Escape-Proof Crates: If It Sounds Cruel, It’s Because It Is

Image by Petra from Pixabay

We wish to thank G. Williams for her excellent work on the use of dog crates. She wrote the article below and gave us permission to share it. We haven’t included photos of the crates because so many things are copyrighted these days, but you can see an example of one here: Imagine a human being for whom being in a confined space causes so much anxiety that there is a desperate need to escape. Then imagine that person being put into a box like this one.

From G. Williams:

Many of us have been taught to embrace the benefits that crating dogs provide us.
It is why many animal caregivers avoid articles like this one. We don’t want to
question what has become customary and acceptable; we know instinctively, it’s
not. Crates for dogs are needed. However, the times that they are truly necessary
account for a tiny fraction of how pervasive crates have become.

When we force our dogs into isolation for extended periods of time, the discomfort we
are causing them is clear. They let us know. Their scratching and howling are emotional
states that are difficult to misinterpret, even for first time pet owners. Dogs crying and
clawing at the walls of the box they are forced into, sometimes remain locked in until
their nails bleed and their teeth break (from trying to break out of the crate), and these
are clear clinical signs that a dog is being tormented.

The multi billion dollar business of crates.

The countless pet dogs who hate their crates are at risk of further torment with what
the crating industry has introduced as inescapable or escape-proof crates — a crate
designed for dogs with a history of panic behaviours when confined. The distress a
dog experiences in a regular wire crate is amplified by the closed environment of the
inescapable crates. There are numerous companies manufacturing these heavy-duty
crates. One of these suffocating looking boxes is called the ‘High Anxiety’ crate.
Anybody placed inside one of these couldn’t help but feel entombed. During hot
weather leaving any thick coated dog in such a crate can be life threatening.

Here is the sales pitch on the IMPACT website used to sell the ‘High Anxiety’ crate.

“Our renowned escape-proof dog crate is thoughtfully engineered to protect and
outsmart pets who suffer from severe separation anxiety. The High Anxiety Crate’s
welded structure, four additional butterfly latches, and carefully designed ventilation
holes, provide a safe den environment for dogs with destructive tendencies.”

It can outsmart pets with separation anxiety! Well, that’s a trick and half…except
miracles don’t occur in crates! The marketing ploy that their escape-proof crate
‘outsmarts pets with severe anxiety’ is just a clever tactic to drive more sales. The
strategy here is name it, and they will believe it, except a name is just a name. As with
many marketers of controversial products, they co-opt words, distort their meanings,
and some even spin cruelty as kindness. They do whatever they think will make their
products sound more appealing and sellable. Why would anyone bother with a
veterinary behaviourist or anxiety specialist who has honed their skills for years to
competently and humanely rehabilitate anxious dogs, when all they have to do is put
them in a vault like box?

A skeptical person would want to know how this magic works. The vocalizing and
exertion a desperate dog expends in trying to escape an inescapable crate strains,
drains, and exhausts them physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Eventually,
hopelessness sets in and their spirit is crushed.

This despondent state is celebrated by some balanced and punishment-based trainers
and even some pet owners as positive behavioural changes. They are thrilled with their
demoralized dog because a dog dispirited is so much more manageable. Some
people prefer a dispirited dog over an emotionally healthy one.

We have choices, they don’t.

A testimonial and endorsement featured on the IMPACT website by a purchaser of a
High Anxiety crate stated that they previously went through dozens of wire, plastic, and
heavy duty crates in the eight years they’ve had their 60 pound dog. They wrote, “Even
with medication she was an anxious beast”. They further stated,“they bought the crate
in March 2023. It’s now November and aside from her absolutely massacring the
interior paint job, the cage is holding strong”. They expressed that they wished they
had bought the crate eight years ago. The picture accompanying the text showed large
portions of the surface paint on the inside of the door being clawed off. Claw marks are
etched into the remaining paint, revealing the anguish this dog endured. It is a haunting
endorsement that is extremely difficult to get out of one’s mind. It definitely tells a
story, but an extremely heartbreaking one.

A leading scholar in animal ethics, Dr. Jessica Pierce notes, in her opinion, “The
IMPACT crate is an inhumane and cruel tool for confining dogs. I would urge people not
to use this product or others like it and particularly not if they have an anxious dog.
These crates have the potential to inflict serious and lasting psychological harm on
our canine companions. We should see this product for what it is: a torture chamber.
No dog should ever be subjected to one.”

