Americans love to put their dogs in crates. But in Europe and Australia, it’s a big no-no. In Finland, it’s even illegal
If you want to start a fight in a dog park, mention crates and watch the pro- and anti- tempers rise.
The process of crate training consists of keeping a puppy in a crate and letting it out to pee and poop. A dog won’t soil where it sleeps, so it will hold on until you let it outside. Many people continue using a crate throughout their dog’s adulthood to avoid destructive behaviors, or because they believe a crate makes a dog feel safe.
Crate training supporters cite experts arguing that such dogs thrive. Opponents shout just as loudly (“Dogschwitz-Barkenau” is how a Jewish friend refers to the enclosure).
I recently moved to the US from Australia with my two small dogs, and quickly learned that, unlike back home, many Americans are pro-crate.
When we visited our new vet, the Village Veterinarian in New York City, practice manager Nina Torres told me their recommendation was to crate train. According to Torres, this allows dog owners to set boundaries, which results in less anxious dogs. “You confuse them if you allow them everywhere,” she says. According to Torres, about 80% of the clinic’s canine patients spend their days – when their owners work – in crates.
When I asked John Parncutt in Australia (of John the Vet, our previous clinic) how many of his patients use crates, he said it’s a minority – and that the dogs are crated overnight, rather than during the day. “I probably hear from someone about once every couple of months saying they’re going to be crate-training their new pup.”
The only person I knew in Australia to crate train a dog is Sheryl, an American living in Melbourne. In New York, Sheryl says, “everyone did it”. She decided to crate train her pup in Australia, putting Dizzy the schnoodle in a crate overnight (getting up every three hours to let her pee) and while she was at work, during which time a dog walker would come. That’s a total of about 16 hours a day in a crate.
Sheryl was shocked by the reaction Australians had to it. “It’s the biggest fight I had with my mother-in-law” Sheryl says. “She thought it was cruel, that it was like the dog was in a circus.”
At work, Sheryl’s colleagues sent her photo-shopped s of Dizzy, in prison garb. But with the help of the crate, Dizzy was housetrained in just three months. “After a year, we stopped locking her in,” Sheryl says. Now Dizzy’s crate stays open, and she goes voluntarily into it each evening.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other organizations compare a crate to a den: a safe space that dogs are naturally drawn to. ASPCA says crates are “best used as a relatively short-term management tool, not as a lifetime pattern of housing”. This is where opinions divide. Nina Torres says it’s fine for most adult dogs to be in a crate “nine hours maximum” during the day (with a walk in the middle), and then eight hours at night – unless they are seniors or large dogs needing to stretch their joints.
I work from home, so I observe my dogs’ behavior during the day. Though it is true that they sleep most of the time (as they would in a closed crate), they have their preferences. Sonia will often drag her blanket, mat and toy out and into a patch of sunlight. Natasha usually stays deep in her crate, under a blanket from where she yips every now and then as she dreams.
In an experiment where I locked the crates, Natasha was content, while Sonia whined, working the latch with her claws, eventually opening it to escape (like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park). With the right training, would Sonia learn to love her crate, or is it just something that doesn’t appeal to her individual nature?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has come out strong against this, claiming that wolves, dogs and other canids in the wild spend their first eight weeks in a den, and after that, they abandon it. “And since dens don’t come with a locked door, there is no true scientific comparison between crates and dens,” Peta’s website adds.
Nevertheless, in the US crates have taken off – with celebrity dog trainers like Cesar Millan, authors like The Monks of New Skete, and other professionals giving it the thumbs-up.
Liisa Tikka, a dog trainer working in Helsinki, finds the trend disturbing. “We have trouble with some dog-training books written in the US promoting crating. People do not understand that it’s not considered an ethical solution here – and that it’s illegal.”
Finnish law states than an animal can be in a crate only for “transportation, illness or other temporary and acceptable reason”. And if you want to keep your dog in an enclosed space while you’re at work, you have to follow strict and roomy guidelines – for example, a Labrador would need an enclosure approximately 37 square foot (in the US, the ASPCA asks a crate be large enough “so that your dog can lie down comfortably, stand up without having to crouch and easily turn around in a circle”).
You can probably guess where Emma and Ray Lincoln, authors of Dogs Hate Crates, stand on the subject. “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, socialization and purpose in life they need,” Emma tells me.
The Lincolns see crating as a “quick fix” for problem behavior. “People realized this is the easy way to deal with any behavior with a dog,” Ray Lincoln says. If a dog is chewing, peeing or being hyperactive, if you put it in a crate, “the behavior stops, because the dog can’t do anything, so he shuts down”.
The Lincolns believe that prolonged confinement can be damaging – and they say some people lock pet dogs in tiny crates for up to 18–22 hours total per day. Over-crated dogs, they say, can suffer complications from “cage-rage”, to anxiety, fearfulness and depression.
Tikka, who, as part of her Helsinki school runs a Canine Good Citizens course, says “I think crates are a good place to teach the dog to relax in a difficult stressful environment, like dog shows or competitions. I do not approve of its use in the house.” She adds: “The Finns are very practical and they do understand that a puppy is a puppy – and it will pee on carpets and chew the furniture and that’s life.”
Wolves travel hundreds of miles and hunt prey in packs. My dogs live in New York City, where they hunt pizza crusts from sidewalks. Their life is a far cry from that of their ancestors. I keep them active by walking them, hiding treats in their Kongs, and playing videos of horses, which make them dance on two legs and howl like wild. And I’ve decided to keep their crates open. They’re animals living in an apartment, and though I sometimes wish they were better trained (like when they steal yoghurt containers from the recycling), I feel like we’re all generally happy with our living arrangements.
Loved at Last Dog Rescue is a Vancouver based, registered non-profit organization which re-homes local dogs and international stray dogs from developing countries to adoptive homes in the local area. View all posts by lovedatlastdogrescue
Why is my dog cage aggressive?
Many dogs are reactive and will exhibit aggressive behaviors when they are behind a barrier, such as a gate, fence, crate or car window. … It is not intended for use with a dog who is reactive on lead. For your own safety, do the exercise through a barrier with an opening just large enough for a treat to pass through.
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