Your sister’s son just moved in with you, but you work all day and the kid is a domestic cyclone, so you pop him in the little half-bath under the stairs before you leave for work; you will let him out when you get home. Water is plentiful in there; you give him a bag of snacks and a body pillow. He doesn’t need half-bath training — he comes from a long line of bathroom readers. You doubt he’s claustrophobic.
When you get home, the police are in your driveway; a neighbor had called them, concerned about yelling and pounding sounds. You are shocked and very upset to find holes kicked and punched in your half-bath door. The domestic cyclone is bleeding.
Why has this happened, and what are you going to do now? Of course you know why — it happened because a kid was suddenly locked up in a room all day for, basically, being a kid. What next?
Option 1: Repeat lock-ups and keep getting the same terrible results, or even worse results.
Option 2: Carefully train the domestic cyclone to enjoy or at least accept lock up before proceeding with lock up.
Option 3: Implement a kinder solution for Domestic Cyclone.
I don’t think I need to add floppy ears and a curly tail to Domestic Cyclone in order to make the point. Sentient creatures — mammals like humans and canines, for example, are not naturally inclined to accept arbitrarily being popped into a small space, locked up, and left there to wonder what happens next, and when or if they are ever getting out. It should be no surprise when survival instinct kicks in, leaving a mess in its wake. Whether you believe in crating your dog or not, it is important to understand that any dog who will ever be crated must be readied for the experience in advance, by being carefully crate-trained.
Classical conditioning allows us to help a dog learn to associate being in a crate with positive things so that the dog does not attempt to escape and thereby injury himself; operant conditioning allows us to teach a dog to enter a crate on cue, lie down in it, stay in it, etc. On the other hand, attempting to force or intimidate a dog to accept a crate — to “get used to it” or to go in and stay in “because I say so” creates negative associations with the crate and therefore sets up the conditions for negative behaviors in and as a result of crating.
Negative associations are not the only risks of forced crating. Confinement anxiety and possibly even separation anxiety put a dog at very high risk of injury or even death if crated, certainly if crated by force, without proper training.
But even after training, many dogs with these anxieties are simply not going to be safe to leave in crates.
In addition to elimination in and howling or barking from the crate, symptoms of these anxieties may include chewing at, biting, bending, or breaking crate bars, walls or doors, chewing, ripping apart, eating pads, blankets, toys, and other materials inside the crate, getting legs, feet, toes, head, teeth, or jaw broken or stuck between crate bars or elsewhere, often while attempting to escape, and stress-related illness, injury, or death as a result of any of these.
Safety of crates in cars is up for debate as well. Run a search on dog safety in cars and crash tests. You will find that most crates do not survive them, so putting your dog in a crate for car rides appears to not be much safer than a seat belt harness unless you buy a very expensive high-end crate (or high-end car harness). I don’t even want to think about how horribly common crates have been reported to have done in fires.
If you do decide to crate, once you’ve properly crate-trained, your dog will appreciate you for remembering that crates are for emergency use (e.g., evacuations, overnight vet stay, airline travel) or short-term use only — an hour a day, likely OK. The entire day? That’s an overstay.
Rain Jordan, KPA CTP, is a Certified Dog Trainer Professional. Visit her at www.elevatedogtraining.com