Do you have friends or neighbors who keep their dog confined to a crate all day while they’re at work or to train a new puppy? Do you want to let them know that this is harmful, but you’re not sure how to address the issue in a friendly, nonconfrontational way? Here are some suggested tacks you can try:
Been there, done that. You could try telling the person that you’ve tried crating a dog yourself—or you know someone who did—and it ended disastrously. Dogs who are crated (caged) for long periods of time often develop mental health problems, including separation anxiety, hyperactivity, shyness, aggression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders like constant chewing and licking. Some animal shelters even have a term for it: “cage crazy.” Many dogs can be rehabilitated once the crating is stopped, but some dogs are permanently scarred by the experience. Tell your friends that you’d hate for them to go through the same thing that you (or your other friend) did and that you wish someone had told you then what you know now so that you could have avoided unintentionally tormenting your dog.
What’s it going to take to put you in this crate today? Some dog trainers, vets, groomers, and pet supply stores that promote crates just so happen to sell the cages themselves—isn’t that convenient? And isn’t it handy that some of these folks can then turn around and provide the training services and/or medications that you’re going to need to treat the behavior problems caused by locking your dog in a box all day? Sounds suspect, doesn’t it? Let your friend in on the secret.
Fire your dog trainer. Ask your friend if he or she is seeing results. Is the dog behaving better since being confined to a crate all day? More likely, the dog is actually behaving worse when he or she is finally let out of the crate. The dog probably is depressed (learned helplessness), tentative, fearful, or runs around like a maniac at the first taste of freedom. Dogs can’t learn how to interact normally with people or other animals when they spend all day inside a box—they need exercise and training, and they need feedback and the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned (such as self-restraint, making good decisions, etc.). Good dog trainers know this, which is why they do not recommend crates. Crating is promoted by trainers who either lack the skill to train a dog properly or who are more interested in having more paying customers than in actually solving the dogs’ problems by using a tailored approach. If a trainer advocates crating, tell your friend that it’s time to look for a better trainer.
Have you tried X, Y, and Z? Most dogs have crates either because a dog trainer/vet/salesperson advised it as a “must-have” accessory, like a leash or chew toy, or because the dog had an “accident” or got into some sort of trouble (chewed up a sofa cushion, stole the kids’ shoes, etc.). Most likely, these things happened when the dog was a youngster, and he or she has long since become housetrained and stopped teething. Those life stages are long gone, yet the crate/cage/solitary confinement remains, like keeping teenagers confined to the playpens that they crawled around in as toddlers. Urge your friend to try “weaning” the dog off the crate by first confining him or her to one room with a baby gate and seeing how things go. Of course, the house will need to be dog-proofed (share PETA’s safety tips with your friend), and arrangements will need to be made for someone to take the dog outside for a walk mid-day.
For more tips on how to train your canine companion humanely, check out PETA’s Four “P’s” of Training. For solving dog behavioral problems, If Only They Could Speak, Dogs Behaving Badly, and The Dog Who Loved Too Much, all by Nicholas Dodman, are excellent. For books on the negative effects of crating, check out Dogs Hate Crates and Dog in a Box, both by Ray and Emma Lincoln.