« Your dog destroyed? Is not clean? The solution is simple: buy a cage, and lock it up while you’re away! »
This is what the dog trainer advised the owners of Scoubidou, a 5-month-old Boxer.
When he is alone, Scoubidou does stupid things. He urinates in the living room; gnaws on chair legs; gut the couch; and scrape against the door.
His masters are distraught. They feel guilty locking up their dog for their entire working day. But after all, if it’s a professional advising it, then that’s okay, right?
Well no. Locking up your dog against his will, 8 hours a day, in 1.5 m²: this is abuse.
Unfortunately, it is an abuse that has been trivialized; and which is today promoted by some dog trainers.
The cage is misused, and too often as a first resort; a quick fix.
Should we completely banish the cage from our uses? Not that easy.
Today, I sweep away all the ideas received on this very controversial tool.
The crate is not a “miracle tool” for canine education.
Back to Scoubidou, who now spends the day locked in his cage.
Ah it’s true, the couch of his humans is saved! Scoubidou no longer has the opportunity to destroy or relieve himself indoors.
The other side of the decor is much sadder. Scoubidou spends the day refraining from peeing. Arrived 6 p.m., he can’t take it anymore. In the long term, he risks serious urinary problems.
Worse: his day was deadly boring. Alone, locked up, Scoubidou becomes completely depressed.
Depression is expressed differently in different dogs. For some, it’s barely noticeable. Indeed, when Scoubidou’s humans come home, they see their dog super-happy to find them.
But in what state is Scoubidou during their absence? They soon learn it.
Any canine “educator” who offers you the cage as the first solution is incompetent.
A dog that destroys, relieves itself or barks in your absence suffers either:
- boredom; Where
- loneliness/separation anxiety.
Preventing a dog from doing mischief by locking it up does not solve the problem: it hides certain symptoms.
After a week, Scoubidou’s exasperated neighbors came to complain about the continuous barking all day long. Scoubidou is bored, so in his cage, he plays the wolf.
Another symptom: his humans discover that he has started to lose hair on his front legs. There is a red, irritated sore, which is getting worse day by day, without their understanding why.
In fact, Scoubidou practices self-harm. This is very common in stressed dogs; shut in. He is so bored that he begins to compulsively lick his paws; or bite its tail. The dog can become completely “crazy”. Breaking this habit of self-harm becomes very complicated.
Dealing with the problem at the source: all the solutions that make the cage useless
The humans of Scoubidou quickly understood this. For their dog, the crate is emotional torture.
Today, it is gathering dust in their cellar. And Scoubidou stopped his “nonsense” during their absences.
How did they do it? Here are 3 levers that allowed Scoubidou to de-stress and keep busy while he was alone:
First lever: masticatory activities
In one of my last articles, I explained to you why chewing is truly life-saving for the dog.
First, it occupies – and it tires! Chewing is very energy intensive for Scoubidou, and for all dogs in need of physical activity. Ultra-practical if your dog has to be left alone for a long time.
But above all: it soothes. By chewing the dog releases hormones like dopamine. Perfect for the dog anxious to be alone.
Scoubidou’s humans systematically leave him something to chew on during their absence – deer antler, Yak cheese, deer antler, olive wood… Scoubi is no longer locked up, and the furniture is saved.
Second lever: cognitive activities
It is often thought, wrongly, that the only way to tire a dog is to make him play sports. Run for miles; chasing a ball… Yes, the dog needs physical activity.
No, it is not enough to cover his energy expenditure.
And no, sport isn’t even the best way to tire him out.
What really tires the dog… is thinking. Here are some simple reflexes, which I took with my dogs, in order to occupy them as much as possible – whether I am there or not:
- During walks on a leash, I let them sniff it all. The goal is not to travel a maximum of kilometers with your dog to exhaust him; but to give him time to fulfill his need for exploration. The walk will be all the more energy-intensive and pleasant.
- I do not feed my dogs exclusively with the bowl. At least half of their portion of kibble is strewn on the grass in the garden. They have to use their nose to find them – and they love it!
- I vary the ways of playing with my dogs. Yes, the ball, the “shoot-shoot”, and the chases are still on the menu – but I add more playful games, like flair games ; learning new tricks; or proprioception games (this can be as simple as teaching your dog to go under a chair).
Result: my dogs are calmer, calmer and more thoughtful. During my absences, they spend their time snoring!
Third lever: progressive departures
If, overnight, Scoubidou remains alone all day, the experience may be difficult.
There is a misconception that dogs have no sense of time. It’s a handy excuse to avoid feeling guilty when you leave your dog alone for hours.
Alas, it has no scientific basis.
The dog has a good sense of time – even if it is different from ours.
Even if he doesn’t know how to tell the time, he is aware that after 4 hours in the basket, he is no longer tired. He has to pee; and he is bored. He wonders where you are.
Loneliness is a learning process that must be done gradually – at the risk of traumatizing the dog.
For the most anxious, it is necessary to start with a departure of a few seconds, in another room! Then, gradually, leave the house for longer and longer periods.
Keep in mind that even the best educated dog is not made to live locked up and alone all day long.
You can’t expect a young, energetic Beagle to be well-behaved, isolated, and clean 8 hours a day. If this is what you are looking for, the ideal is rather to take a Pug in a retirement basket 😉
By applying these three levers, the cage becomes completely superfluous.
Should we consider it as a tool of torture, to be banned from our homes?
Here are 3 exceptional cases where I myself have used the cage
It must nevertheless be admitted: sometimes the cage, even if controversial, is a necessary evil.
It secures the dog during transport
The surest way to protect your dog, during a car trip, is to put it in a transport box, firmly fixed to the seat or the ground. Sometimes, for example in the metro, it is even compulsory for small dogs.
(I admit that I don’t comply with this rule with my three dogs. They each have their own harness, which is clipped to the seat belt using a special leash – less secure, but Maki likes to put her head so much out the window, that taking that privilege away from him would hurt me too much!)
It limits the risk of fights
A few years ago, I regularly took dogs into my foster home. The first few nights there was always a risk of a fight. Normal: Maki is often quite disturbed by the “intrusion” of new people into her home. As long as one of them approaches his basket: he attacks.
So I taught Maki to sleep at night in his crate, never to leave him unattended with another unknown dog.
Attention, I specify well: this training means that, for Maki, the cage was never a constraint. On the contrary: it was a place of rejoicing.
How did I pull it off? With 5 key principles.
- Déjà, I NEVER forced Maki to enter his cage. He was going there on his own, on his own. How ?
- Because the cage is the place of pleasure par excellence ! This is where the softest basket is; where you often find “surprise” croquettes; where Maki routinely gets her treats to chew on.
- In parallel, the cage is NEVER a place of punishment. You don’t lock a dog in there to scold it.
- If the dog wants to go out (for example if he barks): we let him in. Normal : to appreciate his cage, it must never be seen as a constraint.
- For this same reason, I never left Maki in the cage for too long periods of time. I take him out before he even gets tired of it.
As a result, the cage became Maki’s sleeping place, he happily went there every night and the foster dogs were safe from his mood swings.
Some dogs sincerely love the “hut” cage!
Finally, some dogs like the security that a crate provides. The day Maki left hers, Merlin took it! Today, without a cage, he often sleeps under the living room table.
There you go, now you know all about the controversies surrounding the cage. I hope my article has enlightened you.
What did you think of it? Have you ever witnessed the misuse of this tool?
Do not hesitate to tell me about your experience in comments, my team reads you with pleasure!