I recently joined this great G+ discussion group for dog psychology. And I’m learning so much! Not only have I gotten ideas for how to work with Pierson’s dog aggression issues, but I’ve also gotten a great perspective from other dog people all around the world. A topic that was discussed recently was crate training.
When the topic was brought up, all the strongest advocates for crate training were from those living in the US. Many outside the US felt that using a pet crate was unnecessary. From their perspective, this tool for training is an American fad.
Why is crate training your dog so popular in the US but not elsewhere like in Europe where people there love and care for their pets just as much as we do? Someone in the G+ discussion mentioned Cesar Milan. We’ve heard from numerous famous dog trainers about how great it is and it has caught on like wildfire. We hear all the hype about how helpful it is for potty training. We hear about how much dogs enjoy the makeshift ‘den’. And we hear it is a great behavioral solution to keep dogs from chewing on their stuff when they go to work all day. And sometimes the message goes so far as to say there is nothing wrong with leaving a dog in a pet crate all day.
Some of these things can be true. But the pet crate is merely one of many tools you can use for dog training. How many people do you know use the dog kennel as the one and only training method and as a substitute for other training? Because people are busy, they leave the dog in the crate all day while they go to work and don’t do much obedience training at all. For example, instead of training a dog to chew on his own toys and not your stuff, some people simply put their dog in a crate. Instead of rewarding a dog for going potty outside, some people only potty train by leaving their dog in the crate. And instead of teaching a dog not to get on the furniture, the dog is left in the crate so that he can’t get on the furniture.
Crate training your dog can be a very helpful tool. But you have to train them outside of the crate too if you ever expect them to really learn to behave properly. Have your dog stay in the crate when you aren’t home, but train them when you are home. Teach them the boundaries, like not being allowed on furniture. Give them alternatives to chewing on your stuff. Teach them that going potty outdoors is the best behavior. And test them from time to time by leaving them out of the pet crate when you are gone for short periods to see what they do.
There may be times when you have no choice but to leave your dog in a crate all day. I’ve done it on accident when I spent longer away than intended and my pet sitter wasn’t available. If you work all day and you don’t work close enough to home to visit your dog on your lunch break, make arrangements with a pet sitter. While a dog may be comfortable in their pet crate, it can’t be good to leave them in there for 9 to 10 hours straight.
Maya was the first and only dog I have ever crate trained. It did have great benefits in that it helped me potty train her and helped to keep her from chewing up my stuff when I wasn’t home. But because I also trained her in other ways, she no longer has to be locked in her crate. She goes in there on her own when she feels like it. It still is her security ‘den’. But because I can trust her not to get on the furniture or get into things when I am not home, she doesn’t have to go into her dog kennel unless she wants to.
Trying to crate train Pierson ended in disaster. He tried so desperately to escape the pet crate that I believe the bloody nose he got the following morning was a result of that fierce desperation. So Pierson was trained without one and he is now just as well-behaved and trustworthy as Maya.
If you are crate training your dog or if you promote using the dog kennel for training, remember that other obedience training methods must be used in conjunction. Don’t use the pet carrier as a substitute for dog training. Getting a dog means taking responsibility and taking responsibility means taking the time to train your dog without taking shortcuts. Positive reinforcement training is a great bonding experience and a fantastic way to get a well-behaved dog that doesn’t have to stay in the crate if he doesn’t want to.