DANGERS OF CRATING THE FAMILY DOG.
The Smiths’ have recently adopted a German shepherd mix. Then there’s the usual story. They bring him home only to find that he chews everything to shreds in their home. They then call in a trainer. The reputable trainer advises them to buy a crate and to crate their new family pet, whenever he is not being supervised. They take his advice. After all he is a reputable trainer and they do want their home in one piece.
The problem with all the above is that many families are not aware of the dangers of using a crate. And too many households rely solely on the information they get from their trainer without getting additional information on crating. No matter what pet shop owners, trainers or shelters say, a dog crate is just a box with a few holes in. “It is just a way to ignore and warehouse them until you get around to taking care of them properly,” says Peta.
I first met Judy when she was walking Wriggly. Wriggly was terrified of everything around her. She shied away from my hand as I tried to pat her and quivered in fear whenever she came into contact with another dog or person. Judy explained to me that she had recently been hired from Pet Sitters to walk Wriggly and that both owners were doctors and were away at work all day. Wriggly had been crated for hours at a time and only been allowed out for thirty minutes when they let her run outside in their garden. She was then crated again until the morning where she would be let out for thirty minutes and then crated once again for the rest of the day, until both doctors arrived back from work. When Wriggly had started showing signs of aggression and fear, the Smiths’ had taken her to the veterinarian. Fortunately the veterinarian had questioned them about Wriggly’s daily activities and had suggested a Pet Sitter twice a day to walk Wriggly or take her to the Dog Park or beach. Wriggly had to learn how to socialize and had to be housebroken.
Crating began as a way for people who showed their dogs at dog shows to keep their dogs clean and safe from other dogs. However, dogs are highly sociable pack animals and do not thrive in isolation .All dogs need socialization, companionship, physical exercise and psychological stimuli. They also need praise and the freedom to walk around and to be able to relieve themselves outside, as well as the opportunity to stretch out, relax and play freely.
Studies have shown that many dogs that have been crated for long periods of time have physical and psychological problems. They become fearful, aggressive and develop destructive behaviors that are very difficult to change. They can also develop eating disorders and anti-social behavioral patterns. Keeping your dogs in a crate after surgery or when a veterinarian recommends rest is fine but experts agree on short term crating with plenty of opportunity for the dog to be able to walk around and have companionship.
I bumped into Wriggly a few weeks later and it was amazing how much of a changed dog she was. She flew past me, tail in the air pulling Judy at a non -stop pace. She looked happy and excited to see the world around her, the fresh air, flowers and of course, other dogs and people. She let me stroke her and as I was speaking to Judy she put her paw to my leg and nuzzled me with affection. Her message was picture- clear as she gazed into my eyes: Don’t stop stroking me. I love this. This became my routine, whenever I passed both Judy and Wriggly; I stopped and welcomed her to my side. Crouching low right next to her face, she always covered me with welcome licks and pawed me for more pats if I stopped stroking her. What had previously been a depressed, introverted dog with shy aggression had turned into one of the most wonderful, loving dogs I had come across. Thinking about her experience with crating made me cringe, wondering how many other dogs were being crated in households within the US, by families that were not aware of the dangers of crating. They too would think that something was wrong with their dog or that the new- found aggression was part of the dog’s heritage.
There are many alternatives to crating for busy, working families. Many families have work schedules that simply don’t give them much time to train or walk their dogs. Trendy, new dog businesses such as Doggie Daycare with transport offer exciting alternatives to crating your family dog. These doggie daycares pick up your dog and bring him back home after a day of fun and interactive stimulation. Some offer doggie waterparks in the summer or snow fun in the Fall. Dogs are able to play and interact freely with other dogs. Older dogs and dogs with health problems are accommodated accordingly and can rest ,as well as move around freely. Interactive dog training is another alternative, which allows for dog owners and families-children too, to learn effective methods on ways to train and communicate with your new furry -best friend. Simple obedience training with a sympathetic trainer will make for an obedient dog that is well-behaved and that has no need for crating. Pet Sitters have become a big trend here in the US and qualified sitters can visit your home up to a few times daily to walk your dogs and give them companionship while families are away. Neighbors or a good friend of the family are also great dog walkers since your dog is already familiar with them. Doggie doors that provide access to a safe, secure yard also gives the family dog an opportunity to go outside by himself and relieve himself. Leaving a few stimulating, interactive toys in the yard for your dog to play with, enables him to entertain himself and provides lots of stimulation that is crucial to his development, especially if he is a young dog.
Wriggly and I often bump into each other. She is now so calm and friendly that the Smiths’ take her to Starbucks on the weekends, where she sits outside and welcomes everybody. Now, less than a year later she has become the dog that she was meant to become. It took a good year of socialization, training and fun trips to her favorite dog park ,for her to become her natural self around family and strangers. Judy and I laugh when we see each other now. She feels strangely relieved that this has worked out for Wriggley and the Smiths’ and is familiar with this situation, saying how often crating problems occur in families that are just trying to do their best.
Where we look for information regarding the best care for our dogs’ is just as important, as being fully aware of the psychological, social and physical requirements that our dogs need. For those who are lucky enough to spend their days at home with their furry-best friends, crating should never be an option.
Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer in West Palm Beach.