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Crating: A Kindness to Your Dog

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

Many people who have called in regard to adopting a dog will ask, “What is this about crate training?” When I explain that crating a dog means putting it into an enclosure designed to keep it safe, they are sometimes horrified. Many say that they would never treat a dog that cruelly. I then explain that there are very good reasons for doing this, and that it is a kindness to the dog to crate train it.When people do visit ADRTC, and meet dogs in crates, they are surprised at how mellow the dogs are, and how content they are to be in their crates. Our dogs view their crate as a private den.

While crating a dog is a good idea if there is even one dog in the family, it becomes more than a doubly good idea when their are multiple dogs. And, puppies and young dogs are best raised being taught crate skills. It is great insurance for an owner’s sanity.

Here are some reasons why:

House Breaking - If your dog is not yet house broken, a crate is the best way to begin. If you are already tired of cleaning up after your dog, and putting your home furnishings at risk., then crate training is for you–and your dog.

Good house breaking includes teaching your dog to live in the house without destroying the furnishings, and not just learning to eliminate wastes outdoors. A crate is great for teaching both skills. Your dog will quickly learn to communicate effectively with you if it has to eliminate, if it is confined to a crate. It has learned this instinctively from its mother when young, and retains that knowledge for a lifetime.

When your dog is confined to a crate, it can only chew the toys you give to it, so it learns what toys it can have, and it learns to not chew on your property. A dog, especially young northern dogs, can be terribly destructive. I have heard owners talk about dogs doing thousands of dollars worth of damage in a couple of hours. A crate could have prevented this, and taught the dog valuable lessons.

In one step, the crate can teach your dog to control its elimination habits, communicate with you when it needs to eliminate, protect your property, and protect the dog by keeping it away from items it can chew that can harm it–from chocolate, toxic house plants, and electrical cords, to plastic and wooden items that it can ingest and from which it can sustain injury.

Why are ADRTC dogs so mellow? Crating helps to reduce anxiety. Dogs are aliens. They are not just copies of your neighbor’s children in fur suits. They have brains and behavior that is far from human–so far that if they arrived in a flying saucer, they could not be much more alien. For your northern dog, Freedom = anxiety, and Restriction = Security. Your adolescent northern dog will actually thrive on restriction, as it makes the dog feel more secure.

If you do have multiple dogs, then crating may be a necessity at meal times, or it is likely that one dog will become food aggressive, food protective, or even toy aggressive. These can all be prevented by good crate training. The worst fights between dogs are often over food, or items perceived by dogs, to be food.

Dogs that experience separation anxiety can especially benefit from good crate training. If your dog is yet a pup, starting with a crate can avoid separation anxiety. When crated, the dog knows what to expect, and how to behave. Dogs like the security of knowing what to do.

Time Out - You can give yourself a “time out” by crating your dogs when you are unable to pay attention to the dog, or likely to be distracted, and not be as aware of what your dog is doing. A dog only needs minutes to get in trouble, and ruin your day in the process. Your mental health is improved by having the dog under control when you have to be busy, or concerned with other matters in the home.

Traveling - A crate is great when traveling, too. It serves the same purposes out of the home as in it–with a double bonus in that it can keep your dog safe while traveling. If your vehicle can accommodate a crate, then a crate is the best way to provide your dog freedom and security both. –And, you will not have to worry about the dog eating up those seatbelts, or worse.

The crate can be used at your destination, too. A well trained dog that can be crated is welcome far more places than an unruly pup, or a dog that requires that everyone watch out for what it is doing, or may do.

Preventing escapes - Keep your northern dog from escaping–teach it to use a crate. If it is crate trained, then continue using the crate regularly. We often say that northern dogs escape on 4 major occasions:

1. When the repairman comes. - Most repair persons walk in and out of your home blithely leaving the door open, or ajar, as though there was no other activity occurring than their repair mission. Your northern dog will likely walk out, and roam the neighborhood or worse, with the repair person totally oblivious to the fact that your dog has just made a successful escape. Crate your dog when the repair person arrives.

