What is a crate and how to set it up
A crate is an indoor kennel which gives your dog a place of their own. They are often sold as metal or part metal/part plastic cage over which you can drape heavy blankets to create a den for your dog. There are also more solid plastic ones available which double as a carrying device for transportation. A quiet room or area towards the back of the house is ideal, out of direct sunlight but with natural light and ventilation too. Often a utility area works well. This crate is your dog’s bedroom so you should provide them with soft blankets for nesting, fresh water for drinking and a range of toys too. You’ll also need to make sure that you keep the children and/or other pets away. This is your dog's sanctuary.
Giving your dog their own space can help them to feel safe. Dogs who suffer from anxiety often do better if they have a small safe space of their own rather than access to the whole house which can lead to them fixating at what they see out of windows or trailing around behind you all over the house. Worse still when you go out your dog may patrol the house and wait anxiously for you to return. If your dog falls asleep in their crate on a regular basis they will gradually learn to relax more and more quickly when they are in their crate. Puppies who sleep in a crate are often easier to house-train and are less likely to get into bad habits chewing on furniture or shoes. Finally, remember that if your dog ever has to go into kennels, boarding or for a stay at the vets they may well be confined to a crate so it is well worth ensuring that they are used to the experience well before they have to go.
Is it cruel?
A lot of people instinctively feel that a crate is like a prison. I would not want to live in a crate. It would be a prison.
However, I do sleep a bed in a bedroom. Every night. I don’t randomly fall asleep by the front door or on the stairs. Once I’ve gone to bed, I stay there all night. In one room, without a huge amount of space. I can’t even do any stretches or yoga in there, but I can walk around two sides of the bed and I can have a glass of water by the bed. I don’t routinely patrol the house at night because I’d wake the children and dogs.
Neither do I encourage my children to wander round the house and fall asleep wherever they see fit. They sleep in a bed in their own room and have a bed-time after which they are expected to be quiet. If you have children you may also have realised that ‘sending them to their rooms’ for some dreadful misdemeanour stops being any sort of punishment as they become adolescents. Instead, for them, it is a relief to go to their own space and they start to go there of their own volition if you have visitors with whom they have nothing in common.
A crate should fulfil a similar purpose for our dogs and it is not a replacement for walks, access to novel environments, access to lots of smells, socialising, games and training. It is just a place for them to sleep and for them to go to for safety and when we have visitors that do not concern them. It is a natural instinct for dogs to fall asleep in small and cozy confined spaces.
How to ‘train’ the crate
In order for your dog to want to be in their crate you need to build lots of positive associations to being there. You can feed them in their crate and make sure that any chews or treats magically appear in their crate rather than coming from you. You can play with them in or near their crates, fetching a toy from the crate or running through a tunnel into their crate or searching for treats hidden in the crate, snuffle mats are great for this. They can learn to sit and lay down in the crate too. To start with just leave the door open and then as they get comfortable being there you can practice opening and closing the door of the crate. As you work on building the length of time you can close the door you need to give them a food dispensing toy or a snuffle mat to keep them occupied. When they are happy being in the crate for half an hour with you in sight then you can start to go out of sight. The RSPCA has a great factsheet on this, they recommend that adult dogs with a good association with their crates should not be confined to their crate for more than three hours.
Why do dogs bark at the front door?
Your dog may be excited to greet visitors or alerting you that someone is arriving. They may have an urge to guard their home or they may be startled and afraid of an unexpected sound. Some dogs have just copied another dog in the family! This was the case with my youngest dog Lawrence who only just managed to hone this particular behaviour before my oldest dog, the barker in the family, sadly passed away. And we are just about managing the legacy behaviour but it’s taken a bit of strategy and patience!
Most dogs who bark at the door have learned that a knock or a door bell means something is going to happen for them e.g. greeting. If, every time the doorbell went absolutely nothing happened for them they would likely gradually habituate to this noise like most dogs habituate to everyday household noises like a toilet flush or a washing machine on spin. The problem is often that when they are puppies and we are anxious for them to meet lots of visitors, we end up teaching them that a doorbell means visitors or excitement or some sort of other stimulus for them.
What can you do about it?
The first thing is to double check what exactly is going on. Does your dog run towards the door in an excited, happy, frenzy or do they run away from it? Do they ‘trigger’ to the sound of a door bell, a door knock and keys in the door in the same way? What about if you play the sound of different doorbells on your phone? Do they carry on barking at visitors as they arrive? Is it all visitors? It's thoroughly worthwhile to get a bit of professional help at this stage ... sometimes its hard to really 'see' what is going on when it is your 'everyday'.
First things first, don’t yell or raise your voice. If you raise your voice you are setting the wrong example to you are dog: you are “joining in”! Your dog will think that they are on the right track with barking because their owner is also clearly anxious and getting loud.
