Dog in a crate

There’s always room for debate on the best way to care for our pets. As an experienced veterinarian, I’ve sure seen a lot of changes in what we do since I graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University.

But sometimes I hear advice that just doesn’t cut it — the kind of thing that runs counter to common sense, practical experience and expert research. Recently, I ran across just such a piece of advice, thanks to psychologist, best-selling author and dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren. In a piece titled "The Politics of Pet Dogs and Kennel Crates," Dr. Coren pointed to a bit of bad advice from an animal advocacy group.

PETA, it seems, has a problem with crates.

According to Coren's post, PETA recently began running half-page newspaper ads advocating against crating. I’d hate for anyone to be put off by a bad piece of advice, so I’m going to offer the reasons why experts in caring for animals are so widely in favor of crates, and why you should be, too. (Please note: Like any piece of equipment, a crate can be misused. It’s not meant for full-time containment, and that’s not what’s being recommended here.)

Crates help with raising your puppy. Puppies don’t come house-trained, and they don’t know what’s safe to chew. For decades now, crate training has been the standard for helping to manage puppies while they learn how to be well-behaved in the house. I have no doubt that the use of crates has saved many a puppy, either from keeping him from eating something harmful or by making house training so relatively easy that the human-animal bond formed tightly enough to prevent it from unraveling during canine adolescence.

Crates keep your pet safe in your car. My dogs don’t travel loose in the car, and yours shouldn’t either. When people tell me their little dogs sit on their laps or their big dogs hang out the windows, I cringe. Crating your dog in the car (or using a seat-belt harness) protects everyone on the road. Dogs distract drivers, and we all know that distractions can lead to accidents. In an accident, an unsecured dog can be hurt or killed by flying around in the car or being ejected; an unsecured dog can also injure another passenger. Even if your pet isn’t harmed while in an accident, he can escape in the aftermath of the crash, when emergency responders are trying to treat victims. So many things can go wrong, and that makes the use of a crate while traveling a true no-brainer.

Crates help your pet relax at the veterinarian’s. Dogs who are crate-trained learn to live with short, necessary periods of comfortable confinement. This is never more important than at the veterinarian’s, when a pet needs to be caged while being prepared for or recovering from surgery or other treatment that requires hospitalization. While every effort is made by hospital staff to make a pet’s stay less stressful, a pet’s temperament, training and experience will matter more than anything that can be done for him. To the dog who learned during puppyhood that a crate is a safe place to be, confinement isn’t going to add to the stress. And when a dog goes home with instructions to keep from reinjuring himself, that crate will again protect him from harm.

Crates save lives when disaster strikes. How many times have we seen this, from hurricanes to floods to earthquakes and more? Dealing with pets in a disaster means putting them in crates so they won’t hurt themselves or others while being evacuated or sheltered while awaiting their owners or new homes. Again, those pets who are used to crates will be much better off in these stressful circumstances. And for families who evacuate with their pets, finding emergency lodging is far easier when pets are crated. In a time of crisis, hotels that usually won’t take pets will often accept them if they’re crated.

As I wrote earlier, I try to stay clear of arguing with others, but this advice against crating your pets? Like Dr. Coren, I couldn’t let it stand unchallenged. Crates aren’t cruel, and I’d hate for any pet lover to think otherwise.