I was talking today to the owner of a Jack Russell Terrier puppy. She was bemoaning the fact that her young dog had done heavy damage to one of her doors and doorframes while trying to get to her. She was upstairs at the time, he was shut in downstairs, and he was desperate to join her. I asked what I thought was a reasonable question.
"Do you have a crate?" I inquired.
We were in the middle of a training class, so she misheard me, "A gate?" she questioned.
"No a crate," I replied, but she still looked puzzled. "You know - a cage."
Her face immediately creased into a look of acute disgust, "Oh, I don't want a cage!" she exclaimed, as if she was proclaiming something as self evident as the statement, "Oh I don't want to have my dog thrown into the lion enclosure at the zoo."
I must have sat there looking pretty surprised at her reaction, and she quickly filled the developing silence. "I don't think he'll be doing it again, because I was very angry with him afterwards!" she explained to me.
I wanted so much to mention the fact that unless she caught her dog actually in the act of damaging the door and stopped him, her scolding will have absolutely no connection for him with his actual vandalism. However, with uncharacteristic restraint, I held back. I knew that pursuing this conversation would have been as pointless as reasoning with the pup in question.
But I remember several years ago when I first heard of crates having a similar reaction. "Cages might be okay for rabbits and the like, but they're not for dogs!" I thought. Then a friend of mine with a ten month old Border Collie who had virtually destroyed or soiled every surface in her kitchen while left alone told me how a crate had turned their life around. They had introduced him to his cage slowly, always making it a positive experience. The result was that he loved it. They loved it too as they could leave him knowing he would be safe and happy, and they would not return to a half eaten kitchen.
So I read up about crates - I listened to what the experts said, and to my surprise I learned they were a great thing. Some people will tell you that crates are cruel, but will happily shut their dog into a small kitchen or laundry. Both are forms of containment, so what's the problem? Of course go back further, and most dogs were kept in back yards, another form of confinement, and one not so vulnerable to doggy damage.
Having used a crate with both our dogs, I can honestly say that both of them loved their cage. It was a safe place, it was a happy place, it was a comfortable place, and even better it was often a place they received treats in. They would both choose to sleep in their cage of their own choice, and indeed Star would scrabble at the door and cry loudly if it had swung shut and she wanted to get into her crate.
I have to be honest and say that as Star approaches her third birthday in May, we hardly ever put her in her crate, although she often chooses to take a nap in there. We are thinking of putting it into the loft and putting a comfy bed in its place. It will be back out again for the arrival of our next puppy though, because crating a puppy works - for the puppy and the owner. Puppies find dangerous things to chew and scrape at and eat all over the house, and owners need time to know that they can sit down for a meal without having to keep one eye on what the puppy's up to. I don't of course advocate keeping a puppy or dog locked up for hours on end, but I know firsthand that, used properly, dogs love crates because it represents a secure, happy place.
I wonder what my Jack Russell owning acquaintance will be reporting her dog has destroyed at the next training session? Whatever it is, I will nod and smile and not waste my breath, and cross my fingers that while she is out at work her dog doesn't decide to chew through an electric flex, or explore some of the cleaning product under the sink or chokes on a splinter of wood he bites off a table leg. You know what - on second thoughts, maybe I'll mention a crate again.