What is a crate, and why use one?
One of the most misunderstood aspects of dog ownership by the general public is the use of a crate to confine a dog. Because pet owners tend to look at the confinement of their pet in what looks and seems in their minds to be nothing more than a cage as cruel, many potentially good pets are misunderstood and often disposed of due to behavioral problems that may have been avoided altogether if proper use of a crate would have been implemented.
Well, what is a crate?
A dog crate is a rectangular enclosure which may be manufactured completely of wire, allowing the dog to view his entire world from any angle, or of plastic with a grated door which is commonly used to ship dogs via commercial airlines. Dog crates have long been used by breeders and dog show exhibitors to safely confine and monitor an ill dog or a dog in season. It is also an excellent tool to expedite housetraining and, in multiple dog households, feeding a dog in a crate helps to ensure that each gets his fair share while allowing the owner to closely monitor food intake. In particular, Italian Greyhounds are very busy and inquisitive dogs. They are often more interested in what's going on around them than in eating. Feeding your IG in a crate is an excellent way to counteract this aspect of their personality and will encourage your dog to eat what you give him when you give it and avoid the "picky eater" syndrome you sometimes see.
I think it's cruel! Who wants to put their dog in a cage?
Most pet owners respond in this manner; yet, many of them don't have any qualms about restricting their children by putting the child in a playpen or crib. The principle is the same with one major difference--dogs by nature are den animals. Dogs will instinctively seek out a secluded and quiet spot when they need to be alone. A crate is the most secure environment for them and satisfies this need. Wire crates do not have as much of the enclosed den-like feeling as the plastic airline models so, if you choose to use a wire crate, it is wise to cover it to make the environment more den-like. Dogs require and want a structured environment. They need to be fed, exercised, and put to bed at the same time everyday. Use of a crate facilitates this structure by giving the dog a "known".
I only have one dog, why should I use a crate?
When a dog crate is correctly used, there are many advantages to the pet owner:
A crate facilitates housetraining by allowing you to safely confine your dog to his bed. Dogs by nature do not want to soil their sleeping quarters. It also allows you to set a schedule for sleeping, eating, and elimination, which is a key point in housetraining.
A crate allows you to safely confine your dog when you are not at home, thus eliminating the problem of chewing or destructive behavior.
With a crate, you can safely travel with your dog without having him become a projectile in the event of an accident. Nor do you have to worry about your dog jumping out an open door or window when you stop the car.
With a crate, you can confine your dog during periods of great stress (Fourth of July, during meals, repairmen, etc.) or if your dog is ill.
Can a crate be abused?
Certainly, any training device can be abused. A crate should NEVER be used as an elimination area for your dog. You should make sure that the crate is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and stretch out fully on his side. Human supervision and interaction is vital! An adult dog should be crated no more than 4-6 hours at the most per day! A puppy should be crated for no more than 2 hour stretches at a time. Bed time is an exception although with a young puppy you should plan for one outing sometime during the night. Make sure that no more than 4 hours have elapsed between bed time and your nightly outing.
My dog messes in his crate no matter what I do, HELP!
If you got your dog from a responsible breeder, they will have laid the foundation and/or successfully trained your puppy or dog to his crate. If you are still encountering problems, you should first contact the breeder. A responsible breeder is always willing to educate and give advice. Chances are that it is a matter of leaving the dog crated too long, waiting too long after meals or naps to take the dog out to relieve himself, or a drastic change in schedule from what the puppy or dog was used to in his former environment.
Pet shop dogs are a different matter entirely. Pet shop puppies are raised in conditions which modify the dog's natural aversion to messing in his bed. This is due to the extensive amount of time these puppies are in small cages. They are forced to eat, sleep, play, and eliminate in their sleeping area. With pet shop dogs, it is wise to use an exercise pen* with newspapers for elimination and give them a soft bed. WORD OF WARNING: With an Italian Greyhound, ALWAYS make sure the exercise pen you use has a top! Italian Greyhounds are notorious for sailing out of exercise pens. Very short periods in the crate can be utilized for feeding and then SLOWLY graduated over time as the dog's behavior is modified.
* An exercise pen is a wire enclosure standing 3 to 4 feet high, and measuring 3 or 4 feet square. They are available through many of the mail order pet supply catalogs, or from vendors at dog shows.
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