A crate is simply a playpen with a roof.
Baby gates, cribs, bouncy chairs, playpens, safety latches, car seats, outlet covers, kid-safe containers…. these are just a few of the many ubiquitous items used to keep our young children safe; some even required by law. We accept the fact that 2 year old Tommy doesn't "know better" than to explore the cabinet under the sink, so we are proactive in installing safety knobs to keep him - and the items inside - safe. A lone toddler in a non-child-proofed room means disaster. Likewise, we don't allow toddlers to investigate their surroundings unsupervised.
We frequently fail to apply the same strategies with our dogs: animals who are stuck, developmentally, as perpetual toddlers.
There are many parallels to raising human and canine "children" – the psychology is even the same. Canine versions of gear used in raising human children are available. Crates, pens, barriers and gates are a few things that the Logan household cannot be without. I was recently reminded of how handy it is to have confinement-happy pooches. We were at a family gathering and as the rousing game of croquet began, I knew I couldn't sufficiently supervise our dogs and keep them safe from wandering towards the road… or prevent them from interfering with our game. Out came the pen and they were in it before it got set up, eager to find out what wonderful things were going to happen inside. "Oh no, they're getting punished!" said someone. We don't hear this sentiment expressed when a young child is placed in his playpen.. why on earth should we think differently of dogs in a pen?
We need to dispel the myth that using crates is cruel. Au contraire! I would argue that allowing dogs to learn bad habits which ultimately affect their quality of life (and that of their humans) or allowing them to put themselves or others in danger is negligent. Dogs who get sufficient regular physical exercise and mental stimulation can most certainly be happy in confinement. Crating, penning, gating, using barriers and supervised tethering are all good prevention tools.
Just as a child learns confinement is a normal part of life, so, too, can our dogs. We provide kids with problem-solving and physically engaging games and toys to keep them busy and learning, even when we aren’t directly supervising them. We know these things are crucial to their development and well-being. Our dogs are no different.
Appropriate use of Confinement is the Key to Prevention
As a professional dog trainer, many of my cases involve dogs with habits that would not have seen the light of day had simple preventive measures been in place from the beginning. Those habits include jumping on people, mouthing, counter-surfing, object "stealing," poor house-training, cat or kid chasing, trash raiding….. and so many more. Many of them were incorrectly labeled as "puppy behaviors" that the dog would "grow out of." Unfortunately, growing into them is more likely.
I have never met any dog owner who regrets having crate-trained her dog, but I’ve met plenty who regretted not doing so.
We need to actively and positively train the joy of crating. A few tips:
Feed meals in the confined area
Offer fun interactive toys
Make it competive – first dog in gets good stuff!
Turn it into a “find it” game (dog has to find the crate with the goods hidden inside)
Lock yummy things in/dog out and see what happens
Make the crate the most comfortable place around
Have your dog travel in the crate with something yummy to work on
Whether we use the term "alpha," "pack leader," "pet parent," "owner," "guardian," or something in between, our responsibility is the same: to keep our dogs physically and emotionally safe and provide them with the things they need in order to thrive under our care.