Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Crating your puppy during holidays can avert disaster
Our 5-month-old Chinook puppy, Larry, doesn't love being crated. He has an extremely loud voice - and he's not afraid to use it. The good news is that he responds to my cue to "Stop," and settles down. Cannon, our Bearded Collie, used to bark in the crate as well. Cannon was OK most of the time, but when he wanted to be let out, he would tell the world.
The problem with letting a barking dog out of the crate is that "freedom"- release from being kenneled - is highly rewarding. This means that the behavior the dog associates with his barking - that is, getting free - is reinforced, making barking more difficult to eliminate.
One of the things that I've done with Larry to encourage quiet in the crate is to patiently wait until he settles down before opening the crate door to release him. I calmly and quietly say, "Stop," and wait until he has settled down. I mark his settled behavior with "Good" or "Yes," and open the kennel door to reward his quiet behavior. The first few times I did this, I had to wait quite a while - or what felt like quite a while. It was likely just a minute or two until he stopped whimpering and whining for a brief moment. I marked that fleeting instant of peace, and rewarded it with freedom. Over time I've demanded a longer time frame of quiet before releasing him.
At this time of year, Larry, like many puppies and dogs, may be spending a bit more time in his kennel. Christmas trees, holiday decorations, wrapped gifts, hanging stockings and other objects of the season are puppy magnets. Leaving a puppy unsupervised with access to Christmas decorations is both foolish and dangerous.
The key to getting through the season without a potential disaster is management - either managing the environment or the dog. Managing the environment means preventing access by shutting doors, putting up barriers or putting things out of reach. Managing the dog means supervision or safe confinement when you're not able to supervise. Having a safe place such as a crate in which to keep your puppy or dog is always important, and is even more so at this time of year. A puppy or adolescent, as we're living with, is eager to try everything in the universe by putting it in his mouth. If Larry were to swallow an ornament or get into a package that had pins or other sharp objects, or simply eat a whole bunch of non-digestible items, he could end up needing surgery for an intestinal blockage. Such blockages can even be fatal.If you have not already done so, now is a good time to acclimate your dog to being crated when you can't supervise him. If you have a dog who barks excessively in the crate, as Larry used to, crate your dog for short periods of time, making sure that he's quiet before letting him out. I wrote about crate training a few weeks ago, so if you're just starting out, you'll find that column on my website. If, like Larry, your dog doesn't love being crated, here are some strategies you can try that can help your dog settle down:. Calming music, which I wrote about a short time ago, such as "Through a Dog's Ear," can be helpful. At our Puppy Place at All Dogs Gym day care, we use a CD of heartbeats that helps the puppies settle down.
. Lightly spray lavender essence on your dog's bedding. Lavender has a calming effect, and smells nice, too.
. D.A.P. (Dog appeasing pheromone) spray can also be helpful to some dogs. It's available online or at pet stores.
. Some dogs respond well to having the crate covered, making it cocoon-like. Larry does best when I drop a throw over his crate door so he can't see out.
. And finally, give your dog a special treat to enjoy in the crate - something he gets only when he's crated. You can stuff a Kong toy with cheese or peanut butter mixed with unsweetened cereal (such as Chex), freeze it and give it to your dog when you put him in his kennel. That keeps most dogs busy and encourages them to get into the crate.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. You'll find past columns on her website. To suggest a topic for this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103.