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Dog Crates/Kennels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Just recently, Glen Allen Professional Dog Trainer, Melaina, returned home to a nightmare. Her precious border collie, Posey, whom she…

Just recently, Glen Allen Professional Dog Trainer, Melaina, returned home to a nightmare. Her precious border collie, Posey, whom she had left in an airline crate for only a couple of hours, had lodged her jaw into the crate’s door and was unable to get loose. Posey was bleeding and fear had caused her to urinate and defecate uncontrollably. Fortunately, Melaina had some wire cutters nearby and was able to cut Posey loose. Posey suffered a chipped canine, severe bruising, and a few cuts inside her mouth. Although tragic, Posey was lucky. Injuries from dog crate accidents can result in broken bones, dislocated limbs and toes, missing or painfully broken teeth. Thank goodness Melaina was able to get to Posey in time.

Incidents like this are not all that uncommon. While I am unable to find any statistics in the U.S., the K-911 Animal Ambulance in Montreal, Canada responds to about a dozen cases a year similar to Posey’s. I would imagine the U.S. figures are comparable.

What makes a dog crate dangerous?

It’s interesting… When researching the safety of pet kennels and crates, the U.S. tends to categorize safe from unsafe only in terms of car crash safety. In fact, the CPS, Center for Pet Safety in Reston Virginia, bases all of their safety measures for dog crates on their performance during automobile crashes. In the UK, while crash safety is important, they focus more on the construction of the kennel as it relates to the pet’s ability to injure itself while enclosed. That is where I want to focus, as it relates more to what happened to Posey.

Even with a high safety rating, every dog crate has components that can be dangerous given the right (or should I say “wrong”) circumstances. For example, most dog crates have that little ledge at the bottom of the door that is the perfect size for a dog to get its toe, toenail, or paw lodged in. What happens then? The dog panics and tries to free its paw, causing serious, perhaps crippling, injury to its foot and/or leg.

Potential dog crate hazards

Another area of concern is the size of the openings on the door and sides of the kennel. Can your dog fit its jaw (or paw) through the air openings on the door and sides of the kennel? If so, it is a potential hazard. We have also seen cases of dogs having rubbed the top of their nose raw by continually attempting to stick it through the openings of their carriers. While large dogs may do well with standard openings, it is conceivably a risk for smaller dogs that can easily insert their teeth or paws. If they get stuck, the result could be disastrous… and painful.

Have you seen the common door latch on some crates where a metal pole is inserted in the top and bottom of the door? I read an incident online where a gentleman found his dog’s head pushed through the top of the door, while the bottom was still affixed. Had he not been home, his dog could have easily broken its neck or severely injured his neck by trying to escape. Oh my goodness…

My former rescue was, obviously, not accustomed to crating. Although she obediently went into the crate and seemed content, she let us know that she did not approve. We bought a canvas-wrapped metal crate, often referred to as a “soft side” crate. During our short absence one day, Haley completely dismantled the crate. Not only had she ripped through the canvas and plastic screening, but she had somehow – miraculously – bent and detached many of the metal bars. I examined her teeth and her mouth to see if she had hurt herself in any way and she was, thankfully, fine. She was just a little thing… I have no idea how she did that. Other people are not so lucky. A gentleman in Reddit wrote that his lab’s face was agonizingly swollen after he completely mangled his metal crate. Poor guy.

There are other more minor, but still hurtful injuries that a dog can suffer while in a crate. Dogs that wag their tails a lot can actually bloody their tails when slapping that happy tail against the metal wire bars. And it makes sense that a dog could rub other areas of their fur off if confined for long periods of time. Poorly constructed crates can have loose or broken wires and sharp edges where a dog can cut itself or worse.

Are dog kennels/crates a good or bad thing?

At this point, you can’t help but wonder if crating is too dangerous for a pet, right? As we discussed in a previous blog titled “Crate Training a Crying Puppy”, a dog’s desire to have a “den”, or enclosed space of their own, is instinctive. If they are trained with a crate as puppies, it will be a place of respite for them. In fact, providing a crate (a “den”) for your puppy is one of the most loving things you can do for them. Maybe we should reword that sentence by saying, providing a safe crate is one of the most loving things you can do for your pet.

Here are some safety tips for crating or kenneling your dog:

  • First of all, buy good quality crates/kennels. For your dog’s safety, it is not the time to skimp. After Melaina’s incident with Posey, she is adamant about dog crate safety. Melaina recommends bite-proof composite doors on crates. She has been impressed with Ruffland brand kennels.
  • Secondly, some injuries occur – not because of the crate itself – but because of the dog’s actions while inside the crate. Train your dog patiently and lovingly. Never use the crate as a place of punishment. Your dog should see their crate as their “happy place” so that they enter the crate willingly and are content to stay.
  • Never leave your dog’s collar on while they are in their crate. Collars can get caught on openings and wires, leading to injury or strangulation.
  • If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, approach crate training with caution. We recommend you talk with Holiday Barn Pet Resort’s Professional Dog Trainers prior to leaving an anxious pup in a crate. They may panic and try to escape to get to you. The outcome could be tragic.
  • Avoid plastic or canvas-covered metal crates if your dog is an aggressive chewer or digger.
  • Regardless of your dog’s age, try not to crate them for more than 5 hours, with the exception being overnight while everyone is sleeping. Dogs left in crates longer than is reasonable are bound to become frustrated and may attempt to escape. Many adult dogs are comfortable in a crate for as long as 8 hours while their owners are away for work. We recommend a good exercise session prior to crating, especially when they will be crated for an extended time. A tired dog will be less likely to try to escape.
  • Make sure the crate is comfortable. Can your dog stand, stretch, turn around? Do they have a soft blanket? Maybe some toys? Etsy has some adorable crate “bumpers” and bedding that will help make the crate safer and more pleasant. Cover any grid flooring as it can be very uncomfortable on their precious paws. Some dogs feel more secure with a dog crate cover.  You can learn your dog’s preferences by staying close and observing their first several crating sessions
  • Lastly, consider purchasing two crates: One for your dog at home and one for the car. The car kennel should be large enough for your dog to stand and turn around, but small enough that your dog is secure. For the safety of your dog and all other passengers, the car kennel must have a means of anchoring it to your vehicle to keep it from coming loose in an accident. Make sure the kennel has a CPS Certification (Center for Pet Safety), which certifies that it has been tested for crash safety. The testing and product performance requirements of the CPS are rigorous, so you will have the assurance of knowing that you are purchasing a durable, good-quality, safe, dog kennel. You will pay a little more for a certified kennel, but it is so worth the investment.

Final thoughts

Accidents happen.

Melaina had no reason to believe that anything like this would ever happen with Posey. Posey is very well trained and had shown absolutely no kennel anxiety in the past. Chances are, she was playing or was somehow curious and got her jaw caught.

Ultimately, we just need to weigh the risks. Is it safer to leave your dog in a good quality kennel while we are away, or to let them wander about the house unattended? As I always say, all we can do is the best we can do. Do your best to assure your dog’s safety when you are unable to be with them.

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