Crate adjustment can take time; it’s a gradual process. Most dogs learn to like the crate and choose to go in there as a safe, and quiet space. If the terms “crate” and “cage” carry a negative emotion, call it by another name. “Room”, “den”, or “house” can alleviate anthropomorphic association.
Accepting containment and learning to relax in the crate requires a plan. Puppies and rehomed dogs experience plenty of stress when they arrive in their new homes. It’s a different environment, and they don’t know what to expect. Perhaps their only experience with containment was a shelter. The distress “calls” are more a function of making a change than to the crate, specifically. Dogs adapt to what we teach them.
Less Crate Time = More Opportunity
Many who start with the crate for puppies, later stop random use throughout the day. Often between 5 and 8 months of age, there is less inappropriate chewing and fewer indoor potty events. Owners, who may be uncomfortable with the crate, are quick to decrease its use. The dog is crated only when home alone or at bedtime.
The irony is that this is possibly the worst timing to provide a dog with more space and freedom and less structure. At 6-7 months of age, puppies become adolescents. New behaviors emerge and previously displayed ones escalate. Adolescent dogs love to explore. They are more easily distracted and less easily redirected from activities and behaviors we don’t like. It’s difficult to increase crate time once we decrease it.
Safe, Quiet Space
Every animal needs safe and quiet space. Dogs who have been taught to happily accept crate time, choose to go in there when they have reached a threshold. There is a history of that space being a place to rest with minimal stimulation.
Timid dogs learn that no one will bother them in the crate. They don’t have to cope with unfamiliar people in the environment, if that situation is too intense for them. Dogs who are under socialized with children, say, have a safety spot when the grandchildren are visiting.
An over threshold dog can struggle mightily to calm down in the absence of a safe and quiet spot to do so.
Managing Undesirable Behaviors
Behavior changes involve training in new skills through repetition and reinforcement. New behaviors replace old, undesirable ones. The other piece of a behavior change program is managing the dog’s opportunities to rehearse the old behaviors. A crate is the most effective and reliable management tool.
Dogs who are jumping on counters, intrusively begging at the dinner table, and stealing objects, must learn other skills, for sure. Learning new skills takes time and practice. What to do in the meantime? Practice your dog’s emerging skills to go to a mat, lie down, and stay there during dinner. After several set-ups, place him in the crate with a stuffed Kong or chew and finish your dinner.
These behavior issues often bloom when dogs are around a year old. If the crate is in regular use, this training phase just became easier!
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC