Dogs will be Dogs: how to address problem behaviors

Welcome to our new blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, on addressing common problem behaviors!

In this first post we’ll discuss some basics of how to approach problems and considerations when dealing with any problem behavior you’re facing. Future posts will give insights on how to apply this to different common problem behaviors clients want to address, and change.

Many times in training, and in life in general, we focus on consequences for behavior. Consequences are of course important. If the animal we’re teaching finds consequences reinforcing for a behavior, that behavior will likely increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the consequence is punishing or unpleasant, the behavior will likely decrease. Having this knowledge and understanding how it applies based on the animal and the behavior s/he is presenting is crucial. Far too often, however, we are looking at it from our own point of view and not through that of the animal’s.

Mac is learning that sitting will get him out of his kennel

Let’s take a simple example of this: if my dog is barking at me because he wants me to feed him dinner, and I feed him, then I’m reinforcing his barking. That seems pretty simple and most people can understand how feeding the dog dinner if he is barking at me is actually working against me and my goal of a quieter dog.

If my dog is barking because he not only wants dinner, but my undivided attention, and I decide to yell at him or tell him QUIET to communicate that I’m unhappy with him, then I am very likely still reinforcing the behavior even though I’m trying to discourage it. Any attention, even if it’s “negative” attention to try and dissuade him, is still reinforcing for him. This is not as obvious to some people–attempts to discourage him are actually giving the dog what he wants: attention!

However, if I know once I get home my dog is going to bark at me for dinner, or attention, and I ignore him COMPLETELY–maybe even going straight from the front door to the bathroom, shutting the door–then I have removed myself, and the attention he finds reinforcing. I then wait patiently for quiet. Once it’s quiet for a few seconds, I go out and give my dog a treat, or attention. The dog will learn that by being quiet, he will get what he wants, if I’m consistent with these consequences.

Consequences are important. Sometimes, though, they can be too little too late, and make for more frustrating or stressful training. With barking, it may be just as stressful for the human as the dog because the loud noise can be jarring and unpleasant. Also, if the dog has been rewarded a lot for barking, it can take longer for the dog to quiet, meaning the person has to be patient and deal with the noise.

What if I told you there is a better way?

Antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

So, if you know your dog is going to bark as soon as you get home, how can you arrange things to make it work better for you?

If your dog is very good at a behavior that is incompatible with barking, you can ask for that behavior as soon as you walk through the door. One option may be to go get his favorite toy. If you’ve taught your fabulous, food-loving Labrador retriever to “go get his ball,” then ask for that as soon as you walk in. He can’t bark with a toy in his mouth! Once he brings it to you, you can play with him.

ABCs of behavior graphic courtesy of Lili Chin,

If you take careful consideration of how to set you and your dog up for success to prevent or redirect the problem behavior through antecedent arrangement, you will benefit the most: your dog won’t get practice with the behavior you don’t want, making it stronger, and you will instead be able to reinforce behaviors you want instead of resorting to punishment, and experiencing frustration and a deterioration in your relationship with your dog.

You will learn more about the ABCs of teaching dogs as we continue this blog series with addressing common problems like jumping, digging, bolting doors and more. Most of what we perceive as problem behaviors are naturally occurring behaviors for dogs, which is why we have named this series Dogs will be Dogs. With patience and careful planning, you can remedy problem behaviors, give your dog appropriate outlets, and instill good manners in him.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Four tips for surviving the Fourth

The Fourth of July can be an amazing celebration for many—but for some, including our pets, it’s one of the hardest. The sounds of fireworks and the smell of sulfur can cause many dogs to go into a fight-or-flight response, so it’s important to be mindful of this and plan ahead to minimize stress. Here are four tips for a safe Fourth:

  1. Get out of town: If you have another alternative to being around the festivities, take it! Go to a secluded cabin, go for that camping trip, head out for an evening drive—whatever works in terms of getting away from the stressor in the first place.
  2. Safety—and comfort—first! Remember to always consider safety and comfort first if you must stay in town and at home. Don’t allow your dog out in the yard or have them outside when festivities begin. Take that long walk and potty break before so you can stay in the home, safe and sound. Your dog should be microchipped and wearing tags for identification just in case anything were to happen. Making a safe space within the home that is comforting for the dog to stay in while the celebrations are happening can help keep them safe and calmer. Some dogs find crates comforting, while others may like a closet or small room. Play a white noise machine and/or soft, soothing music. If your dog likes aromatherapy or could benefit from dog appeasing pheromones, use them. Have puzzle toys or enrichment toys ready for feeding dinner so they have something else to do and enjoy. Doing some fun play or training games can also be a good alternative. Draw curtains and blinds, and do comfort your dog! Giving them support will NOT reinforce their fear so don’t let that hold you back.

