When the idea of crate training first become popular, trainers were hard pressed to convince dog owners it was a good thing, because many protested that it seemed cruel to cage their dog all day. However, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, like abusing crate time.
Wolves in the wild have a natural instinct to build a den in which to sleep, eat, raise their young, hide from other predators, and feel safe and secure. Modern day domesticated dogs don't need dens, as they fit very nicely in homes, RV's condos, apartments, houseboats and just about anywhere else they can live in harmony with people. However, crates afford dogs a place to call their own. A crate offers today's busy dog-about-town relief from the stresses of the day and place to go when they don't want to be bothered. Crate training is a great tool for housebreaking puppies and teaching them other manners, such as not eating the couch or that chic little black dress you adore. However, too much of a good thing is not good for anyone; all things in moderation, after all. There are limits to how long a dog can stay in the crate before it becomes a prison. Wolves in the wild come and go from their den. The crate is supposed to simulate the den experience, so dogs should be able to come and go as well.
Since dogs will not soil their den, the crate provides a substitute den where you can put your dog and be fairly confident he won't eliminate until you are ready to take him out and allow him to do so appropriately. When using crate training for this purpose, it is important not to leave the dog in the crate too long or you will defeat the purpose. If he is in there so long that he cannot hold his bowel or bladder any longer and he lets loose with the urine, or worse, you will be in a position to have to break him of what could become a habit. There are rules as to how long a dog can stay in a crate during housebreaking. A young puppy, aged 8 to 10 weeks, should be taken out every half hour and allowed to try to go potty. Once the puppy goes potty, he should be allowed to be out of the crate unless you cannot watch him or everyone is going to bed. Little puppies cannot hold their bladder any longer than 30 minutes or so, so you can't expect your puppy to do what his body won't allow. As puppies age, they can stay in the crate a little longer with each passing week. Howeven, even older dogs should never be kept in the crate for more than four to five hours at a time. This means, if you work, you should come home mid-day, or pay someone to go in and let the dog out.
Leaving a dog in a crate for 8, 10, or 12 hours a day is cruel and tantamount to abuse. Dogs are social animals and seek out the pleasure of the company of other dogs or people to feel secure. Being locked away in a quiet home in a crate for long periods of time is not conducive to building a good bond with your best friend, who eyes you suspiciously every time you make a move to put him in his crate. The crate always should be a place where the dog goes voluntarily, unless it is being used for a specific purpose. It should never be used to punish your dog and you should never put him in there in anger. The golden rule should apply here, if you wouldn't want to be so confined for long periods of a time all day, you shouldn't inflict such a situation on your dog. Some may argue that dogs are left in a crate for eight hours at night while the household is asleep, so why is it bad to leave him in there all day? The body shuts down a little during sleep and the need to eliminate is not pressing. During the day, when your dog should be active, his body must be able to respond to normal functions.
Crates can be used for a lot of different occasions other than just housebreaking. They can be pressed into service as a place for a dog to recuperate post-surgery, or to rehabilitate a sore limb. Crates are great for isolating dogs when they are given chew bones or treats. They offer a place where they can enjoy their treat without the fear or threat of having to resource guard if other dogs are around. They are a source of comfort for some dogs during thunderstorms, or when noisy children come into a normally quiet home, or if there is strife in the air. Crates are great for transporting dogs safely in a car.
Not all dogs like crates, however. Some dogs have phobias or anxieties that are exacerbated by being in a crate. Placing such a dog in a crate for even a few minutes is inhumane and should be avoided. You will know from your dog's affect if he is one of those who hates the crate. He will tremble, yawn, cry or vomit when placed in the crate. It's bad to leave any dog in a crate all day, but especially heinous to do so with dogs who fear the crate and worry about being separated from their pack, the family.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.