To Crate or Not to Crate?

“This dog is going back!”

“My dog arrived in a crate and it was scared and traumatized and did not want to go back in. I felt so mean putting it back in prison that it now sleeps on the bed with my son. Yesterday the dog bit my son and chased the babysitter out from his room when she went to put the laundry away.”

Know this – Crates are a dog’s best friend!

Feed the dog in the crate, give it a Kong filled with wet kibble that has been in the freezer overnight, a Kongsicle! Also I have good results with a chicken and rice gruel in a Kong that I also Freeze overnight.

Crates keep your dog safe when you can’t be there to supervise.

All “out” time should be carefully supervised. That is ok. That is not ok.  A waist leash is a wonderful tool during this process. As are pet gates to restrict access to a single room to start with, preferably one with an easy clean floor! When you have perfect behavior in one room, expand the space gradually and under careful supervision.

A crate is like a dogs den.

A safe place to retire to and rest when they feel tired or overwhelmed by their new environment. It is also a way for the dog to learn to settle and be calm for extended periods of time (or more than a third of a second if you have a Border Collie). Bear in mind that the environment in a shelter is chaotic and the dog may never have had the chance to acquire a settle habit except at night. Now you might want him to settle for an hour or two while you go to the gym or shop for groceries.

A crate can protect the dog from children who are excited by their new plaything. Teach kids that the dogs crate is a safe space for the dog. Do not allow the children to push, prod, poke or tease the dog when it is in the crate. It can be worthwhile with younger kids to place a x-pen (a folding dog playpen) around the outside of the crate as a second safe space so the dog does not feel crowded or intimidated. It is worth finding a safe space to place the crate, preferably a corner or a nook, where the dog can relax undisturbed and observe the kitchen or family room and the comings and goings. Dogs like to feel safe, given a choice they will select a snuggle spot with walls behind them and under a shelf or a table. In the wild they have a den which most frequently is a hole in the ground among tree roots with a hole barely big enough to get in and turn around to face the door. They want their sharp end facing incoming predators. That might mean you, or your kids if they are unwelcome. They do not build a den tall enough to stand up in, a common mistake is to get a crate that is too large for the dog to feel secure and safe.

A crate in the living room or kitchen, one in the yard in the shade, one in the bedroom. That is the way to help your dog settle and feel safe during the healing process. The goal is to gradually, as the dog learns new habits, leave the door open so the dog can go in the crate on its own, and it will if you make it comfortable and add a few toys for mental stimulation. Then you might be able to leave the top off the crate if it is a clamshell style, and use the bottom as a bed base. Later on you might remove the crate altogether and leave the dog bed that was in the crate in exactly the same place.

This is a process and with some dogs it might take months to transition to your goal of giving the dog free range in the home and yard while still maintaining best behavior. It will almost never happen within four weeks! Most dogs don’t come out of their shell in four weeks.

Be patient and keep the long-term goal in mind. It is much easier to work the plan than it is to correct a dog later for tearing up your irrigation and redesigning your yard to look like a World War 1 battlefield!

Understand this – although this seems to be a lot of work and it is a new habit for you it is the fastest way and safest way to get to where you want to be!

A happy dog and a happy family!

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