Aw, look at that sweet puppy, perfectly happy and perfectly safe in his crate. I love crates. I love dogs who love crates. It's pretty easy to teach your dog to love his crate, and I can't think of a good reason not to crate a healthy, happy dog.
Invariably, though, people want to know when they can get rid of the crate. I never get rid of the crate. Here's why:
Crating is a skill that your dog may need for the rest of his life. Dogs being treated for an illness or injury are very often on crate rest for long periods of time. If you've let your dog's crating skills diminish over time, it's going to be a tough recovery for them. Tough because of the physical issues, but even tougher because now they have to learn how to crate in addition to recuperate from the illness or injury. That's a tough combination for a dog. I'd rather have the crate already be a familiar and welcome place for the dog to be -- he's likely to actually seek out the crate for rest and recuperation instead of fighting it.
Crating will be necessary if you travel and need to board your dog. The crating area may be larger, like a kennel run, but it's still very similar to crating. If your dog is already used to being crated, this kennel run is more like a super-duper big crate instead of being like a jail to him. He's going to be more relaxed while you're away. Which, in the end, means YOU will be more relaxed!
Keeping your dog in a crate means your dog is safe when you're not there to watch him. He can't be on the counter or in the trash. He won't be on the counter or in the cleaning chemicals. He won't be digging up the carpet or chewing on the cherry cabinets. Your iPhone, remotes, and shoes will be in the same place and in the same condition as when you left the house. In short, crating keeps your dog and your stuff safe!
Our Lily, a 10.5 year old Labrador retriever is crated every time we leave the house. That's her routine, she knows it, and actually runs to her crate when my keys jingle. When she was about 3 or 4 years old, we wanted to give her some house freedom. That house freedom almost killed her. She managed to get into the pantry and got into raisins. After 7 days in the emergency veterinary hospital, she could finally come home. For another week, though, we had to administer 3/4 liter of fluids twice a day. It was horrific for her (and for me, as I abhor needles and this needle was huge!). Now, Lily is crated when we leave. She's safe. And so is our checking account.
Introducing House Freedom
If you feel the need to get rid of the crate, re-read that last paragraph above! I get it, most people think their dog would be happier out of the crate. If you do think that, and if you're positive that you've dog-proofed the room, then you can try (try!) house freedom to your dog.
This starts of with just one room of house freedom. Pick the room that is the easiest for you to dog-proof and has the least expensive stuff in it. For some this might be the bathroom or laundry room (think: carpet, moulding, appliances, furniture, etc.). Using a gate or the door, leave the dog alone while you run to do your grocery shopping or other short-ish errand. Give your dog a food-stuffed Kong or something else that will occupy your dog while you're away.
Hopefully your dog will be sleeping on his dog bed when you come back home and won't have touched a thing other than that food-stuffed Kong. Hurray! Use that room for a month to be sure your dog is truly happy there and won't get himself into any trouble. And maybe that's enough house freedom -- he's out of the crate, he's got more room to maneuver (but not enough to get himself in trouble).
If you're really hot on giving your dog the entire house while you're away, continue to add a room at a time (one per month if all goes well). Opening the entire house up to a dog after just one month's freedom in just one room isn't a smart idea. Believe me. I've got pictures of a shredded couch as proof. Honest. It was our dear Lily. Another reason she's crated...
If your dog doesn't handle house-freedom very well, chalk it up to a good try, and go back to that handy-dandy, reliable crate. Just be sure to take off your dog's collar, especially if you have tags on it, to be sure nothing can get caught on the crate. Our dogs are always naked in their crates, for safety.
I really like the crates and the safety they offer my dogs. Once I've taught my dogs Crate Love, it's hard to get them out of their crate! They run to the crate automatically, when they know we're leaving the house. Don't get me wrong, there are a few dogs out there who are completely fine in the house by themselves. Our Nemo is one of them. The only one of our dogs, however, that we can trust completely. Tango can be left uncrated, but only be in a room that is devoid of food (or even the possibility of food).
Do you use a crate? At what age did you start giving your dog house-freedom?