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The Psychology of Crates
As told to K.T. Nolan
By Ruth T. Gillette, Ph.D
I felt crates were cruel for everyday use. Granted my first Rottweiler, a male, went through some $300 worth of my running shoes during his first year of life. We didn't have many of the other problems we could have faced, though. No marking. An occasional plant eaten~ maybe. But not too much else. So I felt comfortable with my situation. As time went by, we (naturally), acquired a female. This pup didn't have much of an appetite for shoes, though when she did, she preferred my husband's good leather dress shoes to my relatively inexpensive running ones. Her favorite "treats" were much more refined-a set of upholstered easy chairs and my formal dining room set. She also developed the annoying habit of holding her bladder while she was outside ("its too cold") and we often found her preferred spots underfoot in the living room. That's when we changed our opinion of crates. Our third dog, is now ten months old. She hasn't had an "accident" in the house since she was 5 weeks old. She has never chewed a shoe, or a piece of :furniture, or anything besides her own toys, for that matter. She is a delight in the house. And she has been crate trained from the time she left the whelping box. What a difference! There are now four dogs in our home, and I'm thinking about bringing home another pup. And my crates are worth their weight in gold!
The Dog's View
To make myself more comfortable with the idea of a crate, I needed to study the habits and instincts of the dog in the wild. Remember that in the early days of dog's history, these animals lived in holes and caves. Bitches whelped hidden from predators in small holes with tiny openings. Their pups didn't stray far from that home. Mom brought meals to them, and the afterbirth and feces were consumed by her to reduce any scent that might attract unwanted attention. Sick, tired or injured dogs quickly searched for a protected area in which to recover. The single entry of the cave or hole left the animal only one side to guard. And, in many instances, the warmth which he could produce with his own body heat and the dry comfort of the shelter proved vital for his survival. Compare this instinctively used shelter with today's version of the dog's den-the crate. It is warm and secure, dry and quiet. It's a place each dog can call his own. When the hectic pace of children, guests, or family members becomes too much, the dog can rest secure .... in his own private den. The dog gets to be a dog, not our version of "Lassie". The emotional and psychological pressure we place on our dogs to conform to our standards is immense. Utilizing crates reminds both ourselves and our favorite beasts that they are, indeed, dogs.
Crates and Healthy Dogs
Much has been said about the diseases of large dogs during their periods of rapid growth. Keeping your dog confined in a crate during part of each day would theoretically reduce the possibility of, or the severity of, growth or exercise-related diseases such as hip-dysplasia and panosteitis. Also, crating him after meals will keep him from over-exerting too soon after eating. We hear horror stories of puppies and adults rushed to emergency rooms after ingesting toxic substances found in our homes. Often, the effects of the poisoning prove fatal. Yet, most of these instances could have been avoided if only these dogs were crated when unsupervised. The comparison of puppies and infants has been made in regard to their needs of adequate rest. This rest is vital for their emotional well-being as well as for their physical health. But unless the pup has a confined space, much of his quiet time is not conducive to proper rest because of noises, people, telephones, other animals, or the variety of everyday interruptions to his sleep. An interesting theory concerns the by- product of this type of sleep: the pup learns to "block out" the sounds to enable himself to sleep through the noise and can actually become aware of his surroundings, which reduces his abilities as a home watch dog. However, secure in his crate, his rest time is much more beneficial.
Crates and Training
We know that puppies, like children, learn faster when they are rested and fresh. Using the strategy elementary school teachers have known for decades, we can plan our training sessions around mandatory rest periods. This creates several attitudes which lend themselves to learning. First, think about the reception your pup gives you when you take him out of his crate. Boy, is he excited to see YOU! He's happy, energetic and exhilarated, and YOU are the catalyst. You quickly become the center of his universe. What a good basis for your training session! Second, the pup is rested and ready to go. He is eager to DO something, to LEARN, to EXPEND energy. You have just created the ideal climate for his learning, and that is one of the vital keys to successful dog training. Last but not least, is reflected in his attitude. A pup raised loose in the house hears a constant series of "no's''. "No, get your nose out of there;" "No, put that down;" '"No, don't chew;" ''No, don't potty in the house;'' ''No! No! No''. The dog learns to sit in a comer and stay our of trouble. He can easily become overwhelmed by the negatives in his life, and his attitude in other areas will be affected. This is not the type of attitude you want displayed in the show or obedience ring! Contrast that to the dog who is rarely given the opportunity to hear '"no's''. This dog is crated when unsupervised, and is given something positive and constructive to dos" when loose. He is directed towards activities that earn him a "good dog" and a pat, and this attitude shows off well in the breed ring, and in both obedience and Schuzhund Training.
Types of Crates
There are many types of crates on the market, but what you'll probably prefer is the basic plastic molded crate with a wire door. This crate breaks down into two sections for ease of movement. New crates will probably come with a plastic water container (don't leave it unsupervised in the crate-it WILL be eaten) and some type of cardboard footing (ditto). Other types on the market are a completely metal crate which is also suitable for shipping but is quite heavier and more expensive. Wire crates, while having their uses, are not for shipping and do not give the feeling of privacy that the dog needs in the home. Crates come in several sizes, coded "100" for the smallest and ''500" for the largest. Most Rottweilers fit easily into 400's, which are big enough in which to stand or turn around. While 500' s LOOK much more comfortable to our eyes, they are usually not necessary. We've also found several drawbacks to larger crates, including, that two 500's won't fit side-by-side in the back of our vehicle. Another consideration is that most airlines charge extra for 500's in shipment because they take up more space.
Where to Purchase Crates
If your pup came to you by air, changes are you already have the crate he was shipped in, although he might have outgrown it. One of the best places to buy new crates is through an airline which accepts dogs as freight. You will need to have a ticket as proof of intended travel before you are allowed to purchase a crate. Another good place to look is in wholesale animal supply catalogs. Avoid, if you can, retail stores, as their prices will usually be quite high. The best place we've ever found to pick up crates is through the newspaper. Look under either the "Dogs", or "Dog Supplies" or "Freebies" section for crates, kennels and other dog-related merchandise priced at about half what you'd pay for new items. When calling ads, be sure you know what you want, and be ready to help the person you're calling, because they are not usually "doggie" oriented and might not have the proper information. You'll usually need to tell them how to determine the size of the crate (it's imprinted on the lip over the door, with the code numbers 100, 200, etc.).
If your pup is still quite young, training him to sleep in the crate will be easy. Just put his blanket (I use a carpet sample square) in his crate and leave him alone. Once he gets old enough to actively chew, its not wise to leave anything in the crate with him. For the older pup or mature dog, you'll need a big more imagination to make the learning experience easy. Using the dog's favorite treats, place a bite just inside the lip of the crate, letting the dog eat it at his own speed. Place the next treat inside the crate, then the next one a bit farther in. A couple of treats later, he'll go inside the crate to reach his goodie, turn around, then leave the crate and be ready to do it again. That's a good place to stop for the day. On day two, use the same routine except shut the door and leave him in the crate for five minutes or so, once in the morning and once in the evening. By day three tell him "crate" and throw his treat inside, and he'll gladly follow. By the end of the week, he'll eagerly enter the crate and wait for his treat.
Housebreaking Made Easy
Housebreaking a puppy is a simple process utilizing a crate. When you first wake up, greet the pup and take him from his crate, setting him outside to "do his duty". (Hint: using commands such as "potty" will be of immeasurable benefit for the day in the future when it's raining on a show circuit and you really do want him to hurry!) Praise him when he's successful and then play with him for a moment. Bring him inside for breakfast, letting him out once more before you put him back in his crate. His daily schedule will, of course, be adapted to yours. The important thing to remember is that each and every time you let him out of the crate, you must put him outside immediately. Give him a reasonable schedule, putting him outside for the last time before crating him each night. Dogs are naturally fastidious about their dens (remember that instinctive behavior) and they will not soil their crates if at all possible. Within a week or so, you should find that you have a completely housebroken puppy- thanks to the proper use of his crate.
Just as we are always careful with the toys we give our dogs, we must beware of what we give them in their crates. I prefer using Nylabones for chew toys, and often leave them in each dog's crates to give them something to do to relieve boredom. Never, NEVER leave anything that they can splinter or swallow. No bones or squeaky toys, please!
Crates and Wearing Apparel
Choke collars and crates absolutely do not get along together! Always use a flat leather or nylon buckle collar when your dog is crated. This collar should not have any dangling tags or other articles that might become caught on part of the crate.
Crates and Punishment
If your dog does a naughty deed, this is not the time to utilize your crate! This is a home, not a punishment tool! Always keep the crating experience a happy one for both of you.
One of the greatest uses of your dog's crate is for traveling. Motels and friends greatly appreciate having your dog confined in his own crate during your visit. On the road, your dog can ride in his crate where he's always safe and you're free from the possibility of his interference with your driving at critical times. Also, its proven repeatedly that dogs in crates walk away from most auto accidents.
At Dog Shows
We know that our dogs need to be rested and ready to go to look their best in the show ring. Sitting at your side or lying on the floor ringside is not how he becomes rested. He'll literally wear himself out smelling other dogs, watching all the activity with great interest, and being stepped over by other exhibitors and visitors. You'll find yourself entering the ring with an already exhausted dog. Instead, leave him in his crate in the grooming area, covering the door with a towel or sheet, if necessary, to make his area quiet. Don't forget the positive attitude with which he'll come out of the crate. That's a real ''turn on" for the ring! I now have an entire wall lined with crates for every one of my precious canines- a separate "room of their own" for each of them. While one dog gets the responsibility of being the "house dog" at night, it's amazing how often I'll find the loose dog sitting quietly in his crate! But that's also because I'm now comfortable with the proper use of the crate. Far from the "cruel treatment" I saw when I was a novice owner, I now understand the psychology of the crate. And yes, they are worth their weight in gold!