Next, keep dog below their threshold of anxiety and reaction for 3 – 5 days before any training. This sounds hard but here are some ideas to manage the practicalities:
This last point is important. If your dog has access to the front door during the day at the moment, then it would be worth considering moving them toward the back of the house so they are less aware of post coming through the letter box and can’t see visitors arriving. Make sure your dog has their own ‘safe space’ to retreat to …. This is their space where they have their food and treats and toys. If you don’t have this at the moment feel free to message me, and see the video at the bottom of this blog.
Finally, you are going to need to stop inadvertently rewarding your dog for barking at the front door. In fact, for a while, it would be better if the front door, visitors and doorbells were simply something that did not involve them. All the training in the world won’t work if every so often they bark like crazy at the front door and then they are rewarded by the stimulus, sights, sounds, of visitors.
There are two very different aspects to the training we need to do here:
1.Training an alternative behaviour
I'd recommend training a down stay on their mat or bed. You’ll need a training plan and I’d thoroughly recommend getting a bit of support with this bit. You’ll need to spread the training out into very short fun sessions over a few weeks. For a down stay to help us with this issue you’re going to need to make sure that it’s ‘proofed’ against distractions and that it works at a distance and for some duration. These are all things you can practice at home. It’s better to add these aspects in separately first and keep your training super positive with lots of treats on their mat or bed when they hold their stay.
Here are some ideas to practice.
Distractions – try turning in a circle, bending down to tie your show or doing a star jumps near to them. Start moving slowly and give lots of rewards. See if you can walk around them. Try playing some interesting sound effects on your phone or dropping a toy near them while they are in a stay. Move on to rolling a toy passed them while they are in a stay. You might even add in the distraction of a doorbell noise on your phone or the sound of the door of the fridge being opened or moving their food bowls.
Distance – try moving away from them a short distance and return and give them a treat. Very gradually increase the distance that you move away until you are out of sight for a moment. You keep yo-yoing back in to give them a treat so its all fairly quick and fun. Work towards being out of sight for a minute or two.
Duration – gradually increase the duration of the stay while they are next to you on their bed. If you are watching the TV or working you can put the bed by you and keep rewarding them with a treat between their paws on the bed every few seconds or minutes as they improve. Work towards a 5 minute calm stay.
This is often a tricky one to work with. For desensitisation to work we need to be able to control the amount of the stimulus of the door knock/bell so that we can start in a really small way. You need the sound of the doorbell or knock to be so quiet that although the dog may notice he or she doesn’t react. You may need to get creative. I’m directly working on this with my youngest dog and here are my tips:
It’s critical you start in such a small way that your dog is able to notice AND to stay relaxed. Repeat the stimulus 5 or 6 times and if they are able to do this you can give them a treat or a play with their toy. At your next session you can increase the level of the stimulus slightly.
Once you and your dog have a consistently good down stay on their mat or bed you can start to combine the desensitisation and the down stays by having pretend and then actual practice visitor sessions. You should be able to leave your dog in a down stay on the mat and go and ring the door bell yourself and come back and reward them before you move on to real visitors.
Remember that there is help available and this is just a phase that you and your dog are going through.
A staggering 80% of you have dogs who pull on the lead at least some of the time! For most dogs they can walk with a loose lead in some situations, often not the ones that matter to you the most. So first, take a look at what’s really going, even ask someone to video for you. It’s often good to check out if they can walk on the lead in the house as many can do this. What about as you leave the front door, the whole time you are out or is it just if there is a really good distraction. Is their lead walking just as difficult in a town centre as at the park?
You’ll need to put together a practical training plan and allow yourself a few weeks to start notching up some successes. Remember that your dog may have spent weeks, months or years learning to pull so we need to allow ourselves some time to relearn this life skill. This is where a professional consultation can be really helpful, they can help manage our progress through specific stepping stones and also manage our expectations! Here are my seven secrets to unlock a perfect loose lead walk!
1 - Stop stepping forward when they pull
is to make sure that you no longer allow the pulling to be rewarded by you taking a step forward. So, if they pull you stop until the lead pressure has reduced. In fact, pulling stops the walk. You’ll need to be careful here because you may find that you have actually got quite used to all the pulling too!
2 – Practice little and often
This is a new skill and a hard one at that. So practice for two or three lots of fifteen minutes a day only for the first couple of weeks. If your dog is particularly hyped at the start of a walk, perhaps because he has been home alone during the day, then you may want to go out in the car for some off lead running or alternatively some training or extra enrichment at home.
