Should A Dog Crate Be Used For Punishment? (Trainer Explains)

Should A Dog Crate Be Used For Punishment

As much as we love our dogs, they sometimes do things that frustrate or upset us. While it’s no fault of their own and is usually due to a misunderstanding or just not being taught otherwise, many owners might struggle with how to correct and teach their dog that what they did was inappropriate.

While dogs do need structure and need to be taught right versus wrong, it can be tough for an owner to determine the best course of action for doing that. In the human world, we often view punishment as the first choice for correcting a behavior and we sometimes follow that with our canine companions, too.

One of the more common suggestions is that a dog can be punished by placing them in their crate. But should a dog crate be used as a punishment?

Dog crates should not be used to punish a dog. While crates can be used for time outs if done properly and accompanied by positive reinforcement, using a crate for punishment can possibly lead your dog to develop a fear of their crate, and it could make the behavioral issues worse.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons why using a dog crate for punishment is not a good idea. We’ll also discuss time outs and how a crate could be used for those provided the time outs are in line with how dogs learn and create associations.

Finally, we’ll take a look at what you can do instead of using a dog crate as punishment when your pup misbehaves.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use A Dog Crate For Punishment

Crate training is a beneficial but sometimes time-consuming process. It’s important to be mindful of how your pup interacts with the crate before, during, and even after the training process has been completed.

When considering using the crate as a punishment, it’s important to be mindful of the following risks, and if it’s even worth it to use the crate for punishment. Don’t forget to check this informative video on crates!

Reason 1: Creates A Negative Association

Dogs learn primarily through association, and the greatest risk of using a crate for punishment is creating a negative association with the crate. If a dog has a negative association with anything, either created on purpose or by accident by their owners, they generally become fearful, anxious, or even aggressive when placed into situations with whatever they have a negative association with.

For the crate training process, it’s important to create and maintain a positive association with the crate or else you risk having a stressed dog who doesn’t feel calm in the crate (or one who can’t even be crated at all).

If you use the crate for punishment, you risk creating this negative association with the crate. This can potentially cause a setback in your crate training process and increase the length of time it takes to crate train your dog.

This is especially true if you also accompany the crate punishment with other forms of punishment, such as yelling, smacking the dog, or dragging the dog into the crate by force.

There is a way to use a crate for time outs (which I’ll discuss in more detail below), but in general, using the crate for punishment is highly likely to create a negative association with the crate.

Reason 2: Can Interrupt The Training Process

While using the crate for punishment can affect a dog at any level of training, dogs who are still in the midst of the crate training process are the ones most likely to have an issue.

The crate training process and the length of time it takes to finish can vary from dog to dog. While setbacks are a normal part of the learning process, we as owners want to do our best to help reduce those as much as possible.

If our pups are in the middle of (or just beginning) the crate training process, it is especially important to make sure any and all interactions they have with the crate are positive ones. If at any point they feel that the crate is an unsafe place or one associated with fear or pain, this can disrupt the training process.

If this interruption happens, it can increase the length of time it takes to crate train the dog, it can cause unintended behavioral issues, and it may even cause the dog to react aggressively when we attempt to reintroduce the crate.

It is much easier to crate train a dog when the only association they have with a crate is a positive (or at the very least neutral) association, rather than working to change a negative association into a positive one.

Reason 3: Your Dog Won’t Understand The Punishment

Punishment does have its uses in dog training, but it’s often misused and misunderstood by many owners. Humans often utilize punishment that is based on human learning on their poor pups, who usually have no idea what their owner is doing. Most punishment used by owners is confusing to the dog at best, and inhumane at worst.

Dogs do not understand human emotions like guilt or spite, and timing is everything when it comes to the use of any type of punisher. For a punisher (of any kind) to be effective, it must be applied immediately. Not six hours later, not five minutes later, not even two minutes later!

Association-based learning means that dogs are constantly learning from their environment and creating associations between different actions, words, body language, behaviors, sounds, smells, and so on. If you attempt to punish at an incorrect time or in an incorrect way, your dog will associate it with whatever they are doing at the moment, or with something else within the environment.

As an example, if you come home and find that your pup has chewed up your favorite rug and you immediately start yelling at them and place them in their crate as punishment, your dog will either a) assume you are punishing them for whatever they were doing in that exact moment (which is likely coming up to greet you when you returned home) or b) not associate the crate at all with punishment and they will simply assume you are just placing them in their crate.

As I mentioned above, there IS a way to utilize crates to help foster the learning process, but in every other case, if you are using your dog’s crate as a way to punish them for something, it’s likely not having the effect you think it is.

Reason 4: Can Create Additional Behavioral Issues

Because dogs are constantly learning from their environment, we often accidentally create or reinforce unwanted behaviors in our pups. While most of the time these behaviors might be relatively minor, such as unknowingly “teaching” our dogs that they get a bully stick if they bark every time the phone rings in our attempts to get them to be quiet while we are talking, in some cases the consequences of unintended learning can be more severe and even dangerous.

One of the greatest risks of the use of a punishment (especially a physical one) is the creation of a second, often more severe behavioral issue. With punishment, the unintended behavioral issues that come along with it include fear-, anxiety-, and even aggression-based behaviors that did not exist prior to the punishment being used.

In the case of using a crate for punishment, we risk creating additional unwanted behavior issues if the dog is reinforced for an unwanted behavior at the same time you are punishing them, or if they are pushed above their threshold when it comes to stress.

As an example, if we yell and scream at our dog and force them into their crate, they will likely be confused, stressed, and put up some of a fight but still go into the crate. The next time this exact situation happens again, the dog will remember the confusion and stress from the previous encounter and will likely react more violently to stay away and out of the crate.

This could look like them running away from the owner and hiding, putting up more of a physical struggle as their owner attempts to get them in the crate, or even snapping and growling at their owner as they attempt to force them into the crate. If this type of punishment continues, the behaviors will only escalate.

Reason 5: Can Make Behavioral Issues Worse

If using the crate as a punishment tool, you also risk making the behavior issues worse. For some dogs, the crate is not actually a punishment (nor should it be) but if they actually enjoy being in the crate or if they enjoy the attention they receive when you are punishing them, they may actually increase the unwanted behaviors that got them the punishment in the first place.

As an example, a dog who needs a lot of attention from their owner and who is not getting it may bark excessively or chew things they aren’t supposed to out of boredom.

When the owner finally pays “attention” to them by yelling at them and dragging them into their crate, they may view this as the answer to their problem of not receiving enough attention: “If I bark more, I’ll get attention!”. To us humans, being yelled at is likely not a positive thing, but to an attention starved dog, it could be very rewarding.

Similarly, say you were working with your dog on building their confidence with being out and around people in the household, or you were working on introducing them to a new member of the family (furry or otherwise) and your pup still felt anxious or stressed.

If they bark and snap at the thing they don’t like, and you place them in their crate as “punishment”, they may think “hey, I don’t like being around that person and if I bark and growl at them, I get to go away from them. I’m going to keep doing it every time I want to be away from something I don’t like!”.

By misunderstanding your dog’s idea of reinforcement and punishment, you accidentally reinforced an unwanted behavior issue and made the entire situation even more difficult to deal with.

Should You Put Your Dog In Their Crate For Time Out?

Now that we’ve discussed the risks of using a crate as punishment for your dog, we’ll go over the one exception and how to properly execute it: The Time Out. Time Outs for dogs are similar to those for young human children and fall under a quadrant of learning called negative punishment.

Negative punishment (which is a component of operant conditioning) is where we remove something pleasant in order to decrease a behavior. The use of negative reinforcement in dog training is generally less risky than other types of learning (such as positive punishment or negative reinforcement).

When used appropriately and with correct timing, it has a high rate of success for teaching a dog what behaviors get them rewarded, and what behaviors get fun things taken away. A time out is technically considered a “punishment” as the dog is being taught that something they did led to the fun thing being taken away.

The difference between using a crate for a time out versus using the crate for another type of punishment is the timing and what you do after the dog is let out of the crate.

While it’s still a good idea to seek out another area for a time out, especially if your pup is still in the beginning stages of crate training! If you must use their crate as their time out space, it’s a good idea to take the following training suggestions into account.

How To Use Crates For Time Outs

For time outs to be effective in the learning process (and to avoid creating any unwanted issues like those we discussed above), you want to be very mindful of when and how you use them.

If your dog does something you do not want, such as jumping on the counter while you are trying to make dinner, you would want to immediately place them in their crate as soon as they go to jump on the counter. You can say “No” or “Ah Ah” if you utilize those types of verbal corrections, but in general, you don’t want to make a fuss and you’ll simply place your pup in their crate and then turn your back on your dog and walk away a few steps.

Wait only a minute or two, and then release your pup and resume the dinner making process. If they immediately attempt to jump on the counter again, place them back into the crate for another minute or two. If they exit the crate and just look briefly at the counter or engage in another, more appropriate activity, praise and reward them with attention, some treats, or a chew toy.

You would repeat this based on whether or not your dog immediately went back to jumping on the counter or not. By removing the pleasant thing (being in the kitchen with you while you are making dinner), you are teaching your dog that the counter jumping behavior is not appropriate.

Over time, your pup will make the connection and while they may try to jump every now and again to see if things have changed, they will likely be content with whatever new activity you positively reinforced them for.

The key points here are that you only want to leave the dog in their crate for VERY short periods of time, you do not make a fuss or use any other additional punishers when placing them in the crate, and you follow up with positive reinforcement the second the dog engages in a behavior you find more appropriate.

What Can I Do Instead Of Putting My Dog In His Crate When He Misbehaves?

The best thing to do instead of using the crate to punish your dog is to teach them appropriate behaviors in the first place. If you can catch unwanted behaviors early enough and redirect the dog to a more appropriate behavior, it is often fairly easy to fix the unwanted behaviors.

Prevention is even better! If you have a puppy or young adolescent, staying ahead of the game by setting a good foundation for training is important. It’s important to always be mindful that you are constantly teaching your dog, even if you don’t realize it. Dogs are much more perceptive than we often give them credit for!

Instead of punishing your dog for an unwanted behavior (like pooping in the house), figure out why the dog may have engaged in the behavior in the first place. Was it due to a past learning experience? Is it a result of fear, pain, or anxiety? Is it just because the dog has never been taught otherwise?

Figuring out the why is an important first step in fixing an issue. Simply punishing the dog often ignores the “why” and is only a band-aid fix (and a bad one at that) rather than a treatment. Once the “why” is understood, it becomes much easier to determine a solution.

A local dog trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement and reward-based training will also help, especially if you are struggling to determine where your pup is at in the learning process.

Closing Thoughts

In general, it’s best not to use a crate for punishment. The risks of creating a negative association with the crate and interrupting the crate training process are too high. Additionally, there could be unintended behavioral consequences and it could actually make the behavior issue worse.

The exception to this general rule of thumb would be the use of the crate for time outs. When properly executed and accompanied by positive reinforcement, a crate can be a good location for a time out if no other appropriate “time out” area is available.

Instead of using the crate for punishment, there are many other more humane and effective ways to help your dog learn and understand what is being asked of them.

A local trainer who sticks to scientifically backed training methods is a great source for alternatives to punishment-based training, and they can help you determine the best course of action for any issues your pup is facing.

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