==> Giving a dog a home:
A room for your German Shepherd
Building a Den for your dog
In the public article To Crate or Not to Crate you already saw the benefits of providing a crate to your dog.
Currently, 9.2% of the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL subscribers keep their GSD outside the house. 90% of our GSD owners keep their German Shepherd inside the house.
In both cases, your dog will appreciate if you give him/her the right place to sleep, doze, rest, chew, and play on its own.
More importantly, giving your dog the right place significantly impacts on your dog's behavior: Many dog behavior problems result to a large degree from the dog not having a dog-suitable place on its own.
For a German Shepherd this is all the more important: Since our dogs have the herding instinct and the need to guard ingrained in their genetical heritage, German Shepherds need a special place.
While every dog needs its own designated resting place close to at least one human Pack member to stay healthy and to avoid behavior problems, a GSD needs a resting place that fulfils more requirements:
- A GSD's resting place must be close to its 'Pack' (your family)
- A GSD's resting place must not be locked
- A GSD's resting place must not have a roof
- A GSD's resting place must have sufficient size
- A GSD's resting place must be of the right material
While we discuss each of these requirements below, we will also clarify the terminology because crate and kennel vendors are not clear and consistent here, and hence most dog owners use either the word 'kennel' or the word 'crate' without knowing the difference. We will then move on to how you can easily build a den for your dog yourself - whether crate, kennel, or dog house, or all of them!
Dog's Resting Place
First, a dog's resting place should be available in every room where you are and where you want your dog to join you.
Say, your dog sleeps in a separate area inside or outside the house but you want your dog to be with you in the living room when you are there. Then you must provide a designated resting place for your dog in the living room. This can be as easy and quick as throwing a suitable dog blanket on the floor and showing your dog to lie down on that blanket.
Why is this important?
Because, if your dog doesn't know its place, (s)he will be restless, trying out various places where (s)he feels comfortable and where you allow the dog to be resting - ie without enticing to change place, without scolding, and without giving any commands. Soon this restlessness becomes stress, then stolidity, and then aggression and/or health issues!
So, if you are currently facing any perceived behavior problems of your dog, one aspect to consider is whether your dog has its designated resting place in every room where you want your dog to be, or where your dog is allowed to be. Do provide such resting places, eg throw a blanket on the floor. Almost immediately you should be able to notice the massive difference this will make to your dog's overall behavior!
The blanket shown above is from Westpaw® and hence it is of the right material and of suitable quality for a German Shepherd:
- and pet-hair repellent
Posher, more comfortable versions of a German Shepherd resting place are more padded, eg the Nap Mat. We have both Westpaw's blanket and Westpaw's nap mat.
Even more padded is the GSD Bumper Bed. Both are also from Westpaw®, so these are made of the right material and they are of GSD-suitable quality.
Next higher up in the hierarchy of a home for your dog is the dog crate. A dog crate is not just for resting but also for sleeping. Unless you have a house the size of a palace, a dog crate should be available only in one room of the house.
Yes, a dog crate is always inside the house. Here you see that crate and kennel are not the same thing. Only a resting place like a dog blanket or dog bed as shown above can be (and should be) both inside the crate and inside the kennel.
This is a dog crate, and actually it's the best dog crate, for the following reasons:
- When your GSD is lying down, the side panels reach above the highest point of your dog. Your GSD both notices this and appreciates this: (S)he will feel safe when sleeping, ie when unable to react instantly to looming danger.
- When sitting or standing, your GSD can easily look over the edge of all side panels. Your GSD appreciates this because (s)he knows she can quickly check the outside whenever (s)he wants to.
- The entry side of this dog crate has only a low side panel. This allows your GSD quick reactions, ie getting out quickly. It also provides for easy getting in, and hence makes this dog crate ideal for a Senior GSD too. Have this entry side face a wall or better a room corner (at say 80 inch distance), and your dog will know that (s)he is not visible and hence will feel safe as mentioned above.
- There is no roof on a dog crate. A dog is not a rabbit that seeks to hide in a burrow, because a dog instinctively knows that it is too large for a burrow to be safe: In a den with a 'roof', the entry would need to be so large that a dog (and particularly a GSD!) would know that looming danger could get in while the dog is sleeping! The dog instinctively knows that it would have little chance to defend itself in a place where it can hardly stand up and turn around. Therefore, a dog in the wild would not choose a 'crate' with a roof - nonetheless almost every commercial dog crate vendor makes dog crates with a roof!
- The size of the dog crate is large enough for a German Shepherd to turn around, to fully stretch out, and of course to stand up (because the crate has no roof!)
- The dog crate is of dog-friendly material. Wood is dog-friendly material, as long as the anti-woodworm finish you use is 'green' (hypoallergenic) and does not exhibit its own smell. You will know that dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans (apparently, the best sense of smell have bloodhounds and bassets; and all herding dogs, like the GSD, have an excellent sense of smell too). Wood also is particularly good as material for a GSD crate because, again, a German Shepherd instinctively knows if the crate material is strong enough for the dog to feel safe while sleeping.
- Of course the crate has rounded edges, to be smooth and safe for your dog.
- The above dog crate is also suitable if you have a GSD puppy, regardless of age. Although if you wanted you could provide a small puppy with its own smaller crate, this is not necessary: A young GSD puppy's herding instinct and need to guard is not yet as much developed, hence it is not similarly crucial for the puppy to be able to look over the edges of the three high side panels. Instead, what you can do (but don't have to do) is to temporarily fix a curtain across the side of the low side panel as long as you have a GSD puppy of say age < 3.5 months:
While the pup can easily slip through the curtain, it may feel safer during sleep and hence is more calm when awake!
But you cannot buy this best dog crate: Crate vendors only sell kennels, or small puppy crates like the one pictured above.
Next higher up in the hierarchy of a home for your dog is the dog kennel.
Like a crate, a kennel is not just for resting but also for sleeping. However, unlike a crate, a kennel is a closed area for the dog, with a roof and a door, typically even with a lock. This is where the word 'kennel' as a dog shelter derives from, they all are closed areas for dogs.
In a kennel, dogs are locked away because the handler or owner fears trouble if the dog or dogs can freely move in and out. Either trouble for the owner or handler or other people, or trouble for the dog(s). Both is proof that the dog owner or handler failed to learn how to fully house-train the dog!
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Again, you see that kennel and crate are not the same thing. Indeed, kennel and crate serve the opposite objective.
These are examples of dog kennels:
A kennel can be made for inside or outside the house. The first image above clearly shows an indoor kennel (in the living room), and the last image clearly shows and outdoor kennel (in the garden).
You can also clearly see that all of them are lockable from the outside, and the dog cannot escape through the roof - because that's the purpose of a kennel: to keep the dog inside the kennel until the owner or handler decides to let the dog out.
The first two or three pictured indoor kennels at least allow the dog to be close to its owner: the dog can hear you, see you, and smell you. Nonetheless these kennels too are entirely unsuitable for a dog - unless the dog is not yet fully house-trained, but then you really need to ask: Why not?!
Then there is a dog training issue to solve, not a crate/kennel issue! So better get the Complete House Training Guide ASAP before you waste your money on a kennel and keep your dog locked away like a rat.
The last two or three outdoor kennels go as far as locking the dog away from its owner, out of sight, in a cage! This serves no purpose at all - unless the dog has a contagious disease or is infested with fleas (but then there is a health issue to solve!), or the owner doesn't really want a dog (then there is a personal issue to solve).
Furthermore, if a GSD is locked away it's even counter-productive: Then the German Shepherd cannot guard it's 'pack', it cannot protect the family. Experienced intruders notice long before they enter the premises whether there's a dog that is free to attack them right upon entry, or whether there's a dog that's locked away in a kennel: The first dog barks from varying directions, the second dog barks always from the same direction. Also, the barking sound is very different too.
Kennel use and Dog Behavior Issues
The reasons above come on top of the significant behavior issues that kennel dogs typically exhibit within a short period of time: For a dog it is unnatural to be locked away behind a fence, mesh wire, or wood truss. Both, for a wild dog and for a domesticated dog too. Domesticated dogs have been bred for at least 4,000 years to be ... well, domestic, ie with the owner inside the house. This genetic predisposition cannot suddenly be 'untrained' by some modern dog owners who wish to keep their dog outside the house, out of sight.
Again, this is even worse for German Shepherds, because their genetic predisposition requires from them to follow their herding and guarding instinct in order to remain mentally and physically healthy. GSDs cannot do this when they are locked away in a kennel, whether an indoor kennel or outdoor kennel.
We strongly suggest that you at least consider all the points above if you currently lock away your dog in a kennel. At least leave the door open or take the door out, once your dog is house-trained. And since House Training should start right away when you get your dog, there isn't really much purpose of locking your dog away at any point in time.
Even Isolation (upon severe misconduct like biting, or nipping outside dedicated play) should never happen in a kennel, as that would associate the kennel with punishment, and your dog would start to hate the kennel, its prime residence.
Finally, a dog house can be as simple as
moving on to say
or even something like this?
Notice that in all cases, the dog house is open, it is not locked! Because then it would be a dog kennel:
When I see this I wonder, why not then make your entire premises the 'kennel': You get all the above-mentioned advantages, you don't have an ugly mesh-steel-construction in your garden, and you don't have to spend $229 on that!
Typically a dog house will not have a door, however, depending on where you live a dog-only flap door as part of the door where you can enter (or in addition) may well be worth considering: After all you want that your dog feels safe while asleep, you don't want your dog to be surprised or attacked by any type of outdoor animal.
Furnishing the crate, kennel, and/or dog house
Of course, depending on weather conditions in your region, an outdoor dog house and an outdoor kennel may need to have some (safe) source of heating installed.
Close to every crate, kennel, and dog house should be a drinking place for your dog, where you regularly provide a clean bowl full of fresh water.
The water bowl should be next to the indoor crate (ie outside the crate), but inside the dog house (if large enough) and certainly inside the (locked) kennel if you insist to have one for now, maybe because you feel your dog might make a mess in your high-value home because (s)he's not yet fully house-trained.
This is because:
- A crate as described and illustrated above is too small (you neither want the water to collect dust and dirt, nor that your dog can't freely turn around in its crate, nor that your dog accidentally spills the bowl and wettens the dog blanket or dog bed).
- If you use a locked kennel, you must provide the water bowl inside, so that your dog won't dehydrate because it can't reach the water bowl!
- An outdoor dog house should be built large enough for the water bowl to be placed inside (and for you to easily reach inside to clean and fill it), because a water bowl that's standing outside for a long period of time will collect loads of (invisible) dust, dirt, pollen, vermin and bacteria - that your dog shouldn't ingest.
Of course, inside every crate, dog house, and kennel you will want to provide some basic resting place too (more examples at the top).
Typically you will have only one crate, dog house, and/or kennel for your dog, but if you have several dogs, maybe each dog has its own dog house or kennel, or its own area within the same dog house or kennel.
Certainly each dog should get its own crate and its own resting place(s) inside your house (and its own resting place inside the dog house or kennel; they even get this in a rescue center if the kennel can afford this). Although, depending on age, the dogs (or rather puppies) may sometimes choose to sleep in the same crate, kennel, dog house, or even on the same resting place.
How to build a dog den (crate/ kennel/ dog house)
Benefits of building your own dog den (crate and dog house and/or kennel):
- It truly is great fun and very rewarding!
- It really is easy if you have the right instructions and tools (with that, even DIY-novices like myself can do it, and enjoy it!)
- Your GSD will notice the dedication and excitement, and will feel personally connected to its new home!
- Your dog will appreciate being inside the crate, kennel, or dog house; (s)he will want to use it! - Is it pride in her eyes?
- You get the right crate, dog house and/or kennel for your dog, not some commercial 'third-best workaround'! Meaning, you can incorporate all the points mentioned above, and get the best crate, dog house, and/or kennel.
So, build it!
Equipment and tools you need:
- Wood (pine or similar, whatever is cheaply available in your region)
- Some form of detailed instructions, like Ted's Woodworking® plans, instructions, and project descriptions
- Saw, Drill, Kreg Jig®, and Sander
- Safety goggles, Soft ear plugs, Dust mask, Measuring tape, Pencil, Wood glue
- Eco-friendly ('green') anti-woodworm Finish and (if for outdoors) weather-protection Finish
Don't even try to get around the Kreg Jig® and instructions like Ted's Woodworking® project plans - you will regret it! There is no question that if we had the right tools and trainer, we could master anything in life: A happy relationship with our dog, flying a helicopter or the Space Shuttle, becoming US president, etc. And: building the right dog crate, kennel, and/or dog house!
The Kreg Jig® Junior is sufficient for simple projects (if you need it get the Master).
And Ted's Woodworking® plans, instructions, and project descriptions are for a lifetime: For an embarassingly low price you get thousands of amazing ideas and concise, detailed, and easy-to-understand plans, instructions, and project descriptions that will make you a hobby woodworker in no time. You may suddenly even want to make your new hobby a new income source by selling 'your' ideas of beautiful wooden home improvements.
Like us, you will see yourself achieving home improvement projects that go way beyond building a dog crate and a dog house for your German Shepherd. Suddenly you will want to make many wooden improvements to your home that you couldn't even imagine before. And with the right equipment and plans and guidance now you easily can too.
DIY dog crate, kennel, and dog house building is cheaper and more fun and rewarding than buying a commercial crate, kennel, or dog house. Plus, you get exactly what's best for your dog!
Don't be afraid if you've never built anything before, but only been convenience-shopping. With the right equipment and the right instructions it is so easy that you will wish you had started earlier.
==> Next edition: How to Care for a Senior GSD <==