While crate training isn’t bad when done correctly, it can be for these reasons:
- Many people use the crate wrong, which can lead to over-crating, neglect, and medical problems such as arthritis, obesity, and depression.
- Using the crate as punishment promotes fear and aggression.
- Crates don’t replace basic training.
- Crates aren’t good for dogs with separation anxiety.
In this article, I’ll discuss why crate training can be bad, the arguments for and against crate training, and how to solve some common crate training problems.
Crate Training is Not Bad when Done Correctly
I agree with the Humane Society on this one—personally, I’ve never crated my dogs.
I do see both the benefits and the drawbacks, and definitely haven’t ruled it out for any dogs I adopt in the future!
Let’s begin with some benefits to crate training, followed by counterarguments I’ve seen dog owners make:
- Benefit: It allows your dog to have boundaries. Typically, the entire family should leave your dog alone when they’re in their crate. This allows them to go to the crate if they’re feeling overwhelmed, such as if kids in the household are getting hyper.
- Argument: Your dog should have boundaries regardless. In the previous example I gave, the kids seem to be bothering the dog. Maybe the kids should be told to calm down or leave the dog alone, rather than the dog have to go to their crate for peace.
- Benefit: A crate is like a den, or safe space for your dog. Dogs are natural den animals, meaning they seek a relatively small place for shelter. The crate makes them feel snug and secure.
- Argument: Your dog should feel safe in your entire home. In a healthy environment, your dog will always feel safe anyway. (I believe this argument fails to include uncontrollable events, such as fireworks outside or dog anxiety.)
- Benefit: Crates make potty training easier. If the crate is the right size (just large enough for your dog to stand and turn around inside of it), then your dog is less likely to use the bathroom inside of it. This is because dogs have a natural instinct not to pee, poop, and sleep in the same place.
- Argument: Dogs shouldn’t be forced to hold their bladders. Instead of using the crate, you could bring your puppy or dog outside regularly so that they learn to go outside without having to hold their pee or poop.
- Benefit: Crate training allows you to quickly leave home with your dog in case of emergency. Your dog will also already be used to the crate, which is helpful for boarding or if your new living arrangements require a crate.
- Argument: There are other safety plans, such as recall, leash training, or getting your dog accustomed to a carrier. You could also simply leave the crate door open, allowing them to get used to it without being forced to stay inside.
In some emergencies, such as flooding, a crated dog might even be trapped when you’re not home—leading to disaster.
However, Many People Use the Crate Wrong
Some examples of misusing a crate include over-crating and using them for punishment.
Over-crating your dog, is leaving them inside the crate for longer than is healthy for them. For puppies, this is longer than they can hold their bladder—or around one hour per month of age.
For adult dogs, it means crating your dog for more than 8 hours daily. Unfortunately, many people work full time outside of the home and crate their dogs for longer than this due to commutes and other outings.
A drastic example of over-crating is puppy mills, where the parent dogs are often locked in crates around the clock. They’re essentially used to make money, and the puppy mills don’t care if the dogs are healthy or cared for.
A more normal household example is crating your dog day and night. Assuming an 8 hour work and sleep schedule, this is more than 16 hours a day.
No dog should be crated for the majority of their lives. As I’ll discuss below, this is animal abuse.
Poor Crate Training Can Lead to Neglect
Neglect is a form of abuse that occurs when your dog’s needs aren’t met. Poor crate training can lead to neglect in various forms.
Typically, it happens when a dog is crated too much every day. Their social and physical needs aren’t met because of this.
For instance, a two-month-old puppy crated for the entire work day will pee and poop several times in that period. They’ll then be forced to sit in their mess until their owner returns to clean them up and allow them out of the crate.
They’ll also have received no attention and no exercise during this time, and so they’ll be feeling lonely and hyper.
Other possibilities are increased stress, anxiety, and depression.
Lastly, these dogs will most likely have behavioral problems due to boredom, lack of training, and lack of socialization.
I personally believe that allowing a dog to “cry it out” inside of their crate is also a form of neglect because it ignores your dog’s emotional needs.
The advice to let your dog “cry it out” essentially means to wait for them to stop barking, whining, or trying to escape the crate. This common advice says not to give in to your dog, but instead force them to get used to being locked inside the crate.
While a dog trained this way will eventually stop whining in their crate, it’s most likely because they’ve learned that their owner doesn’t care about their distress. They’ve essentially asked many times to be let out and were ignored, so now they won’t ask again—expecting the same result each time.
Crates don’t Replace Training
Some people use crates to replace training and this should never be done; training a dog properly is the only way to raise a dog.
For instance, they might:
- Put the dog into the crate whenever guests are over, taking away the dog’s chance to become socialized to strangers.
- Keep the dog in the crate to contain potty messes, instead of actually potty training the dog or taking them outside at regular intervals.
