Three weeks ago we rescued Tucker, an 11-month-old Bernese/Aussie. We have left Tucker alone in the house, but when he discovered our shoes, a box of baking soda, and peed by the front door, we thought we should ask about crating. How do we go about introducing Tucker to a crate in a positive way? Will he think he is being disciplined? We want him to be safe when we are out of the house, but not cranky being confined in a small space. Should we tempt fate or crate?
Gidget and Ed
Dear Gidget and Ed,
Thank you for being the good guys you are by rescuing a young adult dog. As regards the poetry of fate or crate, let us control fate with a crate. When I was training full-time in New York, I met an 11-month-old Rottweiler named Donna that was relegated to a crate in the yard outside because she was so “dirty.” This was a nice dog that you didn’t want to pet or touch because her whole body was constantly covered with caked-on feces. The owners, however, were not clueless about dogs or Rottys. While Dirty Donna lived outside, Bobby, a 13-month-old Rotty, lived inside, no problem. When I was asked why, after 25 years of owning Rottys with no problems, this one would make in the crate and lie in it, my answer was, “Weak to nonexistent den instinct.” Dogs have “den instinct.” I think people do too. That’s why we love the comfort and security of our home, be it a house or apartment. The house is the den, the bed in the bedroom is what I refer to as the inner den. When we really feel lousy or sick, we go to bed, to our inner den. Aside from the occasional exceptions, dogs don’t like to make where they eat and sleep, just as we don’t have meals in the bathroom. Used properly, the crate is invaluable for housebreaking and preventing unwanted behaviors, such as getting into the habit of chewing shoes or chairs. Most important, get Tucker to love his crate and see it as his inner den. Feed him his meals by putting his bowl in the crate, leaving the door open, and let him eat out of the crate not being locked in. Put his favorite bed in the “den” and praise him and toss treats to lure him in without closing the door. When he’s going in on his own, and you feel time is right, which can be a lot sooner than you may think, close the door. Do it with love and with people-food treats. Maybe put in a hollow marrow bone with a piece of chicken wedged in the middle when you close the door. Open the door after a few minutes and just step back saying nothing. He just might keep “hanging in” instead of “running out.” With success building on success, increase the confinement time. If he complains and wants out, I bang the crate lightly and say “Uh-UH.” Only let him out when he’s not complaining. He should spend the night sleeping in his den. Stay with the same word or words. “Go to your ‘house,’ ‘bed,’ ‘place,’ ‘incarceration’” — whatever! Give him vocabulary. Whenever he’s not with you or can’t be observed, he’s confined in his den with love and treats. Period. No exceptions, because every time Tucker chews a shoe, shoe chewing becomes more habitual. Be preventive, like watching a 2-year-old kid, only Tucker will be a lot easier than my 2-year-old grandson.
Best of luck,
P.S.: I met Donna in July, and she got to get back in the house just in time, as it was mid-September, and getting cold.
Got a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.