Crate training and its pros and cons has long been a subject of debate among dog enthusiasts. This is unsurprising -- many pet owners see their dogs as their children and consider crate training inhumane.
In fact, some dog owners and even some animal rights organizations think crate training dogs is so cruel that they’re working to ban it.
Even the experts seems to disagree on whether crate training dogs is considered abuse. For example, the SPCA of New Zealand claims that crating dogs can be useful for behaviour training.
Meanwhile, in Finland, leaving a dog in a crate with the door shut is illegal. There are only a few exceptions to this: dogs can be crated for a short amount of time while in transport.
With so much conflicting information available, it’s hard for dog owners to make a decision on crate training. We’re certainly not claiming to have all the answers, which is why we want to discuss all the crate training pros and cons in depth.
Whether your dog can be successfully crate trained or not will depend on multiple factors, including your dog’s age, temperament, and history. You and your veterinarian know your dog best, so you should work together to decide whether crate training your dog is the right option.
Crate Training Pros & Cons - The Pros
Crate training is a highly controversial topic. Yet successful crate training can be a blessing for dog owners, especially those with hyper hounds who like to chew and scratch everything they can get their paws on. (Sound familiar?)
Let’s start off with some the crate training pros, which come from a mindful approach to crate training. (We’ll talk about how NOT to approach crate training for dogs later.)
Crate Training Pro #1: It provides dogs with their own safe, comfy space.
We humans love our beds so much that we find it hard to drag ourselves out into the real world every morning. You want your dog to feel the same way about their crate, so make it comfortable.
Pad the crate with a blanket, preferably one the dog has scented, and add some of your dog’s favourite toys. Never leave choking hazards, such as tennis balls or other toys that could get lodged in the dog’s airway, in the crate.
Crate Training Pro #2: Temporary training tool.
Imagine that you just got a new puppy. Your tiny tot is just so cute that you can’t bear the thought of them sleeping anywhere but right in bed next to you. (We don’t blame you -- who doesn’t love puppy snuggles?)
But you know that your precious pup can’t be trusted. While you snooze, they might just rip apart your pillow or pee all over your brand new carpet.
So you might consider crate training your puppy on the first night to provide them with a safe space to rest while they acclimatize to their strange new environment.
Not only will crate training your puppy help keep him (and your furniture) safe while you sleep, but it can also help with the potty training process.
Many expert trainers temporarily use the crate to start their behavioural training journey until the puppy understands the rules of the house. A crate training schedules can be a very effective way of using crates as a temporary tool to eventually have a well trained dog who is always relaxed and obedient inside the house.
Crate Training Pro #3: It can help make transport easier.
There are times when crating your dog will be virtually unavoidable. You may consider crate training your puppy who is not yet leash trained in order to safely transport them to the vet, groomers, or daycare.
If your dog is a show dog, they will need to be crated while they travel to and from the show. If you travel regularly with your dog, crate training can provide them with a place where they feel comfortable.
Let your dog get comfortable with the crate before travelling to ensure they feel comfortable and safe.
Crate Training Pros & Cons - The Cons
We’ve already seen that crate training has some disadvantages. Let’s break down the cons of crate training.
Crate Training Con #1: It may trigger or exacerbate separation anxiety.
Many dogs suffer from mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, just like humans do. Separation anxiety is different from general anxiety, though. As its name suggests, separation anxiety stems from the absence of a loved one -- in this case, the dog owner.
According to Merck Veterinary Manual, about 14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety, which can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviours.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to panic when confined to a small space, particularly when that small space is made of metal bars, which leads to our next con in our roundup of crate training pros and cons.
Crate Training Con #2: Crates can be dangerous, even lethal.
Let’s go back to the new puppy analogy. You’ve started crate training your puppy and they seem to adjust well. You feel confident enough to leave them in the crate while you go to work.
Now imagine that, instead of returning to find your dog sleeping soundly in their crate, you discover doggie paw prints in a pool of blood.
It’s a horrific thing to think about, but this was reality for one dog owner. Riley, the star of the show over at the Riley’s Place blog, injured himself on his crate while his owner was at work.
About a month ago I came home from work one morning, opened the door and found my entire 18×24 foot kitchen literally soaked in blood. There were puddles of blood, doggie footprints in blood and spots of blood from one end of the room to the other.
All this -- from a broken toenail.
While Riley’s mum doesn’t know exactly what happened, she speculates that his claw got caught between the thin metal bars at the bottom of the entrance to his crate. (She notes that she leaves the crate door open so her dogs can roam.)