Individuals who experience anxiety and phobias describe their symptoms as a sudden
onset of panic and feelings of being out of control, experiencing fear, and suffocating
feelings as well as experiencing muscle tension, breathlessness, trembling, sweating,
confusion, and a desperate need to escape. Science has reported through brain
imaging studies that people and dogs share similar emotions in similar situations. It’s
difficult to imagine a dog locked in a box having to endure such symptoms indefinitely
and repeatedly. It is a biological imperative for all animals, including us, to feel free.

Not all dogs are upset and distressed in a crate because they have been separated
from their owners. Many dogs are fearful and frustrated in general, and confinement
heightens the intensity of these emotions. Some dogs have medical issues which make
restricted movement painful such as back pain, poor circulation, muscle spasms,
osteoarthritis, or other afflictions that leave them in discomfort. Regardless of the
reason an animal hates being confined, to deliberately keep them that way, disparages
their sentience. Crates do not provide safety and protection, we do.

Millions of dogs that are routinely crated against their will learn that it is only a matter of
time before they will be crated again. The worry and fear of this leaves many dogs
chronically anxious. Fear changes the brain, and this leaves a dog suffering in or out of
the crate. When people experience multiple traumatic events the risk for developing
severe stress disorders increases. Dogs that are repeatedly traumatized will also
develop severe and chronic stress.

Who will rescue the rescued?

Recently, a number of rescues, foster homes, and sanctuaries have been showing up
on Facebook pages pleading for free escape-proof crates or the funds to buy them.
They claim that they need them for the homeless dogs they’ve ‘rescued’. Dogs who
came to them already suffering from stress, anxiety, and trauma. A dog’s feelings and
emotions are not without reason. Despite what some people think, they are not playing
you, and they are not cry babies, drama queens, spoiled, or attention seekers. They are
upset, frightened, and stressed. These emotional states are not voluntary, they are
reflexive. It is state of mind.

When these dogs show their rescuers that they hate being crated, the rescuers don’t
remove the crate and address the reasons behind the dog’s behaviour, which
competent and caring people would do. Instead, they search out escape-proof crates
which can re-traumatize the dogs over and over again. Imagine rescuers thinking it’s a
rational solution to treat anxiety by causing more anxiety. It’s the many well run rescues
and shelters that end up taking on the heart breaking messes inept rescues leave
behind. Since anyone can call themselves a rescue, the existence of inferior rescues is
widespread, uncontrolled, and unchecked.

If you choose a dog you can handle, you won’t have to break him.

Most people have heard the term ‘breaking’ in reference to wild horses. It’s used in
traditional horse training and means to crush the free spirit and wildness out of a horse.
Although currently more gentle techniques are promoted in the horse world, there are
still plenty of old school ‘cowboy’ techniques being used today that use force,
dominance, and pain in training. Once broken, the horse lives under the domination of
humans. So, what does this have to do with dogs? Crating can be seen as a breaking
method for dogs. The end results of repeated force crating can be comparable to the
end results of horse breaking. Dogs become beaten down and their spirits are
crushed. They lose their exuberance for life and become more biddable.

The many pet owners who crate their dogs are persuaded to use crates by people
working in pet related industries parroting all kinds of ‘nearly facts,’ ‘half truths’, and
outright myths that they often believe themselves. These people don’t hesitate to
recommended crates as babysitters, furniture protectors, behaviour modifiers, and a
great way to turn annoying dogs into relaxed dogs.

Have you been told that dogs love their crates because they are like a den and they
feel protected and safe? Have you been made to feel like a failure because your dog
has no manners? Have you been advised to turn a deaf ear to your dog’s cries for
help? Those who have a stake in us buying these narratives will likely protest this
article but their opposition will be self-serving and weak. Frightened, unhappy, and
anxious dogs, who are crying out for attention, require attention. Dogs suffering
separation anxiety and claustrophobia need to be supported and loved, not locked in

Most people are capable of providing their dogs with a safe, spacious, and comfortable
environment with natural lighting and a cozy place to sleep, room to move around in,
stretch, drink, play with toys, and listen to music. Our dogs didn’t choose us, we chose
them. It is why we owe them the best life we can give them.

If you wouldn’t do it to a child, don’t do it to your dog.

Studies show that there is a striking similarity between the neural circuitry and
functioning of the brain in dogs and humans. If we needed to alleviate a child’s fear,
anxiety, or frustration, one would be hard pressed to find a psychologist who would
recommend calling our child crazy, suggesting we ignore their feelings, punish them or
put them in circumstances that worsens their distress. But we don’t think twice about
doing any of these things to our dogs.

In a craigslist ad written by a German Shepherd owner selling his escape-proof crate,
he writes, “The crate is still indestructible except for the scratches inside because,
“The crazy dog kept ‘trying’ to get out.” Another ad posted by a man selling his High
Anxiety crate described his Husky’s behavioural changes after routinely crating him for
years as now “nicely low key”. When questioned what that meant, he got defensive
and wouldn’t answer. We can pretend we don’t know what we are doing but that
eventually comes back to haunt us. Because Huskies and German Shepherds can be
strong minded, high spirited, crave mental stimulation, independence, autonomy, and
freedom, they can suffer deeply when confined.

While walking with a bunch of dog owners, one man revealed he crated his dog even
though his dog hated it. When he was asked why he kept crating him, he said, ‘his dog
deserved it for all the shit he put him through’. This guy wasn’t evil. He just wasn’t
ready to live with dogs and let them be dogs. Some people shouldn’t have a dog.
Sadly, anyone can buy a dog, a shock collar and a crate; the perfect recipe for misery.

Who comes up with this stuff?

What mindset builds inescapable crates for dogs that are phobic, anxious, and fearful
and call it humane and safe? People skilled at engineering heavy duty containers.
People motivated to solve a mechanical problem. Not people who are concerned with
animal welfare. Some folks still don’t view animals as conscious beings that are
capable of suffering. Escape-proof crates are not for the benefit of the dog, as so many
companies claim. They exist to assuage a crater’s frustration by putting the frustration
on the dog.

Dr. Jessica Pierce, bioethicist and author of ‘Who’s a Good Dog? And How to Be a
Better Human’ further states, “The marketing and sale of so-called anxiety crates —
specially designed for dogs that experience anxiety when confined to a cage — is
deeply troubling. If a dog is so distressed by being locked in a crate that they try to dig
or chew their way out, the humane response is certainly not to lock them in an even
more tightly constraining and anxiety-provoking crate. Rather, a compassionate
response to crate anxiety involves not putting the dog in a cage at all, period.”

Enough already!

Lets quit willfully, turning a blind eye to what’s around us, and even within our
own families: dogs being tormented in crates. Research has determined that the more
overt signs of stress are understood by dog owners. So, what are we thinking when
our dogs are frantically trying to get out of their crate, yet we leave them there? We
expect dogs to be chameleons and change to whatever environment we put them in.
We must take greater responsibility for our dog’s emotional states.

When stress signs are more subtle, pet owners can miss or misinterpret them. This
could account for why some people say their dogs don’t mind the crates. They may
resist a little going in, but, once inside, they seem calm and quiet. Soft, stoic dogs
don’t react in overt ways. Instead, they make themselves look smaller to avoid
attention, being bullied, or punished. They remain still and tense, tails tucked in, and
ears pinned back. They may tremble, pant, and drool but even if we notice these
signs, some of us have been taught to ignore them.

Don’t underestimate your dog’s intelligence and capabilities, nor the hurdles they have
to overcome to live with us. We don’t need to hurt them, lock them up, or shock them
to teach them. Dogs learn with patience, gentle touches, and soft voices. They thrive
with kind treatment and harmony. I don’t know of any animal, including us, that
doesn’t. It is imperative a dog’s internal and external needs be fulfilled by allowing
them to engage in what they innately feel is enjoyable, normal, and instinctive.

A dog’s life is too short to spend any of it locked in a box.

Legislation to ban crates, or at least restrict how they are used, is imperative. Self delusion, sugar coating, and full outright denial are all ways we permit ourselves to ‘force crate’ when we know, deep down inside, it is not normal, natural, or kind.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve used a crate, still use a crate, or have been promoting them.
If you’re having a “What was I thinking” moment, join the club. We’ve all been there.
Change comes when we change. And who better to lead the way than real dog lovers
who’ve been down the crating path and now understand that there are far more
effective and humane ways to care for them. Pet professionals who have recommended crates are now realizing they have become a real welfare concern, so they have started to recommend healthier alternatives. If you need help, there are veterinary behaviourists and credentialed trainers who use methods that are safe, ethical, and kind. If billions of dog owners can keep their pets protected, happy and healthy without crates, so can you.

G. Williams
Animal Advocate

Disclosure: I’m not a pet expert and I don’t wish to claim expertise I don’t have. I am a person who has
lived with dogs for many decades. I also know what claustrophobia feels like. I wrote this for dogs
because I believe they are all beautiful souls and I owe them for a lifetime of fun, happiness and loyal companionship.


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