Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Puppy Series, Part I: Socialization

Puppy Socialization. Everyone has heard of it. Everyone knows it's important and most people attempt it.  Sadly, most people miss the mark ... and this includes incredibly savvy and knowledgeable dog people and professionals.  Yup.  This is my professional and personal belief after doing this dog behavior thing for just about 18 years now.

Over the years I've learned, the hard way, what socialization really is and what it isn't.

I've also learned that most dog owners aren't completely keyed in on the important points of what it takes to "socialize" a puppy.

I'm going to go over what I feel is the proper way to socialize a puppy to live in the world we live in.

You've likely heard this term a lot.  However, you may be asking -- what exactly is socialization anyway?!  This would likely depend on who you ask. So sadly there isn't a black and white definition of it.  However, as a professional, I'd like to discuss what I define as socialization.

My own definition of socialization is this . . .

Socialization  Exposing your puppy to things in brief, but positive ways, while keeping him/her safe, happy and making positive associations the priority without forcing or allowing over-stimulation.  It also exposes them to other people, places, noises, and inanimate things without overwhelming them; keeping body language, thresholds and early stress signals in mind at all times.

I prefer to take a puppy in the real world for socialization where the puppy is given food/treats/rewards (whatever puppy deems as highly rewarding) when puppy notices, comes near or sees a new/novel person, thing or situation.  I prefer this over "puppy class" or "socialization classes".  While I think these classes can be good as a part of the training, it shouldn't ever be the only training in the way of socialization for your puppy.

This would look like me walking through Home Depot with puppy on leash, treating with each steps puppy makes. Having puppy practice some "sits" while giving treats. When puppy looks at the strange bag of potting soil I click/treat and move on, or I may scatter treats on the ground and allow puppy to clean it up.  Potting soil bag = yummy pile of treats to forage through on the ground! Win! The association becomes potting soil bags are cool and fun to be around.

I encourage puppy to climb on new surfaces and objects. I don't force it. I simply lay a pile of treats on the pallet of rocks in the landscape section and let him go get the treats.  He may stretch really far to get the food because he's a little unsure. That's ok. I do nothing. I say nothing. I simply let him figure it out on his own.  If he's too uneasy I start by putting the food on the ground near the rocks but not on them.  Then slowly move him to the rocks.  Then if he explores them on his own I reward heavily and then move to the next thing.  I change up things. I might take some of the pavers off the pallet and lay them on the ground and do the same thing.  This all lasts all of 30-60 seconds.

This can also happen at playgrounds (at times where they are not full of loud, boisterous kids!) I do this on a school day in the mornings when no one is usually there.  Lots of surfaces to explore. Again, I force nothing. I simply give food to make associations and my own body language and behavior is relaxed, calm and I'm rarely saying anything.  I don't say "Oh, go on, go on, that's good, look at this! Oh, look Rover!"  I let the puppy do all the thinking and learning on her own. I'm providing the rewards to make the associations.

I will take puppy only a couple times a week to different places and feed while puppy explores, sees new things and people.  Each look towards something new=food.  I will also be using really high-value food.

BOTTOM LINE: 3-5 x a week, expose to new places, things & surfaces for short periods (10-15 minutes).

I also take into account that puppy should be meeting and seeing new people. However, this is where I differ with socialization from what a lot of "the books" and other trainers may suggest.  I don't want people coming over to swoon and pet all over my puppy when I'm out with him.  Does this mean people aren't allowed to pet my puppy?!  No. It means I'm going to control how this happens and allow puppy to make choices that are respected while also forming a great association with people.

The second I notice a person  whether approaching us or just when puppy sees the person — I will begin feeding her treats continually (one treat at a time, right after the other). I will continue to treat while I'm conversing with this stranger if they approach. This makes puppy see people approach and then make the association that when people approach and we are chatting good things happen.  So hopefully I'm building a behavior that she looks forward to people approaching. She will also do this without jumping because I'm rewarding while she's sitting and watching me interact with this person.

