Dogs are by nature den-loving animals. Their instincts in the wild are to find a small confined, protected area to sleep in. If they cannot find a natural den they will create one by digging a hole in the ground just large enough to turn around in. Our pregnant females demonstrate this urge dramatically in the last few weeks of pregnancy as we find them vigorously digging under our low decks trying to create a den for their litter. If you observe adult dogs in a home they frequently choose to sleep under a table, desk or chair that is against a wall. The dog perceives that this is "a protected area".
We see the "den instinct" in our puppies at six weeks when we place a puppy crate without a door in their puppy pen. We will see three and four puppies sleeping on top of each other in the crate frequently, appearing to be college students stuffed into a telephone booth. When outside young puppies will go to sleep in overturned flowerpots, under a step, or in a natural depression.
Many owners are apprehensive about using a crate as they see the typical wire crate as a "cage" and emotionally feel they are imprisoning their canine companion. However, there is nothing cruel about using a crate correctly. Perhaps we should have interior decorators design dog crates so that they are not so emotionally charged. You should think of a crate as a dog's house within your home. We prefer to use the term "kennel" because of the negative connotation associated with the term "crate". In our home crate doors are left open during the day and we frequently find our dogs sleeping in their crate by choice. If you stop to think about this, it is because the kennel is a familiar territory associated with pleasant smells and sights that the dog is comfortable with.
Types of crates
Many different materials are used to construct crates and kennels for dogs. The best material depends on the ultimate intended use for a crate. The classic crate or kennel that you are familiar with is a crate designed for safe air transport of dogs in the cargo compartment. The requirements for these crates are defined by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the IATA (International Air Transport Association). The IATA requirements specify a rigid crate made of fiberglass, metal, rigid plastics, welded metal mesh, solid wood or plywood. Standard folding wire crates are not allowed for air transport. For air transport we prefer the industry standard rigid plastic Vari Kennel/SkyKennel® manufactured by Petmate. A #400 or #500 size is necessary for an adult PWD. The airline regulations require that the dog must be able to stand up completely and be able to turn around and that is a great rule of thumb for sizing any dog to a crate. An adult dog should also be able to sit upright without his/her head hitting the top of the crate. An average sized adult PWD requires a kennel 36 inches in length, 26-27 inches in height and 23-24 inches wide. (If you cannot remember the measurements when shopping for a kennel usually the manufacturer lists the appropriate kennel as suitable for a boxer.)
Our personal choice is a well-manufactured folding welded wire crate. These crates fold up "suitcase style" and can be easily moved and can be set-up in a new location quickly. A second type of wire crate is made and is called a "drop-pin" crate. This type of crate comes as six separate panels and has assembly pins at each corner. We do not recommend this type of crate as they are intended for permanent locations and are not easy to disassemble and move. Three manufacturers that we have had good luck with over our three decades in dogs are Midwest, Precision Pet Products and General Cage. Their web sites are listed below and they are usually available at the large pet stores and online.
We prefer the two door access models of folding wire crates as they allow flexibility in locating the kennel. A cloth or solar mesh fitted cover for two sides, the top and the back provide a den-like feeling but still allows adequate ventilation. A bottom mat may or may not be needed. Most of our adult dogs prefer something cool to sleep on in the spring and summer, as they are not as tolerant to the heat as we are. We remove the ABS plastic trays that come in the crates and replace them with half-inch plywood covered with vinyl tiles that are cool and easy to clean. In the past new puppy owners had to purchase one kennel for a puppy and then later buy a larger one for the dog as an adult. A recent innovation is a welded wire divider that can be placed in the crate to adjust the crate's length. Manufacturers have marketed these crates with dividers as Life Stage crates. We highly recommend them as they allow the new owner to purchase a single crate that is adjustable for a PWD from puppy to adult.
