Robin and I were out at a Home Dog Training client yesterday in Johns Creek helping him with his two Cocker Spaniels; Luke and Zeke. We had originally gone there to help the client with dog walking and dog socialization issues. Things were going fine and we asked him what other issues he was experiencing with his dogs. He mentioned that sometimes his work requires long hours and wondered if it was OK to leave his dogs in their crate. He wondered if his dogs would think they were being punished if they were in their crate. We have heard this question many times in the past and were happy to respond and instruct.
Look at the picture and you can probably guess the direction this blog posting will take. As a canine behavioral trainer, I believe the crate is great and is a required part of your dog’s world. Your dog sees the world in three distinct levels of safety. The first level of safety his his den. This is the place where he can go (or retreat) and always feel safe and secure. No matter what happens, he is protected and safe in his den. Your dog might go to his crate because of something so simple as your friends talking too loud or wanting to pet him too much. It is a passive way of his saying “I have had enough, goodnight.”
One thing that you have to understand is that some dogs naturally love the crate and some dogs seem to have a hard time with the crate. Dogs having problems with the crate might have come from pet stores or puppy mills where the crate was used as a containment area instead of a safety area. They might have been introduced to the crate as a “time out place” and physically thrown into the crate by a very agitated and “scary” master. Sometimes people put the crate in places like the garage or under an outside overhang in the back yard. When they put the dog in the crate in those instances, they are ostracizing the dog from the pack. This implies that the crate is removing any safety the dog might seek and is a bad thing.
So what do you do if your dog is afraid of the crate or you have a new puppy and you want to make sure that see the crate as a happy place?
- The Dog Crate should be a fun place. Put your dog’s toys in the crate or feed him in there. When you are starting out, don’t close the door. Let him go in and out of the crate on his own so that he will get the feeling that “this is a cool place to be”.
- Place the Crate near the Family Area. Make sure the crate is always around the family. You may have to move it during the day as your family “migrates” to different parts of the home. He can be in the crate and the rest of his family is there too. This will remove any appearance of being ostracized by being in the crate.
- Sometime have the crate door open, sometimes closed. Whether the crate door is open or closed, it should make no difference. Everything is still fine. You want to send him a signal that opening or closing the crate door means nothing. Open the door for a while and then close it (while he is inside). Do this at different times and make no big deal of it.
- Let him be alone in the crate for a bit. Go out of site for a little bit. This helps to break the “I need to be with you” issue that some dogs have. It is starting to create the notion that the crate is all he needs to stay safe. When you return, say “good puppy” to enforce his positive behavior. I discuss this topic in more detail when I talk about separation anxiety.
- Make sure you play with him and have a good time while he is in the crate. Your dog shouldn’t feel like “bubble boy” while he is in the crate. Sit next to the crate and talk with him. Open and close the door and play with him. You can even give him goodies and throw them into the crate in a “Where’s the Goodie” game. This is a great way to reinforce that the crate is a fun and safe place to be.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you are in need of any dog training help. Find all our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Johns Creek Georgia.