Crates are useful training and safety tools for dog owners and a resting place for the dog. Crating is highly recommended by professional trainers and veterinarians as something that benefits both the owner and the dog. But when using dog crates incorrectly, they can become a hazard and a source of stress, anxiety and discomfort for the dog.
Picking the best dog crate on the market you can afford is not going to prevent any potential issues when it's used incorrectly and without safety precautions. Not only do you need to know how to use crates as an effective tool, and turn it into a safe and pleasant home for the dog, but you also need to go through crate training the dog. Here are some dog crate safety tips to follow to ensure your pooch loves his new little house.
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11 Tips on How to Use Dog Crates Safely
1. Pick the Right Size and Type of a Crate
The right size is crucial when it comes to dog crates. Ensure the crate is neither too small or too large. Picking the wrong crate size can have a negative impact on the dog’s physical and mental health, which may cause the dog stress, as well as cause behavioral problems.
Your pet should be able to comfortably stand, turn around and lie flat in the crate. Do not leave too much space which increases the likelihood of pooping in the crate. If you have a puppy, get a crate to accommodate his eventual full size (you can get dividers for it), or keep acquiring additional dog crates as he continues to grow.
2. Mind the Duration Your Dog Is in the Crate
Do not confine your dog for long periods of time. Crates are only intended to be for short-term confinement. A rule of thumb is that the dog should never be in a crate longer than he can hold his bladder or bowels.
If you are leaving your pet at home while you're at work, try to get a dog walker or other caregiver to walk and play with your pet daily instead of keeping him locked up. Other than stress and mental health problems, dogs who have severe anxiety and are left in a crate for too long will try to escape by chewing their way out. This can lead to broken teeth, cuts, or other injuries.
A toy which can keep a dog busy for hours, such as KONG Classic with frozen peanut butter in it, can be helpful. Short term your pet will be fine, but for dogs being kept in crates for more than one hour, toys are highly recommended to keep them from getting bored and restless.
3. Provide Water (and food, maybe)
Half an hour isn't long, but anything longer than that will require some preparation. Your canine will need access to water. He shouldn't need food if you're not leaving him for too long. You can place his food/water bowl in elevated containers or those that attach to the walls of the dog crate. The dog won't be able to knock them over and can easily access it when needed.
If you're around the house, and you're briefly crating your pooch, or going through the process of crate training and supervising your pooch while he's in his den, then providing food and water may not be necessary. It's also less of a chance to create additional mess.
4. Proper Placement
The crate is likely to have a regular place in your home, so mind where you station it. All dog crates should only be indoors, in a room that has proper heating and/or cooling. Do not leave the crate in places where your pet can be tempted or distracted by things like food in front of him but just out of reach.
5. Remove Collar and Leash
Remove your dog’s collar before crating him for safety reasons. Collars can get snagged on the bars and edges of crates, and are a choking hazard for crated dogs. If you deem it necessary to keep the dog’s collar on while crated short-term, only use a breakaway collar, which can easily come off if the dog pulls at it.
6. Mind the Children Around the Dog Crate
You should not allow children (or strangers) near the crate while the dog is in it. Kids tend to tease dogs or pull at their ears, and some dogs exhibit aggression behind bars. Allowing children or strangers near a crated dog is a safety concern for parties on both sides of the crate. It's also likely this will make your pet dislike being in a crate in the future.
7. Proper Assembly
Depending on the type of crate you have, the assembly might differ. Follow instructions and ensure it's put together properly; check it for any snags or protrusions before placing your pet inside. The last thing you want is for Fido to cut himself while confined and unsupervised.
Different types of dog crates will need to be assembled in different ways. The two most popular types, metal and soft crates, will usually be folded and assembly is generally quick and easy. That said, there's room for error as the crates can break down on your dog if not assembled correctly. Some heavy duty cages come already assembled (so that they are indestructible and difficult to break down).
8. Bedding Inside the Crate
You want your dog to be comfortable in his place, and bedding can make it feel like home for the pet. Some pet owners will choose sheets or blankets – these are fine as long as you're around and can check in on your Fido. Dogs will often chew these things apart, which also becomes a choking hazards. For unsupervised dogs, pick a crate pad – a comfy, padded mat specifically designed for dog crates, easy to clean and harder to destroy.
Another option is place a dog crate bed. If using a bed, only do this after you have successfully crate trained your dog. Unlike crate pads, beds are easier for the dog to start chewing on, and an untrained dog is more likely to chew through his bed.
9. Exercise Before Crating
Ideally, you want to exercise your dog before and after crating. A good dog is a tired dog. The best way to make sure your dog doesn't destroy his dog crate, or the toys and bowls you've provided, is to make him tired. A tired dog is also less likely to experience stress and anxiety. Therefore, this will keep crate associations positive, and the crate will be viewed as a resting space rather than a confinement space.
10. Crate Training is Essential
Do not expect to simply place your dog in a crate and be done with it. Crate training is required for most dogs, and it's a process that can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the pet. It's best to start when your pooch is still a puppy. Begin with crating him for short periods of time, supervised, and work your way up to longer periods before leaving the dog unattended.
Leaving the crate door open and accessible during normal times can help your pet make more positive associations with the crate, and he's likely to choose to go in his crate for resting or to get some privacy. Read this, this and this for more crate training tips.
11. Address Separation Anxiety
Do not crate your dog if you know he suffers from separation or confinement anxiety. Your dog likely needs training to address the anxiety issue before you can confine him and leave unsupervised. Dealing with your dog's separation anxiety is crucial, and ignoring it is likely to cause more stress for your dog, which manifests itself in mental problems, destructive behavior and other issues.
If you have a rescue dog, know if he experienced neglect or abuse in his past (as is sometimes the case with adopted dogs). If your pooch came from a shelter, take extra steps to ensure that there is no trauma associated with cages, confinement, and solitude. Dogs do not need crates, but if you're using it as a helpful tool, then be sure yours can view the crate as a positive and a non-threatening space.
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