- Lock the dog away when unsupervised so that they don’t destroy items or hurt themselves, rather than the correct way of picking up unsafe things and teaching their dog to chew appropriately.
- Crate the dog to avoid dealing with symptoms of separation anxiety without treating the root of the anxiety, which can lead to the dog hurting themselves in their crate if they try to escape.
Of course, there’s a difference between using the crate as a training tool and using it as a way to avoid training.
For instance, having your dog sit in their crate when a guest comes to the door and come out when called is using the crate as a training tool. It teaches them not to rush at guests when they walk inside, and may also make it easier if you do want to close the door on the crate when certain guests are around.
Other examples are crating your not-yet-housebroken dog at night to prevent accidents between scheduled trips outside, or calmly placing your dog in the crate when they’re getting a little too hyper and begin nipping during play.
The difference here is that you are still working with your dog using positive reinforcement training methods. The crate is another training tool at your disposal, rather than being seen as a cure-all for any problems you have with your dog.
Crates Shouldn’t be Used as Punishment
Proper crate training causes your dog to associate the crate with good things, such as safety and treats. They shouldn’t see it as a “doggy jail” or punishment station.
Never yell at your dog or put them into the crate forcibly. While the crate can be used as a “time out” of sorts, the point of that isn’t to punish your dog.
Instead, it’s a place where your dog can calm down.
For instance, many puppies get wound up during play and begin to nip or bite. The right thing to do in this case is to calmly carry them to their crate and wait for them to settle down. Then, you can resume playtime.
The wrong thing to do would be to yell at your puppy to go to their crate, telling them they’re bad as you shut the door, and lecturing them while they’re inside.
Harsh training methods like this have been proven not to work. What they’ll do instead is make your dog fear you, damage your relationship, and possibly even promote aggression.
In short, you’ll likely get even more misbehavior from your dog if you punish them with the crate (or any other form of punishment!).
Crate Training is a Long Process
Crate training takes at least six months to complete when done properly. It’s not something you can expect your dog to get used to overnight.
Instead, your dog will need to be introduced slowly to the crate. You might start by treating them for sniffing the crate door, or setting one paw inside.
Then, you might work up to them eating a meal entirely inside the crate. After that, you would get them used to having the door closed, being in the crate alone, and extending their time inside the crate.
It takes lots of work and patience. It’s more than simply sticking a dog in a cage for hours on end. This is why it’s not a cure-all solution to behavioral problems or training—it’s actually one more thing to train your dog.
If you rush the process, you risk setting your dog’s training back or making them dislike the crate, which is bad crate training.
Crates aren’t Good for Dogs with Separation Anxiety
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to have behavioral problems such as destructive chewing or trying to escape home. It may seem like a crate would be a good solution to this—I considered it when my dog was young—but it’s actually not!
According to the Humane Society, dogs with separation anxiety can injure themselves trying to escape a wire crate.
Instead, they recommend using counterconditioning and desensitization to accustom your dog to being left alone.
You can also ask your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist for help if needed.
Crates Need to be Large Enough for Your Dog
A crate should be large enough for your dog to stand up straight and turn around inside. It can be larger, but never smaller.
Many crate training guides emphasize not making the crate too large for potty training reasons. While this is true, it’s even more important that your dog be able to move comfortably inside the crate—and if you don’t need the crate for potty training, there’s no harm in giving your dog extra space.
If you’ve adopted a puppy, consider purchasing a crate large enough for them to use when fully grown. You can then section off part of the crate to avoid potty training accidents, and give them more space as they grow.
This will save you from having to buy new crates as they get bigger.
Crates Shouldn’t be Completely Covered
Some people cover their dog’s crates with a blanket or specifically-made crate cover. This is fine and makes some dogs feel more secure.
However, covering the crate entirely isn’t a good idea.
If you’ve ever been completely covered by a blanket, then you know that it quickly becomes hot, and your ability to breathe is hampered. I used to leave a little space by my nose as a kid to prevent this (and your dog needs far more than that to stay cool!)
Of course, if it gets too hot under a blanket or restricts our airflow too much, we can toss it away. Your dog can’t do this when locked in a crate!
This could lead to heat stroke or suffocation.
If it’s hot in your home, you might reconsider the crate cover altogether—especially if your dog is prone to heat stroke or is a cold-loving breed!
Leaving the Door Open is a Great Compromise
If you’re wary of crate training, leaving the crate door open might be a good solution for you and your dog. Some people (including myself!) much prefer this idea to locking a dog inside a crate without choice.
With the door open, you can still train your dog to go to their crate at certain times, such as sleeping inside of it at bed time.
It just gives your dog more freedom to wander in and out—which could be good or bad depending on your dog and your lifestyle.
It’s a personal decision, and I hope I’ve made it easier for you to decide with this article!
Writer: Katelynn Sobus