From Day One, Monty showed that he was smarter than I was. When I first brought him home from the rescue center, he checked out the crate before sniffing the rest of the house. From the first moment, he knew this was his own special place. I did nothing to mess up an important connection that served him well through the years.
The crate is not a cage
According to the American Humane Association, all dogs need a sanctuary that makes them feel secure. Monty made this clear one time when I put him to bed in his crate one night. I was trying to wean him away from sleeping there, so I closed the door without locking it. When I walked away, he started barking. When I came back to ask what was wrong, he hit the door with his paw, making it swing open. At that moment I realized that he didn’t think I was locking him in. In his eyes, I was locking the world out!
Monty eventually learned to sleep outside of his crate, but he continued to use it. He would wander into his crate during particularly violent thunder storms or just when he wanted to be alone. And, of course, it was a great way to temporarily escape a bath.
Use a crate judiciously during training
Crates can become an integral part of your dog’s early training. Used properly, they can make housebreaking much easier, and they can be good places to keep your dog safe for short periods when you cannot be around, provided you don’t overdo it. When I went off to work in the morning, I limited Monty’s access to the house by putting him in the kitchen, using the crate (door open) to block the doorway. He had access to toys and water within the kitchen, but I typically found him sleeping in the crate when I returned home.
I don’t believe in using a crate for punishment. “Go to your room” may work for children, but I just don’t think dogs get the right message. My neighbor sends her dog to her crate when she does something wrong, and she is definitely not traumatized from the experience, which is good. But when they come home after she has misbehaved, they often find her in her crate. My theory is that she thinks it’s OK to do something wrong, as long as you go into your crate afterwards. On the brighter side, my neighbors instantly know to look for some form of mess when she doesn’t greet them at the door.
A den may be one of the best things you give your dog
When I was a kid, I loved my family, but sometimes I just wanted to get away from them for a while, so I would go to my room. The point of a crate is to provide your dog with a safe den. Pick a spot that does not expose him to excess drafts or heat, and place a towel over the sides to provide privacy. What you place inside the crate depends on your dog. For example, a ripping dog does not get bedding or soft toys unless he learns to stop this type of behavior. But regardless of the details, a crate gives your dog his own special place where he can get away from it all.