eye contact, stroking etc) and tossing him treats from afar as he had his things. I also began teaching him drop it, leave it and fetch.
Fetch may seem like an odd thing to teach for resource guarding, but it has been an awesome tool for management. If Kasper counter surfs and finds something he would normally resource guard, teaching him to bring it to me not only turns it into a game but makes it his choice to give it up.
As Kasper also resource guards from strangers and other dogs, we still use the crate as a management tool to prevent resource guarding. If someone comes over and we’d like to give Kasper a Kong, but don’t trust the person not to bother him, he can have it in his crate.
The crate is a fantastic tool for if I am doing something and don’t want Kasper bothering me, essentially a ‘place’ cue.
Of course I could just teach Kasper to stay on the couch, but I prefer the crate for a few reasons: it’s out the way, easier to block if something excites him too much, and leaves the rest of the room / furniture open for me to train another dog there.
Kasper is at the point where if I am doing something finnicky he will take himself into his crate and stay there, waiting for a treat – THIS IS SO HELPFUL! Especially around Christmas 😉
4. Anxiety with people
Kasper has reached the stage where most people who meet him (especially those who have never met him before or don’t know much about dog behaviour / body language) see him as a ‘normal’ dog, and have no idea he had issues with strangers and still might get a little anxious.
The crate is a wonderful retreat for Kasper when we have people round, especially if it’s a surprise visit and we haven’t had time to introduce Kasper to the person on a walk before they come into the house. The crate provides a safe base where he can watch from afar and feel safe.
I have a perfect example of this.
Tonight a friend came over unexpected. He was dropping Christmas gifts off and also wanted to check we were okay, as he’d just heard we were having to rehome Zoey.
I invited him in as it was freezing outside, and Zoey began her usual extreme excitement at having a visitor, and Kasper picked up on her stress levels and was also worried because a man was coming into our house. His anxiety was only heightened when he saw that the person was drunk, as he had several very bad experiences with an alcoholic that used to live above us.
Kasper immediately took himself off into his crate, it was wonderful to see. He did not go in there to bark and growl, he went in there after saying a brief wriggly hello, then thinking “no, this isn’t for me”…he went into his crate and lay down waiting for a treat.
Our friend was here for a good twenty minutes, and the entire time Kasper rested in his crate and calmly observed what was going on. Every thirty seconds I would toss a few pieces of kibble in there for him.
In the past, when we weren’t as dog savvy, we used to ‘force’ Kasper to interact with people who came in our house. We were constantly telling him to go say hello to them and they would always be watching him and eager to stroke him.
Giving him a safe place where he can observe them but they can’t get to him (even if they look at him or try coax him out, the crate prevents them from crowding him) has been so incredibly helpful.
If we have someone over that Kasper’s not a fan of, and he chooses to spend all night in the crate with a Kong or me chucking kibble at him, I am far happier with that than him feeling the need to cower, tremble or growl 🙂
So there you have it.
Crates are incredible useful. Whilst not all dogs will take to them, for those that will they can provide a real safe haven. Can they be abused? Of course they can.
When I say I crate Kasper I’m inevitably told about someone’s friend of a friend who leaves their 18 month old Border Collie in a crate for ten hours a day with nothing to do and without having a walk…that is entirely different, and in my eyes most certainly neglectful and abusive.
What I am talking about is using a crate with a dog who has been conditioned to it, and who appreciates having a safe place. A dog who has been exercised, toileted and left with things to do in there. A dog who is not left in the crate for longer than five hours at a time (that’s the maximum time we set for Kasper).
That, to me, is perfectly okay.