Debunking PETA's Views on Crate Training

December 01, 2016

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation (PETA) states in an article online at peta.org that, "No matter what a pet shop owner or dog trainer might say, a dog crate is just a box with holes in it, and putting dogs in crates is just a way to ignore and warehouse them until you get around to taking care of them properly."

The article further states that "crating is a popular convenience practice that is often used on adult dogs. It deprives dogs of the opportunity to fulfill some of their most basic needs, such as the freedom to walk around, the opportunity to relieve themselves, and the ability to stretch out and relax. It also prevents them from interacting with their environment and learning how to behave in a human setting."

Finally, the article states, "Crating began as a misguided way for people to housetrain puppies. The theory was that a dog in a small cage will “hold it” rather than eliminating, and dog owners would thus not have to pay close attention to their puppies while they were confined to the crate. It wasn’t long before dog trainers began recommending crating for adult dogs who had any type of behavior problem as a way of stopping the behavior. But this method does not teach dogs good behavior, and it certainly doesn’t take into account their social, physical, and psychological requirements. Dogs are highly social pack animals who abhor isolation and who crave and deserve companionship, praise, and exercise. Forcing dogs to spend extended periods of time confined and isolated simply to accommodate their guardians’ schedules is unacceptable, and it exacerbates behavior problems, leading to even more crating."

Do we agree with PETA's beliefs? No, at least not entirely. First of all, we use the term "crate" or "kennel" for a number of locations that a dog can recognize as comfort spots, including pillows, blankets, platforms and other easily identifiable resting palces. We recommend "crate" or "kennel" training for at least the four following reasons:

1. Security & Rest: The crate or pillow make a puppy or older dog feel safe and secure. No matter what is going on in the home and no matter how energetic a dog is, he can be trained to calm himself, relax, and rest in his special place. The crate or pillow will eventually trigger a sleep reflex. After a quick walk outside in the evenings to relieve himself or "take a break," as we often say, your dog will head into his crate or onto his pillow and typically relax immediately, allowing for a good night's sleep.

Contrary to PETA, we really do believe that, if you can create a place that's happy, safe and comfortable--whether on a blanket or pillow or in a crate or kennel--a dog crate is not just a cage used to confine your dog for your own selfish convenience.

2. Reward: The crate or pillow can be used as a reward. After a challenging obedience training session, your dog's special place is a location he looks forward to for relaxing, resting, and perhaps enjoying a yummy dog treat. (In fact, we recommend tossing in a kibble treat to get the dog to go inside a crate or onto a pillow so that place is always associated with a small snack reward.)

3. Manners: Crate or kennel training a dog teaches him obedience and self-control as he learns to remain in certain designated places until released with an "okay" or "here" command.

If your dog learns to love his crate or pillow, it's an excellent tool for training, which is why the "kennel" command is a huge part of our basic obedience "Super Citizen" program. We have pillows and platforms, crates and half-crates all over the place. When I run errands, I may take a dog with me in a crate in the car. When I return home and let a dog out of the car, I let him relieve himself first, but as I'm walking into the house with bags of groceries, I don't want him to run ahead of me and trip me up in the doorway, so I point to a platform sitting outside near the back porch and say "kennel." I walk through the door and then call him to follow behind me, never in front of me. As soon as we get into the house, I point to a pillow by the door and say "kennel" again. He jumps onto his pillow and waits until I have put groceries away before I allow him to come off his "kennel" with an "okay" command--that is, if I allow him to come off the pillow at all. The pillow is his safe and happy place, after all, so he doesn't mind staying there. (I will stop by with hugs, kisses, and a few small kibble rewards, though.)

When we have company over and there's a small child who's afraid of dogs, I can quickly and gently give the "kennel" command to any one of our dogs and he or she will run into a crate and relax while I welcome our guests. If we have several kids over and they're getting too rowdy and a dog gets a little too wound up or he gets nervous because of all the loud noise, I can give that dog the "kennel" command, he'll go right into his crate, and he'll immediately flop down with a big sigh and fall asleep in his safe, comfortable place where he knows no harm can come to him.

4. Housebreaking: When your dog sleeps in a designated area all his own, he is not prone to soil in that location, but we agree with PETA that a dog or puppy should not be left in a crate for too long. If he does have an accident in his crate or on his pillow, it usually means he isn't quite ready to remain in that area for that length of time. You can start with one hour and gradually increase to 6-8 hours at a time for a full night’s sleep—for both you and the dog. This training period can last anywhere from 6-9 weeks, depending on the dog.

Young puppies have small bladders, of course, so you can't expect them to "hold it" for too long. On the other hand, we often (but not always) can get a puppy to remain in a crate for up to about five hours during the night by the time he's 14 weeks old. (It's purt of our "Super Citizen" basic obedience program, which lasts 6 weeks, but must be continued by you once you get your puppy back home with you.) You can also leave a dog in a crate for 3-4 hours at a time during the day for a good nap. (All dogs need their daily naptime.) We have come up with the following routine that works best for us and our puppies here at Marble Mountain Kennels: First, we walk our pups and dogs at about 6:00AM. Feeding time is around 7:00AM. Puppies six months and under are fed again around 3:00PM and no later. (We usually feed our older dogs only once a day after six months of age, but you can continue to feed your dog twice, if you'd like.) Our dogs get plenty of water to drink all day, but we like to cut off the water supply of pups-in-training by 8:00 or 9:00PM so that they are fully relieved in every possible way by 10:00PM when we put them in their snug and comfy crates for the night. If you hear your pup whining at any time during the wee hours of the morning, it's a good idea to let him out, because whining is usually his way of telling you he needs to take a potty break. As time goes on and his bladder control strenghtens, his morning "whine" should alert you at about 6:00AM, after both he and you have enjoyed a good, full, eight hours of sleep. As for using crate training to teach dogs to "hold it" in housebreaking, we have to disagree with PETA on this point, because the method really does work well for all the reasons we have described.

PETA states that crating is a popular convenience practice. Well, I have to agree with them on that. It is convenient for dog owners, but I hope I have proven my point that "crating" or "kenneling" is also convenient for dogs. We also agree with PETA that, as long as you give your dog plenty of freedom to interact with humans and his environment, walk around and enjoy himself, relieve himself when needed, and the ability to stretch out and relax, your dog will have a happy, healthy life.

But where PETA believes that crating is a misguided way for people to housetrain puppies, we strongly disagree. We have seen time and again how crate training or kenneling a dog does indeed teach him good behavior and does take into account his social, physical, and psychological needs. Dogs, including Labs, are highly social pack animals. They do love people and we advocate for companionship, praise and exercise. But they do not necessarily abhor isolation. In fact, they may look forward to their alone time. And if that peaceful, quiet place is in a soft, comfy, happy crate, then so be it.


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