a puppy in her crate

senior puppy in her crate


Folks who have used crates for their dogs for years don’t give them a second thought - they wouldn’t be without them. Others, who are first time dog owners, or are getting their first small house dog, have nagging thoughts about ‘putting their pets in boxes’. Somehow it doesn’t sound like a caring, loving thing to do. So, just what are crates, and what are their uses?

Materials and Size
Crates are made from three materials: metal wire, moulded plastic, and fabric. The metal ones can come as unit or foldable, either one has a removeable metal tray at the bottom. This style allows full view of the pet, but no protection from draughts unless a cloth covering is added. The crate has a door either on the top, or at one end, and most are lockable. It also has one or two handles for carrying.

The moulded plastic crate, by far the most common, comes in two pieces fitted and fastened together with a metal grate door at one end. This also is lockable. There should always be ventilation slots on the other three sides and the crate should have a carrying handle. A few of these units are foldable and all of them come in a variety of colours.

If you are wanting a crate that can also be used for air transport, check with the airline for their specific regulations as to type, size, etc. Some plastic crates are not made strong enough for air travel. Note, some models have a moulded floor to support a wire mesh insert. For general use, a flat floor is best for the comfort of the dog, as well as for easy cleaning. Some models also have storage sections built into the top of the crate. Fabric crates are used for dogs at dog shows where the animals are already trained to use the crate. They come in various colours with large screen panels on three sides and carrying handles. Although not designed for daily use they are very useful to set up in motels, when on holiday or when visiting friends. They are light weight and fold flat for carrying. These crates are not designed to be used in car travel as they are not strong enough to protect the dog in case of accident.

The size of the crate you buy depends on the Westie’s age. The animal, regardless of age, must be able to stand up, turn around easily, and sleep stretched full out. Numbers used to designate crate sizes vary among manufacturers. A smaller crate is needed for a puppy than is needed for the adult. If you get a crate too large for a puppy, thinking it will save you money, the puppy will realize he can sleep in one end and pee in the other end. This is not helpful to your ‘potty training’ program. The puppy size crate lasts about six to eight months by which time, the dog is well trained, and has grown large enough for the adult size crate.

A word about maintenance - any crate, along with whatever bedding is used and food dishes, bought separately, to hang on the door, must be kept clean on a regular basis. The crate itself should be well wiped out once a week as well as after any mishap such as an ‘accident’, spilled food, excessively muddy feet etc. Use hot water and an anti-bacterial soap. Rinse well. All bedding should be washed at a minimum every two weeks as well as after the above mentioned incidents. Many types of bedding are available, but medium to large terry cloth bath towels work extremely well. They are easily arranged by the dog for his own comfort and can be easily laundered by you. Needless to say they need not be new. Before the crate is to be used for transportation, check to be sure all door latches, handles, and other fasteners are secure. Most crates have special holes on door and frame so one can add a snap fastener as an extra safety precaution when using the crate in a car. It should be noted that a few manufacturers also have special slots in the crates for using with straps. All crates should be strapped in place when used in a vehicle, and have good ventilation. Never leave a dog, crated or not, in a vehicle in a parking lot in summer. It can be deadly - check with your vet.

Crates are available from pet stores, large hardware/department stores, or can be ordered on-line from suppliers of professional dog equipment. If you don’t know the quality and design of the crate you want, do a hands-on inspection of those locally available before ordering on-line. Second hand crates should be inspected for defects and disinfected before use. 
Some of the many uses for a crate

The crate provides the dog with his own private space much as the den did for his wild ancestors. The dog feels safe there, can take a quick nap or hide his favorite toys. If you have children, teach them to respect that space as belonging to the dog. Never let them annoy him or try to pull him out. Always call him out, using a treat at first.

If you have more than one dog, you can use the crate to separate them when play gets too rambunctious.

Crates are also useful when you have repair people or rug installers come, or you have visitors who don’t like dogs in the house.

Crates are invaluable as a method for house-training. Specific training information for this is available from your veterinarian, or from general dog training books. With Westies all training should be done with positive reinforcement, not physical punishment.

Dogs as well as people are much safer if the dog is well confined when traveling in a vehicle.

If the dog eats and sleeps in his crate, your clean-up area is smaller than if he spreads himself around the house. For more than one dog, eating in the crates prevents food squabbles.

If the dog is in his crate at night, you will not fall over him in the hall in the dark, and he is easily located and carried out should there be a fire, or other emergency.

Misuses of crates
As with other pieces of equipment used with a dog, crates can be misused either through ignorance or carelessness. Be aware that if you use the crate for punishment you will not only defeat the purpose of the crate, but you may create behaviour problems which you did not have to start with. ‘Punishment’ is best done with only a stern disapproving voice. People who work all day, or are in and out a lot need to count up the actual number of hours the dog is expected to remain in the crate over a twenty-four your period starting with the number of hours he spends for his night’s sleep. Prolonged confinement will lead to behavioural/psychological problems in an animal just as it would for a human. For those who do work all day, it is far better to block off a room in the house for the dog, using kiddie gates. The kitchen is ideal and having someone come in at noon to let him out for a bit will help greatly.

Crates in their present form are a relatively recent invention and people certainly had house broken dogs with good manners before crates became so common. However, people have found that crates work so well and are so useful for those special times when confinement is necessary, that they are now an integral part of the dog training picture. So, select your crate carefully, use it wisely and success is yours.

Author: Anne Matheson