Training & Behavior Advice
I'm a big fan of Clicker training. I use it in some of my classes for obedience and it is also quite helpful in behavior rehabilitation. For those not familiar with what clicker training actually IS, let me explain the basics:
Clicker training is based off the principals of classical conditioning. The scientist that discovered classical conditioning was named Ivan Pavlov and he discovered it by accident. He was conducting experiments on the salivation of dogs, and he noticed they would begin to salivate BEFORE seeing or being presented with food. He realized the dogs were picking up on cues that he was giving with his body prior to getting the food for them, so he decided to take it a step further. He rang a bell, then immediately gave them a piece of food. After several trials he realized with just the bell alone, he could make his dogs salivate without food even being present. Thus a hard wired biological response like salivation could be triggered by using a neutral object (a bell) AFTER you "condition" it. This principal can apply to any neutral object (one that has no meaning to a dog) and you can GIVE it meaning by following it with food. You can use light, a clicker, a vibrating collar - even your voice provided its consistent. The reason we use clickers is its consistent, it stands out among other sounds and its very fast.
The clicker is used to signal to the animal your training that the behavior being performed at the moment of the sound is one that will be rewarded. It's estimated that if you don't reward within a half second to a second of the behavior occurring, you've missed your chance to re-enforce that behavior. Since animals love to be rewarded this makes the behavior more likely to occur. This is very helpful if we are trying to get a dog to look at us, or walk beside us, since both of these behaviors happen very fast.
Once an animal knows that sound = reward, the animal will wonder how to make the sound happen. If we 'click' when the animal is performing a behavior, he'll learn which specific behavior creates the sound, and that equals reward. He will obviously then 'give' you that behavior more often. Once that is happening we can start to put that behavior on Cue. By putting the behavior on cue, we will tell the animal WHEN we want that behavior to occur. Thus we will only reward the behavior when the cue (such as 'sit') is given. If the dog sits without being given the command - no reward.
The reason I say 'animal' throughout this section is that clicker training is used in most zoo's and in marine animal shows. Imagine trying to jerk the collar of a rhino to make it move....not a good idea. However Zookeeper's use clickers and rewards to get animals to accept needles, handling and move between cages. There are many great clicker training books available in my Estore. For a more detailed history of clicker training visit it's Wikipedia Page.
Click here for my handout on Clicker training which contains information on how to charge your clicker and some detailed exercises.
Rules of Clicker Training
1) You always provide a treat when you click. If you wish to reward the dog without food, simply praise instead of clicking/treating.
2) You "get what you click" so be aware of your timing or you may reinforce the wrong behaviour.
3) Clicker training is for learning a new behavior, once you've had lots of practice you should be phasing out rewards along with your clicker.
Dog Food & Nutrition
A good dog food is critical to the health of your dog. Dogs primarily need a meat based diet. Many of the major dog food companies spend lots of money on advertising, but have very low quality ingredients. For a very detailed listing of quality food check out www.dogfoodanalysis.com and www.dogfoodadvisor.com. Before doing that however, I suggest everyone take the time to watch the below videos that will explain what to feed your dog, how to read labels and which food is right for you.
Biting & Chewing
Puppies explore the world with their mouth! You’ll find your new puppy bites hands, feet, and just about anything he can get his mouth on! It is critical puppies be allowed to bite other puppies and dogs in order to learn how much bite pressure is acceptable in doggie play. The feedback we should give is that it isn't ok to bite people at all!
If your puppy bites you – simply yell “OUCH” look very sad, and turn away from the dog. You can then go back to petting or playing, but yell OUCH whenever his teeth touch skin. This will teach him that play and attention stop if he bites.
For some puppies – this method isn’t enough, and they may just bite you more, or bite at your legs. If this happens, yell OUCH, get up and leave the room and prevent the puppy from getting you for around 20-30 seconds, then return. Repeat as required. Your puppy will learn that biting people makes them go away, and that’s certainly not what he wants!
To help puppies learn their bite and to take treats nicely – I recommend that half of all puppies kibble be hand fed to them. Yell ouch and pull your hand away whenever he takes the food hard. With enough practice your pup should be taking all treats with a very soft and gentle mouth.
Chewing is very relaxing for a dog. It’s critical we show our dogs what are appropriate items to chew. Simply dumping a bunch of dog toys on the floor does not communicate to your dog which items are for him. Many people also ignore their dog when they are chewing their toys, but run and chase the puppy if he picks up a shoe or prized item. The dog then learns that picking up shoes and forbidden items starts a great game or at least gets attention, while chewing his own toys is very boring!
The best way to direct dogs to appropriate items is to make them fun – the best way is to use food. While you use half your food for hand feeding – try to put the rest of the puppies food in a stuffed Kong toy. As shown in my video –put some treats in the bottom of the Kong, followed by his kibble. Put water in the kong and leave it in a bowl and put it in the freezer. This will provide your dog with lots of fun chewing time with the kong, and that will become his preferred item to chew – instead of your new shoes.
The key to House-breaking any dog is simple – try to make the process “errorless”. Your goal should be to never let your dog use the bathroom inside. One mistake will equal many more! (ensure if this happens you clean up the mess or the dog will smell it and continue to go in that area). Preventing errors is done through management and supervision. The use of a “Crate” is helpful in housetraining and this method is referred to as ‘crate training’.
During the Day
A puppy will have to use the bathroom after:
- Eating / Drinking
- Every few hours regardless!
A new puppy can hold his pee for roughly his age in months plus one hour. So if your dog is 3 months old, he can hold his pee for roughly 4 hours. After every one of the above activities take your dog, on leash, to the area you’d like him to pee. Walk him around a bit and wait. The second he goes pee, wait until he is just finished then reward him with 3 good treats in a row. Praise him like it is the greatest thing you have ever seen as well! Always take him to the same spot so he builds a habit! Say the word ‘Pee’ just before he goes so he will build an association with the word. In the future you can say the word when you want him to pee.
If he fails to go and you expect that he has to – play with him a bit outside in hopes he will go. If he doesn’t, return him to his crate for 10-15 minutes then try again. If he still fails to go, assume that he doesn’t need to go but be ready to try again soon! Puppies should always be supervised to avoid mistakes.
If you are not home during the day, you may crate your puppy provided he can hold it based on the advice above. IE if your dog is 3 months old and you will be home in 4 hours, you can crate him. If however you work and will not be home for 7-8 hours, you must create a Puppy Area.
A Puppy Area is a long term confinement place for your puppy while you are away. A young puppy cannot hold it for 7+ hours, so you must allow for him to use the bathroom in the house.
Your puppy Area should contain:
- Some newspaper or potty pads covered with some grass or soil for the dog to go on
- A chew toy with food stuffed in it plus some other toys and water
- A sleeping area or bed
- You can try putting the dogs crate in the area as well with the door open, but discontinue if he soils his crate and sleeps outside it! Use baby-gates to block a part of your house for your puppy area.
During the night
I recommend all young puppies sleep in a crate that is located in the bedroom with his owners. Dogs like to be near people and should never be forced to sleep in isolation. Young dogs should sleep in crates to prevent housetraining errors but also to build confidence while alone. NEVER let a young puppy sleep in your bed.
DO’s and DON’T of House Breaking
- Supervise your puppy at all times! Don’t give him full access to all areas of your house or he may sneak into rooms and pee!
- Give lots of treats immediately when your dog goes in the correct area, use something good
- Take your dog on leash to the same area every time. You can change areas to different spots on a walk or in the yard once you feel you’re having success.
- Let your dog play in the yard with you AFTER he does his business as an added reward.
- Crate you puppy at night and anytime you cannot supervise him, or if you just need a break to watch a TV show! Give him a stuffed chew toy so he’s not bored
- Watch for signs he is about to pee, like sniffing and circling and run him outside!
- Take a dog right back inside immediately after he goes pee, play a bit outside
- Punish or yell at your dog if he makes a mistake, and especially don’t rub his nose in anything. If you catch him peeing in the house, quickly grab him and get him outside. You can shout to interrupt him with a “HEY!”
- Confine your dog to a crate longer than he can hold it! You will need to get up early with young puppies to let them out
Loose Leash Walking
If your dog walks in front of you on a walk – is he showing you he is the boss and trying to assert his leadership? Nope, you’re just too slow!
A dog’s natural way to walk is much faster than us, and they like to explore much more. When I walk off leash with my dog she walks in front, behind, or sometimes right beside me. If I want her to walk on an unnatural leash, I need make it fun for her and explain the rules.
You could snap the leash or yell at your dog and they will also walk on a loose leash (I’m sure you’ve all see the choke collars, and prong collars in your local pet store) however my method will teach your dog to walk beside you and also pay attention to you even if there is NO leash. Everyone wants a dog they can walk in an off leash park or trail – it’s not just about having a solid recall, it’s about having a dog that wants to pay attention and be near you!
Free Shape the Walk
Shaping refers to allowing a dog to simply perform actions and then rewarding ones you like. Normal shaping means you try to reward the dog in closer approximations until you get the final behavior. For example, you might reward a dog that crouches, then puts one paw down, then finally both paws in order to ‘shape’ a down command. With free shaping you aren’t trying to get to a final behavior, you’re just rewarding whenever you see a behavior you like, so that it increases.
With loose leash walking, we want a dog that pays attention and walks on leash. Take your clicker and food with you, and whenever you are walking with your dog – click and reward anytime he makes eye contact, or whenever he is trotting nicely beside you. This will encourage those actions and you can fade the food after a while.
Punish the Pull
Dogs pull because we let them. If pulling never got a dog anywhere, they’d never pull! If your dog pulls to get somewhere, simply say “AH” then stop. By saying the word “AH” whenever we stop, it gives the dog a chance to correct their behavior. Never snap your leash or jerk your dog, just simply stop and wait for some slack in the leash. Soon as there is slack in the leash, say good dog and start moving again. You can then go back to clicking and treating for eye contact and being beside you. We want our dogs to learn that:
Attention and a loose leash = getting everywhere I need to go and
Pulling = not moving anywhere / not getting to the things I want.
Don’t be boring! Put it on Command
You wouldn’t walk a mile with your best friend and not talk to them, don’t do it with your dog either! You don’t have to discuss the news with your dog, but talk to them and put everything on command. The more your associate words with their actions, they will understand what you mean. Here are some suggestions:
- Praise your dog whenever he walks nicely with you (we start teaching the walk with food but for the rest of your dog’s life you can always praise a nice loose leash walk from time to time, especially if he resists pulling when there are exciting things!)
- Give your dog pauses to sniff poles and other ‘dog news’ locations. Put this on command by saying ‘go sniff’ before you get there
- After your dog has a good sniff, say ‘let’s go’ and encourage him to get moving with slight tugging if he doesn’t come
- Say ‘This way’ whenever you change directions, let him know the path is changing
- Bring a toy and play tug or run with your dog while playing tug, this is really fun for most dogs.
Being fun and using the free shaping methods above will ensure your dog WANTS to be beside you and will allow you to walk both on leash and off with a dog that is attentive to you.
If your new puppy doesn’t want to walk, be fun! Encourage him, bring a toy and make walking fun. Sometimes the reason your puppy doesn’t want to walk is because he is afraid. Maybe a car drove by in that area last time that scared him and now he doesn’t want to be there. This is why it’s important to use food and make walking fun to show the dog there is nothing to be afraid of.
Remember, it’s fine if your dog walks in front of you, the only rule is that the leash should be loose. A dog that learns to pull in order to get where he needs to go can take much longer to correct – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Note: If your dog is already pulling you off your feet, I suggest a Freedom Harness or Black Dog Training Collar available from Jollytails
"Resource Guarding" refers to when a dog uses aggression (guarding) to keep a a resource (bone /Toy / object, food, resting space or even owner) away from either a person or another animal. This is a very common issue in pet dogs that many trainers are consulted over. It's important to understand how this issue develops and what you can do to prevent it from happening.
Possession is ownership
In dogs, as in many species of animals, possessing an item means ownership. This is pretty common in humans too! You'd be pretty upset if I met you on the street and decided to take your wallet! Forget about all the talk you've heard about your dog needing to respect you, or leadership or dominance - to dogs, if they have something, it's theirs. A person snatching items away from a dog is just as rude to the dog as if I met you on the street and took your wallet.
Guarding is Fear
Guarding normally develops as a learned behavior in response to the fear of losing the item. Since possession should = ownership, dogs get very confused if items are continually taken from them. This leads to a fear that any item they have could be lost at anytime, and thus things they want to keep should be guarded. Guarding is a natural and useful trait for a wild animal when food is scarce, but unfortunately many dogs can lose their homes or even their lives if they guard resources by biting.
Dogs Guarding from Dogs
Since dogs understand the possession = ownership rule, rarely will a dog try to take an item from another dog. Often if a dog has a juicy bone and another dog wanders in eyeing the bone, a quick growl or even glance will end any thoughts of the intruding dog taking the item. Often dogs that live together have different motivations, and will allow another dog to take their item willingly. This usually only happens when dogs know each other well, much like friends who loan or give items to one another. If a resource is 'loose' and unclaimed, dogs may fight over it depending on their motivation for it, and owners should step in when this happens. For the most part however, people should let dogs communicate and manage their own relationships.
Dogs Guarding from People - Puppy Prevention
For young puppies, you should try to hand feed or feed from chew toys for the first few months of his life. When you do use a bowl, always try to be around your puppy and touch him while he eats and provide some better treats. Get all the family members to toss better treats into his bowl while he eats. We want puppies to learn that people around the food bowl = good news. Pick up his bowl a few times and add treats to it then give it back.
Provide your puppy with objects he IS allowed to chew (toys filled with food as stated above). Try to manage your home so he won't get into objects that you'll be forced to take away from him. If puppy does find objects you don't want him to have - trade him for a treat, take the object, then replace with a preferred object like a chew toy. To prevent him guarding his chew toy, trade that in as well, provide a treat, but then just give the toy back. Never just snatch any object away without first teaching the 'trade' game. You can put this on cue as well by saying 'give' before offering the treat, then returning the item. Doing this enough times will allow you to sometimes just keep the item without any ill feelings from your pup. For bones I recommend holding the bone while your dog chews, so he gets use to your hands being on it while he chews.
