A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It is my humble opinion that the dog crate is the most awesome invention to hit the world of Dog Stuff since the tennis ball.

They’re a great tool for keeping mischievous canines out of trouble, and for traveling. Crates make the dreaded housetraining process so much faster and easier, since dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping area.

Dogs are den animals, naturally preferring to sleep in enclosed spaces (this isn’t true of all dogs, but generally speaking). If properly introduced to his crate, a dog will come to treat it as his bedroom, a safe retreat from the stress of life with those crazy two-legged members of his family. It is not uncommon for dogs to seek out their crate when they need a nap.

If you have a new dog or plan on getting one, your first step should be to get a crate. It will be one of the most valuable pieces of dog equipment you’ll ever buy. Seriously.

There are many design options as far as crates go – choose from wire, plastic, or, if you’ve got cash to spend, wood.

But, you know, too much of a good thing…

As a wise superhero once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This applies to crate training. As crate training becomes more mainstream, more and more people are using crates.

And more and more people are misusing them.

People often rely on the crate too much. Dogs end up crated for eight + hours per day while their families are at work and school. Imagine being stuck inside a box that was just big enough for you to stand up, turn around, and lie down in from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Now imagine doing this five days a week. You’d go crazy, too.

It just struck me, as I write this, that this must be what it feels like to work in a cubicle. Huh. If that’s you, my sympathies. Try this. But I digress.

Crates were not designed to contain dogs for very long periods of time. Dogs who are over-crated can become destructive, hyperactive, anxious, or even develop bladder infections from having to “hold it” all day.

How much is too much?

Puppies under four months of age can hold it in their crate for a maximum of three hours. But ideally, they should be let out every 1 – 2 hours. Puppies four to five months old, a maximum of four hours. If a puppy is crated too long, they may start having accidents in the crate.

No dog should be ever be crated more than five or six hours per day. If you need to be away longer than this, there are a few things you can do:

-Pick a room of your house, like the kitchen, and “dog-proof” it so that you can confine your dog here.
-Use an exercise pen instead of a dog crate. Add a bed in one corner and a “dog potty” in another.
-Hire someone to come and play with your dog or walk him during the day.

Hey, this isn’t a prison cell

Another common misuse of the dog crate is using it as punishment. An occasional time-out when your dog is playing too rough is OK, but your dog is supposed to associate the crate with good things, not bad things. Never angrily drag Fido into his crate, never yell at him or hit the crate when he’s in it.

This will only make your dog hate his crate. It certainly won’t be a place he wants to be.

Bottom line, your dog’s crate can be a great tool, as long as you don’t overuse it and don’t use it as punishment. Misuse of the crate can lead to all kinds of behavior problems.

Make the crate a comfortable place: Keep it in a spot that’s out of the way, but where he can still see the family’s activity. Put a bed and some chew toys inside, and your dog will learn to love his “room.”

Check out these other posts:
Housetraining 101: the Basics
Housetraining 101: 9 Steps to a Potty-Trained Pup
43 Tips for New Puppy Owners
Video: Keep Your Hyper Dog Entertained and Out of Trouble
Video: Hey, That WAS My iPod! How to Stop Your Dog’s Destructive Chewing
I Just Got a New Puppy – What Do I Do With It?

Photo credits: One, Two and Three

29 Responses to Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Myers, TheSophisticatedDog and Kelly Gorman Dunbar, Katie Buvala. Katie Buvala said: New blog post – Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly http://bit.ly/8Zxh4T [...]

  2. [...] Earlier this week we talked about housetraining – one of the best and most efficient ways of toilet training is crate training so here’s a nice blog post on crates from 3 lost Dogs:  Crates: the good, the bad and the ugly [...]

  3. Lisa says:

    I couldn’t agree more; crates (when used correctly) are GREAT! I got very lucky that my 3 year old rescue dog immediately took to her crate; she went into it before it was even fully setup! It quickly became one of her favorite places, and I like knowing when she has to be left alone that she’s safe (she has a tendency to get into things when she thinks no ones watching, and every time I think I’ve dog-proofed the house she proves me wrong) and that when we travel together she has her “room” with her.

  4. shawn says:

    it is not ugle you are

  5. admin says:

    @shawn LOL, uh, okay…? Thank you for your insightful feedback. XD

  6. Caitlin says:

    We just adopted a rescue dog (8 months old) who is surprisingly well behaved, and appears to already have had some training. My co-owner (aka husband) doesn’t think we need to crate train him since he’s housetrained, doesn’t chew up the house and is fine being confined to his puppy proof kitchen while we’re gone. And the crate takes up a lot of room in our tiny apartment. Can you make the case for why we should crate train our dog?

  7. Kate B says:

    Caitlin, we adopted a dog from the local shelter who was about 4 at the time. Our dog was completely housetrained at the time, which was great because we were both novice dog owners. At the time, we had no crate, and the dog was not destructive around the house, though he was completely velcroed to me for about 4 months (leaving for work was oh so exciting!). Additionally, the dog, while content to be in his kennel at the shelter, once he met me absolutely refused to go back in the kennel. I, in my naive mind, thought that perhaps a crate would be too much.

    Wrong. I am now regretting that we didn’t start off with crate training immediately. We’ve had the dog about a year now, and are considering a second dog. My trainer suggests a puppy.

    But it’s impossible to train two dogs simultaneously! You need to have one crated and happy while you take the other out to work it. Also, if you start to get involved with dog sports, you will want to take your dog with you, and a dog in a crate is a much easier dog to deal with than a dog on a leash.

