Thursday, May 4, 2017

I don't wanna: The dislike of management in training.

I have loads of amazing clients that do the work we discuss and put forth the effort to train their dogs using the advice and plans I give them.  However, depending on the case and specifics of the issues we are working on, this may possibly mean a huge shift in change for both the dog and owner.  This very often involves what we call "management", and this can often be met with some real crazy "whaaa?" faces and words.

Management is utilized a great deal in the beginning of a training program, especially when really changing behavior in dogs, because it sets the dog up to succeed.  It's like the alcoholic that's decided to stop drinking.  They cannot successfully do this by going to the bar, even if just once a week.  They have to manage themselves and set themselves up for success so that the long term result is the person no longer drinking.  This means attending AA meetings and getting rid of all alcohol in the home, not going to bars, etc.  It's a whole new system they have to adopt if they want to change.  There is no easy way around it.  Either they do these things and manage themselves tightly in the beginning (so hopefully when further into their program they can actually go to a bar with a friend and use self discipline) or they will fail. It's just that simple.

We must do the same with our dogs.  When we want to change their behavior we have to find ways to set them up for success while we are working toward the bigger goal or end goal.  If your dog is barking viciously out of the windows at home then gets out on a leash and is very reactive (or aggressive) toward other dogs then we need to change something.  Management here would include blocking the window (so not to practice and get amped up) and not walk the dog --for now-- so that he cannot practice these behaviors. This is not fixing the problem but it's putting forth a management protocol that will aid in the success of all the other training we will be doing to help in the long run.

While most people clearly can see the situation with the alcoholic and respect it, they cannot seem to do this with their dogs when it comes down to it.  I find a lot of resistance to management protocols with dogs.  As humans we seemingly so often just find that dogs are here to do what we say when we say it and if they can't we'll force them into the scenario to make them understand what's wrong and why.

Fido lunges on a leash? Well by golly then I'll slap this correction collar on him and yank it really hard when he does that! He'll learn not to do that again! ... Hmmm ... Is that really setting the dog up to succeed? Is this actually teaching the dog what he should be doing instead of lunging on the leash?

puppy in a safe area: management!
Management is just as important in a training program as the actual training and changing of behavior.  It is part of the protocol.  If one doesn't manage and set their dog up for success the dog will not succeed in the way that it should.  Trainers don't give you the rules to stop doing certain things with your dog or to change the current way you might be doing something so that they can really disrupt your life.  They do it to help you and your dog for the goal you have in mind.

This could be as simple as putting a puppy in a crate so that he cannot chew your things while you're out to quitting your daily walks if your dog is reactive on a leash.  Neither are a life sentence, but a management protocol that can be eventually totally changed to something different.

So just remember, setting your dog up for success and managing your dog isn't a failure, it's a step in the right direction.  I have a client right now that's doing an amazing job with her very leash reactive dog.  We are to the point where I've suggested she can now start short walks.  She knows what to do and how to help the dog when she sees other dogs.  So she says to me, "I feel like I really chickened out the other day walking Fluffy.  I saw another dog and I wasn't ready so I jumped behind the closest car and hid there with Fluffy until the dog was gone. I know I should have worked on her and done something else."  I said, "Are you kidding?!  That's great!  If you knew you weren't mentally ready to handle that then you did the right thing. You set her up for success. She was not able to see the dog to react and you stuck it out until it was safe and she wasn't put in a position to react!  I call that a success and good thinking!"

Don't ever feel like you're failing if you set your dog up to succeed, even if in that moment it's not actually "training".  If your dog is put in a position to make a good choice, or at least not make a bad one, then you're winning! 

Happy training ... and keep on working with your dog to set her up to succeed!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Counter surfing: Solved!

Counter surfing  when a dog puts its paws up on a counter and "surfs" along looking to or successfully grabbing things off of the counter.  It's an annoying problem, yet it's very common.

Obviously large dogs can do this with ease.  The biggest problem with counter surfing is that it's self rewarding without anyone even needing to be present.  Rewards work whether we are there to give them to the dog or if they reward themselves.  This is how positive reinforcement works and makes a behavior stronger.  A dog gets something rewarding [to the dog] and that behavior it was rewarded for gets stronger.  This is beneficial when we are training a behavior that we want repeated and stronger, however, not so much if it's a behavior we don't want repeated.

So, how does one remedy this annoying habit?

