When my husband and I first became dog owners this summer, there was no question as to whether or not we would crate train GhostBuster. We wanted him to be comfortable in a crate in case it was ever necessary for medical reasons. GhostBuster has grown to love his crate — he sometimes chooses to sleep in there, and he likes to put toys inside for safekeeping. It’s his own little dog fort.
When we decided to adopt another dog, I was upfront about my training methods with the rescues to which we applied. It came as a shock when one group rejected us sternly, emailing me that “We do not put our dogs ever in crates and would not want that for them.”
I had previously emailed the rescue a synopsis of GhostBuster’s life and routine, explaining that he has two cat buddies and goes for four walks every day. I described how we were crating him on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays for two three-and-a-half-hour periods (with either my husband or me always coming home at lunch to take GhostBuster for a walk and to play with him and our cats).
The rejection email I received cut deeply. I know we’re not the perfect pet guardians so many rescues seem to be looking for (we work outside the home, for one thing), but I honestly did think the life we could offer a rescue dog was a pretty darn great one. The organization that rejected us didn’t agree — it thought we were cruel to our dog, and I began to question if we should be crate training at all.
According to Dogster’s resident training expert, Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, proper crate training can be a good thing, especially for house training puppies. She said appropriate training teaches the dog that a crate is a great place to be, and during this training the dog is never left there for more than a few hours at a time.
“I think crate training can be cruel when ill-informed (or perhaps lazy) dog owners shove a dog in the crate and leave the dog there all day while they are at work. It happens more often than we may care to know about,” she said when I reached out to her.
After my rescue rejection, I took a long, hard look at why my husband and I were crating GhostBuster Monday through Wednesday. Was it because it was truly best for him? Or because it was best for us? It was actually a little bit of both.
There was a long period of time when GhostBuster wasn’t crated during the day at all. He would either hang out in the sunroom or the basement, depending on the weather. This period of cratelessness began one day when my husband came home to find GhostBuster had experienced a vicious episode of diarrhea and vomiting while in his crate, and he had tried with all his might to move the plastic bottom out of the kennel so that he didn’t have to make a mess inside his crate. GhostBuster managed to save the bottom of the crate by sliding it out just enough to poop instead on on the carpet (beige shag, of course).
The whole episode was incredibly gross, but I wasn’t ever mad at GhostBuster. He must’ve been in a ton of intestinal distress when he slid the crate bottom out, and I’m convinced he only pooped and puked on that carpet because he had no choice. The tummy troubles continued even after we sprung him from his smelly crate. After covering our backyard in foamy puke, he exhibited some very alarming back-end symptoms, so we put him in the car and went for an emergency vet visit. He got some medicine and was all better by the next morning.
Anyway, after that whole episode, we decided not to crate GhostBuster for a while. Being unable to escape his own smelly mess was pretty traumatic for him, and we didn’t want to force him back into the crate until he could see it as a safe space again. For several weeks, we didn’t crate him at all, and he did great — until he had another bout of tummy trouble.
This time, he didn’t poop inside the house, but he did do some pretty serious damage while trying to get outside. My husband and I were out grocery shopping when our doggy was at home tearing the trim off the back door and biting at the doorknob in a desperate attempt to get out of the house before his behind exploded. When we got home he ran past us before we even noticed the damage, squatted, and unleashed some unholy liquid poop.
After GhostBuster chewed on the doorknob, we locked him up not only to prevent him from hurting himself but also to stop him from hurting the house. Dog trainer Phenix says that crates are far too often used as a prison to keep dogs from potentially destroying the house.
The rejection email from the rescue really made me examine my motivations for crating GhostButser — was I putting him in prison for the sake of my doorknobs? I asked Phenix what she thought we should do.
“I don’t think that one chewing episode in an adult dog should result in a dog being crated,” said Phenix, who suggested that we put a good, safe chew toy in GhostBuster’s crate and leave the door open, letting him decide if he’d like to chew it in the crate or move it somewhere else.
According to Phenix, if an owner is providing adequate physical and mental stimulation, a dog should earn the right to not have to stay in a crate all day long.
I am happy to say that GhostBuster has definitely earned that right and is no longer spending time in his crate on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
I think there is a difference between crate training and simply caging, and the rejection from the rescue helped me realize that my boy can be trusted because he’s already trained.
Do you crate train your dogs? What has your experience been with crating? Let us know in the comments.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.