If the person wants to pet my puppy it would go like this ... "Oh! Can I pet your puppy?!"  Me: "You can help me socialize him, that's what we are doing right now. Could you wait for him to sit, then put your hand under his chin and let him nibble these treats from your hand? [I put treats in person's hand] If you want to pet please do so under his chin and just for a count of 3... 1-2-3. ... Thank you!"  Then I say thank you and move on by calling puppy to come along with me and then moving to the next thing.

I would also only allow a few people to actually pet her too much in one session, as this can be quite overwhelming to a puppy.  So I'd likely only allow a maximum of 2-3 people to do this during that one outing.  I'd prefer to just walk around and let her see people and reward her when we do see others but not encourage physical interaction unless brief and okayed by puppy.

The problem with greeting tons of people is that it can backfire. I think it's been drilled into our heads about socializing puppies that the more people they meet, the merrier. I don't find this to be true most of the time. Instead, it should be taken into account how puppy feels and reacts around the person.  I'd put puppy down and have person make puppy sounds to invite interaction, "Hey! Pup! Pup! Pup!" (in a slightly high-pitched tone) or "kissy sounds".  If puppy responds and goes to the stranger then I'd have stranger immediately begin to give rewards to puppy.  If puppy doesn't immediately go to the stranger I'd practice sit and reward puppy for looking at stranger to make the connection that stranger=yummy food, but puppy doesn't have to go to stranger. This doesn't force the puppy to interact when they don't want to but will build a good association with people and likely teach puppy people are a-ok.  They will then possibly decide to approach people on their own and more often OR maybe not. If not, that's ok. The goal is to at least make them ok with people around even if they don't necessarily want to interact with them. Not all dogs need to love everyone, but they shouldn't be afraid of them or become wary or anxious around them either.

The above would also apply to people entering your home to meet the new puppy.  Have treats ready, stranger should somewhat ignore puppy and if puppy initiates greeting or bounds happily over then they can begin to feed puppy treats.  They can ask puppy for a sit, if he knows this cue at the time, and then reward.  If person wants to pet puppy they should go under the chin and give scratches there; and on their backside if they enjoy that.

After about 10-15 minutes I'd end the session and go home.  You'll notice how exhausting this is for a puppy because your puppy will likely sleep well after these little "socialization" sessions. It's mentally draining, which is good ... when done in brief, positive sessions with a few days between each.

BOTTOM LINE: 3-5 x a week, expose to new people, dogs & other animals for very brief periods (10-15 minutes). Each session should be positive, short-lived & take puppy's body language & feelings into consideration.

Some of you may have just scrolled down to this topic. It's a popular question with puppies  how do I get my puppy socialized to other dogs?!  This is also, as you have noticed by now, not addressed [by me] the same as most socialization ideas/techniques/whatever-you-call-it that you'll read or be told by others.

Here is the first shock you'll hear me say: puppy classes/socialization classes (at least the classes I've seen) aren't socializing your puppy and teaching them how to socialize with other dogs.

The best way to socialize your puppy to other dogs is to have them meet and hang around adult dogs that tolerate, play and/or properly correct puppies as needed.  Puppies don't teach puppies how adult dogs act or how to act as an adult dog.  Having puppies play with puppies of the same age is like having your toddler play with toddlers and assume they'll learn how to do independent and adult things from those toddlers.  Yeah, nope.

So, on that note don't go out and toss your puppy in a dog park either  I mean there are lots of adult dogs there, right?! Nopety, nope. No dog parks. Actually, if you ask me, I say no dog parks for any age dog but at the very least never ever take a puppy to a dog park.

Find friends, family, neighbors with adult dogs that are 2+ years old and appropriate with puppies. I actually recommend you find a trainer that can help you with this process if you're not sure. Finding an appropriately tempered dog is vital to this as well. Some dogs over the age of 2 don't tolerate puppies well and become agitated, annoyed quickly or flat out aggressive towards puppies.

