Crates, cages, and compassionate canine confinement
When my family first came over to visit our new puppy many years back, they were shocked to see we had a crate setup in the corner of our living room. Never, in their wildest imagination, would they have thought that two people so devoted to animal welfare would employ such a device. It seemed cruel to them, and completely at odds with our personalities. What they didn't realize is that crate training is an efficient and harmless way to potty train a young dog and, in later years, provides it with a place it can consider its own.
The unfortunate reality is that crates carry a stigma simply by virtue of their looks. People just assume that having a crate in your home means you're inclined to lock your dog away for the slightest infraction. But that certainly isn't the expected use for these things. Your dog's cage should become a welcome sanctuary, like a wolf den.
Used properly, your dog will learn to love his crate. Though we haven't needed to close the door in years, our dog (one of 3) is now 10 and still walks into her crate through out the day to nap, escape from rambunctious children and to hide from passing thunderstorms. Her crate is her home within a home and a sanctuary.
While we're certainly pleased our pup has a sanctuary she can call her own, the real point behind crates is to benefit the owner. Not only do they provide us a safe and secure place to keep our pets when strangers such as repair men come to visit, they can be a perfect way to potty train your pooch.
It can't be stressed enough, however, that you must use your crate properly or you will completely defeat its purpose and risk emotional damage to your dog. First and foremost, don't leave your puppy in its crate for longer than five hours and only that if it's unavoidable (because of your job, for example). While the premise behind the crate is to play on your dog's instinct not to eliminate where it sleeps, even the strongest instinct can't win out against a young dog's bladder.
You must also never use your crate as a means of punishment. This isn't your dog's timeout-for-bad-behavior corner. You want your pup to think of its crate as a cozy, safe sanctuary, not someplace it desperately wants to avoid. Using it for punishment will only make your dog fear or resist being crated. Make the crate someplace it wants to go when it's time for a break. Keeping a favorite chew toy or one of your old socks (the scent will comfort him since it smells like his favorite person) in the crate will contribute to the crate being a sanctuary.
There are many different types of crates to choose from. In fact, you might even be overwhelmed by the selection! You do not want a crate that is too big or too small. Your dog should be able to lie down comfortably and be able to turn in a complete circle without difficulty. If you get a large crate (so that your dog can grow into it) you can purchase a divider so that he is not tempted to eliminate in one corner and sleep in the other.
Wire crates rank among your safest bets for materials. Their construction allows for good airflow while also affording your pup a view of the world around it. These crates are also very durable and easy to break down should your dog grow out of it or if you move. Pick one with a slide-out tray for easy cleaning. When it's bed time for the night, cover the crate with a blanket, leaving the front mostly uncovered. This will help create that den-like atmosphere while still allowing reasonable air flow and a view of the world outside the crate.
Whichever style or model crate you opt for, I think you'll find they can be wonderful potty training tools for puppies and a much loved napping spot in your dog's adolescent and adult years. If you still can't stomach the idea of crating, you may want to opt for a puppy play pen. Just realize that, while you'll still have the comfort of keeping your dog safely confined when circumstances warrant, you'll be giving up on the potty training benefits a crate affords.