1) Management  Keep your counters clean. Plain and simple, don't have a lot of stuff on your counters, especially food. Also, prevent your dog from going into the kitchen unsupervised. This might mean baby gates or crating your dog when unable to be supervised.

2) Make the floor yummy  If the floor is where good things are then the counters aren't. Completely control when your dog enters the kitchen.  Prior to entering, sprinkle yummy treats all over the floor.  Then let the dog enter.  As soon as he sees the floor has food he should start to focus on the floor more and less on the counters.

3) Train a "go to mat" cue   Teach Fluffy to go lie on a mat in the kitchen. If and when you cannot watch Fluffy in the kitchen, or your pre-occupied, you can tell her to go lie on a mat (or bed) and stay there.  If she's lying on a mat she cannot be jumping up on counters. This is a great video on how to teach this, and here is another video that's a little different but same thing.
4) Train while in the kitchen, freely walking around.  While in the kitchen you start to toss treats on the floor sporadically.  In the beginning you'll toss treats a lot. Walk-n-toss, walk-n-toss.  If you see your dog raising his head up to sniff the counter, possibly thinking about jumping, immediately toss treats behind him so he'll choose the floor instead. Also, if you see him start to jump or sniff but re-think his choice, toss treats, one at a time (about 6-10 treats) and praise him heavily for making a wonderful choice not to surf! 

  • Set your dog up to succeed.  This means don't allow your dog a chance to make the wrong choices.  Keep counters clean when Fido is in the kitchen.  Control when Fido enters the kitchen and be sure that the floor is seasoned with goodies!
  • Practice makes perfect! Train this several times a day by setting it up successfully as stated above.
  • Give Fluffy her own place to stay when in the kitchen. Work on the "go to mat" cue, or even get super creative and fancy by having her own dog bed carved away under the counter or kitchen island. (ideas on that here, as well as in picture.)
  • When you cannot supervise or train, put Fido away. Crate Fido in another room or put him somewhere that he cannot get to the counters where this behavior is happening the most.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stop walking your dog.

"Wait did you just say don't walk my dog? Are you crazy?!"
. . . actually, I'm pretty sane (on most days, don't ask my kids or husband they may say differently!)

The truth is I'm actually pretty good at reading dogs, understanding dog behavior and working with each individual dog on what they actually need vs what we think they need. It's pretty vital to understand these things in order to truly help dogs.

It can be a bit murky at times, i.e., understanding what dogs need vs what we think they need. Everyone assumes that all dogs need to be walked (or even more strenuous exercise than walking) everyday. This is especially true for active, young dogs as well as some specific breeds.  Let's discuss why this may not actually be beneficial to active dogs regardless of energy level or breed. 

It's been drilled into dog owners' heads that walking a dog makes them calmer, more relaxed and less likely to have behavior problems.  Hmmmm, not really.  I mean, well sort of.  Well, let me explain . . .

I'm not saying dogs don't need exercise. I'm not saying this at all. Movement and exercise is important for all creatures. So, do understand, exercise is very important for your dog.  However, it's more like a creative strategy and work of art to figure out what is best for each dog when it comes to exercise and energy outlets. Every dog is an individual, even within the same breed and/or gene pool.  

For the most part this blog post addresses the hyper, over-active, hard-to-settle-down-regardless-what-you-do types of dogs, reactive-when-on-leash (or otherwise), not the already mentally stable dogs that can relax easily.  However it is important to note that I feel this would benefit all puppies, active and working dogs; and definitely all reactive, aggressive and/or anxious/insecure dogs!

Exercise will get your dog in peak physical health, especially if you're doing vigorous or lengthy exercise regimes.  While this is great for your dog's health and physical well-being it might backfire for mental stability.

Usually adolescent, hyper, over-excitable and active dogs are the dogs that are exercised the most because they are the most difficult to live with.  The common thought is that the dog is super active/hyper/energetic and needs more exercise to release this energy and help "calm them down".  When in fact what usually happens is huge dumps of adrenaline the more you exercise your dog which will in turn make your dog's mental state more chaotic.  Why? Because most dogs that behave in this manner in the first place are already mentally chaotic and need more relaxation and calming exercises not adrenaline-inducing ones.

There is another problem with relying on physical exercise solely as a means to "wear your dog out", or try to live by the A tired dog is a good dog mantra. You will now create a dog that requires more and more exercise as your dog becomes more physically fit.  The dog, at first, will be tired and will likely even be "better" behaved but it will soon wear off and you're now spending your days trying to find more strenuous exercise or lengthening the time you exercise your dog in order to get the worn-down-dog-effect. (You can read more on the SuperDog Syndrome over on this blog post written by Sara Reusche at Paws Abilities Dog Training.)

Let me say again, I'm not advocating that you burn your leashes and stop your hiking trips on the weekends.  However, I'm saying that you can relax, and should! If you don't feel like walking the dog today, don't.  She'll be ok. If you just don't have the energy to get out and have your dog run back and forth and back and forth for the ball, then don't.

Dogs get far too little training and far too few brain activities.  Lack of exercise isn't the problem I'm encountering with dogs that I work with.  It hasn't been the problem in 18 years of working with dogs. The problem is lack of proper balance between mental and physical stimulation.

It should be noted that genetics play a role in dogs' stress levels and behaviors.  Actually genetics plays a bigger role in most of our dogs' behavior(s) than I believe most know about.  Of course there are dogs with backgrounds we may never be privy to and dogs that are a mix of different genetics.  This isn't to say that we can control this all the time, it's just to say that sometimes it's not all on the dog owner that they have a dog like this, although sometimes it is.

Many people tend to walk around the dog's life instead of having the dog adjust to theirs.  It is vital to a dog's mind to learn that sometimes they can just lie around and do nothing. Nothing. Yes, nothing. Nada. Zip. Wait, why in the world do you think I should expect my high drive Labrador to lie on the rug? What about my Border Collie that doesn't sleep through the night unless I actually do something with her?

I'll get to the specifics of the what-to-do and how-to-do-it in a bit . . .

Herein lies the problem. Overarousal. High energy and high drive dogs that are usually over-exercised physically or under stimulated mentally, or both, tend to be the hardest dogs to live
with. Why? Because owners are doing what they thought they shouldexercising the dog every day, sometimes for long periods.  But what are they not doing? Owners are not teaching their dog to relax, chill and keep his arousal levels in check. They are also not providing some or all of the following: brain activities, training, rules, boundaries and/or consistency with most of or any of those things.

Dogs with high arousal levels will manifest their lack of ability to do nothing into behaviors that are usually very annoying to live with. This is often a dog that cannot relax or lie down peacefully for more than 10 minutes, or a dog that barks incessantly, or a dog that drops the ball at your feet every 5 minutes, or a dog that paces or whines for seemingly no reason, or a dog that is a very destructive chewer, or a dog that is reactive on-leash towards other dogs and/or people . . . there are many, many, many behaviors that manifest out of over arousal.  These dogs' arousal levels become so out-of-whack that they manifest into stress, the not-so-good kind, and you have a dog that is difficult to deal with in one way or another.  Many times these are the dogs that fill the shelters.


We cannot have dogs live in a bubble, all dogs become over-aroused at some point and also stressed in various ways and situations. These are all things that happen in life; we can help our dogs overcome arousal and stress in situationswhen we are given the proper tools to do so. However, too often dog owners aren't given the appropriate tools to deal with or avoid over-arousal and stress, or worse, the tools to understand what it is and what it looks like.  When this happens dogs exhibit these things too often and dog owners think this is just how the dog is and fall prey to the exercise-your-dog-more mantra.  They do not realize that they actually can have a calm and relaxed dog with the appropriate training and understanding of it all! [insert sigh of relief]

My first suggestion is to understand what your dog is saying and doing and why. Understanding body language and communication cues will get you very far with your dog, very, very far. Also, find a trainer that is well educated in both of these things. Not all trainers are, they should be, but many are not (if you need help with finding one let me know I'll do my best to help you get on the right track!) I cannot go into all these things on this blog. It's very dog-specific as well as many other factors. A trained eye can watch your dog and educate you on what and why of all of his behaviors by observing and working with you. 

Answer yes or no to the following questions.

1. Does your dog lie down at home when you are busy and leave you alone?
2. Does your dog chew things when left alone or if you aren't paying enough attention to him?
3. Does your dog bark for attention at you and/or at other dogs/people when out on leash?
4. Does your dog have a sensitive stomach and/or diarrhea often?
5. Does your dog sometimes seem "stubborn"?
6. Does your dog bother you to play constantly?
7. Does your dog not seem to wear out?
8. Does your dog sometimes not sleep all night and/or wake you in the night?
9. Does your dog get rowdy with other dogs and play rough all the time?
10. Does your dog not calm down fairly quickly and/or not at all when guests come over?