Puppies should learn where they are and are not allowed. It's critical this is consistent at all times and by all family members or it will confuse your pup. If you do allow your pup on the couch, you should teach him how to get on and off the couch on command. You can use food to lure him on and off and say 'off' just before luring him off. You should not use force and remove dogs from places, simply teach them how to get down, and then reward them for where you would like them to go (IE on a bed instead of the couch).
Sometimes dogs (especially little ones) will guard their owner or certain person. This usually occurs when the dog is allowed up in the persons lap and then growls/snaps etc at anyone coming close. This is prevented the same as location guarding. You should cue the dog when he is allowed up and how to get down. Dogs should be invited into our lap, not just jump up whenever they want, that's just good manners!
Guarding from People - Adult Dogs
You should always consult a professional trainer if your adult dog guards from you. Most animal shelters (good ones) will test all dogs to see if they guard toys or food and will attempt to correct it before adopting out the dog. If you acquire an adult dog, you should ensure you test for guarding under a number of circumstances (a trainer can help you safely do this).
The 'threat chain' of guarding a food bowl for example usually goes like this - dog eats faster, dog eyes you, dog freezes up, dog growls, dog snaps, dog bites. However it's critical to note that a dog could omit any one of, or all of these signals depending on their history. A dog who was punished for growling may instead skip that step and go right to biting.
Guarding usually develops because:
- There were not many resources in the dogs home and he needed to guard to survive (this could also develop in the litter, especially large ones)
- Owners left the dog to eat alone or didn't provide much food (so it became very valuable and rare!). This might also happen if the dog is fed low quality food or the same food all the time - a new food source could become highly valued.
- Owners snatched items away or escalated aggression when faced with a threat. IE dog growled and owner said 'how dare you growl at me, snatched the item away then smacked the dog'. This might lead to the above example of a dog that no longer growls when he guards.
Golden Rules of Resource Guarding
- Prevention is best - follow the above steps with your puppies
- Always practice 'trades' with your dog and train the dog to release items on command
- Don't punish or get angry at a dog that guards, consult a trainer to help you work through it
Dog Bite Prevention
What Dog Owners Can Do To Prevent Bites
- Always supervise toddlers and young children around the family dog. Observe play between dogs and children and ensure the dog always has the option to disengage and take a break or rest. A dog who chooses to sleep or rest should never be forced into playing.
- Socialize, Socialize, Socialize! Young puppies should attend puppy classes and receive lots of socialization. Fear is the biggest reason for biting, so if your dog is confident and relaxed around all situations, they will be less likely to bite. Socialization can also be done with older dogs and rescues. Ensure you work through this socialization checklist with your dog. Socialization is not just exposure! The dog must enjoy it and treats, games and toys should be used when introducing your dog to a new situation.
The very best treats should be fed in the presence of young children!
- Use positive training methods and train your dog basic commands. Dogs should be trained not to jump on people, walk on a loose leash and to be generally controlled. A good positive obedience class can help you do this. Punishment based training and tools such as prong collars, choke collars and shock collars can cause stress in dogs and increase the chances of aggression.
- Train your dog to be resistant to stress! Take time to counter condition your dog to enjoy strange movements, objects and stressful handling. While we can educate children about how to interact with a dog, they may not always listen! You can train your dog that annoying things such as tail pulls, face blowing and other things are something to be enjoyed and not feared! Watch how this owner counter-conditions her dog to enjoy various stressful things and be rewarded for it.
- Never punish your dog for growling or displaying aggression! While it seems to be a normal thing for people to get upset at dogs that growl or act aggressive, this will not solve the problem long term. Yelling, smacking or leash correcting a growling dog will not solve the problem but likely make it worse! If your dog growls at strangers or children, contact a qualified trainer immediately before something happens.
How to Avoid Bites from Dogs
- Download THIS simple chart of how to greet a dog and what to avoid. Share this and discuss with your children. Watch the below video on understanding dog body communication
- Don't disturb a dog while she's sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn't know you may see you as an intruder or a threat.
What to do if you think a dog may attack
If you are approached by a dog who may attack you, follow these steps:
- Resist the impulse to scream and run away.
- Remain motionless, hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog.
- Once the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away until he is out of sight.
- If the dog does attack, "feed" him your jacket, purse, bicycle, or anything that you can put between yourself and the dog.
- If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless.
- Try not to scream or roll around.
What to do if you are bitten by a dog
If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, try not to panic.
- Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Contact your physician for additional care and advice.
- Report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the animal control official everything you know about the dog, including his owner's name and the address where he lives. If the dog is a stray, tell the animal control official what the dog looks like, where you saw him, whether you've seen him before, and in which direction he went. For the Halifax Regional Municipality this number is 902-490-4000.
