Crate training your dog: cozy or cramped? The debate rages on as to whether crating fulfills a dog’s innate need to nestle in a small space or if they despise us for locking them behind bars in solitary confinement. Some people find the idea of restricting their beloved pet to a cage to be cruel and unfathomable. Others maintain that Rover loves his dog cave and happily snuggles up in it without even being directed to do so.

Some experts, like the Humane Society, believe that “Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog’s den is his home, a place to sleep, hide from danger, and raise a family. The crate becomes your dog’s den, an ideal spot to snooze or take refuge during a thunderstorm.”

PETA expresses an opposing view: “No matter what a pet shop owner or dog trainer might say, a dog crate is just a box with holes in it, and putting dogs in crates is just a way to ignore and warehouse them until you get around to taking care of them properly.”

Crating can be effective initially for housetraining, damage control (e.g., biting antique furniture or eating designer shoes), and transporting your pet in the car.

And for those willing to spend more, there are gorgeous crates with huge, fluffy cushioning that prevents your precious pup from ever touching the hard floor as she sinks into a puffy cloud of softness. Decorative coverings transform the crate from prison-like to a luxurious hotel room. Toss in a chew toy and they may be content for a while.

Even if your dog enjoys the comfort of the crate, however, it’s vital to limit their time there. Dogs need ample exercise, visits to new places with novel scents, games of fetch and tug-of-war, and play dates (if they like other pooches). Plus, if Fido’s life is active, stimulating, and fun while you’re home, he’ll be more relaxed when you aren’t.

CRATING ALTERNATIVES

Some of us cannot bear the thought of our fur babies trapped in a cage all day and would be distracted at work by images of Champ sobbing behind bars. Instead of a crate, try keeping them in a cozy room replete with a comfy dog bed, a chew toy, an interactive treat dispenser toy, etc., which will keep your dog stimulated and busy in between naps.

If your pup has mild separation anxiety (howling when you leave him), the ASPCA recommends calming him with counter conditioning. Present a puzzle or toy filled with something yummy when you leave. Pairing an event that normally is not pleasurable with a happy experience ensures that she will anticipate a positive outcome. If Buddy has severe separation anxiety and is traumatized when left at home, you can desensitize him by leaving the house for short periods of time and gradually increasing the time. Also, make your exit calm and simple. No lingering goodbyes. When you return, a pat on the head is best.

If your dog loves to socialize, you can send her to Doggy Daycare to romp with her pals. Another idea is to hire a dog walker to play with and walk him while you’re away.

There are pet monitoring systems that allow you to observe your pet’s antics remotely (several work with your smart phone). Some enable the pet guardian to speak to her pup and others will display your face. Also, inexpensive apps allow you to check in on your doggy. You can buy DVDs made exclusively for dog entertainment. If you subscribe to On Demand your dog can enjoy DogTV’s doggy equivalent of soap operas.

With all the alternatives, many dogs don’t need to be crated: doggy day care, a dog walker, or an enriched environment in which Rover will not be bored. All you may need are DVDs or DogTV, chew toys, mentally stimulating games and puzzles, and treat dispensing toys that occupy and engage your dog. She might even enjoy a little “me” time.

Crating is an individual decision — and ultimately, you’ll need to respond to your own dog’s behaviors to determine whether to crate them or not.