In this week’s ManxSPCA column, general manager Juana Warburton weighs-up the pros and cons of dog crates to keep pets safe during what will be the busiest week of the year for the Isle of Man...

With the Isle of Man TT fortnight upon us, we know that responsible pet owners will be making extra efforts to keep their animals secure and away from busy roads.

Dogs, in particular, can be escape artists and work out how to open doors and gates, or slip under what seem to be secure garden fences.

Stray dogs are a constant issue on the island, and we were made aware last week of a sad incident involving a large dog that found its way onto farmland, and killed several sheep and lambs.

The farmer could not contain the dog and had no option but to shoot it dead.

But crating your dog is not the answer, although there are certain situations where crates may be beneficial – when travelling, in a veterinary setting, or when a dog is recovering from surgery.

For many years crates were a fashionable, and it was thought that dogs liked being in them because of their ‘den-like’ atmosphere.

However, recent research has debunked this myth, with observations of free-ranging dogs showing that their preferences varied from open fields to well-lit enclosed areas.

Only pregnant females sought out dens as a safe space in which to give birth and protect their young afterwards.

So, what about crate training for puppies?

When introduced in a slow, purposeful and positive manner, a crate can provide a safe in-home retreat for a puppy when they are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or tired.

They should never, ever be used for punishment.

Dogs are social sleepers, and so a puppy may be even more uncomfortable, even scared, in a crate overnight.

Separation from litter mates can cause undue stress for puppies and they can develop negative associations with their crate if they are expected to sleep in it immediately.

At the very least, the crate should be placed next to the owner’s bed.

A crate must be a suitable size and as a minimum your puppy must be able to sit and stand at full height, turn around, stretch out and lie down in a natural position; and think about the size of crate they will need when they are fully grown.

The crate should contain comfortable bedding and an interesting toy or two, and more nervous puppies may prefer that part of it is covered in a blanket. During the day it should be placed in an area of the house where the family spends most time, and the door of the crate should be fixed open so that it can’t close accidentally.

The puppy should be encouraged to explore the crate on their own terms. Start by placing treats inside it, but don’t force the puppy to go in – just give lots of encouragement. It may take several days before the puppy is happy to go in and out of the crate. Then start to feed them by the door of the crate, and then move the bowl further and further inside it.

The first time you close the crate door while they are eating, open it as soon as they are finished. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until they are staying in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating.

Once the puppy gains confidence about staying in their crate with the door shut you can start to gradually leave them on their own. It’s a good idea to practice doing this at different times of the day so that the puppy gets use to being left at a variety of times.

The ManxSPCA usually has a few second-hand crates for sale in its main reception, but they are not the type specifically designed for travel.

The internet has a selection of re-enforced, crash-tested crates that are shaped to fit into cars, but they come at a price.