Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crate Advice from a Non-Believer

Dog owners have mixed emotions about crating their dogs. You know what dog crates are (also known as kennels) - those giant boxes that may look to some like mini jail cells. I for one used to be a non-believer. However, years ago I flip-flopped my belief when my husband "won" custody of a Beagle version of "Dennis the Menace" from his previous marriage. The exploits of Bonnie (yes, she was a girl) deserve a blog all to themselves , but suffice it to say that Bonnie and I had many stand-offs in which I (and my house) came out the loser.

So, we had no choice but to use the crate. Since then I've crated my last four dogs and every foster that has come into my home. Cayman is my 12 year old yellow male. When he was a puppy he ate a garden hose, a tennis ball, the rubber rim from around his food bowl, numerous toys and some twine. He's had exploratory surgery 3 times to remove many of the items listed above from his stomach. Since using the crate, the incidences of surgery from ingesting foreign objects have decreased dramatically - like to zero. From my perspective, when the dog is in the crate, know that the dog is safe and my stuff is safe from the dog.

Crates are great for potty training dogs too. Dogs are pretty smart. They don't like to sit in their own mess. Just make sure that the crate is small enough that if they do "mess" in their crate, there isn't an easy way for them to get away from it. They learn pretty fast that "hey, if I 'go' in here, I'm stuck in here with this mess and it's stuck in here with me until my parents get home". I promise, it doesn't take long for them to learn there are better places to go.

You can buy crates at almost any pet supply store. They come in many shapes and sizes, and are made out of many different types of materials. Some are so nice that you might mistake them for an end table in someone's living room. Others are made from canvas and look like they came from REI or Orvis, complete with screened in doors and windows and stakes for planting them in the ground if you go camping. You want to make sure that your dog can stand up and turnaround in which ever size you choose.

Most recently I purchased two really nice crates from Costco. They came with nice padded beds that fit the floor inside. They also collapse so that when they aren't in use, you can hide them under a bed or in a closet. I won't lie, they aren't cheap. Especially when you are buying for a larger breed like a Labrador. But you can buy about 12 crates at Costco for the cost of one exploratory surgery. So, they might end up paying for themselves many times over.

Ideally, dogs shouldn't be left in crates for many hours day in and day out, so use your judgment and do the best you can based on your work schedule. Place a nice padded bed or blanket in the crate. Sometimes I sleep with a blanket or towel for a few nights and then put it in the crate with one of my new foster dogs, so it smells familiar.

Introduce your dog slowly by placing the crate in an active area of the home where he won't be alone. Leave the door open and let him investigate it. Feed him in there. After several days of feeding him in there, shut the door while he eats and open it after he finishes. After he gets used to eating in there, leave the door closed for longer and longer periods of time. Toss cookies or treats into the crate to encourage him to go in. Praise him like crazy if he goes in on his own or better yet, if he goes in and lays down.

Of course, there will be resistant craters. My favorite thing for resistant craters is to stuff a Kong with wet dog food (you can mix kibble in there too). Don't be shy. Get the biggest Kong you can find and buy the one made for the REALLY STRONG chewers. Really pack the wet food in there until there is no space to stuff any more. Freeze it and then before you leave, throw the frozen Kong into the crate with your dog. Because the food is frozen (and stuffed in the Kong), it will take a lot of time for your dog to get it all out. It will be challenging and keep him busy while in his crate, plus it provides him with a unique treat easing the discomfort of you leaving. It is important to save the Kong treat for this particular occasion so that your dog will associate this treat with the crate making the crate a more pleasant experience. The Kong can get funky with wet food leftovers, so just chuck it in the top rack of your dishwasher for quick and easy clean up.

Other options you can try for resistant craters are DAP(Dog Appeasing Phermone) available at Petsmart. Also Peaceful Paws is an essential oil that can help calm a dog with separation anxiety or crate anxiety. Last, patience and practice will help your dog become more relaxed and comfortable with crating.

So, give it try. I'm sure glad I did.

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