Crates should be used with caution in dogs with anxiety issues. If the dog is locked in too early and still very anxious they will make a desperate attempt to escape, potentially injuring themselves. With destructive dogs it is tempting to confine them to an indoor crate but this often merely contains the dog and localises the destruction. Owners may not be aware that the dog is still extremely distressed and do not notice the damage the dog is doing to escape.
By nature dogs are den animals. Most create their own dens by sleeping in corners or under tables. It therefore makes sense to supply them with a den of your choice in a location of your choosing. Dogs will rest in their dens and will feel safe, secure and relaxed there. The feeling of security can be enhanced by placing a sheet over the top and down the sides to suggest a solid roof and walls. Training your dog to a crate that can be shut is the ideal answer to house soiling and destructive behaviour. The crate should be the size of the dog’s bed and big enough to allow the dog to stretch out, stand up and turn around comfortably. The door should not be shut until the dog is very comfortable inside it and uses it of its own free will. Start by placing familiar bedding inside with a water bowl. Allow free access in and out. Encourage the dog to enter by throwing in titbits or favourite toys. Feed the dog progressively further inside. Feed the dog inside the crate without shutting the door. Leave food treats and chews there many times during the day for your dog to find. If you find your dog in the crate, give lots of praise. Once you notice that the dog chooses to lie there at various times of the day then the door can be shut while you prepare the dog’s food and then place the food inside the crate and again shut the door. Work on making this the dog’s favourite place. Whilst in the crate during the day shut the door, talk to the dog occasionally as you continue normal activities and now and again poke treats through the mesh. You can ignore the dog while its outside the crate and lavishing attention, treats and praise when the dog is in the crate. Only offer special treats when the dog is inside the crate with the doors shut. The idea is to teach the dog that having the doors shut is a prelude to a pleasant experience and not that it’s been locked away and punished.
If your dog continues to be fed there, has its chews there and gets attention whenever it’s in the crate the dog will want to spend more time there.
Access to other sleeping areas should be denied during the introductory period – not by giving out but by placing physical barriers in the way.
Never give out and send the dog to its bed as a punishment. To a dog its den is a safe haven.
Stop using the crate if your dog shows signs of increased destructiveness, anxiety or violent attempts to break out of it.
Authored by Mark McCorry RVN