Using a crate as part of a management and teaching program for puppies and young adult dogs is not a new concept. But like any training tool, it can be misused, and end up doing more harm than good.
When introduced and used properly, the crate is a terrific aid for potty training and general house training. But for Sadie the little terrier, the crate was used as punishment, and Sadie was banished to the crate as a way to address any and all behavior that was deemed undesirable by her owners.
Sadie's owners aren't bad people; they're just first-time dog owners who received some bad information, and as a result, now have a serious behavior problem. Because of the negative association with the crate, Sadie doesn't see it as a refuge, or a safe and relaxing place to be. Her owners must forcibly put her in the crate, and she snarls and snaps if anyone reaches for her while in the crate.
Obviously for this dog, the crating concept has been poisoned to the extent that it can no longer be used. Sadie's owners have made many drastic changes in the last few weeks, and are now using a small pen, erected in the kitchen, with a comfy bed, as a place for Sadie to be when she can't be closely watched. And the pen has been introduced as a happy place, where toys and chewies are, so Sadie has no qualms about going in on her own, and remaining there in between bouts of exercise. When her owners are prepared to monitor her behavior, she is loose in the house, and they are now focusing on guiding Sadie into behaving in acceptable ways, instead of waiting for mistakes and then punishing.
Another anti-crate comment recently overheard was that placing your dog in a crate is putting the dog in danger, as it is essentially a death trap in the event of house fire. Really? This idea is flawed on many levels, the first of which is that the chance of there being a house fire is 0.0001 percent. Second, if a fire should occur, and one needs to exit the house immediately, you will know exactly where your puppy is, and can without delay run to the crate and get it, as opposed to searching the smoke-filled house for a terrified and probably hidden, dog. This is just another example of how good concepts can be twisted and misconstrued in ridiculous ways.
Yes, harm can be done to your dog with a crate. Also with a buckle collar. And a pillow. But if common sense prevails, and information is gathered from professionals, the results yielded are positive and beneficial for both dog and owner.
Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.