    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog's brain during fireworks time
    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog’s brain during fireworks time
  3. Talk to your vet: Some dogs have so much anxiety and pure panic that it may be best for them to have some medical support, especially if they are prone to having other anxiety or are sound-sensitive to many different stimuli. There are some natural alternatives but you should never shy away from pharmaceutical intervention if it can help your dog be happier and less stressed. Talk to your vet about what options would be best for your dog. Stay away from acepromazine! It can sedate the body but not the mind, increasing overall anxiety in time.
  4. Counterconditioning is key! You can use desensitization and counterconditioning techniques before the Fourth to see better success when the celebrations take place. You will need to prepare and have on hand LOTS of bits of VERY high-value food. (Human foods like cheese, boiled meat or unflavored/non-spiced deli meat, hot dogs, etc. are best so don’t skimp—use something super wonderful!) Using a recording of fireworks, play it at a VERY low volume that won’t upset the dog, and pause as needed to give breaks. When your dog hears a firework, feed this food. Repeat and gradually raise and vary the level of the volume. You want to keep it low enough so that your dog doesn’t get panicked—your dog should be relatively comfortable but still able to notice the sound. Do this many times before the Fourth and have lots more food ready on the Fourth to pair with the real deal. If fireworks mean bits of salmon consistently, your dog can begin to see fireworks as a good thing due to this association you build over many repetitions.

Need help? Contact us!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

The power of connection in successful dog training

There are lots of components that go into successful training: your timing, the delivery of the reward, having the right motivation for the dog, managing your environment for success, and many more. Each of these in and of itself is worthy of a blog post, but today I’m going to talk about one of the cornerstones and how I perceive it: the ability to truly connect with your dog.

What is a connection and how do you know you have it? For me, it’s when my dogs look happily at me, come to me without me even asking, and look to me as though I have their back. By and large, my dogs find it extremely rewarding just being around me. I notice the good behaviors they give me and reward them. I talk to them and look at them in a loving manner. I do things with them they enjoy, and I enjoy as well, sharing that mutual enjoyment.

Here are my tips for building a good, solid connection with your dog:

  • Empathize with your dog. We are so caught up in what the dog SHOULD do, or DOES know, that when they don’t do what we’ve prompted from them, we get frustrated. We repeat ourselves: “Django, sit………sit………..SIT!” Our voices and actions become white noise to our dog, and we go down the road of being upset, which can lead to unnecessary and unpleasant punishment, deteriorating our relationship. Remember there may be reasons why your dog isn’t doing what you think he should be doing—and knows how to do. Sometimes they actually haven’t been taught to understand what we’re asking in all situations so we need to retrain at easier criteria. Perhaps your dog didn’t hear you, or is thinking about it and just needs a moment more than what we will give. Sometimes they may be too afraid, or the pavement is too hot or cold, or they may be experiencing some type of pain or discomfort. The dog is refusing for a reason, not out of stubbornness. The more you can realize where the holes are with your training, or what he may be experiencing at the moment by contemplating his point of view, the less frustration you can experience and the more trust you will be able to build with your dog overall.
Loo offers a check-in to mom after seeing another dog
Loo offers a check-in to mom after seeing another dog
  • Reward all the check-ins! One of the simplest things you can do, the instant you get your new puppy or dog, is reward him EVERY TIME he looks at you, in as many places you can, and with as many distractions, as possible, of his own accord. We call these “check-ins,” and your dog will be most successful if you do this first in less distracting environments, then in increasingly more distracting areas and scenarios. You can’t overdo it in the beginning, especially as the surroundings change. The more you do this, the more they will learn you are the most amazing thing in their world! In less distracting situations you can use their regular food ration and simple training treats, but in more distracting environments (exciting to be in the park on a weekend!), you will have much better success if you have little bits of hot dogs, chicken or cheese—any real food that your dog doesn’t normally get but will absolutely love. Everything starts with looking at you—a sit, a down, a loose leash walk—so if you start by rewarding simple check-ins, you will have a strong foundation for even better manners and relaxed behavior.
  • Acknowledge when they get it right. Often! It’s all too easy to ignore the good kid, right? The naughty one in the back always gets called out, gets called up to the front, gets all the attention. This usually doesn’t work well overall because the naughtiness is more rewarding than being good and quiet! It’s a simple analogy but it helps us realize that there are many times when our dogs are being good and we aren’t acknowledging it (as well as how much we end up reinforcing “bad” behavior instead). Make a point to have treats at hand more often than not to reward good behaviors when they’re offered, at spontaneous times, and see the awesome results of paying attention to the good kid—he repeats all that awesome stuff, more and more. Even if I don’t have a treat at the time, I want to tell my dogs they’re being good, or give some attention to them in the form of affection or play, so they know I appreciate their awesomeness when it happens.
  • Have full engagement with your dog. I am a huge advocate for food in training, and to also continue maintaining behaviors you’ve already built, but it’s also important to use other reinforcing items to engage your dog in myriad ways to build your relationship together. Often when I’m walking a dog I love to praise them as they’re doing well in addition to treating them to stay by my side, and to tell them how awesome they are before releasing them for a sniff break. By engaging them a bit more than just being stoic or relying on the treats alone, and allowing them freedom to do what they want, I think most dogs are more eager to actually be present with me on the walk. It’s not like I have to talk or pet them the entire time, but I do enough to motivate the dog and add even more fun to what we’re doing, instead of staring at my cell phone or talking on a Bluetooth. You can also engage in playing with the dog with a toy, or a game you both enjoy as well. If I’m enthusiastic, and genuine, they will pick up on this and know that we’re a team together—we work hard but we also play hard!

