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Out of the Cage!

Locking dogs in crates/cages is not good for them. Is that really a surprise or is there a natural human aversion to do so? I don't think anyone enjoys shelter commercials with dog locked in cages, in fact, it is a motivator to adopt and rescue them. Locked cages absolutely fails to meet critical normal dog behavior and needs such as active play, hunting, chewing, chasing, searching/exploring, performing jobs, and being challenged and exercised mentally and physically - this is 24/7 dog behavior needs that need to be continually and in fact can be easily created and met in our dog's fundamental environment in our homes, not just on outside excursions. Further, immobilizing, caging and depriving dogs of the minimum ability to walk is unnatural and deleterious, and contributes to hyperactivity and behavior problems once let out of the immobility forced by the cage. It contributes to the development of and always worsens separation anxiety.
In reality, every reason cited for locking dogs in cages is much better met and more effective without caging!

Caging can both create and worsen behavior problems in dogs. But why do people think they need to and do cage dogs, yet I have never met a client that really wanted to do so? Reasons cited for caging/crating dogs:  Creating a den area is a valid way to housetrain a dog.  In the wild, the smell of feces can attract predators.  Therefore, the mother dog will consume solid waste material (coprophagia) deposited in the den to keep it as odor free as possible.  Puppies in the litter learn from their mother not to soil the nest in which they sleep and therefore dogs are born with a natural disinclination not to eliminate in their den or bed area. Properly used cages/crates as the defined den area can be one effective and efficient way to housetrain your puppy, particularly in the timing of needed elimination and elimination areas.  However, if they are not provided access to an elimination area when needed by being locked within the cage they will eliminate in it and it loses its value as a den.  A cage/crate can be one aid to housetraining, not to house your dog.  Once your puppy is able to eliminate three times a day at walking times they should not be locked in their cage/crate.

Think you should confine your dog in a locked cage/crate? Really feel that way? Believe it?  You're right, your instincts are correct, locked cages/crates are not meant for animals. 

No surprise, locking dogs in crates/cages is not good for them.  Views of dogs locked in cages in shelters produces visceral, instinctive feeling of sadness as no animal is meant to be caged, yet somehow this does not translate to dogs locked in cages in our own homes. In the past, if I said I locked my dog in a cage for any length of time in my home many people would be horrified and notifying the authorities. Strangely, the idea of crates/cages crating dogs has somehow become not only acceptable but common place. This is true despite that fact that laws have now been enacted protecting dogs from prolonged tethering in many states and counties, in NYC dogs cannot longer be tied up for longer than 3 hours, one reason cited in passing the bill “tethered dogs do not have much of a life” The Humane society states among other deleterious effects, tethered dogs become lonely, bored, and anxious.  One slogan used to promote anti-tethering is “Friends Don’t Chain Friends”.  But locking them in cages is ok? I am not speaking about unlocked cages/crates where dogs can freely come and go into.


Crating/caging is typically instituted on a daily basis and can include a time period of 2, 8 and even 10 hours a day while clients are out of the home working. Dogs can then be caged again at night for an additional 7-8 hours. Crates/cages have become extremely misused to the serious detriment of our dog’s basic needs, expression of normal behavior and instincts  without which we thwart our dogs’ happiness and essential nature.


As an acclaimed Dog Behavior expert for over 20 years, we need to truly understand dogs are animals and we provide the best, happiest and harmonious life for them by understanding and meeting their specific needs as animals – as dogs. Uncaging also prevents many obedience issues related to hyperactivity, and owners attempting to avoid rather than solve problems such as destructiveness by caging instead of training, which then creates a vicious cycle.


Again, dogs are animals that need to be provided very minimally with simple physical mobility and mental stimulation.  A need for free movement is true for each and every dog. Depriving dogs of the minimum ability to walk around an apartment or home is completely unnatural and deleterious, it does not meet any dog's innate need for simple movement ability as an animal.  

Puppies and dogs need to be mentally and physically stimulated, in fact, it aids in optimal development and peak condition. Dogs are animals that are inherently, instinctually designed to explore, investigate, hunt, perform jobs, problem solve and seek novelty (including small companion dog breeds) - think of how dogs naturally behave in parks, yards and on walks. Locking them in a cage with possibly one or two toys (often the same toys over and over) is a great disservice to your dog’s needs and aptitude.

For 20 years, I have successfully and easily released every single clients’ dog from a cage whether obedience or behavior problems issues and regardless if the dog has been caged for years.

Being unnaturally caged can both create and exacerbate serious behavior problems. Immobilized and bored in a cage/crate serves to highlight and sharpen the focus on your absence. Caging a dog when you are not home creates a negative association with your absences and leaves your dog with nothing else to do but focus on your absence, a conduit for creating and exacerbating Separation Anxiety. If used in attempt to separate an aggressive dog from guests it only worsens the problem due to the increased frustration of inability to reach and no way to physiologically calm and get rid of aggressive agitation as dog immobilized, instead increasing it.

  • Housetraining

  • Restricting puppies when unsupervised

  • Preventing destructiveness

  • Safe place 

Are these reasons actually valid? And is caging the best solution to them? Why are obvious cages referred to as crates when they are different?


Better Solutions

Housetraining & Restricting Unsupervised Puppies


However, there are many ways to create a den area and elimination area that better allow for meeting the mental and physical needs of a developing puppy. A very easy way is to use a pen, or even a small room such as a bathroom, kitchen or any small room which is then gated off.  The den area is created by a dog bed, the elimination area is provided by surrounding it with whatever substrate you wish to use - wee wee pads, dog potties which are essentially boxes covered with artificial grass are some possibilities. The pen is also provided with puppy toys to meet their specific needs like teething and interactive puzzle toys to develop their mental acuity and dexterity and, of course, have fun! This also creates positive associations with your absence and will naturally tire your pup out, all of which can help prevent the development of separation anxiety and hyperactivity. 

Puppy proofing by moving items higher up and in general out of reach is important as it easily helps in only playing with toys, tissues, paper (especially toilet paper!) are known favorites of pups. 


Preventing Destructiveness AND Creating Happiness?

Dogs do not talk on smartphones, engage in social media, surf the web, read books, watch TV, or have guests over. Therefore, the activities we as people engage in at home to prevent boredom, stimulate ourselves mentally, decrease stress and relax, and enjoy ourselves do not cross over to our dogs. Dogs do not only need "to get a life" they need to get "a DOG's life" meeting their needs and expressing and fulfilling their instincts as animals, while also increasing their happiness and enjoyment and achieving peak mental and physical condition! The great news is this can easily be done and also works to prevent boredom, destructiveness and hyperactivity.


The interactive toys on the market today can dramatically change your dog’s quality of life and require little effort on your part.  First, an adequate number of and variety of toys are important to keep your dog stimulated mentally and physically. A good number of toys are 20, rotating 5 toys in and out each week to keep your dog interested and 15 out around your home all the time. This is not execessive as dogs spend the majority of time in the (human) home. Interactive and puzzle toys are also very helpful in speeding progress in resolving behavior problems as well as rehabilitating dogs. These toys can act as a behavior therapy in the form of actively calming dogs physiologically and  stimulating them mentally boosting curiosity and providing confidence in successfully completing jobs. Leave all toys out and easily accessible - not in a basket. 

There are a wide variety of interactive and puzzle toys that allow your dog to happily play alone. 

There are many stuffed puzzle toys including the Hide a Bee, food dispensing puzzle toys that your dog physically work are a great way to feed your dog, calming licking food puzzle toys include 

the original Kong and Hyper Pet IQ Test (thickly line with peanut butter, liver paste or anything sticky and freeze), for hunting can use a Snuffle Mat, mentally challenging include Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Puzzle Toys. There are many balls that really engage dogs to play with on their own, including dipperdap Dog Spike Squeaker balls (Squeak and Light Up) and toys that play with your dog like the Neilden Interactive plush squeaky giggle ball toy plush, motorized, auto shakes and makes sounds. There is also, in fact, a market for extra durable toys for dogs with the strongest bite strength that also guarantee toy "survival" and have been time tested and proven durable by my clients. 

Owner and dog fun aerobic play! Most dogs lack needed aerobic exercise and hula hooping done correctly for 15 minutes can be equivalent to going to the dog run for an hour, is not weather dependent so can be done daily and owners and dogs absolutely love it! It also helps to keep dogs calm throughout the day, reducing anxiety and destructiveness and can be done up to 3x a day. It also helps to speed treatment of behavior problems in dogs by keeping them as calm as possible, boosting confidence (frightened and aggressive dogs are not confident dogs) and giving them a routine & job to perform successfully on a daily basis - which is great for every dog. Very easy to do and incorporate into lifestyle – for free demonstration and instructions can see my YouTube video

An owner and dog game using a Flirt Pole harnesses the prey drive and also providing significant aerobic exercise.

Safe Place

A dog bed provides a safe, secure den for your dog.  Within your apartment or house your dog will also be able to pick out many safe areas suited to his/her particular preferences  - next to or on a sofa where you usually spend time, the quietest area in your apartment or house, etc.


Cage? If you dog truly loves his/her cage as a safe place test it – don’t force them in it or prevent them from leaving it by locking them in it, leave it always unlocked.


The huge benefits provided by being uncaged/uncrated create quite a different life for your dog as opposed to one spent living in caged confinement, even if that confinement is for a hour or two each day of their lives. In summary, if used properly cages/crates can be one way to housetrain a dog.  They also can be very useful in transporting a dog.  The problem is when cages/crates are used to house a dog.  Dogs are not meant to live in cages/crates, which is the heartbreak of shelter dogs. Dogs are meant to live in and share our homes, have their needs met and live the most natural and fulfilling dog life – which is possible!

Christina Shusterich © 1/2010

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