When I first got Barley, I knew a crate was going to be a necessity. I only had a few days to stay at home with her before I had to start the new school semester, so I hadn't had a chance to learn if she was a chewer or how she'd interact with Soth--and Soth's safety was my absolute main priority when I added a new pet to the household. A crate seemed like the most practical way to keep my cat and my apartment safe--I honestly hadn't even considered it as a tool for keeping Barley herself safe.
Recently, I've had a few friends from grad school post pictures of destruction their new dogs have wreaked on their homes, from a splintered coffee table and decimated lotion bottle to a shredding bed with stuff strewn throughout the house with other destruction done along the way. Both are reluctant to crate while they're out of the house because they feel guilty keeping their dogs "cooped up." Another person commented on one of the photos of destruction on which many people had suggested crating the dog with a comment saying the dog was still a puppy, don't crate, don't be mad, just let him be a puppy. After reading that reply, I was baffled that anyone would shame someone for thinking about crating a dog, but the anti-crate comments continued.
While I was certain that a crate was the right solution when I got Barley, I never thought that almost 5 years later, Barley would still be in a crate every time I left the house, but I wouldn't have it any other way. With all of the anti-crate language and crate hesitation I've seen this week, it seemed like a good time to reflect on why I love our crate.
1. It keeps Soth safe. Barley has never ever shown aggression towards her brother, but I often call her Barley the Enforcer because she does like to make sure he's following the rules (no scratching on furniture, no peeing outside the litter box, etc.). She also likes to try to play with him. She'll bow and chomp and bark and pounce around while he sprawls on the floor and looks at her like she's lost her mind. When I can see her getting frustrated that he won't engage, I redirect her to play with something else. If I'm not home to do that, she might get more assertive in her attempts to play and that's not safe for Soth.
|Soth thinks the crate is pretty great, too, especially when I put a bed on top of it to vacuum.|
2. It keeps Barley safe. One of the first things I learned about Barley is that she is very good at finding ways to amuse herself if she's not being entertained. None of those ways are healthy for her. She's not a chewer. She's never tried to destroy furniture. Her very first toy is still in almost perfect condition. She doesn't like to rip or shred (unless we're talking about packages that contain her Aunt L's Christmas presents--she's done that the last two years in a row now). But she does like to scavenge for things to eat. If you've been with us a while, you've heard of the xylitol poisoning, the aleve incident, the turtle brownie caper, the great butter disaster, the nutella incident--the list goes on. And all of those things happened while I was home but had my backed turned to do something like dry my hair or use the bathroom--things that only take a couple minutes--or in the case of the butter incident while I was at the other end of the room with two other people in the room and NONE of us heard her hop up onto the counter to steal the butter. She's also stolen things that are actually diet appropriate for dogs--in small doses--and devoured them in no time at all. No matter how good a job I think I do of keeping edibles out of reach, she will find something if given the chance. Sometimes things will go unbothered for weeks--like a pack of jerky that was on the counter--and then one day she'll decide she's waited long enough to be offered a piece and take it for herself. The crate keeps Barley safe and it keeps me from spending all of my money on emergency visits to the vet.
Those two reasons are more than enough for me to be a 100% supporter of the crate, but there are other benefits as well.
3. It cuts down on Barley's anxiety. Barley has trouble relaxing. She's gotten much better in the time we've been together and a big part of that is giving her a routine. Every day when I go to work, we follow the same routine. I take her outside. We come back in and I brush my teeth. Then I put on my shoes. Usually, by that point, she's already run to her crate and is waiting on me to shut her in. Then I bring her two little cookies and tell her to be a good girl and I'll see her later that afternoon. Then I kiss Soth, grab my bags, and leave. Other times, when I don't need to brush my teeth or put on shoes again, our routine is shortened to going outside and getting the two cookies. On those occasions, as soon as the bag of cookies is opened, she runs to her crate. My friends are always impressed with how willing she is to go into her crate when we meet here before going to dinner. In all of our training, being predictable is really important. When we do start-line stays in agility, I make sure that I do the exact same behaviors every single time so that Barley knows exactly when she is released. Our crate routine is the same concept--she knows that she has to go in, but she also knows I will come back and let her out eventually.
4. It gives Barley a safe place. Barley can also have anxiety in new places. When my parents' moved to their new house, Barley was back to her early behaviors of following me every single time I moved (seriously, in the first few months I had her, I'd embrace dehydration because every time I got up to pee, I'd have to start all over again with getting her settled and by the time that happened, it would be time for another bathroom break). She didn't know where her spot was. Even though the furniture was the same and their dog's bed was still in the living room, the space was different and Barley couldn't figure out where she belonged. Then we brought her crate (yes, her grandma bought her her very own crate for visits to grandma's house) in from the garage and Barley immediately went in and took a nap. She doesn't often go in her crate to relax at home--and who would when you have two human beds, a loveseat, and two dog beds that aren't in a crate to choose from instead?--but she always knows that her crate is her place when she does need a break.
5. It gives us a time out spot. Some times, I need a break. For example, there are times when a certain dog with run to all three litter boxes, grab a mouthful of litter, and spit it into the middle of the carpet. When I turn to clean up one pile, she'll run back to another box for round 2. Other times, she wants to chase her brother when he's trying to get away from the vacuum. Or, maybe she just won't stop trying to take things out of the trashcan while I'm desperately trying to finish grading papers so I can go to bed and that can't happen when I'm getting up to get her away from the trash every .2 seconds. Bar's crate is never a punishment, but some times I just need her to be still, so I'll say, "Hey, do you want to go into your crate?" and she'll run right into her crate with no treats involved, I'll lave the door open, and she'll lie down while I do what I need to do and stay there until I say "Ok." This keeps me sane.
Of course, there are days I feel guilty about how much time Barley spends in her crate. Most days, she's not in there long--now that I teach a class or two online each semester, I only have to go to campus for a few hours four days a week. The rest of the time, I'm usually home with Barley or out adventuring with Barley. But there are days like one a few weeks ago when I had to go to campus for my usual 5 hours, but I also had to do a peer review for a colleague and her class was much later in the day. I managed to come home for a quick walk and lunch between my classes and the start of hers, but it was a long day of being in the crate for Barley and I felt bad.
In the end, though, the guilt I'd feel if she hurt herself or her brother while I was gone far outweighs any guilt I might feel about limiting her freedom. If it weren't for her crate, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have managed to maintain any level of sanity in the almost 5 years Barley's been in my life. I know crates aren't right for every dog, but they are absolutely right for my dog.