Whether or not you should crate your puppy is an age-old debate amongst dog owners, trainers, and vets. Some people think it’s cruel, while others think there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, some people even think that crating is not just okay, but that it’s actually the best thing for you dog.
I’ve lived with dogs for literally my entire life, and my family has never crated a dog. One time we had five dogs at once, ranging from young puppies to seniors, and not a single one ever saw the inside of a crate. It just wasn’t necessary. We did, however, use some alternative methods that I’ll tell you about in moment.
That being said, I know lots of people who have crated their puppies, and I don’t think they’re monsters. I know they don’t think it is cruel or that there’s anything wrong with it. Nevertheless, I do think it is cruel, and I am going to explain why. First, though, let’s clear up some myths…
The Internet is full of people claiming that you should crate your puppy, and they use several common myths to justify this practice. These are the most popular ones I’ve come across:
Crating Is the Best Way to Potty Train a Puppy
The logic behind this myth is that dogs won’t pee in their own space, and therefore if you put them in a crate, they won’t pee or poop in the house. This is false for two reasons:
Number one, young puppies can’t hold their bladders for very long. It’s physically impossible for them, so they’re going to soil their area whether they’re in a crate or not.
Number two, stories about people successfully potty training their puppy with a crate are anecdotal. Sure, some people have success with this method, but others don’t. Let me also point out that the people who do this and boast success don’t have a control group to compare with. In other words, how do they know their dog couldn’t have been just as easily potty trained without the crate? Did they have two identical puppies, and they trained one in a crate, and the other without one?
I’ve never needed a crate to housebreak a dog, and I can guarantee you there are millions of other dog owners who could say the same thing. Crate training is a fairly modern trend, which means dog owners have been getting along just fine without it for a long time.
Dogs Like Confined Spaces
While it is true that some dogs enjoy being in a confined space from time to time, a crate is not simply a “confined space,” it is a cage. Sometimes my dog likes to curl up under my desk, or sleep in the crawl space under my house; those are what I would consider confined spaces. She does not, however, enjoy being imprisoned.
Dogs Specifically Like Their Crate
This is similar to the myth above. The claim is that dogs actually like their crate, like how a person likes being in their house. This is entirely anecdotal.
Sure, there are probably examples of dogs that genuinely do like their crate, but they’re not the majority. I would also wager that in many of these cases, the dog is free to go in and out of their crate as they please, in which case they are using it more like a dog house than a crate. Dogs are also territorial, so they will eventually view their crate as belonging to them, but that doesn’t mean they want to be locked in it.
Every time I have ever seen a puppy put in a crate, the puppy clearly hates it. They truly, genuinely, can’t stand being in that thing, and you don’t have to be Cesar Millan to know it.
Crates Are Like a “Babysitter” for Your Puppy
This is hands down the most ridiculous claim I’ve heard. This is also the kind of nonsense that encourages people to abuse crating. The idea is that while you’re away all day or sleeping all night, the crate is looking after your puppy for you like a babysitter.
So, the crate feeds them, and walks them, and plays with them? If there was an emergency, would the crate call you or dial 911? Because these are the things that a real sitter does. A crate is just a cage, and nothing more. It is no substitute for a real person. This notion that it’s like a babysitter promotes leaving your puppy in a crate for extensive amounts of time, which is actually the cruelest form of crating.
Crates Make Dogs Feel Secure
Again, while there may be some rare examples of this, most puppies are going to feel the opposite of secure when you put them in a crate. They are not going to understand why they are in there, and the fact that you put them in there and they can’t get out is going to freak them out and give them massive anxiety.
Why Crates Are Cruel
Crating is cruel because there’s no problem a crate can solve that can’t be fixed with proper training and a well-puppy-proofed house. It once was acceptable to train your dog by hitting, choking, and shocking them; but then people realized those methods are unnecessary and actually do more harm than good. Crating is no different. You’re unnecessarily putting your puppy through misery and discomfort.
A puppy in a crate is confused, anxious, and depressed. They’re incapable of understanding why you put them in there, let alone realizing you are going to let them out at some point. They think they are stuck in there forever unless they figure out a way to escape. They feel trapped.
If that’s not bad enough, remember, puppies can’t hold their bladders, so they’re also going to pee in their crate, and have to lie in their urine until they’re let out, which could be all day or all night.
Lastly, puppies should spend most of their time being active – in between frequent naps, of course. They should not spend hours on end in a space so small and constricting they can hardly move around.
The Real Reason People Use Crates
People use crates because they are convenient, and because the pet industry has convinced them that crating is a good thing. But mainly it’s just for convenience. If you stick your puppy in a crate, then you don’t have to look after them.
Many people don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night or come home on their lunch break to walk their puppy; they don’t want to worry about their puppy chewing up stuff around the house; and they don’t want to clean up any messes the puppy might make around the house. The puppy is less of an inconvenience if they can just put them in a crate.
One of the main reasons for crating a puppy is so they don’t run around all over the house making a mess, but gates can do the same thing. All you have to do is designate a space in your house to be your puppy’s place, and put up a gate or two so they can’t get out of there. Just make sure it’s a spot where they can’t do a lot of damage, and it won’t matter if they pee or poop on the floor. You can even put some newspapers down.
This is much better since it gives the puppy a lot more room to move around freely, and if they make a mess on the floor, they won’t have to lie in it.
If you don’t want to gate off a section of your house, you could always opt to use a spare room that’s been puppy proofed. Just like with the gate method, this gives them more space and they won’t be forced to lie in their own filth if they have an accident.
Puppies shouldn’t be left alone for very long, so the best alternative is actually to hire a pet sitter, or recruit a friend or family member to look after your puppy while you’re away if you plan on being gone for a long time.
If You Absolutely Must Use a Crate, Then You Shouldn’t Have a Puppy
You work long hours, you can’t function if you don’t get a full night’s sleep, you can’t find a pet sitter, etc… I get it, some people, due to their unique circumstances, just don’t have the time to look after a puppy, and so crating seems like the only option. If this sounds like you, then you shouldn’t have a puppy.
Puppies are a huge responsibility, and they require lots of special care, training, and attention. If you can’t do those things, then a puppy isn’t right for you. In fact, you should actually consider adopting an adult dog instead.
If you’re still on the fence about crating, just think of it this way: Imagine if when you were a little kid, from the time you were a baby, your parents locked you in a cage all day and all night, only letting you out a few hours a day to eat and go to the bathroom. You might get used to it. You might even learn to like being in a cage. But that doesn’t make it right.
Why should it be any different for puppies? Why should it be any different for an animal that also feels fear, stress, anxiety, loneliness, frustration? It’s shouldn’t be. Puppies don’t belong in crates.