To crate or not to crate?
June 7, 2010 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Just got a 6-year-old rescue dog. Is it necessary to crate?

We recently added a 6-year-old rescue Shih Tsu to the family and we're having some trouble deciding how to handle him while we're at work during the day.

Here's his story: about 6 months ago, he was found abandoned in a park, tied to a tree with a balloon string. Oddly enough, he had recently been groomed when he was found. Seems like someone cared about him at some point, but for whatever reason, he was left behind and never claimed. He had been living at the rescue (a holistic dog spa -- this little guy was living the life) ever since.

He seems to be housebroken and isn't at all destructive. He was recently neutered, so he marks everything in sight, but he has only had one small indoor accident (seemed like a marking, not a full-out pee) in the 4 days we've had him.

Is this the kind of dog we can just let roam free during the day, or is it still preferable to get him used to a crate?
posted by kmtiszen to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I'd try him without the crate- if you have one, let him have it as a safe retreat- but (unless there's a good reason), then it seems like crating isn't necessary with his background.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:16 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agree with jenkinsEar. A crate isn't necessary if he's trustworthy in the house.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:18 PM on June 7, 2010

If he seems to be housebroken, then he probably is. If he was groomed when he was found, then someone loved him enough to want him to look attractive to whomever found him.

You need to establish dominance, but you can do that by training the dog to heel. (And crate training won't establish dominance.)

I would give the dog the benefit of the doubt.
posted by musofire at 1:19 PM on June 7, 2010

Well, the marking (even once) worries me, as the owner of a marker. If they mark once, unless you really really go nuts cleaning that spot, they can still smell it, and it is an enticing lure to mark again.

Is there a way you can confine him to the kitchen or another room with a non-carpeted floor until you're positive the marking was a one-time thing? The bathroom may be a little too small, unless you've got a really large one.

Also, what did the rescue spa folks do with him at night? Did someone take him home, or did they let him have the run of the place after hours? Maybe they would have some advice.

And good for you for taking in an older dog! Yay!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:29 PM on June 7, 2010

Yay for your good deed! Adopting an older pet is a really nice thing to do. Nthing the idea of trying first without a crate. Sounds like this boy has some really good habits already established, and one marking incident could have just been a new home accident. Can you be flexible during your first few days at work -- having someone come home at lunch time to check on him? That might be extra-helpful. Or having a neighbor or friend come to take him out?
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Using a crate with an older (non-puppy) dog is a toss up.
There is no requirement to do so. Likewise, there is no problem with doing it either.

You may want to introduce the crate for additional reasons though. Travel, visitors that are afraid or allergic, etc.
It is a good exercise in discipline. It can become very helpful if the dog will be kenneled during vacations.
It can also give a dog a more secure sense of belonging.

We keep a crate set up for one of our dogs . He sleeps in it at night and during the day sometimes. We have not closed the door to the crate for years, except when a certain friend who is very afraid visits. The other dog has never been crated (we inherited him), when that friend visits, we just leave him in the bedroom and close the door.

Dogdom gives you special thanks for taking in an older dog!
posted by Drasher at 1:42 PM on June 7, 2010

Just so you know, not everyone 'believes' in crates. I'm not looking for an argument about it, it's just that sometimes I read these threads and feel like it gives the impression that everyone is all for crate training and it's just a given. Some people aren't. Just saying.

So in answer to your question I vote no.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:01 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Crating is generally a puppy tactic. The idea is that they have a natural inclination (from their mother) to not dook/leak where they lay. If the crate is small enough where they can stand up and lay down but not move around much then it's impossible for them to dook in the corner and curl up away from it hence. . .they have to hold it until you come along and show him where he can go (backyard lawn). This gets them in the habit early and uses their own instincts to help you housebreak him.

But an older dog has "fixed" habits. The whole puppy instinct thing might be gone. Not saying it won't work but I'd ask a vet or a trainer.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were in your situation, I would have a crate available and get the dog at least used to it. Having a dog that doesn't completely freak out when crated can be invaluable. My mother recently had to dog-sit for a relatives 2 dogs who had never been crated, but had to be while my mom kept them. They screamed, howled, and soiled themselves for 4 straight days. Conversely, my mom has a dog who is comfortable in a crate but doesn't use one regularly. I have to crate him when I dog-sit due to my cats, and he's totally relaxed and comfortable being kenneled.

So if you are comfortable letting him free-run your house and he doesn't continue marking, then I'd say crating isn't really a necessity, but it's handy to get him familiar and comfortable with one.
posted by tryniti at 2:19 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I came to say what tryniti did. There are other reasons than just pee/poop issues that being able to crate a dog can be helpful: when non-dog people visit the house, if the dog turns out to be anxious about bad weather a crate can be a safe and soothing environment, when traveling or moving, while drying out after being out in the rain and mud. None of that makes a crate essential, and there are other options for most crate uses--I've known people whose dogs were trained to be comfortable in, say, the kitchen or bedroom when guests were over, for instance. But in my long life with dogs--all but one of whom have been adopted as adults-- I have found having crate-trained dogs useful.
posted by not that girl at 2:43 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the past thirty years all of our dogs are or have been rescue dogs. We have had dogs of all ages and personalities. Rex was too dignified to use a crate. Bubba (who had been shot and left in a ditch) took three nights to learn that a crate was his special home, not a prison. It all depends on the dog. What I feel is important is that the crate remain in one location and that the dog has a soft cushion that can take on his scent so that the crate and that location become his special home.

I am more concerned with the fact that you are going to be away from the dog all day. Coming from the place that gave him almost constant attention to a place where he is on his own for an extended period of time seems difficult. If possible, I would start him in a crate that is way big enough for him to turn around in, let him be in it when you go to sleep (good luck the first couple of nights) and let him be in it while you are gone for an hour or two in the daytime. It is important for him to know you are coming back. Then, maybe have a neighbor "dog sit" him for a day or two by coming in and out of the house several times a day to let him know people are and will be around.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2010

I once adopted a 7-8 year old dog. He was never 100% housetrained, but he developed a preference for a specific rug for occasional accidents, and it was washable, so we worked it out. He stayed in the kitchen with a comfy dogbed, and toys, while I was at work. Never crated him and he was happy and sweet.

The crate gives a dog a safe place to go. Dogs like dens, so the idea is that the crate replicates that. I really recommend that the dog have a couple places just for him. Dogs like the way they smell, so they like a nice dogbed that isn't laundered too often. I'm so happy you and the dog found each other.
posted by theora55 at 3:29 PM on June 7, 2010

My pup, Poppy, loves her crate. If she thinks it's bedtime, she'll head into the bedroom and look at it longingly. When she sees me get dressed to go out, she runs into her crate and settles down, waiting for me to shut the door. I got her as a rescue when she was around 1 and crated her at first because I didn't know how she'd behave when I left her home alone. Now I'm 100% confident of her behavior, but I also know it makes her happier to be secure in her crate when she's alone. I've even gotten a portable crate to keep at my parents' house for when we go over there.
So you certainly don't have to crate your dog, at least not for your benefit, but it couldn't hurt to introduce it as an option.

when that friend visits, we just leave him in the bedroom and close the door.
That's pretty rough on your friend, no?

posted by katemonster at 4:21 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't see crating as a "belief system" - it's something your dog either needs, or it doesn't, and it will soon be apparent which way you'll need to go.

For us, our rescue dog tore apart our carpet, tore up a metal clip in the rug, and tore apart his mouth, needing an ER trip while we had a screaming baby to deal with. He ruined a hollow-core door and a piece of drywall. He did not like being left alone in the house. Crating wasn't a nice option, or something we "believed in" - it was something we had to do for his own safety and to make sure he didn't burn down our house chewing through electrical cords.

We've had other dogs who have been just fine, and we've left them in the living room when we've gone out. But all have had peeing accidents now and again.

You could always ask the rescue how they dealt with him if and when he was left alone.
posted by kpht at 7:10 AM on June 8, 2010

My dog was crated from the beginning by her breeder, and we got her at 2 years old. She was another who loved her crate and used it as a home. We didn't bother putting a blanket in it... she would get hot and just drag it out again. The breeder just told us not to leave her locked in it for more than 4 hours. The crate was not like a "cage" to the dog... it was more like her little doghouse.

When we had to leave her all day... well, first we started with an outdoor (concrete and fenced-in) pen and a Dogloo, but she would just pace back and forth all day long, and wouldn't go in the Dogloo even in the rain. So we ended up just putting baby gates on the kitchen doors and leaving her in there. She would jump the gate only on one door, so we'd prop up a really thin sheet of plywood and then she would leave it alone. So you might start out leaving your dog in the kitchen if that's the only place you have tiled floors, so cleanup is easier. (Then again, if your dog is like my friend's new dog who managed to rip up some of the floor tile... well, you might just want to see an animal behaviorist.)
posted by IndigoRain at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2010

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