We were a big dog family, but we were also always going to school, work, and sports practices.
That meant that our dogs spent time in their crates more often than not.
They never seemed to mind the crates after they were trained, but now that I have my own dog, I’ve wondered how good crates actually are for dogs.
Maggie is house trained, but she still has to go in a crate if she’s left at my parent’s house when I go home to visit friends. I worry about her being in one, since she’s not used to it.
It all leads me to question crates and if we should use them at all.
Here’s what I’ve found out about crating that may help you come to your own conclusion.
Why It Isn’t Cruel to Crate a Dog
The first thing dog owners hear when they start crate training a puppy is that their dog will need their own space.
A crate provides a private den where a dog can relax, but is that actually true?
Since dogs are descended from wolves, they do have a natural denning instinct that makes them feel safe in den-like spaces. Their instincts tell them it’s a place to de-stress, where they’ll be safe from the world around them.
That’s the first reason that it’s a good idea to give your dog their own crate. Leave it open during the day so they can come and go as they please.
Here are some other ways crates can be great to have on hand.
Crates Protect Dogs
Crates are an amazing form of protection, especially for puppies.
When you’re gone at work or school, puppies will try to chew and eat whatever they can get to because they’re teething or bored.
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If your pup is in a crate, they won’t be able to access any electrical cords or chemicals that you may forget to hide or lock up. You’ll protect them from themselves by keeping them in their crate.
You’ll also protect your dog from accidentally going to the bathroom in your home.
Dogs know that if they go inside their crate, they’ll have to sit in their own mess until you let them out, so they’ll avoid going to the bathroom inside their crate as long as possible.
If they can’t use a potty pad, they’ll prefer to pee on rugs and carpets.
Having the freedom to go in the house during the day reinforces the idea that going inside is okay, making outdoor potty training even more difficult.
They Feel Safer At Night
When wolves create a den, it’s meant to be a space they can come back to at the end of a long day out in the wild.
Dogs will mostly use their crates at night, because they make them feel safer.
There’s nothing in your home that will actually harm them while they sleep, but a small space they can curl up in will call back to their wolf instincts.
Why It Could Be Cruel
On the other hand, using crates in the wrong ways could end up being a cruel experience for your dog.
Not sure when a crate crosses the line from a safe den space to a place your dog dreads?
Double check that you don’t do any of the following so your dog’s crate stays as a happy place for them to be.
Their Crate Could Be Too Small
Puppy crates are easy to get.
You may just need a divider wall to prevent them from having enough space to use the restroom on one side and sleep on the other.
As your dog grows, their crate should be regularly replaced with a new one that will house them comfortably.
Check a crate sizing guide so you can make sure your dog’s crate isn’t too small. If they can’t lay down or sit comfortably, they’ll be confined and miserable even if they’re only in there for a few minutes while you run errands.
They Could Be Claustrophobic
Your dog’s ancestors may have preferred dens, but that doesn’t mean your dog will enjoy them.
Even dogs can be claustrophobic, which will make them panic if they’re trapped inside even the biggest crate.
Signs of claustrophobia in dogs could include:
- Constant whining when in their crate
- Continuous physical shaking
- Endless panting
- Pacing or circling in place
Keep an eye on your dog when they’re in their crate to monitor any potential symptoms.
Maggie whines a little after being put in her crate, but that’s normal for any dog who wants to be included in the fun they think you’re about to have.
They Could Develop Kidney Problems
Dogs who are potty trained will hold their bladder for as long as they’re inside, but it can be dangerous to leave your dog in their crate for too long.
The longer they hold in their pee, the more likely they are to develop a bladder or kidney infection.
f they’re in their crate for over eight hours every day, their chances for developing an infection only increase.
How Long Should You Crate Your Dog?
Puppies should never be left in a crate for longer than they can hold their bladder, so that length of time will change as they get older.
Adult dogs should never be in a crate for longer than 6-8 hours.
Alternatives to Crating/Crate Training
Crating your dog isn’t your only option for taking care of them while you’re away from home.
See if any of the following options interest you or seem like something your dog might prefer.
Potty Pad Training
Dogs can be easily trained to use potty pads, no matter what age they are.
Potty pads are a great alternative way for your dog to use the bathroom while you’re gone all day if you’d prefer for them to not hold their pee in their crate.
If you can afford it, doggy daycare would be the perfect solution to any crate concerns.
Your dog would get to socialize, have fun, and go out to the bathroom at regular intervals all day long.
A young neighbor or trusted friend could stop by your home to walk your dog around lunch if you plan to be gone all day.
That would limit your dog’s crate hours to about four hours at a time, which is much more preferable than 8-10 hours without a bathroom break.
When Maggie was a puppy, I knew I’d be gone for over 11 hours during the workdays, given my schedule and the traffic where I lived.
I raised her to use potty pads and she’s been loose in the house every day since.
I think it’s smart for every dog owner to have a crate in the home, even if it’s only used as a back up option for trips.
How long your dog spends in their crate will be up to you, depending on your schedule and how old your dog is.