You are going to be looking for a dog that will possibly play with the puppy appropriately, i.e., play bows, bouncy/loose body language, running happily (not out of fear), chasing (preferably one chases, then the other chases, not one-sided), and a few others. Here is an excellent read on appropriate play between dogs and reading body language from iSpeakDog.

It's also ok if the adult dog snarks at the puppy and corrects her appropriately. The key word is appropriately. If the dog loses its cool and really lays into your puppy (read: attacks puppy or bites puppy much heavier than a correction) that's not a good correction, that's over-reacting.  This is a video of a proper correction given to a puppy.* Please note in this video the older dog is not wanting the puppy playing with him. He gives an appropriate correction and nothing over-the-top.
*It should be noted that I do not condone the full interaction demonstrated in the linked video above. The puppy is allowed to pester the adult dog for too long. I simply want to use it to show what a proper correction from an adult dog to a puppy looks like. The video in its entirety isn't one I'd use to show how a puppy should interact with another dog. 

When dogs give appropriate corrections humans shouldn't ever get onto the corrector or do anything. This is why it's also important to know what is appropriate and what is not, as well as if a dog will do the former or the latter.  Don't test the waters if you don't know, it could have ill and lasting effects on your puppy!  This is why a trained eye for this would be very imperative!

So, after you have chosen some appropriate dogs for puppy to play with then set up a time to meet in a big enough space for each of the dogs to get up and move around and away from one another as well as chase and run.  Only set up these "play dates" once or twice a week for short periods  about 10-15 minutes.  If you want to have it last longer, give lots of breaks (I'd recommend puppy goes to his crate for rest and then plays some more).  But each interactive session should be short and sweet.

Other than these play dates I highly recommend getting into a group class to have puppy learn how to learn and cooperate when around other dogs.  The class should not include playing and rough-housing amongst the other dogs.  It should only involve learning.  This concept goes along with how I have puppy learn to act and behave around other people, as listed above.  Puppy should learn to work around other puppies/dogs and make great associations when around them but not necessarily go to them and interact with them.

Once your class is over you should take it upon yourself to get puppy out in the real world and training around other people, dogs, places, etc.  It will look like this: puppy is out on leash, walking through town and a person with a dog walks by, you ask your puppy to sit and reward her.  Then you keep walking while rewarding her for looking at and possibly passing by this dog.  No interactions should occur and should actually be avoided.  Advocate for your puppy when out and explain that you're in training and not allowing your puppy to greet other dogs when on leash at that time.

At some point you can set up a friend to meet you out and about with their dog on leash and you can train with leash greetings with other dogs. I'd also hire a trainer to help you with this. Actually I'd hire a trainer to help you through the entire dog-dog socialization process. Also, your trainer should be able to teach you how to read your dog, and other dogs', body language during all this work. This will be critical information to have for the life of your dog in just about any scenario and situation you can think of.  Body language skills will save your life as a dog owner.

BOTTOM LINE: Hire a trainer to help you through the dog socialization process for best results and skills for real-world information you can use when on your own later down the road.

So, as you can see socializing your puppy is no easy task.  However, when done properly it will pay tenfold for the life of your dog regardless of the environment and situation your dog is put into.

Also, all of the above should begin as soon as you get  your puppy (no earlier than 8 weeks of age). Vaccinations can be a factor for many but you can adjust your outings to be safe and still get your training and socialization in with your puppy.  Don't wait to start past the age of 10-11 weeks on most of these exercises.  If your puppy has had a recent set of vaccines wait 5-7 days to take puppy out but do some make-shift work while puppy rides in shopping carts or is able to be carried, etc.  Choose locations wisely and playmates wisely as well.

If your veterinarian is suggesting waiting for full vaccines I encourage you to share the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) position statement on puppy socialization with them.

Please note that the AVSAB statement I've listed above doesn't align with all the socialization techniques I've described above (not 100%) but I like to share the paper for their stance of when to start socialization with regards to vaccinations.

This blog post are my opinions and statements alone. These techniques and protocols are mine and what I find are most effective and beneficial to puppies. Please move forward with training and socialization as you feel is best for you and your puppy.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Training is mostly silent . . .

Do you ever talk to your dogs?  I know I do. I talk to them often . . . I tell them they are cute and ask them where my keys are, I know they know. They saw me put those keys somewhere!  However, when I'm training my dogs to do something I don't say much.  I wait for the offered (wanted) behavior and I then give feedback.

I've noticed lately that dog owners talk too much to their dogs.  Sometimes even when not training when they are speaking to their dog I notice the dog is becoming either annoyed, agitated or shut down due to all the babble.  Sometimes we just need to stop talking!

When training feedback is given in overabundance because we are humans with voices.  Our first response when a dog doesn't "get it" is to say it again or give a lot of verbal feedback.  Most of the time, if not all of the time, this impacts the training process in a negative way.  The dog usually becomes confused or non-compliant.  When this happens the labels and blame-game starts flying around  "My dog is so stubborn!" "Oh, he knows what to do, he just won't do it!" "She's doing this on purpose!" "He doesn't listen to me ..."

This is where training gets super muddy. This is also why so many people fall back on punishments when the dog isn't "getting it" and seemingly "not listening" or "being stubborn".  The reality is that we are giving too much feedback at the wrong time.  We are causing the dog's confusion and lack of understanding ... which is then mislabeled as "stubborn" or "non-compliant".

So, when you are training your dog follow these rules in your head, I call it WAGS.

1. Wait for processing
2. Allow for concepts to form
3. Give feedback when a tiny behavior in the right direction occurs
4. Start making progress in your desired outcome

Before training ask yourself these things:
1. Does your dog know what you want him to do?
2. Have you taught your dog the behavior that goes with the cue (sit = butt on the floor)
3. Have you rewarded that behavior so that it's repeated?
4. Have you added a verbal cue to a behavior at the appropriate time so that dog understands the connection? (Remember: Dogs don't know English, we have to put behaviors first, then words to those behaviors!)

When you say too many words to your dog it's usually because you are trying to get the dog to understand something.  For example, I so very often see people request that their dog "sit".  The dog may or may not really and truly understand this cue to mean put your butt on the ground until told to do something else.  So the dog will often stand there for a second and when they don't comply immediately the dog owner then states it again, "SIT!", usually with a tad more gusto. 

This isn't actually teaching the dog anything and it's diluting the sit cue.  Saying it over and over doesn't make the dog understand it better.  Often the dog may sit after the 2nd or 3rd request.  This doesn't mean they were "stubborn" the first time you asked it means they were confused and unsure what you meant.  They did it the 2nd time maybe because they just decided to sit, or they offered something that has worked for them in the past or they've been rewarded for sitting on the 2nd request and so they assume the cue is "sit, SIT!"

So, when training something that is new to your dog try to remember to only focus on the behavior.  The behavior has to be reliable before you can put a verbal cue to that behavior so that the dog makes the association with the behavior and the cue.  All the feedback in between can be muddying the whole process since our dogs don't understand verbal language as we do.

If I'm quiet then how does my dog know what I want?!
Great question! I knew you were wondering ... Well,  you reward the behavior(s) your dog offers that lead up to the behavior you desire.  This is actually a technique called "shaping".  It's quite effective in getting reliable behaviors without luring or physical prompting. I do lure some behaviors, however, I don't ever physically prompt a behavior (this would be like pushing a dog's rump down physically to make it sit).