Stuffing a Kong Toy
Watch the Below Video for Tips on How to stuff a Kong Toy for your dog, and why this is a great idea:
Vaccinations for your Dog
This site is not meant to give advice on veterinary topics and I am not a veterinarian. However I do host training classes and run daycare and any responsible company will check vaccination records for dogs in their care. Its important I understand what we're looking for when checking vaccination records. As responsible dog owners, I feel everyone should also do due diligence in researching certain issues regarding our dogs and vaccinations warrant some investigation. The below document is a detailed explanation of what vaccines are important to your dog, and when they should get them. The below document was written by Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, Ph.D., D.V.M, he is recognized as a pioneer in clinical immunology and vaccinology. He is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was presented at the AHVMA conference in 2008.
Our training classes do NOT require vaccination for Bordetella ("kennel cough"). A training class is very different from a kennel environment and risk of kennel cough is very low. Kennel cough is a condition that cannot be prevented by vaccination so your dog may still develop it.
My classes do require up to date vaccinations for the 'core' vaccines as outlined in Dr Schultz's presentation (Parvo, Distemper, Rabies, Adenovirus).
However according to Dr Schultz :
"Many animals receive kennel cough vaccines that include Bordetella and CPI with or without CAV-2 every 6 to 9 months without evidence that this frequency of vaccination is necessary or beneficial. In contrast, other dogs are never vaccinated for kennel cough and disease is not seen. CPI immunity lasts at least 3 years when given intranasally, and CAV-2 immunity lasts a minimum of 7 years when given parenterally for CAV-1, but duration of immunity is probably less for CAV-2 (eg 3 years). In most pet dogs, immunity to CAV-2 is adequate with a parenteral vaccine, but in animals at high risk (such as those in shelters or high risk kennels), an intranasal CAV-2 vaccine may provide improved immunity . However, kennel cough is not preventable with vaccines. These two viruses (CPI and CAV- 2), in combination with Bordetella bronchiseptica are only a few of the agents associated with kennel cough, however, many other factors play an important role in disease (e.g. stress, dust, humidity, molds, CDV, CIV, Streptococcal spp., Pasteurella multocida, mycoplasma, etc.), thus kennel cough is not vaccine preventable because of the complex factors associated with this disease. Furthermore, kennel cough is often a mild to moderate self limiting disease, which I refer to as the “Canine Cold.” My preference when a kennel cough vaccine is used is the intranasal vaccine rather than the parenteral, but some dogs will not allow an intranasal vaccine to be administered. On rare occasions, the intranasal vaccines will cause kennel cough in certain dogs!"
You can download and read his full presentation HERE. I had the privilage of meeting and discussing vaccinations with Dr Schultz in 2011.
Rules of Vaccinations
- Consult your veterinarian and ask questions around vaccinations. Discuss how often you should be getting them and which ones are needed for your area. Your vet should appreciate an informed owner that asks questions!
- ALL dogs should be vaccinated for Parvo, Distemper and Rabies - when you re-vaccinate is up for debate, as some owners may chose to titer, but there should be no debate on ensuring our pets develop immunity to these conditions.
Spaying & Neutering
I personally recommend that all pet dogs be spayed or neutered eventually. The pet population is simply too high and many great and healthy dogs are euthanized simply because there are not enough homes. Breeding puppies is a huge responsibility and should only be done by someone who has a strong knowledge of early puppy behavior and practices. Some of the most important lessons in a dog's life are learned between 1-8 weeks of age, while they are still (hopefully) in the care of a breeder and with their littermates.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Associations position is as follows:
"The CVMA recommends that all cat and dog owners have their pets neutered, preferably prior to their first heat, and that veterinarians encourage their clients to neuter all cats and dogs not part of a responsible breeding program. In addition to reducing the pet overpopulation problem, neutering of cats and dogs has many health and behavioral benefits.
Early spay/castration is now used by animal shelters wherever possible to ensure all pets are neutered before adoption. Long-term studies that evaluated risks and benefits in cats and dogs concluded that there are more benefits than risks associated with early-age gonadectomy in male and female cats and in male dogs. Therefore, the CVMA supports the concept of early (prepubertal, 8 to 16 weeks of age) spay/neuter in male and female cats, and male dogs, in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals of these species. For female dogs, however, it is recommended that spaying be delayed until at least 3 months of age due to an increased risk of urinary incontinence. Just as for other veterinary procedures, veterinarians should use their best medical judgment in deciding at what age spay/neuter should be performed on individual animals."
Rules of Spaying and Neutering
- Unless your a responsible breeder - Spay and Neuter your dogs, or take other steps to eliminate mating.
- Neutered males will mark less and will also hump less - however if these behaviors have been occurring for some time, they may not vanish simply due to castration - other behavior modifications may be needed.
- Discuss the pro's and con's of early and late spay/neuter with your Vet.
Please click here for an explanation of the Relaxation Protocol, along with and task sheets. Audio Recordings of Dr Karen Overalls Relaxation protocol can be found below.
Dog crates are a fixture in North America. “Crate training”, the act of teaching a dog to accept their cage as a familiar and safe location, has become a norm among the dog-owning community. While some only use crates during puppyhood, it is not uncommon for dog owners to continue using crates throughout the lifeof their pets. There are a lot of varying opinions on this. Crate manufacturers promote the idea that dogs are ‘den’ animals, so being in a crate is pleasurable and comes naturally to them. On the other hand, many European cultures shy away from the use of crates and view a dog’s confinement as cruel.
So, just how should we use crates in dog training?
Are Dogs “Den” Animals?
You’ve probably heard this before. In fact, many dog crate companies go so far as to make this statement in print directly on the back of the product or in the instruction manual. The belief that dogs are “den animals” is widespread, incorrect, and is derived predominantly from wolf behavior.
Borchelt (1984) points out:
The average dog book refers to dogs as "den dwelling" animals and presumes that confining imparts a feeling of security to a puppy. Dogs, in fact, are not den dwelling animals, although in a variety of canids the dam will construct a nest (often underground) for the pups. The nest is a defense against predators and protection against inclement weather. The pups use it as a "home base" from which they explore, investigate and play. There is no door on the den which encloses the pups for many hours.
Although wolves do prepare dens to whelp and rear their young, they do not use such places as general sleeping or resting areas. In fact, as early as 10 to 12 weeks of age, wolf pups are generally moved from den locations to rendezvous sites ("open-air kindergartens") where they are left while adults go on hunting sorties (Young and Goodman, 1944/1964; Allen, 1979). Corbett (1995) has reported that dingoes exhibit similar den habits, moving pups from den sites at about 8 weeks of age to various rendezvous areas, usually rock ledges. Ironically, this is precisely the time when most domestic puppies are first introduced to their "four-sided" dens.
This does not mean that we cannot use a crate at as part of a structured training program. However, it’s important to counter the promotional propaganda of advocates recommending crate confinement as an unabashedly positive thing, a virtual utopian condition for the dog, satisfying the dog's "den instinct," and similar misunderstandings and exaggerations found in typical commercial dog literature.
As Stephen Lindsey (2005) points out:
Crate advocates routinely espouse crate confinement as a way of life for family dogs, without fully appreciating the harmful side effects that may occur as the result of excessive restriction and social isolation. The convenience of crate confinement and the social permission afforded by glib rationalizations has beguiled many dog owners into believing the myth wholesale. For people convinced that their dog loves its crate, keeping it confined for 16 to 18 hours a day in a laundry room is not such a bad thing: after all, the dog is a "den" animal. As a result, many dog owners have come to regard the crate as a panacea for controlling undesirable behavior. Instead of dedicating the necessary time and effort needed to socialize and train the dog properly, the crate has become a steel prison for controlling untreated behavior problems.
Contrary to the popular hype, the crate is not a "home," nor is it a "den": it is a place of confinement. In essence, the crate mechanically suppresses a dog's behavior, restrains the dog's freedom of movement, and imposes a loss of control; as such, crate confinement is a condition of punishment (loss of reward) that can be highly aversive and stressful for a dog reactive to such restraint.
When and why should you use a crate?
Crates should not be a way of life for your dog. They can however be an excellent part of a puppy training program. A similar approach can be used with newly rescued adult dogs as well. A crate’s primary purpose should be to restrict a dog’s activity when you cannot supervise them until proper training can take place. The two main behavioral issues a crate can help you with is unwanted house soiling and destruction in your absence.
The primary purpose of crate confinement is to tap into a dog’s natural instinct to remain clean and not soil their bed area. This allows you to prevent the dog eliminating in the house when you cannot supervise them or when they refuse to eliminate in the proper place outside.
Your crate should be large enough for the dog to turn around and lay down comfortably, but not so large that they may eliminate in a corner of their crate. Whenever you cannot supervise your dog to take them outside in the case they attempt to eliminate in the house, you can place them in the crate. Also, when the dog refuses to eliminate outside but is still suspected to need to, you can temporarily confine them to the crate for several minutes then try again. This is especially useful in dogs who may already have a habit of elimination inside and may refuse to eliminate outside even when given an opportunity.
A crate should also be used as an overnight sleeping area so that your dog cannot eliminate in the house while you are asleep. As a social animal, your crate should always be in your bedroom or with a member of the family, not placed in an isolated area of the house.
The puppy should always be provided with a supply of fresh water to meet its needs for the day. Excessive restriction of water does not hasten good elimination habits, but could compromise the puppy's health, perhaps predisposing it to develop urinary tract problems (e.g., cystitis). In addition, puppies deprived of water may drink excessively when finally given an opportunity to drink and then rapidly excrete the excess.