These strategies build a reinforcement history with the dog—I am always oriented toward helping the dog find the right path and rewarding for what I like most. The stronger your history, the better your success at having a dog that will be happy to do what you like—it’s fun for the dog, and it helps build a real connection with them. It builds a solid relationship!

Need help? Feel free to reach out, and happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Training methods matter

Methods are a hotly debated, and oftentimes controversial, topic among dog trainers. It gets even hotter when you toss in the variety of information on the Internet and media, and hobbyist trainers and dog aficionados who live and breathe for their canine companions.

I’ll admit, I’m a very passionate dog trainer. I got into this field because I love dogs, and I do love people, too, and want to see them happy together, as opposed to giving up and taking the dog to a shelter. I would be remiss if I did not cop to the deep love I have for dogs—it’s one of the strongest I have! No doubt most people get into this profession out of the same love for dogs. We have a wide variety of trainers here in Colorado, and if you go visit individual websites, you’ll see a lot of different terms, marketing jargon and labels used to define the methodologies of trainers:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Balanced
  • Wolf pack theory
  • Natural methods
  • Traditional training
  • Force-free
  • Science-based
  • Clicker or marker training
  • Relationship-based or centered training

To most average consumers, all these labels sound pretty much okay or can mean a lot of things, depending on how you interpret them. Most people can say they want to learn how to communicate effectively with their dogs, and live in a “balanced” state or in “harmony.” But beyond these labels, how can a consumer really determine what the trainer is actually going to do to teach their dogs or solve problems they’re facing?

Dog training, and behavioral science as a whole, have made a lot of advancements in the last few decades. Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog is, in my opinion, one of the books that really made the case for operant conditioning techniques, and the superiority of using positive reinforcement to teach all animals new skills. On the flipside, in 2004, Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer TV show debuted, and the “calm-assertive energy” techniques as a pack leader to dogs began to take off. These two “schools,” if you will, and everything in between, are very much in opposition and can be not only confusing for dogs but people!

No doubt we live in a world where people are confused about how to deal with problem behaviors from dogs. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people to just feed their reactive dogs for noticing triggers (the stimulus that causes the unwanted behavior). “But aren’t I reinforcing the (insert “bad” behavior here—i.e., barking, lunging, etc.)?” people will ask. It’s true that we always want to stay what we call “under threshold,” presenting that stimulus at a level where it will not illicit that behavior we don’t want, but sometimes we live in environments or undergo situations where that isn’t possible.

The key is understanding you can’t reinforce the emotions, and if a dog is truly upset and needs intervention to help them through something difficult, then we should do it, instead of getting frustrated and demanding something they cannot do—perform a behavior. It’s a great goal to want your dog to sit and look at you in the presence of other dogs, but if other dogs are scary for him, then it’s a VERY tough place to start for him! There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to our dogs and their emotional state, and this is probably one of the main reasons why I believe methods matter most. Time and time again, I see clients who have no idea how to make a positive association through successful desensitization and counterconditioning methods (DS/CC), even after seeing one or more other trainers or so-called behaviorists for their dog’s reactivity or aggression issues, and it’s mind-boggling!

