Editorial January 2019 Issue

Crate Reasoning

If for no other reason, teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate for emergencies.

We have run many, many articles about crate training in the past 21 years of publishing Whole Dog Journal. Though I’m sure at least one of those articles mentioned that an emergency evacuation is one very good reason to make sure your dog is comfortable in a crate, I’m not sure we ever gave it more space than a single sentence in a long article about crating.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

Recent events, however, have prompted me to spend this entire editorial talking about this very compelling reason to help your dog learn how to happily spend time in a crate.

Dogs who quickly and willingly get into a crate save critical minutes in an extreme emergency evacuation. In some cases during the evacuation from the tragic Camp Fire, which started on November 8 near my town and burned for weeks, killing at least 88 people and countless animals, minutes made the difference between survival and death.

Also, animals who were securely contained in crates were easily moved from vehicle to vehicle, or carried by rescuers to safety. Many pets who were or got loose during the firestorm perished as their owners fled for their own lives.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing blog posts about the massive animal rescue efforts being made by volunteers in my community (you can read those posts on our blog site). I have been volunteering in the shelters that have been housing animals who were safely evacuated by their owners and left at the shelters (because the owners couldn’t keep their pets with them for any number of reasons) as well as the animals that have been rescued from the fire zone by firefighters, police, utility workers, and animal rescue teams.

All of the animals being held at the emergency shelters – more than 2,000 dogs, cats, birds, and other pets at the height of the event – are being held in crates: wire crates for the most part and a few in the plastic airline-style crates. As I write this, many of those animals have been living in those crates for more than three weeks. Of course, the cat cages are cleaned daily and the dogs are taken outside to potty, but sadly, given the sheer number of dogs that volunteers need to walk, the time that each dog spends outside of the crate is very short.

This is far from an ideal situation, but the dogs who obviously had experience in crates were far less traumatized by their time in the crowded shelters than the dogs who freaked out every time they had to go back into a crate after a potty walk. This broke the heart of every volunteer who was there to help care for the dogs, including me. I’ll never forget the elderly Boxer-mix who spent weeks moaning and pressing her head to the front of her crate. If only she felt that her crate was a safe place, not a hellish punishment.

Comments (15)

Any help teaching an older dog?

Posted by: JaonM | January 10, 2019 10:12 PM    Report this comment

I read the 1st part of this last week but had to stop. I was very upset by what happened on Christmas Eve. Because of all the travelling I did with my Jack Russells, they were all crate trained, both in the van and in the house. Each dog knew where their own crate was and readily got in it. Fast forward - I will not open my door to anyone if my dogs are loose inside. No matter how well trained, they are prey driven and there's always the possibility of the dog seeing a squirrel or even a leaf and dash out the door. I also crate my dogs when there is any work being done of this place. People are in and out, dogs get under foot, etc. My landlady has said several times in the past that I am mean because of this. On Christmas Eve I was at my landlady's for dinner, etc. I was holding her 16 yr. old mixed Cairn Terrier, getting little kisses from Rambo while she worked on dinner. Rambo could barely see or hear anymore. I told her she needed to crate him or put him behind a closed door before the rest of the people got there. "No, he'll be fine." More guests arrived. Someone left the door open and Rambo wandered out to the water edge. Less than 3 hours after I had told her to crate him, I was driving my landlady, holding a drowned Rambo to the crematory on Christmas Eve. It took me a while to get over this. I am crying as I write. Please. please, crate train your dogs, and use the crate. You're not being mean. You could be saving the dog's life.

Posted by: Cindie M | January 7, 2019 5:50 AM    Report this comment

I am a big believer in crate training, but my current dog had other ideas and it has broken my heart. My previous dogs loved their crates, and it made traveling wonderful. However, to see the results of panic and a true fear of enclosed spaces was very traumatic for both of us. After professional consultation my pup and I had to move on. I miss all the benefits of a crate trained dog, and it's frustrating to explain the pain my pup and I went through only to see in someone's face that I just didn't train him properly. I fully agree with this article that crate training is the best, but I want to share my story asking you not to judge dogs and owner's who don't use a crate--some might have a good reason.

Posted by: HollyBlueDog | January 7, 2019 12:59 AM    Report this comment

So very many reasons to CRATE! SAFETY first. Car Accident: dog will not run away when scared. Motel room, vet clinic, neighbors home while they pet sit, 4th of July padded crate in bedroom, sick dog, sick children at home, elderly friend visits, whole family visits at once, move to new house, fire, flood, wind storm: your dog is "at home" in their crate. How to train is easy - feed them in the crate! Only give that "special" treat in the crate. Put the food in the back and leave the door open at first. Close door and give a treat. Walk away - go back and treat again. You will NEVER regret crate training - you will always regret NOT crate training. Large crates make excellent end tables with a plywood top and a nice tablecloth. We have done that for 30 years with 4 different breeds - Great Danes to Dachshunds. Our dogs are safe and "at home" every day no matter what is going on or where they are. Safety FIRST!

Posted by: Antir Kennel | January 6, 2019 7:17 PM    Report this comment

Would being in a crate in the back of the car make cartime less enjoyable for him? He does okay in crate in house for periods of time, but I don't want to invest in car crate if it makes car rides stressful. Also--in all honesty--I feel he's a pretty good deterrent (in cold months) for anyone considering messing with him or my car if he's just in his hammock in the back. He doesn't bark, whine, or stress while I run into grocery stores or whatever, usually just lays down and naps. Of course--I WON'T be doing this is the summer-but I wouldn't keep him in the car then, crate or hammock, either. Any big safety benefit to crate in car, and would that benefit outweigh his potential unhappiness? If crating in car made him unhappy, I'd be better leaving him at home, but he loves car rides now.

Posted by: Andreas' Mommy | January 6, 2019 3:36 PM    Report this comment

Hmmmmn....first time German Shepherd "Mommy", he loves going in the car. He's six months old now. At first, he was my co-pilot in the passenger seat, but he's just too big now. I've "MacGivered" a high quality moving blanket as a hammock in the back. (that was his original seat cover in the front) while deciding on a cat hammock for him. I have a vehicle harness and seatbelt attachment. Reading this, I wonder if a crate in back would be significantly safer? It sounds less fun for him, though. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Andreas' Mommy | January 6, 2019 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Hmmmmn....first time German Shepherd "Mommy", he loves going in the car. He's six months old now. At first, he was my co-pilot in the passenger seat, but he's just too big now. I've "MacGivered" a high quality moving blanket as a hammock in the back. (that was his original seat cover in the front) while deciding on a cat hammock for him. I have a vehicle harness and seatbelt attachment. Reading this, I wonder if a crate in back would be significantly safer? It sounds less fun for him, though. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Andreas' Mommy | January 6, 2019 3:29 PM    Report this comment

We have an almost 12 year old English Lab/Mastiff mix who we rescued as a 9 year old almost three years ago. We have his crate in the dining area (the only place it will fit in our tiny house) and the door is kept open at all times (his crate also has a hard plastic floor and as soon as we can find orthopaedic foam, a crate pad to replace the one that was destroyed from vomit). He goes in every morning to wait for his breakfast, and will often go in to sleep while I'm working in the kitchen. I thank his previous owner for training him thus: it's made our lives so much easier!

Posted by: DreamWeaver | January 6, 2019 11:52 AM    Report this comment

this is the main reason my dogs sleep in their crates ... we have BLACK dogs .. and in an emergency, at night, if they panicked and hid, or ran, I'd never find them -- this way, next to our bed, we know exactly where they are! the crates act as 'night stands' and are solid sided ( not wire crates ) ... but a light weight piece of paneling or very sturdy cardboard would suffice on a wire top crate -- cover with a pillow sham that coordinates with your comforter, etc., and you're good to go!

Posted by: KatzDawgs | December 30, 2018 7:44 AM    Report this comment

I just posted a comment on this subject on Quora. People equate their dog running willy nilly after they leave with "separation anxiety" when all the dog wants to do is to find a quiet, secure place to curl up and feel safe. As in A CRATE !

I makes me nuts when folks put so many "human" traits to dogs and cats.. Yes.. they're precious to us but they do NOT think like humans. It's called Anthropomorphism. So... that been said, I continue.

In nature, when scared or panicked, dogs and cats (and most animals) will "go to ground". In other words, under something or into some place dark and they curl up as small as possible and wait out the threat. That's just how Mother Nature takes care of her critters.

Now with that bit of knowledge.. how dark and "under" is an entire house? It's NOT. Before I learned how instinct works in dogs, I too would let my dogs run the house and several destroyed things until I would put them in the basement.. well duhhh dark, UNDER, and quiet. Believe me.. It STILL didn't click. Then I met my friend who showed dogs and was introduced to crates.

That was in 1978 and I've used crates ever since. NOW I see the connection. Ask yourself.. where is the most common place a dog or cat runs to when it's trying to hide? UNDER THE BED and as far back as possible away from everything including your arm which is never long enough. Tahh Dahhh ie: enter crate, stage left.

If your dog is in a crate, large enough that they can stand up and turn around but now so large they can hold a dance.. it's perfect. Your dog doesn't have the entire house to run (in panic mode) around in, scratch at and destroy the door to get out (and hide under the house) or bark and howl endlessly and bother the neighbors. A crate, a darkened room, a nice blanket to lay on (IF they don't chew) and a radio on very low playing soothing music.. is the BEST solution.

Make sense? It sure did to me and I won't ever have a dog without a crate close at hand. During thunder storms my THREE German Shepherds would retreat to their own crates, I would shut their doors securely and they would sleep. When they were out with me in the house, they paced, tried to herd me, and whined constantly. As soon as they were crated, all THREE would curl up and sleep, never another whine.

As far as safety in vehicles... PRICELESS.

So, to those who think crates are cruel, perhaps you've used them as punishment... I never ever do that... and never sent my son "to his room" either. Those spaces are for happy and relaxing times... Crates are home for the dogs, the room in our home for my son. HOME is HOME... not a prison. It's a place of security.. just like your arms are when you come home to your child and/or your dog(s).

Posted by: Isschade | December 30, 2018 2:33 AM    Report this comment

Thank you so much for posting this reminder. I tell our dog training students every week that all dogs should at least eat a couple of meals a week while shut in their crates, for life! Don't get rid of your dog's crate when he is a trained adult. Wherever you live there are emergencies that happen with little warning, and we should do all we can to prepare our pets. You could have an unexpected hospital stay and your backup sitter has dogs with kennel cough or is away. Of course they would rather be loose with us but that is not always the best choice in every situation, as recent fires and weather events have reminded us.

Posted by: bestpawforward | December 29, 2018 1:24 PM    Report this comment

My dog is crated when not I am not home. After doing puppy socialization with our fire department, they told me if they see a crate with any animal in it, they will get the dog to safety. An empty crate means searching for a scared pet and wastes valuable time. So, by crating I am giving him a fighting chance is an emergency.

Posted by: Beaglelover | December 29, 2018 1:23 PM    Report this comment

I agree that transport in emergencies is a very good reason to have dogs be used to and comfortable in a crate. However, I don't think it would make the difference between being comfortable or traumatized by dogs being without their owners. The boxer in the crate, you mentioned could have been any one of my dogs. To be separated from me in an emergency and with all the commotion going on in a shelter, being comfy in a crate would not have made a bit of difference for my dogs. I don't hesitate to say that those who seemed comfy in crates perhaps may be shut down and this is not synonymous with comfortability. It's a horrendous situation for animals to be in, no matter how we look at any emergency crisis, so yes, it does make transport much safer and saved many lives but not sure if they were more comfortable b/c they weren't whining, pacing or howling b/c they missed their people. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Nancy for all you've done during the Camp fire and beyond. My heart goes out to you and I know that all the dogs you and all the other volunteers touched, are forever grateful for your big hearts. Thank you!

Posted by: Jbreitner | December 29, 2018 12:55 PM    Report this comment

My 53# intact male Am Staff has 4 crates and an ex pen in the house. We play "Go in that one" frequently: I point to the crate and say "Get in the box" and in he goes. He also rides in the back seat of my Subaru in a plastic crate (a bit small but all that will fit) and it probably saved his life or serious injury when a deer totaled the car 2 months ago. (I don't think he even woke up).
Crates are a god send. Also, ALL dogs will end up in a cage/crate at the vets at some point: being held for a proceedure, recovering from surgery, whatever. Best thing you can teach any dog is to be comfortable in a crate.
Thanks for the article and for such a great magazine.

Posted by: Kitti | December 29, 2018 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Your comment on the elderly boxer struck me. My dogs are crate trained but they still like being out of the crates more than in them. So if they had to spend lots of time in their crates, I think they would be doing the same thing as the elderly boxer was. Also if the elderly boxer is having joint issues or pain issues, it might have been that also or they just really missed their owners (my dogs would be moaning and pressing their heads if they could not see me for days on end).

Posted by: kruzingwithk9s | December 29, 2018 9:48 AM    Report this comment

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