3 – Practice in a new environment
Some dogs will have become used to always behaving in a certain way in a particular environment. So if you have an entrenched steam train style puller then starting the training on a different footpath or park can help your dog to realise that you are doing something new
4 - Consider your equipment
Consider changing your walking equipment! If your dog has never walked in a harness before then this change may also help them realise that you are doing something new. It’s also worth remembering that if your dog is pulling on their collar they may be at risk of damaging themselves. Head collar’s can make your dog more sensitive to lead pressure and slow them down, but many dogs find them really uncomfortable so they need to be introduced in a very slow and positive way.
5 – Prepare to reward your dog for their small successes
This will involve lots and lots of tasty treats to start with because really High Value Rewards for the dog help them to remember and repeat a particular behaviour. You may want to use some of your dogs daily food allowance by the amount of the kibble that we want to use in the training session. If the dog isn’t particularly motivated by kibble to start with then reduce the previous meal but use fresh food like hotdog, sausages or cheese cut into tiny treats. All this can feel a bit over the top especially if you are actually a bit annoyed with your dog in the first place. I remember not really believing that they deserved all these treats because they were the ones not doing what they should be!
6 – Teach your dog to ‘look’
Teaching your dog to look at you is a really useful trick. Dogs often forget where you are and some forget that you are on the end of the lead altogether! So, teach them to ‘look’ by lifting a treat from their nose up towards your eyes and then rewarding them when they make eye contact. It can be worth getting some professional help to make sure you get your timing right here.
7 – ‘Lure’ your dog into a few steps of loose lead walking
Finally lure your dog into walking to heel first of all (if necessary) by holding a treat a nose height between thumb and forefinger in the palm of the hand and stepping forward for three to five steps as they nuzzle the treat. When you’ve practiced this a few times then break up the stepping to heel with sits and downs. Concentrating on this new behaviour is hard so lots of sits and downs help to give them a little break.
You can now gradually increase the number of steps between treats and if they get it wrong you can use your ‘look’ command to get them to look back at you. You'll need to build up their endurance slowly and then vary the locations and distractions that you use.
Your dog’s pulling behaviour has taken a long time to be learned by your dog, so good, positive practice is essential. Entrenched pulling can result in neck injuries and so this effort now is thoroughly worthwhile. Enrolling in a training class is a good opportunity to practice this new behaviour in a new setting and around new dogs. To kick off though I'd thoroughly recommend working with a professional. Contact me now for a 121 consultation on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01462 504722.
If your dog is pulling like a steam train it can make your morning walk stressful for you both. It certainly used to cross my mind that this wasn't how I imagined it would be when I first brought my beautiful puppy home! Often you may find you pull them back to you and that helps for a bit, but before you know it they are back at the end of the lead and there seems nothing you can do but be towed along.
Which of these seem right to you? My dog pulls on the lead because ....
There are lots of reasons that a dog may start pulling on the lead and it could be all of the above! Most mid-sized and larger dogs will naturally walk faster than most humans, so our poor dogs have to learn to walk more slowly! This may be a new and frustrating concept for some of them!
This is coupled with the practical issue that once your dog is ahead of you and the lead is loose they may forget where you are anyway.
Unfortunately, rushing ahead of the owner is often a "self-rewarding behaviour". Pulling towards another dog/lamp post/bit of litter means that they get there sooner. They pull and the owner steps forward. Any behaviour that is rewarding is likely to keep happening and this is where the problem really begins. Your dog starts to remember that this is a good strategy to use next time they are frustrated by your slower pace of walking and your dog is eager to get to a good smell ahead of them.
Isn't it uncomfortable for them? Yes it is! And it can cause permanent damage if they are pulling hard on a traditional collar. The problem is that they become habituated to any discomfort over time. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to pulling and may actually enjoy it for its own sake, whilst others who are a little anxious may get comfort from knowing exactly where their owner is from the feeling of tension on the lead.
Luckily you can rest assured that you are not alone. I've certainly been there at various times with all three of my dogs!!! There are luckily lots and lots of ways we can change this behaviour which I will cover in my next post.
TIP 1 Positive reinforcement is far better than punishment or correcting a mistake. Training for treats and for toy are essential when learning a new behaviour, best treats are wet food i.e. fresh chicken not just dry kibble, best to train hungry. You can try mixing up different rewards mixing up praise, treats, games and even using a mixture of treats.
TIP 2 Consistency with your visual and verbal commands is key, e.g. stand with your arms wide apart facing your dog and call them using either come. Try not to repeat your recall command or you’ll always ending up saying it two, three or more times.
TIP 3 Practice even when proficient you’ll need to practice. I try to use a one in ten rule for my youngest dog which means ONE recall in earnest for TEN fun practice ones. Practice your recalls in different places including in the garden or in the house, short and long recalls, even just the length of the lead!
TIP 4 Stop them from getting it wrong. The old behaviour has been learned, albeit unintentionally, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t put your dog in the position where he or she can fail. Keep them on a long line so that can’t ever inadvertently get positive reward from failing to recall …. Unintentional rewards could be time to chase the bunnies, smell interesting smells or all the attention that they get from you chasing and calling them.
Calmly and cooperatively wearing a muzzle is an important life skill for dogs. It can be super positive to train too! So get the treats ready and let the training begin. You can even start with a paper cup so your dog gets used to putting his or her nose inside. Easy peasy!
Training dogs to wear a muzzle is important so they become accustomed to it and will accept it readily when needed or advised for a specific purpose. It's much better if wearing a muzzle can be introduced in a fun way rather than waiting until a situation in which they may already be suffering from fear, anxiety and stress.
It's a good idea to break the training down into easy stages and work on each stage until your dog is completely comfortable. Suggested stages:
1. putting their nose into the muzzle voluntarily
2. laying the strap over their neck
3. doing the strap up
4. building up duration
You may never need to use a muzzle but the right time to introduce it is well before it may be needed! Have fun muzzle training :)
Do you dream of be able to just go out on a relaxing walk with your dog? It can be really stressful for you and your dog if your dog reacts to every other dog that you pass. You may even start feeling stressed before you leave the house!
The first thing is to take a step back and have a think about exactly what the problem is, for instance whether it is all other dogs, dogs moving away or towards you, dogs at the park, on lead or off lead, male or female, large or small? How far away do they need to be for your dog to bark?
It's a good idea to write it down, and even to get someone to video it what happens. This all gives you a clearer starting point.
It's really important to keep your dog below their particular excitement or anxiety threshold from this point forward because no learning takes place if the dog is in the midst of a highly emotional barking response. If at all possible I would recommend ensuring that the dog is kept away from situations which would lead to the old behaviour so that it can no longer occur. The dog should be kept to calm walks only, avoiding other dogs and where this isn’t possible the dog should be given a complete break for 3 – 5 days before beginning to work on this behaviour to allow their anxiety levels and stress hormones to return to normal levels. If this fills you with horror because your dog would be climbing the curtains without their usual walk then please feel free to get in touch for ideas for support and ideas.
I would use Behaviour Adjustment Training and keeping the dog below the threshold let the dog see another but keeping them below their particular threshold so that they can learn to disengage on their own. I would use a loose long lead and a helper dog and handler for this. Starting at a distance with which the dog is comfortable which could be up to three times the distance at which he usually reacts. If the dog just walks straight towards the other dog slowly stop him. If the dog begins to show signs of stress or fixation recall them away and give them a treat; a good ability to read the dog’s body language is essential. A bit of professional help with reading body language as well as timing of treats can be invaluable here. If the dog is able to turn away easily and voluntarily from the trigger then allow the dog to continue to explore. This is a method of desensitising the dog to the particular stimulus.
Depending on the practicalities of the situation for the particular owner and dog I would also consider counter conditioning or training an alternative behaviour, for instance, a calm ‘down stay’ which can the rewarded with lots of treats. Really this just means giving your dog something else to do and to concentrate on. Some dogs find it harder to bark in a down stay and find it fun having a job to do for their owner. This doesn’t solve the underlying problem but allows the owner to manage the behaviour (and their own anxiety) and keep the dog from reacting and becoming stressed. If this behaviour is performed every time that they see another dog then the dog (and owner) may begin to positively associate the sight and sound of another dog (at a safe distance) with lots of treats and attention. A down stay can feel quite vulnerable for the dog and potentially increase his stress levels so it should only be used after the Behaviour Adjustment Training has been used to help desensitise the dog.
It’s worth being aware that dogs who are reactive in this way may have underlying anxiety or other issues to consider, so a trip to a qualified behaviourist could be well worthwhile if only to rule out other issues at the outset. You may just learn one thing that tips the balance and leads to a hugely positive result. At a good consultation you might also learn how to meet other wider needs your dog has to help your dog be in a calm state before any behaviour modification training takes place. This may mean including other mental stimulation and exercise in the house and garden and away from other dogs.
It’s really important that you are able to stay calm too! It’s so easy to use lead tension and your own body language to let your dog know that you are really worried about the approaching dog! If you shout at the dog for barking, from the dog’s perspective you are just joining in with the barking and adding to the intensity!! Keep your body language loose and to turn slightly away from any approaching dog. If necessary, turn around and go back the other way! It might even help to invest in a yellow dog tabard or dog coat which states ‘MY DOG NEEDS SPACE’ to prevent other owners inadvertently creating further stress for the dog. I felt ashamed the first time I went out in one of these but I was just bowled over by how supportive other dog owners were.
This is just a phase you and your dog are going through. Take some time with it and get help if you need it. You will have your faithful companion with you for many years so it’s a thoroughly worthwhile investment in all your future calm and happy walks together.