So what does that look like?  Let's say you're teaching your dog to lie down on cue. She's never learned this.  She does know "sit" but "down" is a bit different.  So you could shape it by marking each little behavior that is in the direction leading up to a "down".  This might be the dog looking down to the ground. If you are using a clicker, then you click the second the dog looks down and toss the treat. You say nothing. Zip. Just click and treat.  Then you might do that about 4-5 times. Then you will say -- to yourself internally -- hmmm, I'm not going to click you for looking down now I want you to do something else that is leading to you lying down.  So you might sit there for some time because you're saying nothing. You are simply waiting for your dog to offer a behavior. It might be a paw stretched out some or shoulder blades going down.  Anything.  You're still saying nothing. You are only clicking and treating as each behavior you like occurs.

Now, if you're not savvy with a clicker or shaping you might be thinking right now -- good grief! This sounds tedious and long-winded just to do a lie-down cue!  Why can't I just put my dog into the down position and reward him then?  Or can't I just lure the dog down with a treat and reward him when he goes down?  The answer to the first one (physically prompting) is no, the second one (luring) is yes.  It really depends on the way you teach.  However, my bigger takeaway is that you aren't saying anything while you're teaching this ... unless you are using a "Yes!" as a verbal marker (which would replace a clicker). 

This really gets your dog's brain in high gear. This allows your dog to think. To make decisions on his own.  It has him being what we call "operant".  They will start to offer behaviors when training. It will make your training soooo much easier and quicker. While the above scenario of teaching a "down" cue sounds long and tedious when it's actually done it's not.  Maybe a few minutes? 

Without saying anything during this process, and only allowing your dog to think on her own, we are getting a behavior more reliable because the moments we do give feedback are the moments we want repeated.  It also alleviates all confusion.  If in between all the times I was trying to get the dog to lie down I said "No, down!" or something else, I'd be throwing out too many things at this non-verbal creature.  The poor thing would be utterly confused. And when done too often we can see a dog that really wants no part of training.  These are the dogs I see very, very often labeled as "stubborn".

Now go try it.  Report back. Did your dog respond better when you only gave the appropriately timed feedback? Did you notice how difficult it was to be quiet?!  Let me know, I want to hear your experiences!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My dog is anti-social ... now what?!

I think one of the most common inquiries I receive day to day is regarding someone with a dog that doesn't like other dogs. Most of these dog owners see their dogs display aggressive behaviors, or what appear to be aggressive behaviors, towards other dogs either in the home or outside the home, or both.

As a society we've been listening to decades of information that states "dogs are pack animals" and they are "social creatures by nature" and do best with a companion.  This has many dog owners with dogs that don't seem to like other dogs quite upset. They are concerned that their dog is "broken" or something is wrong because he doesn't like other dogs. And they want to seek out a way to fix the dog and make him like other dogs.

You should know something. Not all dogs like other dogs, and that's ok.  While we can help dogs, like the ones I've described here, become more comfortable with the presence of other dogs, sometimes dogs just don't want to mingle with other dogs. Period. They are introverts if you will. They want to stay home and be with their human counterparts.  Some dogs don't like sharing their home with other dogs either, and that's ok too.

I recall a client I had years ago that was just dead set on her dog liking all the dogs in the neighborhood because, as she stated, "We are a social neighborhood and all the dogs always just hang out together. She needs to be able to hang out with us when we do this!"  I think I was a little speechless for a moment.  Then I said, "Do you know any introverts? They really are happy with their small circle of friends and sometimes that's just the person(s) living in the home and that's it. All the therapy in the world would likely do nothing to change this for those introverts."  She was not happy with my analogy and was very determined to get her dog to be social.  Note: It didn't happen. In case you're wondering, she never did finish her training. If she had, it would have involved me helping her get her dog emotionally stable upon seeing other dogs, and later when being near other dogs.... and some other stuff likely. I can't say for sure what the "other stuff" would be because I never got that far with her dog.  There is a whole protocol for these situations, very customized to each dog as each is different.

There are categories of tolerance levels dogs have for other dogs: social, tolerant, selective and aggressive.  Here is a good illustration and some explanation of this. Illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings: Dog-Dog Relationships. A collaboration with Laura London and Sara Reusche. More details in this blog post HERE.

If your dog is specific to whom he likes and dislikes it's important to "listen" to him.  Your dog doesn't want to be around other dogs.  There is often a belief that if a dog is put into a situation with a lot of dogs often enough they will "get used to" dogs and be fine, or "get over it". Unfortunately, this isn't how it works. More often than not that will backfired badly for you and your dog.  Throwing a dog into a punch bowl of other dogs and hoping he'll learn how to deal is called Flooding.  It's a behavior therapy technique used in psychology. It's got a lot of emotional drawbacks and sometimes, depending on the individual (dog or otherwise), it can be emotionally damaging.

If you have a dog that is in the tolerant category you may see her become agitated at times with certain dogs and become quite upset. This category is highly common but most frustrating for owners because they think their dog is good with other dogs ... then one day they get snarky and the owner is incredibly upset over it.

It's ok. Your dog is just fine until a dog does something she doesn't like. Just like we don't like all people we mingle with or know, dogs don't either, or at least tolerant dogs don't.  If your dog is tolerant it's really important to respect your dog and back your dog up when she becomes irritated with another dog, likely it was the other dog's fault.  Your dog deserves no backlash for this, she wants some space from the dog she was snarky with. Give it to her. Remove her, leave or listen to her body language before this happens.  

One of my dogs doesn't like a lot of outside dogs that aren't the two he lives with.  So, guess what? I keep him away from other dogs. I have a lot of dogs in and out of my home for boarding and training.  So, he could be forced to be around them. But .... why? Why do I have to force him? I don't. He is very clear in his body language and he lives very well with my dogs.  So I don't see any reason at all why he has to mingle with strange dogs.  Also, I admittedly don't have the time or inclination to work with him on how to change his behavior around other dogs. I could, I very easily could, but ... meh. I'm fine with how things are, and so is he because I listen to him and respect his tolerance level.

Well, there are two things you can do 1) try and change this behavior through behavior modification or 2) respect your dog and keep her away from other dogs altogether. She's been loud and clear, I'm sure, on how she feels about them. So either listen and respect it thoughtfully or do something to change it.


If your dog doesn't like other dogs but isn't aggressive towards them (won't do harm to them but puts on a big show) you can work through your dog's emotions and help your dog learn to be more relaxed, calm and behaviorally tolerable when around other dogs. This should only be done with the help of a qualified professional that knows how to work with reactive dogs.

If your dog really doesn't like other dogs and would likely do harm to one (or maybe already has) then it's imperative that you find a qualified behavior professional to help you.  Your dog isn't a lost cause and yes, there can be things that can be done to help both of you!  There are a lot of factors involved when a dog is truly aggressive (has the intent to do harm or has already done harm) and only a qualified professional can lay out a plan of action for this type of dog.

The main thing you need to understand is that for your dog to live a long, happy and fulfilled life he doesn't have to have doggie friends. Yes, it's true. Some dogs are completely fine just having human friends. There are many things you can do to engage your dog in activities, training, and enrichment that don't involve play or interacting with other dogs.

Something you should know about "socialization" is that it's done with after about 18 weeks of age for puppies, probably closer to 16 weeks.  Most behaviors and associations towards people, animals, places and things are set after this age.  Which means after this age you are just changing how they react to these things with training.

Here is a great read on when you're past socialization but you want to "socialize" your dog by Laura VanArendonk-Baugh of Canines in Action, Inc. in Indianapolis: "Don't Socialize the Dog!"


Dog parks and doggie daycare aren't ideal for most dogs. Yes, some dogs might be ok but for the most part, dogs aren't keen on being in a large room/open space with other [strange] dogs just roaming around.  There is really not a lot of fun in that for a dog.