If you answered "YES" to 4 or more of those then likely your problem isn't a lack of enough physical exercise. It's more likely due to over-extended levels of over-arousal and/or over-stimulation that aren't easily able to be put in check.

*Note: You could have answered "no" and this is still your dog's issue. This isn't some magical quiz that determines this. So, please do take into account that your dog still may need to have the following protocols to benefit him or her.  A trained professional is the key here.

First thing in order is to teach your dog to do nothing ... and be ok with it. This will be your saving grace. Period, the end. Dogs like this need to learn to relax, actually they have to be trained how to do this because they don't have the ability to do it on their own. Also dogs that are exercised a lot and still seem to be unable to settle must learn this.  This is your very first line of defense!

So, before you do anything. You must do this. Train your dog to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. This teaches them that they can lie there and be ok with whatever is going on around them.  If you want to elicit play, walks, games or training you will do so.  However, if you aren't doing that then Fido should be cool with waiting and chilling while doing this.  I highly recommend two books, and really you should stop reading now and go purchase these "Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out" by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, CPDT-KA, KPACTP as well as "Chill Out Fido!" by Nan Aurthur.
... Go on, get on over to amazon.  ... Ok, done with your purchases? Good. Let's move along ...

Doing this is not without work, mainly a load of calm patience and consistency. Remain cool, calm and set your dog up for success, i.e., don't put her in a situation where she can practice the behaviors you don't want.  That may mean crating him when you cannot interact or something else. But for now you are no long allowed to let your dog be hyper-crazy and demanding, if that goes along with your pooch's repertoire.

Nan Arthur (who wrote the book recommended above, "Chill Out Fido") has a PDF handout called "Relax on a Mat"* with step-by-step instructions on how to teach your dog to relax on a mat/bed (also discussed/laid out in her book). Here is a great video and description on "The Nothing Exercise" coined by Sue Sternberg.
*Please note: Relax on a Mat is not the same as teaching your dog to go lie on a mat/bed on cue (when you ask).  This exercise is to actually teach and create calmness on a mat/bed.  One is training a cue, "go to your bed!"(in training mode and brain still turned on), the other is training an emotional state (calmness/relaxation where the brain is turned off).

Also train your dog to relax calmly in a crate, behind a gate and/or in an x-pen.  I prefer the crate to all as it can be used when travelling and for many other reasons (read my blog post on crates, "Crate Training Truths & Tips").  I highly recommend utilizing Susan Garrett's "Crate Games" for this. Remarkable for teaching impulse control as well as how to love going in and being in a crate.


This is your next line of defense. Get your dog's brain moving. These things are great ways to do this without really doing much on your part. These can benefit the dog while you are busy and/or at work, on a phone call, etc. However ... but, but, but ... it is very important to read this next part.

This is why I wrote this blog post. You can Google all day and find mentally stimulating games and puzzles and how-to use them, etc.  You can also read all about these things being a "fix" for hyper dogs and dogs that need to chill out  more.  But here's the rub. I have worked with owners who state, "Ok so we stopped trips to the dog park and incorporated lots of brain activities and mental stimulation but we are still not exactly where we want to be."  This happens because they didn't teach the dog to relax and do nothing (see above "Your Golden Ticket").

So, it's important to go through the steps here as I wrote them out. Now, once your dog has learned some great relaxation exercises and is able to actually do nothing then you are ready to start with these fun brain activities. You can of course be doing these things at the same time you are teaching the relaxation (I don't mean the exact same time but in conjunction with the training) but you must be doing the relaxation protocol and The Nothing Exercise.

There are so many fun and engaging things you can do with your dog. Many of them are DIY things too, but there are tons of things you can purchase as well.  I couldn't possibly list them all here. So I went and made a Pinterest board full of them for you! You're welcome. I'll add to the board all the time so bookmark it and check it often for updates.

Now, how to go about this exactly ... Here is a nice little order for you to do things ... and guess what I'm adding exercise back in there!  Oh heck yeah I am!  You just had to get this far to see I'm not a total moron.


