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.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ME CRATING MY DOG WHILE I'M 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!
WHEN WOULD I NEED TO CRATE MY DOG WHEN I'M HOME?
- 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.
SO, HOW DO I GO ABOUT THIS PROCESS?
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.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- 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)
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC