I have talked to quite a few miserable dogs recently who have brought my attention to how many long hours dogs spend in crates.
Kim Brophey, animal behaviorist, instructor at AB Tech college and Association of Pet Dog Trainers” trainer of the year” speaks out about ”the general, profound over-confinement for pet dogs”. In Kim’s class “The 21st century Dog”, she addresses the issue of breed specific behaviors. For example, a herding dog has been bred to work an 18 hour day moving sheep. This “job” involves problem solving skills as well as physical stamina. That dog, confined to a small apartment, will very quickly become frustrated, neurotic and potentially destructive. All dogs need access to nature, exercise, and stimulating experiences.
In our busy lives, many of us have forgotten our more primal nature and the renewal that comes from being out in nature. Having a dog, for some, has become a management issue. Many dogs spend 8 to 9 hours a day in their crate and then are released for a couple hours in the evening. They are sometimes offered exercise, sometimes just released into the backyard, and then are returned to their crates for the night. This is terribly unfair. Think about the situation from the dog’s perspective. They are in a small space; they’re looking at the same static view; they cannot move around to stretch, look out the window, or change locations in the house. Instead they are locked into a small box. Some dogs tell me that they are barely hanging on to their sanity. A friend of mine suggested the perfect metaphor. She said, “it’s like sitting in the center seat on the airplane, with the movie system broken, your iPod doesn’t work, and the bathrooms are out of order. Imagine doing that day after day.
Crates were originally intended as a training tool for house training. The intention was to put the young dog in a crate for a good night’s sleep and then be able to take them directly outside to go to the bathroom before they had the opportunity to do it in the house. Once the pup learned that behavior, often the crate door was left open or discarded. It seems that now crates have become a daytime management tool.
There are many other options for leaving your dog at home while you go to work. Most dogs, once they are out of the puppy stage, are completely happy to just hang out in your house without doing anything destructive. However, for some dogs more control is needed. How about installing a few sturdy dog gates to separate your kitchen from the rest of the house. Dog-proof your kitchen and leave them with their bed and water while you’re gone for the day. Once they’ve mastered that area, it might be possible to open one of the gates and extend their home area. Ultimately the goal would be to give your dog freedom to live in your house and to move around. That way even if you cannot fit a good healthy walk into your daily schedule, at least your dog has been able to flex his muscles, stretch, wander around in your house and stare out the window.