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Rethinking Crate Training: A Modern Approach to Dog Autonomy

Updated: Jun 7

Crate training raises several questions among dog owners and trainers. Is it a fundamental behavior every dog should learn, or merely a temporary management tool? While crates are a common fixture in American households, their usage varies significantly across the globe. In many European countries, crates aren't utilized in the same way. So, what is the best practice for incorporating a crate into dog ownership?



Crates have historically been used to manage dogs or puppies who haven't been trained to navigate a human household without issue. Need to potty train your dog? Use crate confinement. Have a dog who chews up things they shouldn't? Utilize crate confinement to ensure this doesn't happen. But is the crate the only way to accomplish this? No, it is not. There are other options that allow you to teach your dog or puppy how to live in a human household, granting them more autonomy over their choices and greater freedom to move around in their environment, ultimately improving their neurocognitive health.


An alternative to the crate for house training is to supervise your dog and teach them what to do. Set up the environment so that they are likely to make choices that work for you and support their long-term learning. Instead of crating them, you can use an x-pen to block off parts of the room you don't want them to access. Is your dog pulling things off the bookshelf? Block the bookshelf with the x-pen and leave them with plenty of "legal" activities to do when they need to use their mouth or want to chew. For potty training, take your dog out at regular intervals and reward them for going outside in the correct spot. When they are loose in the house, ensure their bladder has been emptied recently before giving them some unsupervised time to relax indoors.


What about when your dog is home alone? Shouldn't you teach your dog to rest in a crate when you're not home? Not necessarily! Dogs don't need to be crated when left home alone. Give your dog as much freedom to move around the home as you can safely allow. Teach them what behaviors are appropriate in a home environment. Make sure their needs are met proactively before leaving them alone. Gradually desensitize your dog to departures so they are comfortable and relaxed when left alone.


Should I crate my dog when visitors are over to prevent jumping? What about crating my dog when we are eating dinner to prevent begging? While a crate can be used to stop your dog from doing something undesirable, there's often a better long-term solution that meets your needs while allowing your dog to move freely. Don't let a crate be an excuse to avoid training your dog. A dog who jumps on visitors needs to be taught appropriate ways to greet. A dog with issues around mealtimes is also missing important lessons on how to make good choices around the dinner table without requiring constant supervision or restricting access to the space.


What about vet visits? Shouldn't I train my dog to be comfortable with crate confinement in case they need to be kenneled at the vet hospital? The reality is that teaching your dog to go in a crate in your living room is not likely to generalize to crate confinement in a vet hospital environment. Vet hospital crates are solid metal and don't resemble the crates available for home use. Vet hospitals are loud, with crates stacked and side by side, scenarios that are difficult to replicate at home. If you're worried about your dog becoming stressed when confined at the vet, discuss this with your vet before allowing them to take your dog to the back for confinement. Modern veterinary practices should address the dog's stress levels and prioritize mental well-being just as much as physical health.


So when should you use a crate then? There are a few legitimate reasons for modern dog owners to utilize a crate. One important use is for car travel. The safest option for having your dog ride in the car is inside a crash-tested dog crate securely installed in the back of your vehicle. Not just any crate will do; it needs to be a crash-tested crate. This is a personal decision for you to make. While crash-tested crates are the safest way for your dog to experience a car accident, there are other options to keep both you and your dog safe while driving, such as tie-downs, back seat hammocks, or training your dog to relax in the seat next to you. Ultimately, it's your decision how you choose to have your dog ride in the vehicle.


Another reason to use a crate is if you are fostering rescue dogs and have more dogs in your home than you can separate using rooms, baby gates, or x-pens. Sometimes rescues or shelters need to utilize crates as holding stations for dogs, depending on the situation or for transportation. In an ideal scenario, foster homes would not have more dogs than they can easily manage with simpler methods, but crates can provide a practical solution when space and resources are limited.


You might use a crate as part of a crate-and-rotate system if you are housing multiple dogs who do not get along. Ideally, if this situation is to remain permanent, physical autonomy should be addressed to allow each dog the maximum amount of space when rotated. This could be accomplished by using rooms and solid doors. In the best-case scenario, if training fails and dogs need to be permanently separated in a home, measures should be taken to adopt out the more adoptable dog.


Another common use of crate training is in the world of sport dogs and sport environments. Crating in the car is a typical setup for many dog sport situations. In these scenarios, the crate functions as a resting spot and a safe place for your dog to relax between actively participating in their chosen sport. Whether it's agility, obedience trials, or other canine sports, having a crate allows your dog to have a designated area to decompress and recharge, ensuring they are ready for their next turn.


So in a nutshell, most dog owners likely don't need to use a crate. There are usually better ways to manage behavior that allow for greater physical autonomy for the dog. Management doesn't replace training, and in my opinion, you should strive to give your dog maximum access to their environment for maximum physical autonomy. Actively work to teach your dog the skills they need to limit your use of management tools such as crates, gates, doors, and x-pens.


My stance on crate training is more aligned with modern philosophies, particularly those found in Europe, rather than the standard American approach. As we advance in our knowledge and ability to train dogs, the goalpost should move too. I don't just want my dog to be well-behaved in my home or in different situations; I want to give my dog the maximum amount of freedom possible while ensuring both our needs are met. The aim should be to grant dogs maximum physical autonomy in their day-to-day lives. By focusing on training and teaching appropriate behaviors, we can create environments where dogs are free to explore and thrive without the need for constant confinement. This approach not only respects the dog's natural instincts and need for movement but also fosters a deeper understanding and stronger connection between us and our dogs.


 

Teaching your dog or puppy how to adapt to living in a human household is crucial for their well-being. By providing them with more autonomy over their choices and allowing them greater freedom to move around in their environment, you are not only improving their cognitive health but also fostering a more harmonious relationship between you and your dog.


If you’re struggling with specific behavioral issues or simply want to ensure your dog or puppy is set up for success, professional guidance can make all the difference. Whether it’s addressing reactivity, aggression, or basic obedience, having an expert by your side can help you navigate these challenges effectively. Personalized training plans tailored to your dog’s unique needs can transform your everyday interactions and enhance your pet’s quality of life.


Don’t wait until problems escalate. Proactive training can prevent many common issues and help you build a strong foundation of trust and communication with your pet. My comprehensive training programs are designed to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed to address any challenges you might face.


Ready to learn more and discuss your dog’s training needs? Reach out to connect with me, and let’s chat about how we can help you and your dog achieve a happier, more peaceful coexistence.

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