Crating seems to have become a go-to must for many canine caregivers in recent times.
The reasons that some people decide to crate puppies and dogs can vary hugely. Some do it because they believe it will help with toilet training, some do it because they feel its safer, some do it in order to ensure a puppy or dog takes naps, some use it as a time out zone, and some want to offer a safe space and some just do it because they think it’s the ‘done’ thing.
One of the most common reasons given for crate usage is that it's natural as dogs see crates as Dens, but is this true, are dogs Den animals?
So, firstly we must discuss what we humans’ think of as a Den, many human minds think of Dens as being akin to a humans Livingroom, a family room, a place where a lot of time is spent relaxing, being social, resting, chilling out.
With this in mind, are our dogs denning animals, well actually, no!
Now, does that mean dogs never use Dens, no, females will show nesting and denning behaviours when preparing for the birth of their young. The young are born blind, deaf and just about able to drag themselves to find the milk bar, so a den seems like a smart choice.
Dens, however, are only really used during the vulnerable stage of their offspring lifecycle.
Depending on the species, the young are encouraged out of the den area and introduced to go into the more open spaces and communal areas from between 8-12 weeks of age.
Dogs in the wild are more often sleeping, resting and chilling out under trees, or on elevated platforms where they can easily see what is going on in their environment by a simple lift of the head.
So, our idea of a Den is commonly not what we believe it to mean to our puppies and dogs. One thing that always springs to mind is, if puppies and dogs find it a natural place to stay and feel safe, why does it often take a lot of coaxing, training and encouragement to help a dog accept the confinement of a crate?
We should also remember that dens do not have locked doors, they offer the puppy choice and allow decision making to take place.
So, with this in mind let's now look at how crating can sometimes feel from our new additions point of view.
We take these babies and dogs away from everything they have known, the safety of their families, the safety of their home, the humans they have built a bond with, that alone must be a scary time for our puppies and new additions, they must feel vulnerable and scared right, who wouldn’t?
Primarily we want our new furry edition to bond to us, build trust in us, and for them to know we are here to keep them safe, provide for them and love them.
We humans then think we should start as we mean to go on and put them in a crate. During the day it often means we leave the house, at night we disappear for hours, usually in another room of the house and it's dark.
So, are we building a feeling of safety or are we creating quite the opposite?
Some dogs will cry and whine, and I am saddened to still hear ‘you should leave them to cry it out ‘still be banded around, if you take anything away from this article, please don’t EVER leave your dog crying for help.
One thing I was horrified to hear from one of my lovely clients that I started working with due to crating causing distress to their little puppy, was that a ‘Trainer’ with a rather large online presence advising clients if you are not actually engaging with your puppy you should crate them, and if they make a fuss in the crate, you leave them to it, I can assure you this is not acceptable or reputable advice. Science has proven leaving a dog in distress can create attachment issues, you don’t build a trusting relationship through ignoring cries for safety.
I also was shocked to hear of a Vet telling a new puppy caregiver that taking their puppy to sleep with them will create Separation Anxiety, how sad when science has proved quite the opposite.
I want to be clear; I am not vilifying people who choose to use crates and have introduced them properly. A safe space that clearly indicates to people, and especially children, that the dog wishes to be left alone is great.
My blog is simple, I just wish to debunk some myths about crating and Dens so that people can make more informed choices and truly understand and support their dogs better.
One BIG misconception that I deal with a lot in my role as a Trainer and Behaviourist is caregivers being convinced a puppy or dog is comfortable being contained if they are quiet and even resting in a crate.
These dogs’ worries are harder to spot to the untrained eye because they go into what we call learnt helplessness or shut down.
They still feel stress and anxiety about being confined, but they learn they cannot do anything it about, so they suppress their emotions and shut their feelings down and even sleep as this is the only option to get through the confinement.
My first question to try and ascertain a dog’s feelings about the crate is, how often do they choose to go and sleep in the crate themselves without being asked to go in (willing or not).
Remember quiet dogs do not always mean comfortable, the first few nights they may be shattered from stress, excitement, learning who is trustworthy etc, so may accept confinement, a few days later they may begin then to show signs of worry.
My dogs have been crate trained for travel safety, as when all 13 are travelling in the van we have a professional crated van that keeps them safe, but I personally have never used crates for any of my dogs in the home, whether that be adult rescues or the puppies I have bred.
I have always used a puppy-proofed room, so they have the freedom to move, choices of beds and enrichment activities, it also teaches them to rest without the need to be contained.
Think how frustrating it must be for dogs who spend 4 hours alone in a crate, let out by their human or a dog walker, they have a whale of a time out on a walk, the dog who is then pumped full of adrenaline and dopamine and is then put back in a crate for another few hours still feeling pumped from being out…. the frustration that could cause is something everyone should consider.
I know reputable dogs walkers would consider this and spend 15 minutes or so doing enrichment or letting the dog settle down with a chew before putting the dog back in the crate but think of the frustration it must cause for the dogs where this is not thought about!
As always, my thought process is, what is natural for this species, for our puppies and dogs, the freedom to move and have a choice is always a key element I consider.
I know that with many new homes a room may be harder to offer as many are open planned, but as free-roaming animals, my preference when looking at keeping a puppy or dog safe is to offer them at least a good size pen with a nice comfy bed and lots of enrichment to encourage species-appropriate
If crating is your preference, then let's just make sure it's truly our dogs preference too.