Illustration by Lili Chin – click for a larger view

At Delightful Doggies, we choose to strive for situations where we can create a positive association for dogs with those items they find challenging, scary or overly exciting, and then we can get and reinforce the behavior we want. This means setting up the dog for success (so presenting that trigger in a very gradual, non-threatening way), making that association, and then getting a behavior because the dog has not gone over threshold, and sees the trigger as a good thing: It makes chicken happen!

On the flipside, there are others out there who will go too far too fast, or do not employ proper DS/CC protocols, and when the dog does have the reaction the person doesn’t want, the dog is punished. That usually ends up doing the opposite—it makes the trigger even scarier, and can make reactions worse—or suppress them. While the dog may not bark once you’ve used your punishment (making the handler think they’ve “fixed” it), they’re still a bundle of nerves underneath it all, and this training may break down. It may also cause your dog to enter a state of learned helplessness, even if they act the way they want you to moving forward. This isn’t fair to the dog, or help him feel confident and comfortable in the world in which we’ve asked him to live.

I recently shared a post from Sarah Stremming at Cognitive Canine (GREAT blog to follow!): “Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works.” So many times I have heard others say training didn’t work (regardless of the methods used). This blog makes the very valid point that it’s not the method, but the application of the method, that fails. If we set up appropriate plans and stick to them, they should work—even if it’s a punitive method! It’s very important to remind ourselves that our ability to see things through, to appropriately plan for and execute the training, is at the core of it all. Handler error and misunderstanding, poor timing, inadequate motivation/reward, etc., are all likely to blame than the method itself.

There have been trainers who used to be dedicated to more force-free, positive-reinforcement based methods who have gone over to incorporating more punishment. I have always been blown away by this because I came from the other end; I used to use a blend and was taught a more “balanced” way of training, until I found clicker methods and it totally changed my world. When I hear these trainers talk about how “positive reinforcement failed,” I often wonder why it did for them—and where their skill level is with the techniques. To me, methods matter a LOT. I want my dogs and their people to be happy, healthy and confident, rather than suppressing emotions for the sake of a behavior they may be able to perform, but not comfortably and due to the fear of being punished.

At Delightful Doggies, we are committed to staying away from punitive methods and honing our skills in using successful DS/CC and positive reinforcement to ease the dog’s emotional state, help them be calm and confident, and getting and reinforcing behaviors we do want. If we do this effectively, we have no need for punishment, and we believe the same for any dog, trainer or handler out there. It’s also proven to be safer to use these techniques over punishment. Don’t we owe it to our dogs, and ourselves, to be safe and happy together? We want to contribute to building a world full of people who can harness the power of the positive, to give dogs the ability to choose and make the best choices, and understand dog emotions and the power of a well-thought-out DS/CC plan. We hope you will join us!

Happy training,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Biting versus nipping: Is my puppy being aggressive?

It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the differences between aggressive biting and normal puppy mouthing and nipping, as it seems there can be some confusion for people in these realms, as well as how to address and teach puppies proper bite inhibition.

Throughout my career training dogs, I’ve had inquiries come in from new puppy parents concerned about their puppy’s mouthing, even going as far as to say their puppy is being aggressive. It is very unusual for young puppies to display aggressive behaviors; when I hear these complaints, one of my first questions to the person is, “Have you talked about this with your vet?” Aggressive displays at a young age always send off the alarm that there could be an underlying medical reason; however, in most cases, they’re actually experiencing normal puppy mouthing and nipping, and just need a little guidance to understand and deal with it.

Puppies are a lot like human babies—they put EVERYTHING into their mouths! It’s how they investigate the world, relieve boredom and teething pain, and learn how to actually inhibit their bite. Puppies are also very new to the world and do not have self-control so when they are aroused, excited and playful, it is very normal for them to get nippy. They will find your hands, limbs and clothing with those little sharp teeth, too! Sometimes they may even seem to be relentless, which is why some view their puppy as potentially aggressive.

Chew on this, Desmond! :)
Chew on this, Desmond! 🙂

It’s important for puppies to learn bite inhibition—VERY important. If your puppy learns this and is well-socialized, he will be set up for a life of success with little risk of biting others. Patience is key as puppies do teeth and it takes time for them to learn to control their impulses. A common mistake people make is pushing the dog away–using your hands like that is indicating to the dog, from their perspective, that you WANT to play, so do not use that as it will only work against you. Here are some tips for dealing with those adorable “puppy piranhas.”