In a setting such as these dogs aren't being dogs, they are just walking around in a large space with too many dogs thinking of things to do, which often end up as wrestling, humping or even pacing.  It's not at all "natural" dog behavior to plop dogs in a large group in order to play and have fun. Dogs do not walk around with large groups of dogs to socialize. Society has designed these things to appease the dog owner.

A great read on dog parks and "socialization" by Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota: "Dog-Dog Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park"

The single best thing you can do with your dog is work around other dogs with your dog and
teach them how to behave and be calm and comfortable in that setting.  You can even get into a well-set-up and well-run group class of your choosing. That means whether it's manners and skills you're working on or tricks or agility, or whatever ... you're working with your dog around other dogs. Your dog isn't mingling around with other dogs in class. It's not social hour.

You can also find a place on your own where dogs physically hang out (city parks) and go there to work with your dog and his skills.  If you choose a park to work your dog in you should work with your dog at a safe distance from the other dogs but so that he can still learn and work as you wish.


If you cannot do the above  join a well-run group class to work on skills around other dogs without mingling with other dogs  then you really need to hire a trainer to come in and start you on some good foundation skills for you and your dog.  Once you get a good baseline you can go from there, depending on many factors.  I really cannot stress how important a qualified trainer is in order for this type of behavior training program to be successful.

BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your dog. Either stop getting him around other dogs or hire a professional to help you change his responses and feelings towards and around other dogs.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The most important thing to teach Fido ...

I think this is the single most important thing you can teach your dog that lives in your home.  This is 10 x more important if you're going to have a baby or have kids in the home.

So, what is it?

Teach your dog to be ok with being alone in another room, either in a crate or behind a closed door.  By this I mean the dog can be confined, away from you and be calm, relaxed and quiet.

While I have a lot of clients that crate their dogs, a lot of those crated dogs are only crated, gated, or confined when the home is empty of humans.  I've found that people rarely crate or confine their dog away from the family when they are home.

  • Fido learns that being alone is ok.  This starts with being alone/confined while owners are home.
  • This can really be beneficial to combat any possibility of separation anxiety*.
    (*Note: this does not apply if the dog is already exhibiting signs or full-blown separation anxiety, that requires a whole other set of training! Contact a trainer if your dog has separation anxiety as quickly as possible.)
  • Gives Fluffy the ability to relax, on her own, and allow people in the home to do other tasks while not feeling bad for Fluffsters.
  • Allows people to put Fido away while guests are there, if it's a chaotic time (holidays), or if kids are chaotic and Fido needs to be put away for his and their sake.
  • If a new baby is in the home Fluffy can be put away, not stress out already exhausted parents and relax.  Dog and baby should be separated at many times so this is hugely beneficial for new parents!
  • If Fido ever got injured and need a lot of crate rest this would make it that much easier on him.
Having a dog that can be alone, in a crate or confined to another room is such a stress relief for the all the people that live in and visit your home.  For example, I have 3 dogs of my own and their crates are in my bedroom.  If I need to put them away I never stress because they just go in and usually just take a nap regardless of time of day or what they've been doing prior to being put away.  

I recall years ago I had 4 dogs at the time and we had a lot of my family over for Christmas.  My grandmother said, "Um, don't you have a lot of dogs?! Where are they?!"  I laughed and said, "Yes. They are in there [pointing to my bedroom door] just relaxing."  She asked to see them. She walked into my room and they were all just lying in their crates.  She was just floored that they were so quiet and peaceful.  

Dogs that can be alone, relaxed and calm, are easier to live with. Period.  You don't have to have guilt or worry with them being anxious when they are separated from you. 

For expecting and new parents this is vital. Part of my Family Paws Parent Education program involves teaching the dog(s) in the home to learn to relax and be ok with being away from the parents and, when the time comes, the baby.  I have an entire protocol for this with new and expecting parents but the truth is that all dog owners should be doing this with their dogs, not just parents!

