The Crate and Rotate Life

The crate and rotate life is not for the faint of heart. No one signs up for a life where barriers are a fact of life. Yet for many owners of primitive dogs, this is their way of life. Mine included. 

 Not pictured... my other 3 dogs. 

Not pictured... my other 3 dogs. 

Crate and rotate means periodic crating throughout the day for dogs who cannot be let loose together. Crate and rotate may also include the use of baby gates to separate parts of the house. The reason for a crate and rotate lifestyle is fairly simple. Dogs reside in the house that do not get along. While that part is simple, the social dynamics that require a crate and rotate life are not. Sometimes we live this way because some dogs are intact (not spayed or neutered) and we are preventing puppies. While this may be shocking to some in the United States where spaying and neutering is the norm, there are other countries (without pet overpopulation problems) where altering a dog physically is not the norm. Instead, owners simply keep their female dogs separated from other dogs when they are in heat.

Another dynamic that creates a crate and rotate life are dogs who react aggressively to one another. One solution might be training, but realistically this will not always solve things. Sometimes dogs of the same sex will not get along. Other times, personalities will mix like oil and water, especially younger dogs living with older dogs. Exuberance is not always a welcomed addition to an older dog’s life and they will respond unfavorably.

Fear is another factor. Dogs who are fearful of other dogs, resource guard, or are in general, stressed by the presence of other dogs can thrive when a crate and rotate lifestyle is implemented. Owners who rescue or foster dogs will often maintain a crate and rotate lifestyle for the dogs in their home to prevent stress, aggressive altercations, and the spread of disease. This also reduces the likelihood of stress for the resident dogs.

The number one reason for crate and rotate lifestyle is safety!

 These 3 get along beautifully. But not with everyone else in the household.

These 3 get along beautifully. But not with everyone else in the household.

But what about training? Can’t training fix these problems? Why don’t you MAKE the dogs get along?

The answer to these common questions is that is unrealistic in many cases. The traditional training for this problem is barbaric, consisting of significant use of physical punishment and the use of many tools that cause pain. And unfortunately, many cases still lead to injuries due to fights. It’s just not worth the damage to the relationship between you and your dogs and the likely injuries that will inevitably happen when your guard is down.

Remember that dogs, like humans, have complicated social dynamics and preferences. It is not realistic to assume you will/should get along with every dog any more than you should like and be friendly with everyone. The whole point of social bonds is based on feelings positively or negatively towards individuals and your dog has those too.

Many owners are upset when dogs who previously got along, now fight. Implementation of a crate and rotate lifestyle allows the dogs to stay in the household safely while owners work with a trainer to try and get them comfortable with each other again. But just like fights with humans, they don’t always come back together. So this lifestyle may be all that is possible.

 Feral, stray, village, and street dogs all give space to dogs they don't want to engage with. In a house they don't have that luxury. When you can't get away from someone you don't like, what happens? I'm pretty sure that's what reality tv is all about.

Feral, stray, village, and street dogs all give space to dogs they don't want to engage with. In a house they don't have that luxury. When you can't get away from someone you don't like, what happens? I'm pretty sure that's what reality tv is all about.

Isn’t crate and rotate life cruel?
When done with consideration for all dogs involved, it can be very kind. Reducing the presence of the other dogs in the house reduces stress and improves wellbeing. Furthermore, when a dog is in their crate, it should have stimulation such as food toys, chews and other things to interact with. Mine primarily sleep during their crate turns. Crate time should not be in excess. My own dogs are not in a crate for more than 4-6 hours except for overnight. We use baby gates to further free up parts of the house. So generally one dog is only crated for a short stretch. Some owners well also employ the use of a yard or outside kennel to provide additional holding locations for dogs so that they are not bored or isolated for long periods of time. In some cases, groups of dogs may rotate. My dogs rotate in groups. This means they are rarely alone or bored. 

Why not just give up the dog who isn’t getting along?
It is likely that the owner loves their dog, so giving it up is hard. If the reason for the problem is aggression, finding a home for a dog without other dogs, because of a history of aggression is very hard. Shelters in the United States are overflowing with dogs given up for these exact reasons. There are not enough interested homes at any given time for dogs with no problems, let alone dogs who are selective in who they can live with. Therefore trying to keep the dog in the home is many times the best option as long as good welfare and a healthy wellbeing can be maintained. 

There is no shame in running a crate and rotate home. This lifestyle isn’t the easiest but it can be the best decision when dogs are not getting along. While it doesn’t always have to be permanent, trying to put a deadline on cohabitation can lead to dangerous failure that there is no coming back from. If your primitive dogs are not getting along, talk to a trainer with experience in a crate and rotate management lifestyle about how such an arrangement can be set up for your dog.