Stop all the exercise you're currently doing. Yup. All of it.  If you live where you don't have a yard or area that your dog can go potty without being walked then of course walk your dog for a potty break. However do not go on an exercise walk, for now. Only potty walks.

Feed your dog out of a food puzzle for at least 1 meal a day, if not all of them (assuming you feed 2 x a day at least.)  I'm going to attach my own handout on "Dog Puzzles" and "Kong Recipes for Fun". Feed your dog high quality food and add a doggie probiotic to his food.  The brain-gut connection is not a myth and dogs with poor diet/poor gut health often have behavior quirks at the very least and major behavior problems at the very worst. (To learn more about dog diets that are beneficial contact me for resources.)

Work on the relaxation protocol and The Nothing Exercise as much as you can daily. This is a must, must, must. You cannot skip this step! I promise you'll thank me later for it.

Work on Crate Games & Impulse control exercises.  I recommend working on "It's Yer Choice" as well as "Crate Games" (full DVD here, YouTube videos Part I, Part II & Part III.)  Do this for about 5-10 minutes a day, 2-3 x a day.


Incorporate some enrichment toys and activities for your dog to do, perhaps while you take that conference call in the other room? Maybe you need to get dinner made? Perhaps you want to catch up on emails? Maybe you just want to sit down after work and not deal with the dog [that usually needs to be walked to possibly take the edge off?!] So find some times that your dog can do some of these activities.

When Fido has completed an activity or maybe two, then he should relax on his bed or mat for you. If you have things to take care of then Fido should be chillin' while you take care of whatever those things may be.  Do not start tossing activity after activity after activity for him. Remember we are teaching him to chill when we want but also providing adequate mental stimulation in order to work his brain.
Learn to Earn Program

Train your dog and incorporate more impulse control exercises with training. Working on impulse control as well as some basic cues will be hugely beneficial. I really like Dr. Sophia Yin's "Learn to Earn Program" for this.
There are some other great reads as well, such as this article's link to the default sit, as well as the book "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt.
(Hire a professional dog trainer if need be for this!)

Walk the dog. If you've been working on the above things and you feel confident in your new pooch and her ability to chill when needed, you can now take her out for a walk. There are rules though. The walk can be no more than 15 minutes long and should be a walk where you incorporate some training and good ole doggie sniffing. Yes. So, if your dog needs some work in the training area, then this is where a good professional is going to be invaluable for you.
In the meantime, because we all know you wanted some free help on this right, I'll lay out a few things for you to do while walking your dog. Start a timer. Do not go over 15 minutes! 
1) Work on check-ins. This is where the dog checks back with you before going out ahead or maybe when they feel a little uneasiness coming on about something.  Usually they just look up/back at you.  When this happens, click/treat (C/T) [or say "Yes!"/treat].  This should be practiced indoors, before you actually go on a walk. Then you incorporate it with your walks. Here is a handout on teaching check-ins.  Here is a video after your dog is reliable indoors/with no distractions. You can also teach the Positive Interrupter and utilize this for lots of things.
2) Do a lot of turns & backing up. Walking in a straight line is boring and also sets the dog up to pull. So unless your dog is already proficient on loose leash skills I'd definitely be doing this.  I call it dance moves. Lots of footwork when out on leash with my dogs! It keeps the dog moving while also training a good loose leash. Win-win!  I like this video and this video (this one is moi) for showing this. 
3) Let her be a dog, with permission. After making your dog work for walking next to you and check-in and all that, let your dog be a dog. The best way to do this is allow your dog to go and sniff. Sniffing for dogs is highly, highly rewarding and mentally engaging. So I usually give my dogs a cue to do this. You can come up with whatever you want to use as your cue but mine is "you're free to go" as I point away from me.  Then the dog can go to the end of the leash and sniff, sniff, sniff.  When we're done with that I say "okay, let's go!" and they should come back to my left and we start our journey back, utilizing the above steps 1 & 2. 
4) Go home. Remember all the above steps are only happening in a short time period (no more than 15 minutes) and not 3 blocks from your home. You should not go far, the main goal is this is a training walk not a way to get your dog physically tired. So just do the above for 15 minutes (or less if your dog is too out of control or not focused) and then go home. Tomorrow is a new day.
Repeat steps 1-5 until your dog can be a calm, relaxed dog at home and do things on your watch.  If your dog still cannot relax when you're scrolling through Facebook or having a relaxing sit while watching Law & Order then you're not ready to up the exercise regime for your dog.  So, don't. Just don't. Rinse and repeat this whole process with a heavy focus on the relaxation exercises if you aren't getting far.

