Monday, 31 January 2011

Crates (Learning by Trial and Error #1)

I don’t own any crates. I think they are pretty ugly, and they take up a lot of space. However, I may well get one at some point. I would definitely buy one if I were getting another dog, especially if it was a puppy. Something that I have learned by trial and error is that crates can really come quite in handy.

When we got our first retired racer, Eddie, having no experience of greyhounds, we didn’t really think about a crate. Interestingly, the greyhound adoption kennel that we got Eddie and Cassie from does not really advocate crates. In fact, when I was about to get Cassie, I was considering buying a crate, but was persuaded by the kennel staff that is was probably unnecessary. As it happened, Cassie turned out to settle in much easier than Eddie, so there wasn’t really a problem. With Eddie, however, I think the first weeks would have been made easier on him if he had a crate.

Ex-racing greys are used to living in kennels – that is, they spend most of their time in confined areas, including, crucially, night-time. Eddie was clearly overwhelmed and unsettled by the sheer amount of space he had at his disposal when he came to live with us (and our house isn't very big at all). There was a lot of pacing and whining going on. Indeed, nights were particularly hard for him. We sleep upstairs, where he is not allowed, besides, he doesn’t really like our stairs. So undoubtedly, alone in a new environment with unknown dangers lurking in the dark, he was stressed by having to keep an eye out over such a big area. A crate would have helped him to feel like he had a smaller, safe den.

Although I did not have a crate, I did make sure his bed was in a small area, in our utility room. It is important that dogs feel that their beds are a safe area, a haven where they can be in peace. When Cassie came along, her bed went in the living room as the utility room was too small, in a cozy corner beside the sofa. She took to it immediately, and to our surprise slept through the night without a squeak from the very first night.

At the same time I put another bed in the living room for Eddie, to give him the choice to sleep there at night, together with Cassie, if he wanted to. He always used to have a little day mat in there, but went to his “den” in the utility room at night. Actually, quite soon he started going to sleep in the living room bed, but from time to time, especially if he is under the weather, he chooses to go to his den for some peace and quiet.

I am not going to go into the ins-and-outs of crating, as I have not really used them, but I will permit myself a few observations. Although I don’t have any experience of it, it seems to me that using a crate to help housetrain a puppy is an excellent idea. Dogs are instinctively clean and won’t, if they can help it, soil the area where they sleep. Crating a puppy for a couple hours at a time will thus help it develop control over its bladder and bowels. Of course, it then has to be given reasonable opportunity to go to the toilet outdoors. In addition, crates have a calming effect, and help prepare puppies – as well as older "new" dogs, I expect – for being left alone. If they learn that they are safe in the crate when their owners move to other rooms and soon come back, they will find it less stressful when left alone at home.

I could also see how travelling with your dog is made easier if they are used to and feel safe in a crate. When we take the dogs with us to stay overnight somewhere we always take their beds. That way, they have a familiar place and understand where we like them to sleep, which is usually close to us. However, I could imagine situations where they would not be able to share our bedroom, when a crate would be very handy.

In addition, of course, if you have to leave a dog alone that for any reason, such as immaturity, anxiety or lack of exercise, is likely to get into trouble when you are not around, it is just so much safer if you can put them in a crate. I have realized in retrospect that it would have been useful to crate Cassie when her broken toe was healing. This would have given me some peace of mind that she was not damaging it, or her surroundings, while I was away. She was hardly allowed any exercise at all and was having, quite understandably, more and more moments of agitation at home (when usually she, as most greyhounds, snoozes away in her bed the vast majority of time). She even started chewing the furniture!

Even though I tried to minimize the time she had to spend home alone, she had to be left at least once every day when I took Eddie out for a walk. Luckily she didn’t get into any major mischief, some chew-marks on the TV bench excepted, and as her toe is healing well, I can now exercise her a little more. However, as you can see, I have noted my mistakes, so I may well be purchasing a crate or two sometime soon.

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