Is Crate Training Cruel? Finland and Sweden Seem to Think So…
Is crate training cruel? It’s a question every dog owner has probably pondered at some point. This comes as no surprise -- if you’ve ever watched your tiny, precious puppy howl from their crate, chances are it struck a nerve.
Crate training puppies is so commonplace in the West that many dog owners believe it’s not just helpful, but it’s also necessary to train a well-behaved dog.
Indeed, if you’ve read our other articles on crate training, you’ll know that many veterinarians and dog trainers are advocates of crate training.
Other parts of the world don’t exactly agree, though. Take Finland and Sweden, for example, where crate training is not just considered cruel -- it’s also illegal!
International laws on crate training and cruelty
Dog owners who violate these animal welfare laws can face serious penalties, including fines and court battles.
Swedish Animal Welfare Regulations
Section 13 of Sweden’s regulations on keeping dogs and cats states that, “dogs and cats may not be kept in cages” unless they’re used for transport, hunting, or a competition or show.
Even then, pet owners are required to let their dogs out of their crates at least every two to three hours.
Sweden’s legislation also establishes acceptable dog crate sizes for those occasions which do require crates -- and they’re larger than the Australian and American standard dog crate sizes. The smallest acceptable crate size for a dog measuring 25 cm high is 2 square meters!
To give you an idea, the smallest Australian and American travel crates, which is approved by the The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is only 0.57 x 0.37 meters.
The Swedish Board of Agriculture also provides guidelines on raising dogs, and their opinion on crate training is a little more blunt:
You may not bind your dog indoors. If you need to limit the dog's mobility for a little longer, you can set up a grid or otherwise occupy an area. (Translated from Swedish)
Finnish Animal Welfare Regulations
Finland has similar legislation on crating dogs. According to the Finnish Kennel Club;
A cat or dog or other animal may be kept in a box or cage intended for its transport, or in any other comparable small storage space, only if it is required for transporting the animal, disease or other ad hoc and acceptable cause." (Finnish Kennel Club)
In an article titled, “The cage is not a dog seat,” (translated from Finnish), Tuija Saari, former Animal Protection Veterinarian for the City of Helsinki, says that crating dogs to prevent them from misbehaving or destroying the home is not an acceptable, long-term solution.
If dogs must be left alone for long periods of time, Saari recommends dedicating a room of the home to the dog. The room should be spacious -- i.e., not a bathroom or closet -- and should be furnished so the dog cannot harm themselves or damage any belongings.
“Usually the dog stays quieter when alone when it has a limited, safe area instead of wandering alone in the big apartment,” says Saari. (Translated from Finnish)
Like Sweden, Finland also requires dog crates to be much larger than the Australian and American standard sizes.
Crates in Finland are more akin to playpens -- a large breed dog must be kept in a crate measuring a minimum of 37 square feet, approximately 3 square meters.
Is crate training cruel? What the experts say
Some of the world’s most famous dog trainers advocate crate training. In their book, Training the Best Dog Ever: A 5-Week Program using the Power of Positive Reinforcement, Barack Obama’s dog trainers, Larry Kay and Dawn Sylvia-Staciewicz, dedicate an entire section of their “Fundamentals Program” to crate training.
The crate is your dog’s sanctuary, the place where he can get away from it all. The crate needs to be respected as your dog’s safe haven, not his jail, and should be associated with reward, not punishment.”
(Larry Kay and Dawn Sylvia-Staciewicz)
Even Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer himself, has made videos showing dog owners how to crate their dogs for travel, and his blog features several articles with tips on crate training puppies and adult dogs.
Not all experts agree, though.
In an interview with The Guardian, Emma Lincoln, co-author of Dogs Hate Crates, claims the crate training debate is a cultural divide;
Americans have never been so in love with the concept of owning dogs while being so ill-equipped to give dogs the face-time, exercise, socialisation and purpose in life they need. (Emma Lincoln)
The book’s authors claim to have a background in canine psychology, and while it is unclear which specific qualifications they hold, they do have a good point:
In a country where some estimates count 77.5 million dogs, a huge number of these -- perhaps the majority -- now spend significant time crated in their families' homes. (Emma Lincoln)
Is crate training cruel? Searching for an answer
It’s hard to say for sure whether crate training is cruel -- especially when you consider that two regions of the world have vastly different laws and opinions on the subject.
Countries like Sweden and Finland impose strict regulations on the sizes of crates, and these minimum measurements are certainly much roomier than their American and Australian counterparts.
In Australia and America, dogs must be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down in their crate -- this gives them very little room and may make them feel cramped.
Keeping these size regulations in mind, is crate training cruel? The answer is yes and no. Crate training can be cruel if it’s done inappropriately.
Like most things, crates can be misused and abused. Locking a dog in a crate for longer than they can hold their bladder -- two hours for puppies, four hours for adult dogs -- is inhumane and abusive. (Yes, that means that leaving your puppy alone in a crate for eight hours while you’re at work is considered animal cruelty!)
Perhaps it is also time for Australia and America to rethink their attitude toward crating.
In Sweden and Finland, crates are more like playpens and give dogs plenty of space.
If Australian and American dog owners really want their dogs to see their crates as sanctuaries, they should be large enough so the dog has enough room to feel truly at home.
Final thoughts on crates and cruelty
The Humane Society of the United States makes an excellent point in their Crate Training 101 guide:
A crate may be your dog’s den, but just as you would not spend your entire life in one room of your home, your dog should not spend most of their time in their crate.” (Humane Society of the United States)