IN PRAISE OF CRATES
A REFUGE FOR YOUR DOG CAN BE A RELIEF FOR YOU
By Sally Ann Smith
Did you ever wish you could make your dog disappear for a few hours? You are not alone! My Cassie, a beautifully behaved chocolate Lab, is a valued member of the family. She is also a problem when we have visitors who are not comfortable with a dog drooling on their feet.
Meanwhile, our five Basenjis are completely tucked away, silent and content. (Basenjis may not bark, but they certainly aren?t quiet when unhappy.)
What makes the difference? Crate training. Each Basenji has its own private quarters in which it feels snug and secure. Often, they choose their crates instead of a chair for naps.
People who visit us tend to call the crates ?cages?, and leap to the assumption that all animals in cages are unhappy. The truth is, a crate is not a cage except in the strictest sense of the word, and the average dog does not act as though it thinks its crate is a jail cell.
Why Crate Train?
As difficult as it may be to remember at times, our dogs are not little humans. Even though they have shared our hearths and homes for thousands of years, they still retain many of the instincts and characteristics of the wild dogs from which they descended . Many authorities today believe our dogs were selectively bred from an ancestral wolf and the wolf is not only a pack animal, it is a den animal. This means that the need for a special place that represents safety is innate in our pets. For this reason, most dogs will happily accept a crate as part of their lifestyles, especially if trained as puppies.
If your dog didn?t come from a breeder, you may well be wondering, ?Just what is a crate, anyway?? A number of variations are available, but the basic crate is a sturdy rectangular box made from metal wire of various sizes and strengths. It comes in many dimensions to suit individual breeds of dogs: a Chihuahua obviously requires a crate different from the one in which a Great Dane would be comfortable. The door is usually at one end, and the spacing of the side bars differs from brand to brand. The type you choose depends on both your needs and your dog?s personality.
Some of you may be thinking, ?I?d die before I?d shut my dog up in one of those?. That?s fine, if you can honestly answer no to the following questions:
1. Are you thinking of naming your new puppy Walden because everywhere he goes he leaves little ponds?
2. Do you live on a busy road and own an impulsive dog that just might dash out the door when company comes? Does your dog think ?come? is an optional command?
3. Has your dog ever chewed the corner of the couch just before your boss arrived for dinner? Or ever been naughty on your pillow because it was left alone and didn?t like it?
These situations, and many other differences of opinion between dog and owner, can be resolved to the satisfaction of both, simply by using a crate appropriately. Many dogs abandoned every year at pounds are victims of their owners? lack of knowledge about training options. Crating a dog is one of the simplest of these options.
Crate training a pup differs a bit from training a more mature dog, but assuming the older dog is house-broken, the basic idea is the same: crate = home sweet home.
Training the New Pup
Have a crate ready and waiting before you bring the puppy home. Choose a place that is out of the way but not out of the action. After all, your pup is one of the family now and needs to feel it isn?t being banished when confined to the crate. A corner of your kitchen or family room is good, because in this arrangement you and your puppy can keep an eye on each other. Equip the crate with a clip-on water dish and an old blanket or towel for bedding. Some trainers suggest that an unlaundered piece of your clothing added to the bedding will make a pup happier when left alone.
Don?t use newspaper in the crate if the pup is learning to associate papers with potty chores; this is not an area where you want any further confusion! A few crates come without metal pans. In this case, try using cardboard from boxes as a floor instead of paper. Toss in a couple of chew toys, so your pup has some entertainment other than shredding the bedding.
Your pup will find the crate more like a den or cave if part of it is covered. The cover may be adjusted to suit heat and light conditions. Some people even place the crate in a corner of the room near a couch or chair, and make a wooden top for it. Instant end table!
An important part of the pup?s daily routine should be time spent in the crate. Put the puppy in regularly at naptimes ? just watch to see when it shows signs of sleepiness. And when you have to be away for a few hours, the pup should be tucked away in the crate.
Crate training can be a positive factor in your battle to preserve your rugs, furniture and sunny disposition from the ravages of puppy piddle. When it?s time for Junior to come out of the crate, do not let its paws touch the ground! Take the pup immediately to the spot that is to be its permanent bathroom, and wait for action. Because most pups are reluctant to soil their ?den?, chances are your pup will get the idea very quickly.
Training the Mature Dog
A dog older than 6 months may be more set in its ways than a pup, and you will need to use a slightly different technique to persuade it that crates are great, or at least a tolerable place to spend some time.
First, as with the pup, decide the best location for the crate. Again, it should be in a spot where you spend time so your dog does not feel it is being banished or punished when confined to the crate.
Next, introduce your dog to its new quarters in a non-threatening manner. With the crate empty and the door open, toss in a treat your dog finds irresistible, such as a piece of hot dog or cooked liver. Bring your pet over to the crate?gently, please!?and let it make the happy discovery that there is food inside. Chances are pretty good your dog will go into the crate, pick up the food, turn around and come out. If your dog is a picky eater and food only motivates it to turn in the other direction with its nose in the air, try throwing in a tempting ball to retrieve or a new fuzzy toy to investigate.
One trainer in my area, who has more than 25 years experience with all breeds of dogs, tells her students that a dog being crate-trained should never be fed any place but in the crate. She begins by putting the food dish right in front, so the dog has only to stick its head in. Every day the food is placed a fit farther in, until finally the dog will go willingly into the crate and happily munch away.