2. When friends are over who do not have/know about dogs–especially northern dogs. Many people have friends who do not have dogs, or have had only a mild dog that always came when called. They may be shocked that your northern dog just takes off through any open door or gate. Crating your dog when such friends are over prevents the escape.

If you have children, this may be especially true. Even your own children can forget about the dog, in the excitement of having friends present. The friends may not have any of the skills necessary for watching out for your escaping dog.

3. When relatives come. Many of your relatives may not have owned a northern dog, or lived with one. They may have no idea that leaving the door or gate wide open, while they move a suitcase, baggage, or their family, in and out of your home, provides an opportunity for your dog to escape. Crate your dog when relatives arrive and depart, and during major activities when the excitement is likely to lead to your distraction from what your dog is doing.

Again, the advice in regard to children is especially true. If there is another dog present, this too, can introduce additional tendencies to forget about your dog, and provide it an escape opportunity.

4. When you are traveling, and everything is unfamiliar. Many persons have lost their dogs while on a trip. Sometimes stopping along the way for a break provides an opportunity for the unsecured dog to bolt from an open vehicle door. Sometimes, moving in or out of a motel room, or relatives home, can provide the same opportunity. Crating your dog when traveling reduces the chances of an escape, and gives you far more control over the movements and behavior of your dog.

Consistent good crating practices teach dogs to love their crates, and most will even seek out an opportunity to spend some time in their crates. Here are some tips for crate training your dog:

1. Start with short periods in the crate, while you are around. The first session might be only 15 minutes.

2. Give the dog a favorite toy or treat when crated for the first few sessions.

3. When your dog starts getting used to the crate, feed it meals in the crate. That creates long term positive associations of a crate being a pleasant place. Even if this is the only time you crate your dog, it is a good practice. This is especially true if you have other pets, or small children around. The dog will feel much more secure when eating, and not be as likely to develop food protective or aggressive behaviors.

4. If possible, have your dog sleep in the crate in your room, or in a favorite child’s room. After a night or two in the crate, the dog is usually content to be crated. This is especially good if you plan to travel with your dog, visit relatives and friends overnight, or spend time away from your home. Your dog will be secure, and you will sleep better.

5. Work up to longer lengths of day time crating by increments. First, start with 15-30 minutes, and then increase that time by 15-30 minutes a day until you pass 2 hours at a time. Once your dog can be crated for 2 hours successfully, and relax while being crated, it can be crated up to 4 hours at one time. I never recommend exceeding 4 hours at a time during daylight hours, as the dog needs time out of the crate to eliminate, drink water, and exercise.

The crate time is great as siesta time. Crating your dog after heavy exercise can help it to adjust to the crate, and give it time to relax and recover from exercise, while it is in a receptive state of mind.

If you have more than one dog, it is often easy to train them all, by having them in crates side by side. At ADRTC, dogs train far more quickly, because they see other dogs in crates that are perfectly content and mellow. It takes new dogs no time at all to adjust. Usually, no more than 3 days is required to have a dog perfectly crate trained.

Once your dog is in the crating habit, maintaining it only requires a few hours a week, or perhaps just sleeping in the crate at night, eating in it at mealtime, and otherwise simply using it on an as needed basis.

You are demonstrating the ultimate responsibility as a good owner when you crate train your dog. If you desire to be especially kind to your dog, teach it to enjoy a crate. You are reinforcing feelings of security, providing for the safety of your dog, ensuring your own good attitude when handling the dog out of the crate, sparing your dog from becoming ill or dying due to eating what it should not, or escaping, or being stolen when it runs from the house a person unfamiliar with your dog is visiting. Your dog will be mellow, and much easier for you to teach and maintain. In our experience most owners who failed with their northern dogs never crate trained them.

We welcome additional ideas and comments. Please write to us through our website if you wish to comment, or call us at 505-792-2846, if you would like information on having your dog crate trained at ADRTC.

Copyright © November 2003, May 2007 This article may be reproduced and sited on other websites, provided that the copyright is respected, no material is changed, and the author is given proper credit.