To Crate or not To Crate?

Crates and pens – so much debate! It’s a minefield for a new dog owner.  Some people say it’s cruel, some people say their dogs just don’t like them.  So why use one in the first place then or continue to put your dog through it if they don’t like the crate or pen?

It’s something I’ve definitely had to adjust my mindset to.  And now I see the benefits, I have to say I’m a full supporter of crates, pens and boundaries. And I have been through it ALL!

The separation problems started in lockdown, and not long before, Buddy started to refuse to go in his crate. A place he used to go in on cue and seemed to love! Being out was NOT an option, given the choice, he would happily chew the skirting board, or even the WALL! And once a dog gets their teeth into something, and it feels so so good on those poorly gums, they will choose that again and again unless you take the choice away.

Being ‘reactive’ to noises and movement, it also wasn’t an exactly calm experience for Buddy all of the time.  Yes he can settle, but he doesn’t stay settled for more than a few minutes.  Dogs that doesn’t sleep or rest = cranky, overtired, nippy, reactive dog.  Just like some toddlers can fall asleep absolutely anywhere, but some need that quiet space to sleep and rest. The same can be said for dogs.  At least for a few years while they are still learning and training – of course the ultimate goal is that they can be happy and content snuggled at your feet or on the sofa, whichever you prefer!

So when Buddy stopped going into his crate, what did we do!

Well, after I cried for a bit (seriously, I have cried A LOT!) we fashioned a space with a large pen, but it was still too much for him. He had lots of space, he could jump out, and I still had to ‘trick’ him to get him in there and he would still bark like a banshee.

Buddy the White Border Collie

We needed to ‘fix’ the crate.  But how could we do that when we hated it do much?  I would literally put liver, cheese and sausage in there, and he would walk AROUND it and paw at the edges to get the food out.  Then look at me and bark. As if to say, yeah right. Get me the food out woman because I aint going in there! This is the trouble with clever dogs.  They know what you are doing before you even know it yourself!

So we had to address first the issue of Buddy screaming whenever I left the room.  I had to find an alternative place for him to settle, while we trained the crate and pen.  Luckily the kitchen has been trained already as a calm place, so I made sure he couldn’t get anything to get into trouble, and I worked on leaving him for short periods,  At first just moving a feet or two away from the kitchen entrance, and then out of sight.  Rewarding etc etc.  Going to the toilet. Really really really slowly, It’s so important to take it slow.

In the meantime I also had crates and pens everywhere.  Played games going in and out of them etc.  Buddy would happily sleep on the kitchen floor, but it was still too much of a noisy environment.

The only way I could really get Buddy to go into a pen or crate was to lead him in on lead and he would hop straight in.  If at any time he tried to dig his heels in, then I knew we had to take it back a step or two again.

Once he was going in his crate or pen and staying there. I would hang around and reward next to it.  So he would be in a crate in my bedroom while I got ready. Or I would work next to him. One of the pens and crates are in a separate room off our dining room. Which is great as it’s nice and quiet in there for him.

Eventually I started working on distance with the crate and pen.  Rewarding regularly.

I also had another fail safe. The car. He does love his car crate. I’ve spent a lot of time building up value in the car, he comes to most places with me and sleeps in there. Sometimes the car ends in a walk, sometimes we just hang waiting on the school run and I work while he sleeps! It has a cover over so he can’t see the outside world and it’s on the back seat. I can drive my car up to the side of my house too.

We occasionally have a few blips. But I am now at the point where Buddy can go in a pen or crate, at any point during the day when he needs rest, and I need to work! His behaviour and ‘reactivity’ because of it has reduced dramatically.  I kid you not it’s all 100% relevant. All because of getting the respite that he really needs.

And we are now working on boundaries when he is with us, so that he can make calmer choices.

The thing is, Border Collies get a bad rep as dogs that need to go and go. Action prompting their owners to play with them all the time.  Needing 3 long walks a day.  And I’ve discovered that actually a dog will become what you let it. However if you can teach a dog to be calm, then it’s half the battle towards most behaviour struggles you will EVER face.

Do you think crates and pens are cruel? Or have they really helped your dog? Would love to hear your thoughts below.

If you have an anxious, nervous or reactive dog like Buddy, we have a little Facebook group where we support each other and chat. Come and check it out and say hi!

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