Once you're really confident in your dog's ability to relax you can slowly add in your regular exercise regime whether that be walking, jogging, hiking, agility, swimming ... whatever.  However, you must remain true to the protocol above  relaxation, mental enrichment, and training  while adding in your exercise. If you fall back into just doing physical exercise alone your dog will regress and eventually fall back into the dog you had before you started this.

You may also want to discuss some relaxation supplements with your veterinarian if your dog is really on edge (a trained professional can usually tell you if your dog is enough on edge that this may be warranted and suggest you discuss this with a licensed veterinarian). L-Theanine and Lactium have been proven to be hugely beneficial for dogs that need the edge off and/or have some anxiety that needs intervention. (Some dogs, while not common, may require something stronger such as actual pharmaceutical drugs to help. In these cases a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist would be best suited to help you decide what is best.)

This entire blog post may have your mind spinning.  Heck it may even have you thinking -- Meh, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing, this is too much work!  However, you should know that if you can commit to doing these things you'll have a dog that is chill when you want but happy to play, run and have fun when you want as well.  You'll just build a neat-o "off switch" for your dog with this protocol. So many dogs lack that "off switch" and it's not only a tad annoying (sometimes it's super annoying!) but it's also causes some real mental chaos.  It's like your dog's brain cannot stop. It's not healthy and it's not fun to live that way either.  The reality is that your dog will not only be much easier to live with but also thank you for it because they can truly relax not only physically but mentally. 

I will say that finding a qualified dog training professional will be hugely beneficial if you have a dog like this, and if necessary a veterinarian to collaborate with your trainer for the best options.  As I mentioned before, if you need help locating a qualified professional dog trainer near you please contact me.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Monday, February 20, 2017

Crate Training Truths & Tips.

Crate training is often as hot a topic as politics!  So keep in mind that I'm just one professional trainer in an industry of many across the globe ... but I love, love, love crate training.  I think everyone should do it, regardless of breed or age of the dog being crate trained.

Oh and before I get started, don't forget to read my previous blog post, "Potty Talk" on potty training Do's, Don'ts and How-To's.

The truth is that it's all about the approach, training and use of the crate.  Let me start with the benefits of the use of a crate and then we can do the things to be aware of that could lead to problems. You are your dog's person; only you can decide if this is what you think is best for you and your dog. However, I'll tell you that crates are awesomesauce.

Before I get into the benefits and details of crate training, let me touch on some dogs that may not be able to be crated.  Dogs that have Separation Anxiety (SA) cannot be crated, at least not in the beginning. After a protocol from a pro in treating SA, they usually can be but usually not at first.  SA is very often mis-labeled and mis-diagnosed, and even mis-treated with the wrong protocols, so be sure to read up on it via this website, the SA authority: If you suspect SA in your dog please, please contact someone from Malena Price's website ASAP. 

1) Potty training.
If your puppy is learning the ins and outs of potty training this will be, hands down, the fastest way to accomplish this quickly and successfully.  This even applies to adult dogs that need to be house trained.

The crate is a tool that helps the dog learn to "hold it" so that it will only go potty where it should when taken out of the crate. (See my blog post on potty training.)

When done correctly, crate training let's the dog understand that his crate is his home, a place to keep clean and relax in.  It is not a potty area.

2) Boundaries & safety.
Every dog needs boundaries, just like children.  A crate is a safe, secure and comfy place for your puppy or dog to learn this.  For puppies that are into everything this is a tool that prevents them from running around and getting into trouble, chewing things when they shouldn't and the like.  Same with curious dogs too, even if they aren't puppies.

If supervision isn't able to be accomplished due to busy schedules or someone being out of the home, then a crated dog is a safe dog.  They cannot get into trouble or mischief if they are crated.

3) Place to relax & decompress.
All dogs need a place to relax, get away & decompress.  Just because they are dogs and our pets doesn't mean they don't want some alone time every now and again.  

This is especially vital with puppies as they are growing and developing they need a lot of "down time" to decompress as they can become overstimulated quickly.  Even some adult dogs can become overstimulated and need a place to decompress.  

