To Crate …

… or not to crate, that is the question!  And one frequently discussed when it comes to housetraining issues or adding a new dog to a household.  Many folks view them as “cruel” but — when used properly — they can be your best friend’s best friend.  Seriously. 

Dogs are hardwired with an instinct to “den.”  In the wild, a den (often dug underground) is a safe place … one used for sleeping, raising their young, and protection.  That instinct can be shaped to an owner’s benefit and, at the same time, provide the dog with an area they can call their own.

The canine is an innately clean creature and will generally avoid soiling in the place where it sleeps.  A crate, used in conjunction with a consistent housetraining program, teaches the young dog — or an adult — what is and what isn’t appropriate toileting.  Use of a crate also allows the owner to monitor the dog’s progress more closely and make adjustments accordingly. 

Another aspect of crate training that is often overlooked is the safe haven it provides for the dog.  They view it as their own personal den — a safe place — where they can go to nap or remove themselves from situations which make them uncomfortable such as a very active house, holiday gatherings, small children, thunderstorms, etc.  A crate-trained dog also undergoes less stress at the vet’s office or the groomer.  What’s the first thing the vet or groomer does when you leave your dog there … put them in a crate!  A dog comfortable with a crate will usually settle down quickly.  One that’s not familiar with a crate undergoes a much higher level of stress and anxiety in an already stressful situation. 

Nap time!

A crate-trained dog is easier to travel with as well as being safer in a vehicle.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories recounted of a person traveling with dogs loose in the vehicle.  An accident occurs and the dogs are: (1) killed outright from being thrown around the vehicle or ejected from the vehicle; (2) they get loose and run off, never to be seen again, or (3) shot by the highway patrol because they’ve become a danger to other traffic on the roadway when they can’t be caught.  My dogs settle down and sleep in their crates when traveling, making me a better driver as I’m not distracted by them.  Once you arrive at your destination, a crate can be used to keep them comfortable in the hotel room … their home away from home, if you will.

I didn’t use to believe in crates.  Indeed, my first Apso never saw the inside of one and slept with me nightly.  It wasn’t until she was gone that I realized how disrupted my sleep was — I no longer woke up many times during the night to see where she was before turning over or moving in bed.  Ali arrived as a crate-trained adult with the instructions to give crating a try.  Okay, easy enough to set up a crate (or three) in our bedroom.  We’ve never looked back and all dogs, whether mine or a foster, are crate trained.  Indeed, my dogs will put themselves to bed (crate) at night on their own and I often find them napping in them during the day.  Nor is it unusual to find the resident feline curled up in a crate, sleeping.  Ali has a “nite-nite” routine … she’ll run around the house looking for just the “right” toy.  Once found, she comes to the doorway of the front room and stands there, looking at us with the toy in her mouth.  We’ll wave and say “nite-nite” and off to crate she goes, putting herself to bed.

The other night, after staying up late and watching a movie, I was closing crate doors and neglected to shut Franker’s door.  The only reason I know that is because finally, at around 6:00 a.m., he jumped up on the foot of the bed and snuggled in.  His choice was to sleep in his crate rather than our bed the majority of the night.  Ali flat refuses to sleep on our bed despite coaxing on our part.  The lights go out and she’s off the bed, headed for her crate.  That’s her bed … no bones about it!   If the boys get too rambunctious in their play, she goes to her crate removing herself from the chaos.

I also crate my dogs when I’m not at home for longer than an hour or two.  I don’t have to worry if Ali is eating something inappropriate … the boys haven’t injured themselves or broke something with their boisterous wrestling … and the foster dog hasn’t toileted inappropriately.

Kennel up!

The Canine/Canine Bond …

Mr. Bed Head ...
Mr. Bed Head ...

The morning routine with three dogs changes very little from day to day.  Despite the fact Alan gets up some two hours before my alarm chimes,  the dogs sleep quietly in their crates until I greet the day.  Once up, the dogs are released from their crates in our bedroom and a small but colorful parade of Apsos makes its way to the back door.  Frankers excitedly prances, looking back over his shoulder to see if Ali is following, her usual ploddng self.  Dante brings up the rear … most likely with a slight detour off the hardwood into the front room to check out whatever toy was left out the night before or to goose the resident marble-brained cat.  An, ahem, well-placed nose will make him squeak loudly as he doesn’t buy into the typical canine greeting, considering it extremely rude to have a nose poked at one’s hiney!

Ali and Frankers go out immediately.  Dante — anticipating being picked up and put on a crate for banding — waits for me by the back door.  They thrive on routine, knowing what to expect as I go about making coffee and setting up their bowls for breakfast.

Having multiple dogs in the house — and one of them an intact male — came with a learning curve.  Despite the challenges, it has been an ongoing lesson in pack behavior.  One thing that became apparent early on was the canine’s innate need for interaction with others of its own kind.  While one can provide for their every need, we — as humans — cannot replicate the canine-to-canine bond.  A need that is hard wired into the canine psyche, a survival instinct sharply honed over the millenia.

'Rassling buddies ...
'Rassling buddies ...

Ali, adopted as an adult, acquired the nickname of “the Red Slug” shortly after she arrived nine years ago.  Once she adapted to the routine and activity of the household, she became … bored.  We took her places, including biking, canoeing, and on forays to PetSmart.  She had more toys than she could reasonably play with; she got to visit with my parents’ Tzu.  We worked on training.  We included her in all the assorted goings-on associated with work in our large yard.  Yet … something was still missing.  Exactly what that “something” was quickly became apparent with Franker’s entrance as an eight-month old puppy.  Infused by his energy, they became fast partners in crime and curiosity.  We couldn’t find one without the other being close at hand (and is still the case).  Wrestling matches became the canine sport of choice.  No matter the activity — or lack thereof — they sought one other out, taking comfort in each other’s presence.  As the fosters rotate in, they too are assimilated into the pack each with their own place in the pecking order. 

There’s a certain joy watching them interact … and a joy within them that’s unmistakable.  We humans tend to believe we’re the be all to end all, but I think our canine friends might disagree.  While adding a second dog will increase expenses (food, grooming, vet, etc.), the “return” is definitely worth the investment … for humans and dogs alike!