After working in the homes of countless dogs and families – one simple thing that is always taken away from a dog is the CRATE! At first it makes sense since most of us relate crate training to puppy training. Then at some point in the dog’s life, most people think it is time to get rid of the crate and “trust” their dog…Why? I don’t think they know why – it just seems like the right thing to do when the dog matures out of puppy stages. Here are my thoughts from a trainer’s perspective…
What exactly does the crate represent? Safety, security, off-duty time, comfort, relaxation, calm, sleep, rest…so why are we stripping that away from our dogs? Why is the goal to have a free roaming dog? Why do we feel so emotionally connected to the idea of the word crate? Why do we internally feel bad about even putting a dog or puppy into a crate? These are all questions I ask my in-home clients when I hear the repeated story & have pretty much the same conversation…
CLIENT: “Everything was going great with our dog up until a few months ago…and we aren’t sure what happened or changed.”
ME: “When did you remove the crate?”
CLIENT: “Oh, about when the puppy was about 14 months old when we thought we could trust him/her.”
CLIENT typical responses: “Just thought it was time.” “Felt we could trust the dog.” “Felt bad about the long hours in the crate.” “Honestly, I don’t know why.” “Didn’t see the use of it anymore.”
ME: “Did the dog seem to like the crate?”
Always from such clients: “YES.”
Then about ½ my new clients have the “ah-ha light bulb moment”.
This is a prime example of what I call “humanizing” a dog. Dogs are not people. Period. They are DOGS. Are they a part of the family? Absofreakinlutely…so don’t go there. However, in such circumstances, we are feeling bad for our dogs, feel the need to make them “happy”, feel the need to ensure they don’t miss us, want to give them the best life possible. OK then – so why are we stripping away something where they find the ultimate comfort when they ARE alone?
In simple terms, I look at it this way. You have a 5 yr old child. Prime age where they are testing the waters of independence, trying new things, figuring out life and learning to be on their own in a classroom setting such as kindergarten. The classroom and the kick-ass kindergarten teacher you want to hire as your own personally nanny IS THE DOGS CRATE. The 5 yr old child feels safe, they are surrounded by love, friends, guidance, leadership and everything the child needs. They spend upwards of 6 hours in this environment away from the only thing the child knows…his/her mom, dad, siblings, their home, a trusted guardian or daycare. Kindergarten and school in general becoming a place of comfort, security, calm, trust… So – what would happen if you left this child out on the playground at recess time for 8 hours ALONE? We all know that answer…
Fear, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, tension, stranger danger, scared, stress, impending doom, every noise is terrifying…you get the point. So why are we leaving our dogs to feel that same way? Why are we telling our dogs… >>> “ok – have a nice day, have fun being scared shit-less in your own home, have fun barking and guarding every little thing you can imagine, have fun tearing up anything you can get to and end up with an intestinal block, have fun with this large bowl of water and having to take a leak on the kitchen floor and I promise to scold you when I get home from work, have fun staring out the window waiting hours on end waiting for my return, have fun not being able to rest bc you are constantly pacing around worrying about something…HAVE A GREAT FREAKIN' DAY!”
These are examples and food for thought for a single dog…multi-dog family households watch out! For most families with multi-dog households, it is irresponsible as a dog owner to leave 2 or more dogs out loose around the house for a work day and expect them to “work it out”. It does not matter that they are in love, or best friends, or you think your dog needs company. Again, dogs are dogs. In situations like this – you are asking for major trouble and guiding the dogs to have a passive aggressive relationship with one another. I have personally known people who have come home to a dead dog, and believe me – I don’t wish that upon my biggest enemy. Having multiple dogs is a wonderful thing – and they do appreciate the company, however, they don’t need to be loose with one another for 8 hours to have that social aspect and to feel comfort by their friend/s in the home with them. Whether it's crates in the same room, a dog in a crate in a room with a free roaming dog, whatever works – but SAFETY first always. And please....do not have the two crates positioned so they are staring at one another...this can create some serious dominance and guarding issues.
1. NEVER put the dog in the crate when you are mad at the dog…even if you ARE mad at the dog….do it nicely and calmly and do not shove the dog in.
2. Cute and funny pic to the left - but NEVER 2 dogs in the same crate!
3. Teach a verbal command for the dog to crate-up. I use “time for bed” with my dogs after getting a cookie from the cookie jar. They run into their respected positions and get their reward after they go in on their own.
4. Use the crate for a “time-out” spot when the dog is over stimulated, getting into trouble, acting naughty, etc. Think of it as a nap time and a place to calm. It works… Perfect spot for busy families with kids during the time at night that can often be hectic when getting the kids ready for bed.
5. To start off re-introducing the crate, use it for naps when you ARE home – and continue with naps in the crate on the weekends when you aren’t at work. This will dissociate the crate with you leaving and then it won’t mean that you necessarily aren’t home.
6. My Rocco still NEEDS at least 3 naps a day in the crate when we ARE home. If we didn't do this - I can NOT imagine the a$$ he would be on a daily basis. He sometimes even needs a few minutes in there before we allow him to sleep in our bed...which is his reward for having a good day. He knows that at around 10 PM, Greg and I decide if he is allowed in the bed based on his actions. Sometimes he is just too wired for words and can't settle his mind. So...he sleeps in the crate. We honestly say to him at this time of night when he can start acting up... "ROCCO - MAKE A GOOD CHOICE." Sometimes he does and grabs a bone and lays down nicely on our bed....and sometimes he just can't...and he lowers his head and will go in his crate. HAHA - it is quite hysterical to see him contemplate "how bad" he wants to be naughty...and by naughty I am speaking of "zoomies" and just chaotic play that he can't settle down from.
I need to video tape it one of these nights for you all to see.
7. When you get home from work, or errands, NEVER acknowledge the dog/s until they are calm/quiet and then wait 3 minutes. You are then eliminating the over-excited state of mind for the dog for each time you come home. Your dog knows it is you – not an intruder. So don’t make a fuss when you get home – this will help to alleviate separation anxiety. If you want calm – GIVE CALM.
8. Have a special high reward item that is for crate time only. Perhaps a Kong with frozen peanut butter or sweet potatoes inside. Special safe toy.
9. Position the crate either towards the back of your house or in a quiet room - NOT at the front of the house under your big bay window so he/she can look outside and stress about every thing that happens in your neighborhood. This will lessen the tenancies of over-the-top guarding.
10. Every couple of weeks - move the crate - even if it is just across the room a few feet. Changes things up for the dog and will lessen the chance of them claiming a part of your house. Remember - YOUR crate, YOUR house, YOUR kids, YOUR food, YOUR toys...your dog is just welcomed to use them. Until they get a job & move out with their friends - all of those things are YOURS.
Good luck and give back the crate to your dog!!!!!!! They will love you for it…