March 29, 2014
Some people worry that using crates for pets is a cruel practice. If used right, however, crates can create security in a dog and can become a valuable tool for house training.
First, let's address what not to do when crating your dog. Don't keep a dog in a crate for too long. The Humane Society of the United States' website states that puppies younger than 6 months can't stay in a crate for more than three or four hours. For older dogs, crating for extended periods can create anxiety due to lack of exercise and decreased human interaction.
A crate is meant to be a sanctuary - not a prison - so don't use it for punishment. If a dog does something wrong, don't shove it inside a crate after a swat to its behind. That won't make the crate the safe haven it is designed to be.
It's natural for dogs to view crates as secure locations because they are den animals. Having their own private area is something most dogs like.
The correct way to train a dog is to introduce the crate gradually, which means locking the dog inside only for short periods at first. Give the dog something to do while in the crate, such as chew on a bone. And keep the crate near you so the dog doesn't think the crate represents separation from you. If you develop these associations with the crate from the start, the dog will develop a tolerance for the times you are away from the house.
I do not believe in allowing a young dog (less than 12 months old) to wander free in a house when I am not home. Too many bad things can happen. A long list of problematic behaviors can start at 4 months of age - or when adolescence begins. Household destruction is often an issue, which can include chewing through electrical cords and being electrocuted. So crating can save a dog's life.
Using a crate also can aid in house training a dog. If you can't keep an eye on a dog at every moment, the crate will confine the animal. This teaches the dog to hold its bodily urges. Just be aware that if the dog is too young, the dog won't be able to go an entire day without being let out.
Swager is a behaviorist and dog trainer who has authored several books and a DVD on separation anxiety.