After a few experiences like this, encourage your pet to spend a few moments in the crate, with the door still open. Sit near the crate and pet your dog, talk to it, and try to get it to relax. Without having a wrestling match, see if you can get the dog to lie down for a while.
Once the dog is used to being in a confined area for a few minutes at a time and will go into the crate confidently, it?s time for step three. Move your dog?s bedding and a chew toy into the crate. When the dog enters the crate this time, close the door. Stay close and talk to it, but be firm in your insistence that it remain in the crate for a few minutes.
Your dog will probably protest when it discovers the door is closed, but that is to be expected. Praise the dog and reassure it that everything is fine; it will most likely accept the situation, and may even lie down and take a nap.
When you are sure your pet will remain calm in the crate, it?s fine to leave the room for a short time. Make sure there is a chew toy in the crate for the dog so it has something to do.
Now that your dog has its very own place in the world, the benefits of having a crate-trained pet will become obvious: No more dogs greeting your neighbors at the door with joyous leaps and muddy paws. And less opportunity for your dog to express displeasure at being left home alone.
However, it?s sad but true that a tiny minority of dogs will not accept crating. They become hysterical, dig, claw, scream and otherwise ?flip out?. In a case like this, one thoughtful owner stitched up a doughnut-shaped dog bed with high sides and placed it in the middle of her own bed. She reports that her dog now spends his ?alone time? curled up in the doughnut, sleeping. You could also consider giving the dog its own box, in a corner of a room with a door you can close if necessary. It is important to both you and your pet to find a spot where the dog can be under control, safe and content.
Choosing The Right Crate
Don?t make problems for yourself by buying a crate that isn?t suited to your dog?s unique personality and breed characteristics. As an example, an acquaintance of mine fell in love with Basenjis ? dogs widely known to be escape artists. She bought a show-quality Basenji that came from the breeder already crate trained. Because her financial resources were stretched, and she needed to get both an airline crate for travel and a metal crate for use at home, she settled for the cheapest crates available, even though the breeder had recommended different brands.
Within three months, she had changed her pup?s name from Jake to Houdini. A curious and active dog, Houdini explored the limits of his environment and then pushed those limits.
After the conformation judging at a dog show last fall, Houdini and his owner demonstrated his impressive progress in obedience work. Stay? No problem. Down? Fine. Look, off lead heeling! Very nice. Houdini was finally returned to his cozy crate in the back seat of the car, parked in the comfortable shade. As his owner rejoined our group, she said, ?I know he won?t get out this time, because I?ve got a chain around the crate?.
Half an hour later, we all headed for our cars, and guess who was grinning out the back window of his car, yodeling and wagging to welcome his mistress back? Luckily, some deep instinct had led her to only crack the windows. Houdini had escaped from the crate and was ready to chew his way out of the car, although he still hadn?t solved the problem of tunneling through metal doors. But I?m sure he?s working on it.
Moral: Never, ever buy a cheap crate if your dog is less than placid and has a good set of teeth. Thin metal can be bent (Houdini completely removed the door from one crate), and the inexpensive airline crates that do not have metal grates over the windows can be chewed out of and squeezed out of in ways your dog is likely to discover long before you do. Once a pup learns it can escape, it will often continue to try, even when confined in its new high-quality crate the desperate owners have finally had to buy. This can lead to some major dental problems.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice on dog equipment I?ve ever received was delivered by an experienced breeder at the same time she delivered my dog. ?Never?, she said, ?buy anything but the very best you can possibly afford. You will never regret it?. She was right.
Consider the Options
Crates come in two basic styles. Airline crates are made of molded plastic, and they are useful when you and your pet travel. Metal crates are most often used in homes because they provide more air circulation and more room for the dog to move around. Some metal crates come apart for easy cleaning and fold up for convenient transportation.
However, if you have a breed with a smooth, thin coat, such as a Doberman or a Whippet, you may find that your pet prefers an airline crate; it is warmer, and not as likely to be drafty. If you own a heavy-coated dog, it will probably be more comfortable in a metal crate.
Some metal crates have vertical bars and less-than-escape-proof latches. Several breeders have told me their dogs were able to open these without much trouble. Other people have mentioned that, like Houdini, their dogs were able to work on the side bars until the bars were bent or broken. It?s also possible for the dog to get into trouble by sticking its paws through the openings between the side bars and snagging passing objects or other pets. However, this kind of crate may be all you need if you have a calm or compliant dog.
There are excellent crates available that look very much like the cheap ones described above; ask a salesperson who is experienced with crates and dog care to advise you if you plan to shop locally.
Another type of metal crate has sides constructed of grating with 1-inch squares through which most paws won?t fit, and the materials are strong enough that a dog cannot bend or push the metal out of shape. The latch, when fastened correctly is escape-proof. The bad news is that this type costs almost twice as much as the cheaper versions, and is more difficult to find in stores.
Shop around before you buy. Check the ads in dog magazines and contact the various companies for information; most specify which crates are designed for which size dog. Don?t neglect to write to a couple of the mail order firms that specialize in canine products. Their catalogs often have good discussions of the various types of crates offered, and they are candid about the relative quality of each.
Crate training isn?t the answer to every behavior problem dogs can develop, but it can go a long way toward solving or preventing some of the most common ones. Don?t join the ranks of those who are forced to admit, ?I love my dog, but between him and the kids, I?m being driven nuts!? In the well-chosen words of a frequently seen bumper sticker: ?Don?t Complain ? TRAIN?. You?ll be glad you did.
Reprinted from Dog Fancy