    As a result, we’re having to do crate training at this stage. We discovered he does okay in a soft crate, but due to both reactivity and some separation issues, he can’t be trusted in a soft crate around other dogs. I’m now working on getting him used to a hard crate, one of those plastic kinds that you can use to transport your dog via airplane. This is taking quite a long time! I finally got him to the point where I can feed him in his crate with the door closed, and let him stay there a short while after he’s finished.

    Next dog will be crate trained at the get-go.

    Hope this helps.

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  12. [...] See also:Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly [...]

  13. [...] out these other posts: Video post: Separation Anxiety 101 Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly On Getting Your Dog to Come When You Call Him The Reactive Dog Survival Guide « Previous [...]

  14. [...] has set in and you can’t remember the difference between a clicker and a Kong. 1. Get a crate. It makes housetraining incredibly [...]

  15. Chance says:

    my dog behavorist has me crating my dog at all times except to do handler awareness excercises, 30 minute downs (out of the crate and in a down position) only taking him out to relieve himself, no walks, ball playing, etc. Although he accepts the crate, I feel bad that he is not getting any excercise or stimulation. (He is people aggressive, and has bitten)trainer says it is necessary. Is it? He is a 2 year old Pitbull/Lab mix rescue that spent 3 months in a shelter in a crate, then 6 weeks of “bootcamp” in a crate, and I have now had him back for a week and a half in a crate.I am the only one who handles him. he is really good with me, obedient etc. Am i doing the right thing. The trainer is very successful in his business and I believe he does a great job, but I am feeling bad about the crate 24/7

  16. [...] more about crates here: Dog Crates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly How to Build a Strong [...]

  17. [...] For more information here is a link to a nicely written article about dog crates.http://3lostdogs.com/dog-crates-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ [...]

  18. [...] Sparky’s ability to cause mayhem with baby gates and exercise pens. If you don’t have a crate yet, get one and spend a day teaching Sparky to use [...]

  19. cathie says:

    You say you believe in your trainer so why are you asking this here? Personally, to me it sounds like abuse and a horrible life for a dog, and you say you feel bad about it too. Seems like your dog could wear a muzzle and be let out to exercise and walk around. Cesar Milan has a great video that you can find on YouTube showing an aggressive dog being worked with a muzzle. Good luck.

  20. DLNJ2012 says:

    well I never crate trained our english bulldog….we do have him gated in the kitchen when we are gone…he is one of the most social and friendly dogs we have ever had…we did crate train our other dogs…this time we wanted to try something different which turned out great! I don’t think I will crate train again.

  21. Jase says:

    I don’t agree with crating. When my 16 year old collie died last year, I was crushed. After a year, I decided to start looking into getting a puppy and was slammed with all this “we love crating! crating is fun!” information. Seriously, I don’t understand where it came from but I sincerely believe it’s a fad that needs to die. If you crate your dog at night, and crate it when you’re at work, and crate it when it does something bad – that poor dog spends all its time in a crate. My personal opinion is that there’s no reason for you to own a dog if you crate it. I call back to all the dogs that have entered my life and just don’t ever recall the idea of using a crate being a good one – and I’ve had some pretty hyper dogs.

  22. G says:

    Thanks for writing about the cons of crating as well as the pros. Too often you will see owners on youtube complaining that their dog is destroying their house while the owner has left the dog crated for over 8 hours, and it makes me want to smash my head into a wall at such ignorance. I don’t crate my dog; still not completely convinced on the advantages and I prefer to have her basket under a table with a blanket draped over, so she gets the ‘den’ experience but there is no possible way for her to feel ‘trapped’ (and much cheaper than crates!) But I completely applaud your guide, and I do plan to crate-train my dog eventually for travel-purposes. The only way to improve your guide would be to mention the importance of crate-training a dog in preparation for air-plane travel in particular, to minimise stress. Other than that, brilliant work and thank you for such expertise!

  23. Okay, I have just adopted a “Crate-Trained” 3 yr. old. My husband and I BOTH work 8 hours a day. This is our first day to leave him in the crate all day. I do NOT want to do this everyday, although he does have plenty of room to walk around stretch out, etc. It’s a large, metal kennel and it’s tall . However, MY idea was to put him in our bathroom and gate it, so he’d have that room all day long. We don’t want him relieving himself where he pleases while he’s there. Is he too old to teach to use a pad ? I have a pee pad frame and can easily get some puppy pads today if need be ! Please, give me some advice. I don’t want him to feel “Caged” up all the time. What’s your suggestion ?
    Karen / Florence, Ms.
    He’s an 18 1b. dog / chi/hound mix ?

  24. 3LostDogs says:

    Hi Karen,

    I like your idea of keeping him gated in the bathroom. Dogs definitely should not be crated for a whole 8-hour work day. The puppy pads may or may not work, depending on how set in his habits your dog is. As an alternative, you can get a plastic tray (like a cat litter pan or a shallow Rubbermaid container) and fill it with whatever surface he’s used to using as a bathroom, which is probably dirt and grass.

    To start training, use several trays (of either pads or dirt/grass) to fill up a good amount of the floor. As he gets used to the idea of using them, you can remove the extra trays and use just one.

  25. Mia Hart says:

    Hey there! Do you happen to have any recommendations on where I can purchase some dog runs in Calgary? Please let me know, thanks.

  26. ALG says:

    hello, i am going to get a puppy golden retriever and im going to get a crate, i know goldens can grow to a large size so should i buy a big crate so i wont have to buy two or buy a small one for the puppy and then buy a bigger one?

  27. Luckymom1 says:

    Thank you for your advice :)

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