Dear Dog Lady,
Q: I have an eight-month-old boxer who is at home for about eight hours every day while I'm at work, although I come home for an hour on my lunch break and take her out. She also goes to daycare twice a week.
She seems very comfortable in her cage, and often goes in there just to sleep. She has also been house trained for about six weeks. I leave her alone outside the crate for up to an hour occasionally and she always seems to handle it fine, but I haven't done this when I'm at work. When do you think a good age is to start phasing out the crate?
A: For reasons she could never adequately explain, Dog Lady was very touched by your letter. You’re obviously raising a good dog and asking all the right questions.
People think cages are cruel. Yet, a “cage” – the impolite word for “crate” – is an ideal hangout when the dog is young. In truth, this is the kindest way to nurture a young pup. Crates provide dogs with their own turf. The containment also trains them to keep their hangout clean because they do not want to spoil their living quarters. They learn to hold their excretions until they are released from the crate and taken outside.
Even when dogs have full freedom, many return to their crates for comfort and security. You could start by leaving the door to the crate open when you leave for work and see how she handled freedom when you come home on your lunch break. Make this open-door policy without fanfare. If your boxer behaves – and Dog Lady believes she will because she’s obviously a good dog and thoughtfully trained by you – leave the cage open in the afternoon. Also, when you’re home on weekends, begin to let her out of her crate all the time.
However, for the next year or so – and maybe for the rest of her life -- do not pack up the crate and take it away. Leave the container out with an open door for your dog to use as a retreat if she wants