Crate Training Con #3: Crate can be misused.
Let’s face it -- in a perfect world, no one would ever dream of abusing animals. Sadly, though, people do. Some dog owners lock their dogs in crates for the majority of the day, leaving their dogs to spend their lives in misery.
Celebrated “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan has dealt with this first-hand. In his book Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog, Millan describes an encounter with a talented police dog named Viper, whose speciality was sniffing out contraband, namely cell phones.
While Viper was one of the best sniffer dogs on his handler’s team, he was extremely skittish and distrusting of humans -- because he spent the majority of his puppyhood locked in a crate.
We won’t spoil the book for you, but rest assured that Viper’s story has a happy ending. It also serves to show that misusing a crate can deeply traumatise even the most well-trained dogs.
Myths about Crate Training for Dogs
If you’ve researched crate training in depth, you’ve undoubtedly seen claims that dogs are “den” animals, and will therefore naturally adjust to crate training.
This claim is only somewhat true. Wild dogs are den animals, but domestic dogs are not.
Dogs who exhibit denning behaviour, like wolves and coyotes, make comfy dens for themselves when it comes time to give birth. Pregnant female dogs are, obviously, particular about their dens, because they need somewhere safe to deliver their young.
The mother examines several possible denning sites before choosing the final one, which is often remote from her usual territory. Here, she will give birth and raise her pups until they are old enough to look after themselves.
A study on wild dog dens in India found that most of the dens were situated near areas bustling with human activity. Even the dogs’ eating habits were somewhat surprising -- the dogs preferred to beg for scraps from humans rather than venture out to hunt.
Wild dogs pulling puppy dog eyes for table scraps is adorable to us, but it’s also a clever tactic. Not only do the dogs get fed, but they’re almost guaranteed safety. In urban settings, dogs are less likely to encounter predators, and they enjoy much better access to the necessities, namely food, shelter, and water.
So what does this have to do with crate training your dog? Well, it’s important to understand that our beloved domestic dogs don’t exhibit this behavior.
Your precious pup’s brain is wired differently to their lupine cousins’. Domestic dogs now rely entirely on us to fulfill their survival needs -- they have no need for a denning instinct.
It is true that pregnant domestic dogs will search for comfortable, secluded places to give birth, but those dens are temporary and exclusive to female dogs. They’re also usually located within an urban setting -- our own homes. And, even for wild dogs, dens aren’t permanent; wild female dogs abandon their dens after raising their pups.
All that just to say that our pet dogs aren’t den animals, and crate training your dog isn’t going to trigger some denning instinct in them left over from evolution.
Alternatives to Crate Training for Dogs
Not all dogs can be crate trained, and not all dog owners are comfortable with crate training their dogs. What else can dog owners do to keep their darling dogs on their best behaviour?
Crate Training Alternative #1: Try clicker training.
One of the main reasons you might want to crate train your dog is because they’re a mischievous mutt. If you leave them at home by themselves even for ten minutes, they might just chew the paint right off the wall. (We’re not speaking from personal experience or anything…)
If you’re thinking about crate training your puppy because they destroy everything they can sink their sharp little teeth into, consider clicker training. Instead of punishing your dog for destructive behaviours by locking them in a crate, work to correct them and prevent them from happening again.
Crate Training Alternative #2: Rethink the crate.
Many dog owners who are vehemently against crate training dogs compare crates to a prison. (And, considering the cold, metal bars on most dog crates, it’s not hard to see why.)
As we’ve already discussed, traditional metal crates can be dangerous, and besides, they’re not all that inviting. If you want to create an alluring space for your dog without intimidating metal bars, then get creative!
You can easily convert an old nightstand into a cozy (and doorless) hideaway for your pup.
If you’re not exactly a DIY wizard, you can find some really cool alternative dog crates on the market, like stylish glass dog houses with plush pillows. Treat your pup to a cool crate and they’ll never wake you up at 6 AM again!
If you absolutely must purchase a wire or metal crate, try padding the bars and any sharp or protruding edges with memory foam or another soft material.
Crate Training Pros and Cons: Wrapping Up
Like most everything in life, crate training has its fair share of pros and cons. Part of being a responsible dog owner is working together with your veterinarian to make the best choices for your dog.
But just remember, dogs are more than just man’s best friend -- they’re family, and they deserve to be treated like family.
What’s your stance on crate training for dogs? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this debate! Have any personal stories on crate training your puppy? Share them in the comments below!