Got kids, toddlers and/or babies in the home or coming into the home? Then this is definitely a must for when things get a little hectic and you need to allow Fido to go decompress and relax, alone.

4) Dog is ill/injured.
If your dog is ever ill or injured a properly crate trained dog will benefit hugely from being crated during this time.  Some dogs require long periods of rest, like dogs undergoing heartworm treatment or nursing a broken leg.  This could mean several weeks of crate rest.  A crate is a wonderful tool to use because it's comfy and safe for the dog to be in so that they can heal properly.

5) Holidays/parties.
This actually goes along with #3 but I like to make it a separate category.  There are many holidays throughout the year that are more chaotic than others -- New Year's, Fourth of July (for USA), Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  During holidays and/or parties usually there are either lots of noises and chaos outside or in the home with guests moving about and coming and going.  

These times are critical times for dogs to have a place go to relax, be alone, be comfortable and be away from the chaos.  There are also several specific protocols for these holidays to ensure your dog is not anxious and can remain cool and collected while resting in her crate in a safe area of the home.

6) Travel & staying away from home.
Traveling, especially if going on a long distance trip, is safest for your dog if he's in a secure crate.  Also, if visiting somewhere such as a dog-friendly hotel or even another person's home, it is beneficial (and polite) if your dog is able to be crated in another room of someone's home or quietly in a dog-friendly hotel room.

7) Behavior modification, foster dogs & new dog introductions.
Behavior Modification -- Crates are hugely beneficial during behavior modification programs when dogs need to be separated, when dogs should be rotated (one out, one in) and for other reasons that would be laid out in specific training protocols on a case by case basis.

Foster Dogs -- If you foster dogs it's a must to have a crate for the foster dog.  They should always have time to decompress and stay in a place that's quiet and safe away from the rest of your other dogs and other family members.  There is an entire protocol for this and you should contact me if you need information and details.  However, foster dogs shouldn't be brought in and just tossed into your mix of things.  

New Dogs to the home -- If you are adding a new puppy or dog to your home with an existing dog (or dogs) it is vital to have a crate for the new dog (hopefully your current dog[s] are crate trained as well) to retreat to, stay in during the introductory period.  Again, an entire protocol is laid out when this applies to your home so I won't go into details.  If this applies to your home please contact me to get a protocol in place before adding the new dog.

As you can see the benefits of crate training are many.  However, there are some things that could happen, albeit usually totally avoidable, and some more on the doubtful or rarely an issue side of things.  I'm still going to list them all because they are a possibility if you aren't aware.  

1) Entanglement.
Some dogs can become entangled, when wearing a collar, in a wire crate. Worst case scenario is a dog strangles themselves this way. This is totally avoidable by taking off your dog's collar each time you put your dog in a crate.

2) Trapped in a housefire.
Obviously this isn't going to be something you could predict but also this isn't going to be a common occurrence, if ever.  But it could happen.  For this to be avoided, always have a plan in the event that you have a house fire while you are not home.  In this instance [having a plan], crating your dog can actually be beneficial if done properly. Have the plan written down and given to neighbors.  Here is a great resource for how to lay out a plan for your dog in the event of a house fire.

3) Incorrect size/use.
If you have a crate that is too small or too large they could both be a hindrance.  When potty training a crate should be the perfect size (more later on this) and not too big.  For dogs confined for longer periods you may want one a tad larger so they can stretch out as much as possible for comfy naps. 

Misuse is also something you should avoid.  This would include a dog being crated for more than 8-10 hours at a time, on a consistent basis, without a break.  I know many people work full days, in this case it is important that you try to hire a dog walker to come in at least once a day to let your dog out for a bit to potty and get some exercise or engagement of some kind.  Sometimes neighborhood teens or some other resource can do this for really cheap (or free) if a dog walker isn't in the budget.

Crate sizes.
Having the correct size of crate for your dog is very important, especially since it can differ depending on what it's used for.  For example, when putting a puppy in one for crate training purposes I often see people getting far too large of crates for the puppy which leaves room for puppy to have accidents inside the crate and create a habit of going potty inside a crate, totally opposite of what you want to use a crate for.  