  • Have PLENTY of alternatives for your dog to chew. When you get your new puppy, besides having food bowls, beds, crates, leashes and such, make sure you have myriad approved chew items. Dental chews, bully sticks and other all-natural animal-based chews (we tend to stay away from rawhide), Kongs and other treat-dispensing/fillable items, and a variety of tug toys of appropriate sizes can be your life saver! Remember to always supervise first, and never leave items alone with your puppy that could be a choking hazard (such as rope toys). Frozen Kongs can be a very wonderful alternative as the cold can help soothe the mouths of those puppies who are teething. You cannot have too many of these, and use them often to prevent and redirect your puppy’s teeth from inappropriate to appropriate outlets.
  • Teach your puppy to be gentle. You will not be able to prevent each time your dog puts his mouth on you, and it’s not a bad thing to have soft mouthing occur, as this helps teach proper bite inhibition. However, if you’re getting teeth—remove your hand or whatever those teeth are on, and redirect to an appropriate chew toy! If I’m handling a puppy and they are mouthing at me gently, that’s fine, but once I feel those teeth, I end that situation. If I’m consistent, the puppy will learn that a soft mouth is okay, but a hard mouth is not! I don’t squeal or make any noise, but I make sure I have a treat, toy or chew at hand to substitute for my hand or whatever the puppy may be mouthing, especially if the puppy is very excited, as it can be hard for them to turn their excitement off. Then I can trade my shirt for an appropriate chew item, for instance. Having an alternative ready is important.
  • Teach calm behavior. In addition to having clear signals about what is appropriate and not, teaching your dog to be calm when your hand approaches or around other triggers that may excite and cause him to nip at you or your clothing is important. For instance, if my pants are very loose and my puppy wants to chase and nip at them, I will have lots of treats on me and walk very slowly, rewarding my puppy for not nipping as they walk beside/around me. In this way, they’ll learn that it’s much better to be calmly walking with me while I have those pants on, rather than to nip and possibly tear them. Over time I will increase how quickly I am walking, and therefore increase the excitement level. If the puppy gets too excited, then I need to lower my criteria and be less exciting so I can get the behavior I want and reinforce it, and build from there. I love this video from Emily Larlham that teaches such techniques.
  • Use crates, Xpens and other management. Crate training and using gates, Xpens, etc., to help manage your puppy and teach them how to find that “off” switch are also important. These should never be used in a punitive way, but if you’re busy and your dog has had adequate activity and you don’t want to deal with the nipping, you can place your dog in one of these areas with a safe chew alternative to prevent them from nipping at you, and to help them calm on their own. I view this as very similar to human children–going to your room for a break to unwind!
  • Teaching settle behavior. Doing mat work is invaluable, and I teach this to a lot of clients very often. The mat itself is a cue to relax, and if you do this effectively, can be a tool you can take with you anywhere to help foster calm and focus. A simple door mat suffices; a non-slip backing and flat top will be best, and it doesn’t have to be extremely large (even if you own a Great Dane). It’s not meant to be a bed, but when the mat is there, the dog should be reinforced for first stepping on it and focusing on it, not you, then for sitting, lying down, and then being even more relaxed, like rocking onto the hip, having a calm tail, softer eyes, resting the chin. If you time treats to mark these behaviors, your dog will get it, and learn a good default settle on the mat. There are many protocols out there for teaching going to the mat, etc., but one of my very favorites is that of Nan Arthur, who wrote a great book called Chill Out Fido; I also love this video from Emily Larlham on capturing calmness in dogs.

Aggressive biting is very different from normal puppy mouthing and nipping. Most aggression I have seen, and most bite cases I have worked on, stem from fear or the inability to control impulses coupled with never having learned appropriate bite inhibition. Fearful dogs usually show other signs of discomfort before they escalate to a bite and it’s important to learn how to read body language; this is a great guide on learning more about signs to understand.

If you truly believe your dog is being aggressive, or shows signs of fear, anxiety and overarousal/inability to control their impulses, you should consult a professional well-versed in using desensitization and counterconditioning protocols and teaching calm using positive, rewards-based methods. You should NEVER punish the dog, restrain him forcefully or roll him, or grab the muzzle or scruff. These are confrontational methods that will confuse and possibly upset the dog and make things worse. The earlier you intervene, the greater your chances of long-term success. There is no substitute for getting help from a caring, knowledgeable trainer/dog behavior consultant!

Let us know how we can help,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

New video: Ginger and Game of Thrones

We just uploaded a new YouTube video of our client, Ginger, a corgi who has a challenging time controlling her impulses when certain items are on TV: exciting sports events, action/adventure films, and everyone’s favorite, Game of Thrones!

In this video you will see me working with Ginger while we go through an episode of Game of Thrones. I’m using a VERY high-value treat (hot dogs) to pair with the show and its exciting elements to desensitize and countercondition her response to be more calm. We can then also reward calm behaviors like coming to me, disengaging from the television, looking at me, and sitting.

We love working with dogs on being calm and confident, and hope you will contact us if we can help you!

Happy Training,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Teaching your dog to love his crate

Crate training is an important element in dog training. There are many reasons to crate train: to assist in house training young puppies and keep them safe when you’re unable to actively supervise, to give a dog a place to go that is safe and where no one will disturb him, to give your dog a break so he can relax. Those who participate in dog sports and classes also need crate training skills so the dog can be put away when not in competition or actively working. If you must evacuate in an emergency or your dog needs a medical procedure, confinement may be a necessary part of such situations. Your dog may need crate training just so he’s prepared for these possibilities, even if you don’t plan on actively using a crate for much of your lives together.

Some dogs adjust more easily to others when it comes to crate training. Anxious dogs can often have a hard time being confined as well. First and foremost, going slowly and positively is key in having successful crate training. If a dog finds the crate VERY scary, then you may want to take off the door and not worry about closing it for a while. As he’s able to stay in for longer periods, you can gradually shut it little bits at a time. By starting simple and working up to that point, and then gradually extending the time the door is shut, you can build his trust. Going too far too fast will only work against you!

Charlie enjoys a Kong tie-out in his crate

I have put together a list of tools and strategies that can help with crate training your dog; they revolve around making it a GREAT place to be, at his level of comfort, as well as teaching behaviors we want.

  • Choose a proper placement. The placement of the crate is important. It should provide some privacy and be in a place that is comfortable for the dog to be able to relax, but not sequestered in the basement away from the family. Choosing a happy medium is important.
  • Feed meals in the crate. Your dog does have to eat so make it work for you! Putting meals in slow feeder bowls can also help him stay longer.
  • Hide goodies for him to find. I like to sneakily put in high-value treats, awesome chews and enrichment toys for dogs to find in the crate. If he doesn’t see me put it in there but he walks by and realizes what’s in there, it’s like the crate is actually making those things happen there, and makes it a really great place!
  • Use a Kong tie-out. Kongs and other toy enrichment where a dog has to lick food can be great for using in a crate. It’s not only a fun way to work for food, but licking can help a dog relax. The only problem with using enrichment toys is that a dog can go in for a toy and take it out! Kong tie-outs are a great solution for this. If you use a string or a section of a wire metal hanger that has a knot/bend at one end, you can feed it through the Kong from the larger hole to the smaller hole so it catches and hangs out of the small hole end. You can stuff and freeze your Kong accordingly, and then use the string or metal to affix it to stay in the back of the crate so your dog cannot go in and take it out. It also helps make the back of the crate the most rewarding place to be! A colleague of ours in Colorado Springs, Angie Neal, has a great video on making Kong tie-outs you can view here.
  • Reinforce calm and good manners. Barking, whining and pawing at the crate means you are ignored. Being quiet, calm, even sitting means you will get out. Most times if you are patient enough to wait for the behavior you want and then give the dog what he wants, and you are consistent with these outcomes, then he will know what is expected and will likewise be consistent in giving you what you want. Start where the dog can be successful and build on it. For instance, if the dog is having a hard time and barking a lot, I would ignore and wait for just a few seconds of quiet and then let him out. Over time, I can wait for longer periods of quiet, as well as more calm behavior.
  • NEVER use the crate for punishment. While a crate is a very good way to help puppies and even older dogs learn how to settle on their own and as management to halt unwanted behavior, you should be very conscientious of how you use the crate to these ends. If you’re putting your dog forcefully in the crate without anything good, you’re really setting yourself up for making the dog associate the crate with you being angry and them being isolated. It’s better to ask him to go in and give him something good for it, even if he just finished doing something you consider naughty!

If you’re facing serious difficulty acclimating your dog to his crate, don’t continue to push ahead without help. If it’s causing major anxiety or aggression, continuing to crate your dog can ultimately work against you and we advise consulting us or another qualified professional for help.

Happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies