To Crate or Not to Crate?

6 Jul

That is the question!

When I first got Lucy, she was a puppy. And I mean, a puppy.

She was 5 or 6 months old, mouthy, and not housebroken. I always thought that house breaking a dog, no matter the breed, would be my number one challenge. I’d never done it before, nor had I ever seen it done. I didn’t know where to begin, what the best techniques were and what to absolutely not do. It was sort of scary.

I knew I was going to crate train my dog – I have too much stuff that a dog could get into and create havoc. Lucy needed to have her own space where I knew she would be completely safe, and so would my stuff. The best part was: Lucy took to the crate so well. And because of that, she was housebroken surprisingly quickly. I was very proud.

So after a few months, I thought that maybe she could stay home alone not in the crate, but with the door open in case she wanted to go in on her own. We started with small steps – short 5 minute intervals. Nothing major. But one day, we took a huge step back: Lucy peed on my beautiful, modern sofa! To say I was frustrated was an understatement. I paid to have the couch professionally steam cleaned, and when it was just about dry…she peed on it again!

Right then, I decided Lucy would never be alone at home and uncrated. And to this day, nearly two years later, she’s in her crate for at least a little while everyday. And I’m beginning to lose my resolve. We’ve begun the short intervals again with great success. Lucy’s been home alone for longer than half an hour with no issues. But I’m scared to take the next big leap!

So, readers, what do you think? Is having a dog crated when home alone for its entire life unfair to the dog? Should I have more faith that Lucy knows how to behave when left home alone? Or am I doing the right thing by relegating her to own safe haven? What tips do you have for people who want to “un-crate train” their dogs?

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15 Responses to “To Crate or Not to Crate?”

  1. pittiefullove July 6, 2012 at 10:27 AM #

    It took Knox a good year to be trusted… and even then, I felt more comfortable leaving him for the work day (8 hours) in his crate…just too much time to be left to his own devices. However, I learned that once his anxiety about us leaving stopped, he did great out. In fact the only time we DID crate him was his routine of the work day. At night, and on the weekends (or in the morning for my gym trip) he was allowed out. How did we get to this decision? Same way you are…short increments, building up. We still baby-gated the upstairs so he only had access to the living room and kitchen. I’d start with small spaces (and the spaces that she typically spends the most time in/is the most comfortable in). If she’s not eating stuff, she’s safe. Your stuff? Maybe not…but the safety was my biggest concern. Good luck! And no, for the record, I don’t think she’ll be in her crate forever (maybe another year….but my guess is not forever).

    • That Touch of Pit ... July 6, 2012 at 10:47 AM #

      Keeping her secure in her comfort zones is a great idea! At this point, since we have such a small apartment, we’ve left all the doors open, but now we’ll rethink that. Maybe if we shut the doors to the bedroom and bathroom, we’d be more comfortable.

  2. Married With Dawgs July 6, 2012 at 10:35 AM #

    I think it’s different with every dog. We started trusting Maggie out of her crate at about 2 years old. She’s now back in crate or in the dog room due to her incontinence and tendency to visit the couch and have an accident. Sadie, who we got at 1 1/2 years has always been trustworthy but to keep things fair is kenneled when the rest of them are. She loves her some kennel so I don’t feel bad. Hurley is still being kenneled at 1 1/2 years and will likely need to be kenneled way past the 2 year mark as he cannot be trusted to not wreak havoc while we are gone.

    • That Touch of Pit ... July 6, 2012 at 10:48 AM #

      Oh, you bring another concern! When we have fosters, they must be crated since we don’t know them very well immediately. So then, as you say, to keep things fair, Lucy will have to be crated too. So if we stop crating her, and then need to return to it, will that be frustrating for her?

  3. Debora July 6, 2012 at 11:00 AM #

    Maybe you can make more expensive or delicate stuff off limits – I’ve heard aluminum foil helps – which will give you more peace of mind. Even my dogs, who came to me with extremely solid toilet training (I shudder to think what one of them was put through by her prior people – I think it may have been violent) would occasionally have a bad stomach or an infection and an ensuing accident.

    • That Touch of Pit ... July 6, 2012 at 11:02 AM #

      I’m not really concerned about the value of my stuff – she’s more valuable than any thing I own. I’m confident in her house breaking now, but am worried that she’ll chew on something that she shouldn’t be and accidentally swallow it or something worse.

  4. Tina-Critter Crusaders July 6, 2012 at 11:15 AM #

    I did the opposite. My first dog as a grown up was 4 when I adopted her and no threat to anything but the garbage. My girl Abbie was more of a “chewer” then I had anticipated and due to me not knowing or being comfortable with crate training, she destroyed remotes, stuffed animals, shoes, a cell phone, a foot stool, and numerous other items until I fully Abbie proofed my home. I attempted crating a few times while visiting friends, and she wasn’t a fan, destroying her bed I left in the crate.

    Then I started fostering. Bathroom, in a crate, door shut for the fosters…and it worked beautifully. I did it out of necessity and didn’t feel bad about it. Cleaning up accidents in the crate is much easier then cleaning up a destroyed bathroom.

    Then I started the transition of moving in with my boyfriend. Small house, 3 kids, no chance in the world we could Abbie proof. Plus 24/7 with the resident dog may be a bit to much togetherness. I brought the crate, filled the Kong….and now I often find her IN the kennel waiting for her treat so I can go to work.

    Somehow, she decided the crate is a magical place that all the cool dogs go, and she wanted to be part of it. So while I have no idea how I got here really, I know she is happy and content in her crate while I am at work. It is plenty big, she can lay down sideways and stretch her legs out.

    When you figure out the potty training thing, please let me know! I have a heck of a time with foster dogs messing the crate. I am lucky in that Abbie has a GINORMOUS bladder, and goes 2 or 3 times a day (her choice). What I DO know, she has certain times of the day she is less likely to be troublesome. Mornings, and late evenings. I know leaving her out for a short time between 4 & 8 will probably be destructive. I also know the foster dog, if he hasn’t done his big business after a meal and we have to leave, crate…cuz there will be a mess…grrrr

    Good luck!

  5. Heartbeat-At-My-Feet July 6, 2012 at 11:32 AM #

    We were super lucky with Oscar…we had him from 8 weeks old and he took the crate really well. We crated him until he was about a year old, and then just like you did, we started leaving him out for short increments at a time. We’re lucky that it turns out he is naturally a very trustworthy dog – he had full run of the house within 6 months of starting to un-crate him. Every dog is different though – as you can tell by my ranting and frustration with current foster Cooper! Cooper – not so trustworthy. Our solution is to close them off into a room that we’ve pretty much doggy-proofed. As far as crating fosters and crating Lucy, maybe if you put the crate in one room and leave Lucy in the other room that she’s used to being “free” in, they wouldn’t worry so much about being “fair.”

    • That Touch of Pit ... July 6, 2012 at 11:37 AM #

      Even if they’re both crated, they’re still in separate rooms. Lucy is a very social dog, and because of that, I have to have fosters who are very social. Because both dogs will always want to play if they see each other, I crate them in separate rooms so it doesn’t drive them insane!

  6. annienpaulmom July 6, 2012 at 11:54 AM #

    We tried crating, however, it never quite worked out for us. Paul and Annie have the 2nd bedroom in our house to themselves. For the most part, we don’t care about what happens to the stuff in the room (we’ve had accidents, and thanks to a hardwood floor they’re pretty easy to clean up). They have the weather channel on all day and 2 windows to look out of to see what’s going on outside.

  7. Kristin July 6, 2012 at 2:52 PM #

    I experienced the same thing. The first day home, I gave my 8 month old shelter pup free reign of the house and lost 2 pair of expensive shoes. Thankfully she took to the crate very well but also has some separation anxiety so she would scratch the wood doors when left alone. She was crated for 4 years and one day I decided to take a chance and it’s worked out wonderfully. Occasionally she will get into something (mostly the cat food) but nothing major. I’m so relieved to not have to “lock her up” anymore. My biggest fear is she is very reactive to stimuli outside and she bounces off the picture window if she catches sight of something. I don’t want to see her go through it but nothing bad so far…. Some dogs really don’t mind their crates and I don’t think it’s cruel to have to crate them (as long as it’s not for extended periods of time) but I am thankful she finally is able to be free just so she can stretch out on the bed with her “brother” and kitty “sister”. Best of luck to you!

  8. Erica July 6, 2012 at 9:18 PM #

    Wilson and I have also been back and forth on this issue with Cofi. For a while she was great being out of the crate, no chewing or peeing. But then one day, maybe 4 months ago, we got a new book shelf and let’s just say she did a number on it, chewed almost the entire side. After that it was back to the crate. In April/may we moved her into the bathroom instead , just took out all the stuff she could get into (rugs, shampoo etc.) She was fine there , but she still didn’t like it very much. Lately (past 2 weeks) we’ve been leaving her out solo in the house for short intervals, maybe an hour or 2 at most, and no incident. What we do is we use the removable window screens and put them up against anything that we know she is prone to chewing, such as the bookshelves. I also have a “special toy” ,her kong filled with either treats, or if i have time, frozen peanut butter. I give it to her before we go out to keep her occupied.

  9. prettie little pittie July 8, 2012 at 2:31 PM #

    Like Pittieful Love, G took almost a year and a half to be reliably housebroken (let’s talk frustrating!!). I had always crate trained my dogs, so when I left for work, in she would go and – at the very least – I didn’t have to worry about anything while I was gone. Little did I know the crate actually heightened her separation anxiety (she would shriek when I left her and I was totally unaware), so very slowly we’ve removed the crates from our lives altogether. G no longer has any crates to speak of. When I leave her, she gets her citronella collar and promptly crashes out. I’m very lucky – she never gets into anything when I’m not around!

  10. Matt.S July 13, 2012 at 10:12 AM #

    Each dog is individual. Herman was crated when home alone, more for his safety than anything else, as he was prone to get into things.

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