Note: If you must leave your puppy unsupervised longer than they will be able to hold their elimination, you must avoid confining the dog to their crate and instead create a small confinement area that includes an elimination area, preferably with paper or pads away from any bedding or feeding area. While this isn’t preferred for outdoor housetraining, you must not allow a dog to eliminate in their crate because they were left too long.
A crate is also a useful tool to prevent destructive chewing from becoming a habit when the dog is not able to be supervised. Dogs and especially young puppies should be trained to engage with toys and other dog appropriate chews from an early age in order to prevent and redirect natural chewing and exploratory tendencies. The best toys are ones that food and treats can be placed in and often require the dog to solve a puzzle by pushing, chewing or maneuvering the toy. A Kong™ toy filled with treats and food (and especially when frozen) is an excellent chew that can provide sustained enrichment for a dog. You should have between 6-10 unique food puzzle toys that can be rotated each week. These items should be provided for use when the dog is out of their crate and supervised, and also when in the crate. The goal here is for the dogs eventually release from the crate with their toys unsupervised once appropriate chew and self-amusement habits are formed. For strong chewers, products like Nylabone™ may also be appropriate.
House destruction can be brought about not just from simple boredom but from serious separation anxiety problems. How you use your crate may contribute to or even cause this issue. Separation Anxiety is also often over diagnosed by many owners who simply fail to chew toy train their dogs correctly and teach them how to be alone. A good trainer can help you tell the difference.
Introducing your dog to their crate and learning to be alone
The all-too-common practice of setting up the crate and then shoving the uncooperative puppy inside of it to whine, bark, and to attempt to escape from it only risks conditioning a negative and reactive response toward confinement. Forcing a new puppy into being alone in a strange crate for a long period without proper introduction can be traumatic and could spark separation related problems. Remembering that first impressions are enduring, such practices should be avoided.
Step One: Dog chooses to enter the Crate
Leave the door open and encourage your dog to choose to be inside the crate. Toss food inside of it, allowing the dog to eat the food, then leave. Having the option to come and go freely from the crate at first will prevent unwanted panic and stress that can be caused by forcing the dog to remain inside against its will.
Putting a valued chew toy or food in the crate and shutting the door without the dog inside can prompt the dog to actually struggle to get inside the crate! Try playing some fetch games by tossing a toy inside the crate and allowing the dog to retrieve it along with “raining” down some treats whenever the dog is inside the crate. Try offering the dog a Kong with treats inside and only allow them to settle and chew it inside the crate. Attempt to shut the door once the dog is fully engaged in the chew, but open it if the dog panics and attempts to get out. It’s critical the dog not be forcibly confined via the door closing until they are choosing of their own free will to remain inside.
Step Two: Dog can remain in Crate 15-20 minutes with you in sight
Continue allowing your dog to eat a special toy / treat in the crate. Once your dog is engaged with the toy / chew, try closing the door and monitor their behavior. If they try to get out, open the door and allow them to, but do not allow them to take the toy / chew out of the crate. With repeated attempts your puppy should settle and enjoy their special treat. Try to increase the time the dog remains in the crate with the door shut until you can get around 15 minutes.
Step Three: Your dog can relax in the crate for 30 minutes with you out of sight and overnight
Start by slowly moving around the house but checking in regularly on your puppy while they remained inside the crate. Ensure they still have toys or something interesting to engage with. At this stage it may also help if your puppy is tired from a good play session or walk. Try being out of sight of your puppy for 5 minutes, return to them, then try 10 minutes, return, then slowly build to around 30 minutes. Toss a treat inside each time you return if your puppy is calm and relaxed. If your puppy panics you can let them out for brief periods, but only do so if they are calm and relaxed first. It’s important they learn that barking / whining doesn’t allow them out of the crate. For overnights, ensure the puppy has a good play session before bed and that the crate is located in your bedroom close to the family. A warm water bottle, DAP™ spray and a stuffed toy may help the first few nights to mimic being near his mother and littermates.
Finally, attempt to leave your puppy in their crate when you leave the house. Keep these sessions short at first, and continue to use the crate as well when you are home, so the dog will not associate being in the crate always with your absence. If your puppy shows signs of stress at any of these steps, drop back to the previous step.
Special note to breeders: Using this guide during the final few days before a puppy is adopted could really help ease the transition for his new family.
The Escape Plan- Getting rid of your Crate
If you have been diligent in your training, at roughly 6 months of age your dog should be reliably house trained and trained to engage with toys. You can now begin the process of fading out your crate. Start by leaving the dog in one room of your house complete with bed, chew toys and water. Leave them for a short period of time to start then gradually increase the duration provided there are is no house soiling or destruction. As your puppy gets older you can consider allowing them more access of the house while you are away. Try leaving your crate door open overnight and see if the puppy can manage outside of the crate. Where your dog sleeps is up to you, but it should never be in isolation. Remember as well that your dog still needs plenty of exercise if they are being left alone on a regular basis.
The Wire Prison – Misuse of Crates and its Fallout
Unfortunately many dog owners are turning to crates in place of proper behavioral training and general good dog husbandry. A healthy dog should be able to function in the home alone much in the same way as if the owner is present provided proper positive based training has been done.
Confining dogs to crates for many hours while owners are at work can contribute to a number of behavioral problems.
Dogs raised to maturity under conditions of social and environment restriction tend to become increasingly excitable, reactive, and disorganized in response to environmental change. Early work carried out by Melzack (1954) identified a cluster of troubling emotional and cognitive effects resulting from excessive sensory restriction and confinement of developing dogs.
Social isolation and sensory deprivation have been frequently implicated in the development of various emotional and cognitive disorders (Scott and Fuller, 1965). Many dogs spend long dreary days and nights locked in basements or confined to empty crates. Under such conditions, dogs may be stressed and inclined to develop a variety of behavior problems. Crate confinement is often used to control dogs that are the most incompatible with restraint by crating. For active and curious young dogs, crate confinement may produce significant frustration and distress, leading to compensatory excesses when they are released.
Patronek and colleagues (1996) have reported that crate confinement represents a significant risk factor for relinquishment of the dog to an animal shelter, raising the possibility that excessive crate confinement may exercise an adverse influence on attachment levels and the performance of appropriate training activities.
As Lindsay (2005) points out: The role of crate confinement in the etiology of behavior problems has not been scientifically established, but empirical impressions and logic dictate that it probably plays an important role in the development or exacerbation of many adjustment problems.
The excessive use of crates in North America has even prompted the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to release a position statement on their use. They warn that “The APDT does not recommend the use of crates as a confinement tool for extended periods – this is a tool best used in conjunction with a comprehensive training and socialization program guided by a professional dog trainer.”
Dealing with Destructive Behavior and Separation Anxiety
For destructive dogs, consider a wider variety of food delivery toys and long lasting chews. Consider a chew deterrent such as Bitter Apple ™ for key locations that your dog may target to prevent a habit from forming. If necessary use a booby trap to keep dogs away from counters or food locations. An experienced trainer can help you set one of these up. Management is always the best choice, if your dog may go after your shoes, put them away!
If you suspect your dog has a serious separation anxiety problem, consult a professional. Separation Anxiety should be viewed as a serious quality of life concern for your dog and should be addressed. Separation Anxiety is a curable condition with the right plan and guidance from someone skilled at behavioral modification. Your Veterinarian should also be involved as behavioral drugs can also assist in the treatment of true Separation Anxiety. Videotaping your dog can assist a professional in determining the severity of the problem and whether the condition is boredom or a mild or serious case of separation distress. A crate may be used during the treatment process depending on the trainers plan.
Crates can serve a useful purpose in dog training. They are excellent for temporary confinement at dog shows, sport trials and in new puppy training. Using a crate as a steel straight jacket so you can avoid training your dog or managing their energy level should not be considered appropriate animal husbandry and long durations of continued confinement should be considered abusive.
If your dog is spending their days in a crate, please help them gain their freedom – they aren’t a den animal any more than you are.
General Crate Guidelines
• Place the crate in a well-socialized part of the house, not in isolation.
• Do not confine a puppy in the basement or garage. Never use crate confinement as a form of punishment.
• Never allow children to tease or play with a puppy in a crate.
• Never attempt to confine a puppy for periods that exceed its ability to control elimination functions.
• Chose a crate the dog can lay down in and turn around comfortably.
• Provide the puppy with adequate water along with toys.
Risks of Excessive Crate use
• Crate confinement may significantly exacerbate the distress and emotional reactivity associated with separation distress (Borchelt and Voith, 1982)
• Excessive confinement is stressful for a highly sociable and dependent family dog.
• Four-sided confinement (a trap) is a natural condition of vulnerability and may activate survival mechanisms associated with biological adversity.
• Excessive confinement interferes with normal training, adjustment, and adaptive functioning.
• Excessive confinement may socially marginalize a dog within the family system which has shown to increase likelihood relinquishment
• Since the condition of confinement is inescapable, symptoms of learned helplessness may develop especially in the case of dogs experiencing a highly level of aversive arousal while confined to a crate.
• Frantic efforts to escape from the crate may result in serious injuries to the dog or its death.
• Repeatedly forcing a dog into a crate may cause it to aggressively reactive at such times
Association of Professional Dog Trainers – Position Statement on the use of Crates
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Shock Collar Ban
A movement in Canada by www.banshockcollars.ca is pushing to have Shock Collars banned for use on Companion Animals (dogs/cats). We fully support this movement. You can read more about this movement along with Tristan's letter to Federal Party leaders HERE.