By Megan Kriss | Dog Behaviour
Does your dog keep escaping their crate? This doesn’t just give him a chance to rip up your cushions – many dogs injure themselves trying to destroy metal crates. Here’s how to prevent escapees.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep your doggy Houdini in a crate without stressing you or your dog out.
Now that you have everything you need, let’s move on to the actual steps.
Knowing what’s causing your dog to escape is essential, because the underlying cause determines how to address the problem.
Observe your dog and see which of these reasons applies to them. For example, if your dog runs wild after escaping, it’s probably a boredom issue, while a dog that panics only when you leave the home is probably suffering from separation anxiety.
Using a video camera to record your dog while they’re crated may help. The video below is a good example, as it shows a clearly distressed pit bull whining, panting and breaking out of a wire crate. It’s clear how easy it would be for the dog to be seriously injured when in this state:
Just because a dog isn’t able to escape a crate or kennel doesn’t mean they don’t feel anxious or stressed though.
Breeds like Pit Bulls, Boxers and Siberian Huskies are known for their ability to escape seemingly impossible situations, but this is largely due to their strength. Smaller breeds may not have enough muscle power, but they can still injure themselves trying to get out. If your dog suffers from anxiety in a crate, it’s vital to address the underlying problem, regardless of their ability to escape.
Whatever is driving your dog’s escape attempts, the first step is to secure the crate.
Typically dogs escape in one of two ways: they either undo the latch or break apart the crate itself. Here’s how to solve both escape methods.
Crates with a pinch closure or latch that requires two hands for operation are more secure, as these are almost impossible for dogs to open. A padlock can also prevent a dog opening the door, although these can be difficult to unlock in a hurry.
You can also use a clip or carabiner to prevent the latch from being moved far enough for an escape attempt.
If your dog destroys the crate itself, you’ll either need to make it more difficult to break out or opt for a stronger crate (soft-sided crates, such as these, just aren’t going to cut it!)
Collapsible crates can be made more secure by zip-tying the sides together. This isn’t going to stop the strongest and most determined dogs, but is a cheap way to make it more difficult for your dog to prise open the gaps.
The last resort is a heavy-duty dog crate (sometimes known as military crates). These are made from thick reinforced metal and escape-proof locks, so it’s virtually impossible for a dog to break free.
A note on “heavy duty” and “escape proof” crates though: these crates will prevent your pet getting loose, but purchasing one should not be your first response for dealing with an escaping dog.
They don’t address the underlying cause of escape attempts and can even worsen them if your dog becomes frustrated and stressed because they’re trapped.
I only recommend these crates if you need to confine your dog while you get professional help or implement a long-term plan. The goal should be to make your dog feel more comfortable, not just lock him up in a stronger crate.
Your next step is to make the crate more appealing to your dog.
Start by providing soft bedding and nesting material. Include something that smells like you, like a blanket or tee shirt, to make your dog feel more secure.
A favorite toy is a great way to include their smell as well as provide comfort and entertainment. Puzzle toys can also be effective for keeping bored dogs entertained while crated.
If your dog escapes in response to a phobia, a white noise machine or fan can be useful for minimizing loud noises or covering voices of strangers. You can also try moving the crate to a more solitary or public location in your home (depending on your dog’s preferences), or drape a blanket over the crate for privacy – just make sure the crate doesn’t get too hot.
Speaking of hot, a crate shouldn’t be placed next to vents or radiators.
The more comfortable and relaxed your dog is when entering a crate, the less likely they are to try and escape. The goal is to make every crate experience a positive one, as even the occasional negative experience can stick in a dog’s mind.
Firstly, always let your dog go to the bathroom before going in the crate for an extended period. Imagine being confined to a single room without a toilet when you need to go – it wouldn’t be pleasant! You should also provide plenty of opportunity for exercise and mental stimulation before crating, as this relieves anxious tension and makes it more likely your dog will feel relaxed.
Most importantly, keep crating hours reasonable for the age of your dog. Some organizations recommended an adult dog shouldn’t be crated for more than about six to eight hours during the day, but even this is too long. Once you trust your dog not to destroy your furniture during the day, there probably isn’t a need to crate them for long periods.
As I mentioned, try to create positive associations with the crate. An easy way to do this is to feed meals in the crate with the door open, or hide treats or a stuffed Kong inside before you ask him to go in. The time a dog spends in a crate should also be built up gradually over time.
On the other hand, you should never use the crate as punishment or trick your pet into being locked inside. Don’t throw a treat inside and close the door when his back is turned, for example, as this can create negative associations.
Remember, your dog’s crate is their space. Make sure they can access it at all times and don’t disturb them when crated. Other pets or children should never enter the crate, even when the dog isn’t inside.
If your dog escapes their crate because of a phobia, separation anxiety, or anxiety of the crate itself, no amount of crate improvements will actually solve the problem. Even if your dog can’t physically escape the crate, they’ll still be stressed and may injure themselves.
For your dog’s health and safety, as well as the rest of your family’s, it’s essential to address the underlying cause of anxiety. The best way to do this is with a professional dog trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement techniques.
Crates are a valuable tool for keeping your dog safe and out of trouble. If your dog can escape the crate, however, it becomes more of a risk than a useful tool.
Purchasing a more secure crate is the most obvious way to prevent escapees, but this should only be a temporary solution. You also need to address the reason your dog is escaping, whether that’s fear, anxiety, boredom, or discomfort.
Still have questions about how to stop your dog from escaping their crate after reading this post? Ask away in the comments!