  • During a dinner party or other time when several visitors/guests are in your home.
  • While you eat dinner so that you can eat in peace.
  • If you have a new baby and you need to tend to the baby and not worry with Fido.
  • If you have kids and the dog needs some of her own "down time" (which should be done regardless of dog's thoughts on the kids!)
  • Because you just want to have the dog out of the way!
  • If you have a puppy that's still not fully house-trained and/or trustworthy with chewing habits.
  • While you have workers in your home -- plumber, electrician, cable technician, etc.
  • While your training behaviors and need to use management to help (this applies to many things!)
While you don't necessarily have to use a crate, I prefer it to all other things (please see footnote below*).  You can shut them in a room or bathroom but I don't love this one as much. I like the dog to have their own space just set for them that's 100% safe (dogs can chew up baseboards and doorframes!). I also prefer this to an x-pen or area designated to just the dog.  It's more intimate.  You can crate train any dog, at any age at any time when you have the right tools and information to do so. (Read: Find an awesome trainer to help you out if you don't have one already!) 
*Footnote: You can, and probably should, practice these behaviors with your dog behind a gate where he can see you but cannot get to the same room as you.  As gates and other forms of confinement may be necessary as well and Fido should be comfortable in all confinement situations in the home, with you in another room. However, for the sake of using fewer words, I'll only refer to crating in the majority of this blog post. 

While I suggest you hire a trainer to help you through things, there are several things you can do to get the process going on your own.  If you run into any hiccups I'd suggest finding a trainer near you.

1. Feed your dog in his crate. Every meal.  I prefer a stuffed KONG to feed from so that is utilizing some mental enrichment.  However, a bowl will do too. Put food in crate, take out when you let Fido out. Do not leave in there if Fido doesn't finish it!

2. Leave her in there for short periods while you are just milling about your house.  If Fluffy is quiet then you can let her out after a few minutes.  If she's vocalizing then try to give something that will occupy her and keep her making good associations with being in the crate.  I suggest a stuffed KONG, bully stick or something else pretty fun and/or high value.

3. Start Crate Games by Susan Garrett. I also love all of these great games from Casey Lamonaco's article on crate training here.

4. If your dog doesn't go into the crate well, start shaping your dog to do this. Best done with a clicker, but not mandatory. You can find a great video on this here.

5. Play soothing music in the room where Fido is crated. Through A Dog's Ear is fabulous for this!

6. Gradually increase the amount of time that Fluffy is in the crate while you are home. Increase it by 2-5 minutes every couple of days for dogs that are doing well, not vocalizing and are pretty stress-free while doing this.

7. If you must, cover the crate with a sheet or crate cover.  Some dogs are visually stimulated and do better when covered. Some don't do better.  You can check to see if your dog does better covered or not covered.

  • Don't rush it if your dog is stressed or anxious when left alone, go slowly. Dogs that aren't used to being left alone, crated/confined while you are home will usually show some signs of distress. If you aren't sure how to tell if it's "normal" stress (part of learning) or more than that (possibly high stress that will inhibit learning), locate a qualified professional.
  • If your dog just whines a little or barks a few times don't rush to let them out. Allow them some time to settle if you've been following the above tips. Some dogs will do this because they aren't used to being in there while you are home. (For lots of vocalizing or dogs that won't settle please contact a trainer near you for help.)
  • If you suspect more than mild agitation or distress, contact a trainer that is well versed in separation anxiety. For separation anxiety cases I highly recommend Malena DeMartini or one of her certified trainers, they are truly experts in separation anxiety.
  • Always make tons of great things happen while Fluffy is in the crate, door closed.
  • Utilize the crate for all meals and yummy chew items. None of these should be available outside of the crate.
  • Work on Crate Games for about 10 minutes 2 x a day.
  • If you can't seem to do all this on your own, or have specific questions, call in a pro!
    (Need help locating a pro, try one of these organizations: IAABC, PPG, KPA, APDT)

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC