Jumping the Crate Training Hurdles

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Contributed by Amber Drake

Many of you likely cringe at the thought of crate training. And, it’s not because you are against crate training, but because you just aren’t sure how to get started. Or, maybe you just don’t get why crate training would help your new puppy.

At first glance, crate training (to most people) appears to extremely uncomfortable, and a bit like putting your new pup in puppy jail. Crates are so small, there’s not much space for our pups to move around. They can’t walk in there. So, why would it be comfortable for them? We sure wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping in a confined area.

Here’s the thing… there’s magic to the crate. That’s why it’s comfortable to our little pups. What’s the magic? Dogs, by instinct, search for cozy spaces to become their ‘den.’ Their dens are their safe spot; their place to escape the world.  Their crate is an area that’s 100% their own. 

Jumping the Crate Training Hurdles

Your puppy doesn’t look at the crate and automatically think, “yes, this is my spot.” Usually, they choose their own. Instead, we have picked her den for her.

At first glance, your puppy (or dog) might be a little afraid of the crate. Don’t panic. This reaction is completely normal. After your pup becomes accustomed to the crate, he will love his new, cozy sleeping space.

Of course, crate training isn’t a requirement for being a loving, responsible pet parent. But, it’s worth considering.

In addition to helping with potty training, crate training can help reduce separation anxiety. And, if your dog encounters a stressful situation, the crate allows her to escape to her own world which assists in preventing severe behavioral issues.

Make Crate Training Positive

Being certain to connect the crate to a positive ‘thing’ or experience is important. If your pup connects the crate with a treat, praise, and/or a toy, he will be more likely to want to go into the crate on his own.

Ensuring the connection is positive also increases the level of trust they have with you. They form a good emotional connection from this experience.

To make this experience positive, don’t immediately jump into locking your pup in her crate. Be sure he is properly (and slowly) introduced to the crate first. Keep the crate open and put your pup’s favorite treat as far back in the crate as it will go.

Keep the crate door open to begin. This part is important and must be emphasized.

After a few attempts, if your puppy appears to be comfortable walking in the crate on her own, you can now close the door. Only close the door for as long as it takes her to finish eating her treat (or chewing on her toy). Then, open the crate back up.

Gradually increase the amount of time your dog is in the crate. Leave the door closed for longer and longer periods… increasing only by a few minutes at a time.

What if my Dog is Still Uncomfortable?

What if the above step gets your pup somewhat comfortable… but she’s still not fully comfortable yet? Some dogs are perfectly content, and happy, with their crate using the above step. Others need more reassurance.

If your dog is one who isn’t comfortable yet, we move on to desensitizing your puppy. This process could take an additional few days, or another few weeks.

Continue the process above, but only keep the crate locked for 10 seconds at a time or so. Then, gradually increase only be 5-10 seconds each time and work your way up to minutes.

Do not leave your puppy in the crate alone until he’s fully comfortable. We don’t want him to be miserable in there. We want him to be comfortable and feel safe.

How Big Should the Crate Be?

This is one of the parts of the puzzle where dog lovers get frustrated. How big should the crate be? How do you know if it’s big enough? And, how do you know it’s not too small?

Your puppy (or dog) should be able to lie down, move around a bit to get comfortable, and turn around. The crate should not be big enough to have a ton of extra room.

Dogs don’t like to use the potty where they sleep (by instinct). If the crate is big enough to have ‘walking room’ or an extra little area that’s not taken up by anything, she is likely to use the potty in the crate. We don’t want that to happen. Part of the reason we crate train is to help with potty-training, right? So, that would defeat the purpose of the crate.

Just Some General Guidelines

There are some general guidelines I would like to share with you.

1.     Never leave your puppy in the crate by himself if he’s uncomfortable.

2.     Always leave something for your pup to do in the crate- treat, toy, puzzle, etc.

3.     Never leave your puppy in her crate longer than 2-3 hours… especially a young pup. Young puppies can’t hold their bladder. And, if they do, could end up developing a urinary tract infection.

4.     Always take your puppy (or dog) potty before she goes in her crate.

5.     Always exercise with your dog before he goes into his crate.

The Bottom Line on Crate Training

The most important ‘thing’ to remember about crate training is… make sure the crate is a positive experience and be patient. Patience, you will find, is key to nearly everything you do with your dog. Remember, the way we want them to act and what their instincts tell them is completely different.

 

 

Introducing Your New Dog to Your Home

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Contributed by Amber Drake

Bringing Your New Dog Home

The first few days in your home are a special, yet anxious, time for you and your new dog. Your new dog will likely be confused about where he is. He won’t immediately connect your home with his home. It’s a completely different environment than what she knows (whether she came from a shelter or a family- it’s still different). It’s up to you to ensure she has the smoothest transition possible.

Before Your Bring Her Home

Before you bring your new dog home, you should determine which area of your home your dog will spend the most time. Then, dog-proof that area and place the crate somewhere comfortable (if you’re crate training). Usually, the kitchen works best. It’s easy to clean up in case of any accidents. Their knowledge of house-training may be lost during a time of great stress like this.

If you plan to crate-train your dog, the crate should be set up before you bring your dog home. Don’t forget to place a mattress of some kind in the crate with them. The type of mattress you should have varies based on the breed of dog you are bringing home, and the age of the dog. Be certain to do proper research on this before bringing your new dog home.

Now, dog-proofing. Dog-proofing your home is critical to keep your dog safe. Tape off any loose wires. Place household cleaners, medications, and other chemicals up high. If you have plants on the floor, do some research and see which plants dogs can and can’t be near.

Finally, have their collar and leash ready to go. On the collar, there should be identification tags already attached. If your dog doesn’t already have a microchip, this may also be something to consider. The microchip isn’t a GPS device, but if your dog were to ever get lost, the microchip would be scanned and an identification code unique to your dog containing all your details would be available.

On the First Day

The first day home could be extremely stressful or overwhelmingly exciting for your dog. Either way, give your dog time to acclimate to your home before you allow any ‘strangers’ to come over. Even if you think your dog is doing wonderful with the transition- one new event could spark stress in the first week. If you have children, show your children the appropriate way to approach a dog.

When you pick up your new dog, don’t forget to ask what she ate that day (and the type of food). If you feed your new dog a completely different food, this could lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea. We don’t want that. An upset stomach could make the transition even more stressful for both him and us.

If you would like to feed a different brand/type of food, do so over a one-week period adding in the new food to their old food slowly. Watch for any signs of stomach upset or loose stools. If you do notice any symptoms, lessen the amount of new food and extend the transition time.

When you arrive home, immediately show your dog where the potty area is and softly say “potty-potty” or similar. Be patient during this time. Even if your dog is fully potty-trained, don’t forget there could be accidents. Your dog may not act like he has to use to the bathroom while he’s outside, then come in and immediately have an accident. Don’t panic, this is a completely normal behavior when being introduced to a new home.

A routine should be put in place immediately. Structure is extremely helpful to a dog adjusting to a new home, and your resident dogs as well if they don’t already have a routine. Feeding, potty-time, and play/exercise, should have an approximate time each day. If the time changes by a half hour occasionally, that’s okay.

For the first few days of your dog being home, try to be as calm and quiet as possible. Limiting excitement during this time will help her adjust. And, it will give you time to get to know your dog better. Take this time to build a foundation for the bond you will share.

Training should also begin immediately. But, after the first week, you can increase the amount of physical and mental stimulation your dog is receiving. Training also helps a dog settle in further and strengthens the bond you are building.

Introducing Your New Dog to Another Dog

If you have a resident dog, introduce your new dog to your resident dog outside in a neutral area. If you have more than one resident dog, introduce one at a time. Don’t rush the introduction. Each dog should be on a leash, and each leash should be loose to allow the dogs to get to know one another.

After the outside introduction, you can bring your new dog inside and do the in-home introduction (if all goes well outside). If you bring your new dog inside immediately without the outside introduction, this could spark a huge list of problems. Keep each interaction between your new dog and your resident dog(s) short and as pleasant as possible. If you see any sign of tension, immediately separate the dogs and try again an hour or so later.

Don’t leave all the dogs alone together until you know it’s safe to do so. Watching your dogs’ body language can help you understand when it’s safe.

The Bottom Line

The most important take-a-way here involves patience. Be patient with your new dog’s behaviors, training levels, and the bond you are establishing. Some dogs adjust quickly and form a bond immediately. Others take more time. Commit as much time as possible to getting to know your new dog while spending time with your resident dogs. Watch your new dog’s body language to understand what she is communicating to you and others.

4 Steps to Successful Leash-Walking

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Contributed by Amber Drake

There’s a common misconception that dogs automatically understand how to walk on a leash. But, this is a skill that needs to be learned by your dog. Dogs are not ‘natural leash walkers.’ Fortunately, this is a simple skill to teach in most cases.

The most effective way to train your dog to walk on a leash is step-by-step. Take small steps to acclimate your dog to this ‘unnatural’ behavior.

Step 1: Introducing the Collar and Leash

You should begin this process by allowing your dog to become familiar with the collar/harness and the leash. Place the collar or harness on your dog, then clip the leash to your dog’s collar, but don’t hold onto the leash.

Allow your dog to wear the collar and leash throughout the house while giving her treats. Using this step, your dog will associate the collar and leash with treats and happiness.

Step 2: Understanding the ‘Come’ Command

The next step is teaching the ‘come’ command. If he already knows the ‘come’ command, that’s perfect. We’re ahead of the game. If not, this is a skill that must be taught prior to walking on a leash outside (for safety precautions).

In this scenario, let’s say your dog already knows the command. Say ‘come’ and then reward your dog with a treat (with the collar and leash on).

While he’s still heading your way, begin walking backwards and provide the reward (treat, kibble) when he gets to you. If you have a puppy, this process will take more patience. Puppies have very short attention spans. But remember, patience is key.

Step 3: Practice Leash-Walking Inside

At this point in the process, your dog should understand how to come to you… and feel comfortable with the leash and collar on (from Steps 1 and 2). You can now practice walking on the leash in your home.

While you’re walking on the leash, reward your dog often. You may want to provide kibble in this step, so your dog doesn’t go over her treat limit. If you feed your dog too many treats, she could easily become obese. And, that leads to a range of other problems we simply don’t want.

Step 4: Let’s Go Outside

If your dog did well with steps 1-3, you can now go for a leash walk outside and test out her freshly-learned skills.

Don’t get upset if your dog struggles on her first few walks outside. Even though your dog has mastered steps 1-3, you may still face challenges in this step.

There will be all kinds of sounds, sights, and smells your dog may have never smelled before (especially if you have a puppy). And, if you have an adult dog, they may still smell, see, or hear things they haven’t heard before and want to explore just as much as a puppy.

At first, keep the walks short.

We know you want to go on long walks, but this takes time to master.

If your puppy or dog becomes distracted on your walk, re-direct his attention to you and continue walking.

What Should I Do?

There could be a few problems you run into. Don’t worry. Problems with leash-walking are common, and they’re generally easy to fix.

The first problem… what if my dog pulls on the leash? If your dog starts pulling, you should stand completely still and refuse to move until your dog comes back to you. You should never jerk the leash, or drag your dog, as these actions could severely hurt your dog.

Another note to add, if your dog is a puller, a front-hook harness or head halter is recommended as these are designed for dogs who pull on the leash.

The next common problem… what if she won’t stop barking? Some dogs have a barking issue when they’re going on their first walks. They aren’t sure what’s going on in the world surrounding them and may feel compelled to bark at the unknown (strangers, cats, other dogs, etc.). You can reduce this behavior by exercising with your dog before their walk.

Then, there’s the constant sniffing. Dogs want to smell everything. If your dog wants to stop at every step, you might be giving them ‘too much leash.’ Retractable leashes are not recommended for this reason… especially while training. Of course, there are times when it’s okay for your dog to sniff and explore. And, as your walk with your dog, she will learn when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.

The Bottom Line on Leash Walking

The most important thing to take out of this article is… be patient and understanding. Learning how to walk on a leash is a process for your dog. And, it’s not a natural behavior. Just like going ‘potty outside’ must be learned, leash walking is a process that we desire as humans that must be learned.

If you’re having a hard time getting your dog to walk on a leash properly, you should consult a Canine Behaviorist or Dog Trainer for additional tips.