So, for potty training purposes the crate should fit the dog just right.  For large breed dogs you could get a large crate and they often come with dividers (usually only the wire crates do) so that you can section off the crate and let it "grow" with your puppy.  If you have a plastic crate then dividers are more difficult to use in them.  So this is when you want to get the correct size of crate.  Measure your puppy from head to tail base (not end of tail) and add 3-5 inches.  That's the length of crate you need.  You will need to watch your puppy grow and adjust the crate size accordingly, which means purchasing a new one when the time is right.

If your dog is reliably holding it while in the crate then you could get a crate that is a tad bigger than the potty training crate size as recommended above.  This just allows your dog to stretch out more.  It's also good to note that some dogs like being curled up in a small space so this may or may not make a difference to your dog.  So just make a judgment call on that.

Which brings us to which type of crate to use.  You should know this is a complete personal choice. There isn't one type of crate that is really better for crate training than another.  There are 3 main types -- wire, plastic and soft.  The soft crate shouldn't be used until your dog is fully crate trained and is happy and safe in a crate.  They can be torn through and eaten through in a jiff!  So that should be out unless you're past the stage of training.  That leaves the wire crate and the plastic, airline crates. 

Wire crates.
Wire crates are airy, dogs can see out on all sides and they are really easy to tote around. They fold flat when broken down and can fit into a trunk or back of a vehicle easily.  They come with dividers that make it easy to section off the right size while potty training your growing puppy.  The crate pan is replaceable and it's easy to attach water buckets or bowls to the inside of it.  It's not super easy to clean out and sanitize, in comparison to the plastic crate.

Plastic/Airline crates.
Plastic crates are thicker, less noisy (when dogs move around) and if a dog has an accident it will hold the accident instead of allow it to seep out of the sides.  They don't break down as easily as wire crates and aren't as easy to fit in places.  They can be sturdier than wire crates for dogs that are strong, unless you get larger gauge wire on the wire crates (special order).  They don't come with a divider so if you have a puppy you'll need to buy several to accommodate the puppy as it grows. It's easy to clean out and sanitize, compared to the all wire crates.

The best way to get your dog to love her crate is to get Susan Garrett's DVD, Crate Games and watch and follow it.  Yeah I know you wanted me to list specific stuff here but honestly this DVD is a game changer. It's superb. You need to get it. Actually even if your dog is already crate trained you should get this DVD and watch it, and follow it. 

Helpful tips.
1) Don't use the crate only for absences.
This is the single most important thing you can do.  Dogs need to know that being in a crate is a safe place and not only used when you are away.  This helps set your dog up to be quiet and secure when you need to utilize it for some of the benefits listed at the beginning of this blog post.

2) Feed your dog all meals in the crate.  
Feeding your dog in the crate will help your dog make good associations with the crate.  It can also help with puppies who often get too distracted to finish their meals and wander off after just taking a few bites.

3) Invest in a cover.
Some dogs do much better if the crate is covered. They make crate covers that fit crates perfectly or you can use an old blanket or sheet.  Some dogs don't care for the cover but for many it's a great way to help them quiet and/or feel secure and safe.

4) Take it slow.
Don't rush crate training, especially if it's totally new to you and the puppy or dog. While working on the crate training you can utilize a Safe Area that is a large x-pen with a crate (door open) with a bed, grass potty patch, toys and water. 

5) Don't be afraid to use it.
People so often read so much on the don'ts of crate training, including not to over-use it.  I find this scares people a lot and the end up under-using it, especially with puppies.  When a puppy or dog cannot be supervised it should be crated.  If a puppy is over-stimulated, it should be crated. If a dog is not trusted free in the home, it should be crated. 

Step-by-step guide to crate training.
My favorite article on steps to positively crate train your dog are written by of of my faves, Casey Lomonaco.  You can find her article on here, under the title "Keeping the Holiday Peace".  It's a crate training piece, not geared to discuss holidays.

The biggest question I get from dog owners [about crates] is -- When can my dog not use the crate anymore?  The answer is -- it depends on your dog.  Each dog is different, and some are trustworthy early on (I've known some as early as 9 months of age) while others aren't trustworthy until they are well into adulthood (I've known some as late as 2+ years).

The best way to gauge it is to test it by leaving your dog un-crated for a very short period -- say 10 minutes -- and come back and check things out.  Was there any destruction, any potty accidents, any signs of stress?  Even if just one magazine was ripped up then I'd back up and use the crate a bit longer.  For some crating might be for life and for some crating is just safer and a way for the dog to feel more secure, forever.  It's just going to depend on each individual dog.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC