Why Crate Train?


Far too many potentially good pets are misunderstood, unfairly punished and abused, isolated, or simply "disposed of" by otherwise kind and well meaning owners who are unable to prevent, control, or live with the common "problem" behavior of puppies and young dogs. The correct use of a dog crate could give many of these innocent animals the chance they need - and deserve - to spend their lives as the appreciated pet of a satisfied owner.

You believe your dog deserves every chance, and that is why you have invested in his training. Now you must consider changing your previous concepts and beliefs to best serve your dog.

WHAT IS A DOG CRATE?

A dog crate is a rectangular enclosure with a top and a door, made in a variety of sizes proportioned to fit any type of dog. Its purpose is to provide guaranteed confinement for reasons of security, safety, housebreaking, protection of household goods, travel, illness, or just general control.

The crate has long been utilized and accepted by veterinarians, groomers and other professionals. Individual pet owners, however, usually reject the idea of using a crate because they consider such enforced close confinement unfair, and even harmful, to the dog.

IS A CRATE CRUEL?

As the pet owner sees it:

"It's like a jail - it's cruel - I'd never put MY dog in a cage like that"! If this is your first reaction to using a crate, you are a very typical pet owner. As a reasonable human being, you value your freedom; and since you consider your pet an extension of the human family, it's only natural to feel that closing him in a crate would be mean and inhumane, would probably cause him to resent and even hate you, and might well result in psychological damage.

BUT YOU ARE NOT A DOG - AND YOUR DOG IS NOT A HUMAN BEING.

"I love having a room/house of my very own; it's my private special place, my 'security blanket' and the closed door really doesn't bother me". If your dog could talk, this is how he might well express his reaction to using a crate! He would tell you that the crate helps to satisfy the "den instinct" inherited from his den-dwelling ancestors and relatives, and that he is not afraid or frustrated when closed in. He would further admit that his is actually much happier and more secure having his life controlled and structured by human being - and would far rather be prevented from causing trouble than have his owner lose his temper and cruelly abuse him later.

WHY USE A CRATE?

A dog crate, correctly and humanely used, can have many advantages for both you and your pet. With the help of a crate:

you:

can enjoy complete peace of mind when leaving your dog home alone, knowing that nothing can be soiled or destroyed and that he is confortable, protected, and not developing any bad habits; can housebreak your dog more quickly by using the close confinement to encourage control, establish a regular routine for outdoor elomination, and to prevent "accidents" at night or when left alone; can effectively confine your dog at times when he may be underfoot (meals, family activities), unwelcome (guests, workmen, etc.), over-excited or bothered by too much confusion or too many children, or ill;

your dog:

can enjoy the privacy and security of a "den" of his own to which he can retreat when tired, stressed, or ill; can avoid much of the fear/confusion/punishment caused by your reaction to problem behavior; can more easily learn to control his bowels and to associate elimination only with the outdoors or other designated location; can be spared the loneliness and frustration of having to be isolated (basement, garage, outside) from comfortable indoor suroundings when being restricted or left alone.

  • You want to enjoy your pet and be pleased with his behavior ... Your dog wants little more from life then to please you ... a dog crate can help to make your relationship what each of you whats and needs it to be.

Since one of the main reasons for using a crate is to confine the dog without making him feel isolated or banished, it should be placed in, or as close as possible to, a "people" area - kitchen, family room etc. However, if your dog whines or barks for attention, it is necessary that he not be rewarded for such behavior. Therefore, in specific situations you may find it necessary to keep the crate in a location in which he cannot disturb you - basement, garage, etc.

CRATING THE PUPPY

A young puppy (up to 16 weeks of age) should normally have very little problem accepting a crate as his "own place" . Any complaining he might do at first is caused not by the crate, but by his learning to accept the controls of his unfamiliar new environment. Actually, the crate will help him to adapt more easily and quickly to his new world.

Place the crate in a "people" area, in a spot free from drafts and not to close to a direct heat source. Food or water in the crate should be avoided because the puppy will eat or drink to excess and then have to potty. Bedding generally gets chewed up. Also avoid lining the bottom of the crate with newspaper because often its odor will encourage elimination.

Make it very clear to children that the crate is NOT a playhouse for them, but a "special room" for the puppy, whose rights should be recognized and respected. However, you should accustom the puppy, from the start, to letting you reach into the crate at any time, least he become over protective of it.

Learn to recognize when the puppy "needs" out and when he "wants" out. This will vary between puppies, however, the pup that sincerely NEEDS out to go potty will often become very active while whining (asking) to go out. Never let your puppy out when he just "wants" out; if you do he will become a chronic whiner.

Even if things do not go too smoothly at first, DON'T WEAKEN and DON'T WORRY ; be consistent, be firm and be very aware that you are doing your pet a real favor by preventing him from getting into trouble while left alone.

If you do not choose, or are not able, to use a crate permanently, plan to use it for at least five or six months or until the dog is well past the teething phase, then start leaving the crate door open at night, when someone is at home during the day, or when he is briefly left alone. If all goes well for a week or two, and the dog seems reliable when left alone, remove the upper half of the crate (it makes into a bed!). He will probably miss the crate enclosure, but the bottom will still remain "his place" . Should any problem behavior occur at a future time, however, the decision whether or not to use a crate longer, or perhaps permanently, will have been made for you!

Once on a trip to Germany to show my dog Voss, I felt guilty about him enduring the long air travel in the crate and decided to reward him by folding up the crate and letting him ride in the car and live in the hotel rooms like a person! Voss seemed disoriented. Then one evening it became necessary to assemble his crate. Voss watched on with intense interest. As soon as he could, he darted into the still not - completely - assembled crate and signed with relief. Surprised by his interest in his crate I decided to put a bowl of food inside and see if he might eat. Voss ate for the first time in five days! With his crate as his security he continued the trip without further problem.

CRATING THE ADULT DOG

Much of the usual problem behavior of an older dog is caused by the lack of feeling secure when left alone. Although a crate can fulfill this need, and hence hopefully solve the problems, it must still be introduced gradually, with every possible effort made to be sure that the dog's first association with it is very positive and pleasant.

Encourage the dog to investigate this new object thoroughly, luring him inside by feeding him in it over a period of days. When he begins to enter the crate confidently, praise him. Then begin briefly shutting the door as he eats inside. When the time comes to shut him inside without food, you can expect some resistance. Do not hesitate to meet resistance with consistent firmness and authority so that the dog is clearly aware of the behavior you desire; your goal may have to be acceptance, not contentment.

As soon as you feel confident that the dog will remain quietly in the closed crate (which could be from the beginning!), you may safely leave him alone. If you are still uncertain or anxious, leave him at first for only a brief period (1/2 to 1 hour) until he has proved that he will not resist the confinement. In due time it may even be possible to wean him gradually off the crate without his resuming any problem behavior.

DOES THE CRATE ALWAYS WORK?

Unfortunately, no. Although the crate can indeed be used successfully by most pet owners, there are always those (owners!) which simply humanize (anthroporphism) their pets to the extent that the dog learns to take advantage of his owners weakness.

Another case in which the crate fails is with the smart "adoptee" (dog who was purchased [acquired] as an adult) who took advantage of his previous owners as above. This dog naturally assumes that his new owners can also be pushed around and does exactly that. Once again this concludes with the unfortunate dog being offered "free to a good home" .

The majority of all dogs adapt very easily to the dog crate, however, and actually enjoy the privacy and isolation it provides.

WHAT AGE TO START?

Training should begin as soon as one obtains their dog. The sooner the better. Training the young puppy is really guided development rather than the learning of tricks or obedience routines. Tricks and obedience routines will come at their right time, but just as a building requires planning and then beginning from the ground up so must we wait to put the windows and roof on only after we have created the right basic structure. For this reason, the puppy should be removed from the litter immediately after weaning (no later then eight weeks). This seemingly barbaric act will prevent litter generated submission, and create human rather than dog orientation for the young animal. Prolonged interaction with the litter mates, allows the litter to become a mini-pack with its dominant and submissive members. This canine pecking order can then only serve to hinder the development of confidence in our potential canine companion's future interaction with human beings. As the litter ages together they become "dog oriented" which simply means that they discover their best friends and playmates, as well as enemies to be other dogs. Occasionally, if exposed to the dam (mother) of the litter for an excessive period of time they will actually become fearful of their own mother, as well as other grown dogs. Dog orientation fosters dog aggression, and submission to humans. Your pet may share its home with another older dog, this will definately interfere with the confident personality development of the new puppy. This is uncomfortable knowledge for many pet owners. And, even though it makes training more difficult, most owners will refuse to separate their dogs during the formative period up to eight (8) months of age.

(Belgian Malinois are highly owner (human) oriented. If the time is taken to build the proper foundation between birth and 24 weeks of age; a foundation that targets you as the center around which everything else revolves; food, play, companionship, total seperation of the young dog, from adult dogs in the family, is probably unnecessary. During this indoctrination period particular focus should be on building confidence in the young puppy and socialization. Monitored interaction with other dogs, to insure that the young dog does not become overly tired, mauled or submissive IS essential. LH)

The puppy removed from the litter now has a new universe. As the puppy's trainer YOU will be the center of that universe, and become the favorite playmate, mother, father, best friend, sun, moon, and all the planets.

PUPPIES, PLANNING AND CHILDREN

Now that you have the cute little guy it's time to get serious. My first training lesson is provided to help you to plan your program. Set aside definite TIMES for play periods, know exactly what you plan to do in each period and why. Don't be lazy. The kids want a playmate, and their attraction to the young puppy is so natural that denying or impeding it would seem to be out of the realm of common sense. Common sense, however, is really not so common and cannot be expected from the interspecies play of the young animals, human or otherwise. Unsupervised play by children precludes your control as the adult trainer of what the young dog will learn. This is not to say that a child cannot have a puppy, but rather to accept his possession of a puppy will, for the most part, permit a development that does not go hand in hand with the learning that makes a competitive champion. Little children frequently do not know their own strength or dominance and can quickly extinguish the spark of confidence in a puppy and sometimes in a more serious manner do it more physical harm. Children then should only interact with the puppy during these months under your careful supervision and not be allowed to wrestle it, play keep away, drop it, beat on it with sticks, or feed it in a random manner as these are fun but counter productive activities for its later development in training. Somtimes these poor unsupervised unfortunate puppies must show some aggression to protect themselves and are then labeled as "child aggressive" . This is a severe problem which often results in "disposing of the young monster" .

GAMES AND CONFIDENCE

Play games that are natural for the puppy such as tug-o-war with a burlap sack, have been suggested by some as activities that should be avoided. Quite the contrary, tug of war does not make a vicious dog any more than chasing a rollling ball, or stealing a sock. What does matter, however, is how the game is played. For retrieval development it is preferable to have the puppy on a line so that capture of the ball is gently but persistently associated with its return. The tug of war will end when the puppy wins. Biting of the hand or person rather then the object will be corrected. Correction will be accomplished by redirectly the puppy back to the object of tug of war, after pressing its lips firmly against its teeth causing the puppy discomfort.

In some types of training the dog must act both independently of the trainer and protectively. These dogs require in their early upbringing the greatest attention to the development of outgoing, confident behavior. No training program is without its pitfalls. One such pitfall is that the extremely confident puppy which has been developed by routines will require a great deal of our energy to control. They will act rambunctious, head strong, and vigorous in play. They will not necessarily be optimal for the most exacting obedience routines but they are more of a generalist which can track through heat or snow, retrieve over obstacles, and stand up to the threatening helper on a Schutzhund field, or the intruder at your window.

The difference in raising dogs for different purposes, is a difference in emphasis rather than different methods of confidence and trainability conditioning. Individualization will be dependent both upon the type of dog we are working with and what our ultimate intentions are for the animal. as much as we wish to stress training in the ultimate development of the dog we cannot ignore the variation in breeds used for different types of competition. Thus the development of subordinance to its owner, confidence, avoidance of submission (response correction), and outgoing attitude will be an interplay between these genetic tendencies, and our reinforcing techniques.

The advanced trainer knows specifically the type of animal he wishes to develop. It is for that reason he chooses from a breed, or even a line within that breed with genetic tendencies in behavior that he knows will be required of his competitive dog. But for most folks the breed of dog selected is a matter of appearance: size, color, length of hair etc... Therefore the average dog owner has little or no understanding of waht to expect from their particular type (breed) of dog. Again this is where the professional trainer is invaluable. In private lessons specific time will be devoted to this subject. And in group classes the early lessons will investigate the dog's individual character and tendencies.

After recognition of the dog's individual character, we can tailor its upbringing (training) to create a close approoximation of our ideal. We must accept that there are limits to training. We want to develop the most trainable mature dog. The differences in training are one of degrees not of different techniques. The dog which has had early roughhousing and pulling on a burlap sack will have beginnings of a sense of winning and zest for entering into these new experiences. It does not follow that your house dog will be running out of control happily destroying your home. Instead, it means that it will not slink when commanded and then stand there, tail between its legs, shaking when you yell at the kids.

Despite our best intentions and sincere efforts in training our young dog, we must be candid with ourselves about poor results. If our attempts at conditioning our puppy to stange noises, winning tug of war games, running after a ball, are consistently met with failure then perhaps we have chosen the wrong puppy, or waited too long to begin. Be honest with yourself because it is unfair to demand something from your dog that is not possible. Of course it is also unfair to demand something from your dog that is not possible. Of course it is also unfair to the family for you to have a pet that for them is inconvenient, destructive, frustrating, and most of all "no fun" .

(excert from "The Dog House Training Guide" by Tom Rose)

For many years a copy of this article has been part of my puppy pack with the full permission of Tom Rose. I in turn received it with my very first Malinois. I have added one paragraph, clearly indicated in the text, based on observation of my own Malinois. I thank Tom Rose for allowing me to use this article over the years for I could never have stated the case for crating as clearly nor as fully as this article does.



Please visit another excellent article on crating provided by the GREAT PYRENEES CLUB OF CALIFORNIA.







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