There are countless ways to train your dog, depending on your dog’s personality, your pet parenting style, and what you want to teach your dog. One training method in particular has become popular in the United States, but hasn’t enjoyed the same popularity around the world – in fact, it’s even illegal in some countries.

Crate training is the practice of training your dog to accept a wire cage or crate as a safe space, but is this practice safe, and should you try it?

Let’s find out!

What is crate training?

Your dog has a natural instinct to seek out quiet, comfortable spaces especially when they’re anxious, fearful or overwhelmed, although there is controversy around whether dogs are actually “den animals”.

The primary idea behind crate training is that it utilizes this instinct to help your dog become comfortable in a crate – which can be a wire, plastic, or wooden structure.

According to Kaitlyn Arford from the American Kennel Club, most veterinarians and breeders in the United States actually recommend crate training dogs.

Along with the psychological benefits for your dog, it also aids owners in keeping their dogs in a safe space when they aren’t home so that they can’t soil or damage the rest of the house.

Why is crate training so popular in the USA?

Crate training is considered a uniquely American dog training mechanism, and isn’t popularly practiced in the rest of the world.

In other countries, there is the expectation that if you want a puppy, you will need to commit yourself to keeping a close eye on them, puppy-proofing your home, and house training them instead of confining them to a crate.

In fact, crate training is illegal in Sweden and Finland, where dogs can only be confined to crates during travel or recovering from injury.

So why did it take off in the USA and nowhere else?

According to Jad Sleiman of NPR, urban dog owners in the USA simply don’t have the space to allow their dogs to roam and play outside.

Along with that, Americans work long hours, have few (if any) vacation days – paid leave days, as we call them – and American culture is built around convenience, even when it comes to pet ownership.

The pros and cons of crate training

Arford lists these benefits of crate training:

  • Dogs don’t like to soil in a space where they sleep, so it will help them control their bladders and bowels while they’re in the crate.
  • If you travel with your dog often, it helps them become used to being in a crate, so they are less stressed during travel.
  • Crates aid dogs in self-soothing and limiting their movement if they need to heal from an injury or surgery.
  • Having your dog sleep in a crate prevents night-time wandering or causing damage to your property when you aren’t home.
  • It can teach your dog proper behaviours and boundaries while at home.

Michelle Lew from Pet Helpful says that crate training can have negative effects on a dog’s physical and mental wellbeing, especially if improperly implemented. Here are some of the cons she highlights:

  • It can cause physical frustration and emotional stress, especially if you’re trying to crate train an older dog.
  • Crates should be used as a training mechanism, not as a kennel (where dogs are free to enter and exit as they please). Keeping a dog confined to their crate for too long can cause them to develop anxieties around their crate.
  • Although crate training is touted as a solution to housetraining, puppies under 6 months don’t have full control of their bowels or bladders. Soiling their crate can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, especially if the owner reinforces it.
  • A crate creates a literal barrier between your dog and the rest of the family, and may cause them to feel excluded from family life.
  • Owners should never use the crate as punishment, or when they simply don’t want to deal with their dog. They need to be careful to reinforce the crate as a safe space for their dog to retreat to, not as punishment when their dog is displaying unwanted behaviours.

Should you crate train your dog?

South African infrastructure and city planning means that the majority of the population doesn’t live in densely populated cities (like New York City) and those who live within the greater city limits usually live in the suburban areas, where homes are slightly bigger and often have gardens.

When South Africans go to work, they will often put their dog outside in the garden, use baby gates to confine their dog to an area of the house, or have a housekeeper who can keep an eye on the dog during the day.

Simply put, crate training hasn’t taken off in South Africa because we just don’t need it.

If you decided to crate train your dog, it’s likely that you would get a few raised eyebrows even though American vets, breeders, and experts are adamant that the practice isn’t abusive if used correctly.

In a South African context, the most notable exception is that if you travel often with your dog. In that case, it would be beneficial to get your dog used to being confined in a crate at a young age so that they don’t become stressed when you need to travel with them.

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