Collapsible fabric kennels are best used when the owner is present and should not be used to confine a dog for long periods while unsupervised. They are great for certain events such as an agility or water trial where you can observe your dog but need to keep him/her from being loose. Their major advantages are that they are lightweight, quick to set-up (pop-up) and have great ventilation yet provide protection from the sun at outdoor events. NEVER USE A FABRIC CRATE FOR A DOG OR PUPPY WHO IS NOT COMFORTABLE IN A CRATE. A puppy or anxious dog can easily chew their way out of the crate and literally destroy your investment in a few minutes.
Why Use A Crate
We recommend to all our new puppy owners that they crate train their puppy. The location of the puppy's crate is important. It should be in an area of the house where the puppy's human family spends their time. It should not be placed in an isolated area, as the puppy needs to be observed during the first stages of crate training. Remember that PWDs are "people" dogs and want to be with their family "pack". The principal reasons to crate train are to aid in housebreaking and to prevent damage of household furnishings when the puppy must be left alone. Secondary benefits are safety when traveling with your pet in the car and confinement in new environments such as in hotels or at the office. It is also great to have a safe place for the puppy when entertaining or during family meals. Crate training is not always successful but in our experience more than 95% of PWDs can successfully be crate trained, but it does take persistence on the owner's part.
The best time to start crate training is when you get your puppy. All training should be done by positive reinforcement. You will first need to size your adult crate to your puppy by placing the wire crate divider in the crate so the puppy just has enough room to lie down comfortably. Obviously as the puppy grows you will need to reposition the divider farther back in the crate. The secret is that you do not want to leave enough space in the back for the puppy to relieve himself. The puppy has strong instincts not to soil his sleeping area and this is this instinct that aids in housetraining your puppy. You first need to get your puppy accustomed to the crate. Leave the crate door open and use your puppy's natural curiosity to explore his new crate. Positive rewards such as a high value treat such as chicken or cheese as well as a favorite toy placed toward the back of the crate will tempt the puppy to enter the crate. Never force a puppy into a crate. You want the crate to have pleasant associations for your puppy. It is much better to take daily baby steps to familiarize your puppy with the crate. Initially you should always be with your puppy when he/she is near or in the crate. It may take several weeks to get the puppy comfortable with the crate.
Once you get to this point particularly if he naps in his crate you are ready for the next step. This is the point to introduce a word for the puppy to associate with the crate. We use the word "kennel". When the puppy goes into the crate with the use of the word we reward him/her with a chew-toy or Kong toy filled with something delicious such as peanut butter or cream cheese. You now can begin to close and latch the door. Start with 10-15 minutes and very gradually work up to an hour again being in the vicinity of the crate. Once the puppy accepts this, begin to leave the room for short periods gradually lengthening your absence. Remember that young puppies have limited bladder and bowel control until they are 4-5 months old. When you release the puppy from the crate pick him up and immediately take him to the area in your yard that you have selected for elimination. Praise the puppy if he performs there (positive reinforcement).
Several important DO NOT rules apply to crates:
* Never leave a dog in a crate with a choke chain on as it can catch on the wire and strangle the dog.
* Never use a crate as punishment.
* Never discipline a dog in his/her crate.
* Never release a dog from the crate if the dog is barking, as he/she will associate barking with the door opening. Wait until the puppy is quiet then release.
* Do not allow children to play in your dog's crate. Explain to your children that the crate is the dog's sanctuary (safe zone).
Airline Shipping Kennels:
IATA Container Requirement PDF:
Crate Training Articles:
Recommended Crates for Adult PWDs:
Petmate Rigid Plastic Airline Shipping Crate VariKennel/SkyKennel® Model 400
Petmate does not sell directly but their VariKennels are available at most pet supply stores and through internet pet supply companies including Petco and Amazon.
Midwest Homes For Pets Life Stages-Double Door 36" Model 1636DD*
General Cage eCrate 136*
Precision Pet 2-Door Great Crate
*These three folding wire crates come with a divider to decrease the length of the crate so that a puppy cannot go to the rear of the crate to eliminate.
Created April 2008
Modified December 20, 2011