Gus returned home today....

by Steph Mahrle

So here's the scoop on #Gus the six-month-old #whiteboxer #puppy. He returned home today because he is struggling with separation anxiety in the crate. His separation anxiety appears to have lead him to creating a hotspot. Oy! The dreaded hotspot. For those of you interested in learning more about how to recognize and/or treat a hotspot please read this link:

It is a policy of mine to only perform board and train work with dogs that are crate trained. My reason for that is I typically schedule two dogs at a time for e-collar training. Doing this allows me to help more than one struggling family at a time. When the dogs are not actively training, they're required to be crated. Crating is for the safety and security of everyone involved. I consider crate time after a training session to be a time when the dog has an opportunity to reflect on the training and decompress. Much like how we feel at the end of a long day, we curl up in our beds, and recharge ourselves for the following day. Often, a dog will have a challenging training session, and "marinate in the crate" (as I like to call it), then the next training session is a total breeze. 

Crate training is pretty major in the life of a dog because it is the first place a dog learns to truly relax. A dog should be just as comfortable in their crate as we are in our own respective bedrooms. There are times in a dogs life where crating is absolutely necessary. Veterinary trips, grooming, and boarding. 

I really struggled with crate training my former dog (and company namesake Karma). Crating was AWFUL for both of us. Whenever she cried, fussed, barked, whined, or bellowed, I ran to her, and let her out of her crate. She quickly trained me. She had MAJOR behavioral issues which could have been addressed through requiring calmness in the crate. She had massive separation anxiety. She chewed and ate anything and everything...including garbage, multiple doorways, and a coffee table. She also struggled with potty training. I couldn't get any sleep because she kept waking me up frantically trying to get my attention. 

I actually sobbed hysterically in front of Karma's veterinarian when the woman explained I needed to crate train Karma in order to prevent her from harming herself. I had a lot of guilt about how I was often away from her working, and how I didn't have much left over time to spend with her. Surely restricting her ability to race around my home and destroy things was going to be detrimental to her...Just know, I can TOTALLY relate to this cycle of frustration. You're not alone and I can help. 

Honestly though, had Karma been properly crate trained she would have had a much less frustrating and frantic experience at the veterinarian, groomer, and in boarding. I should have put my emotions to the side and focused on how crating would be excellently beneficial for both of us. 

So for those of you who are in the middle of this frustrating experience with your dog here are some straightforward no BS tips to get ya through to a fully crate trained dog. 

1. Put the training collar and leash on your dog, escort the dog into the crate, and out of the crate using two simple command words. I use "crate" to enter, and "okay" to release.

2. Feed the dog in their crate. All good stuff happens in there. Your dog wants food? Awesome. Eat in the crate. Those warm fuzzy "ahhh I'm full" endorphins are released after eating, let that happy stuff unfold in the crate.

3. Release the dog from the crate only when they're calm...the crate door will never open up if your dog is exhibiting any of the following: tantrum behaviors: thrashing around, barking, whining, howling, pawing at the crate door. The reward of freedom from the crate is calm silence. 

4. Be reasonable, if you're crate training your puppy they've got to go potty once every 4-6 hours depending upon how old the puppy a four month old puppy needs to go potty every four hours, a five month old puppy needs to go potty every five hours, and so on. 

5. Give the dog something to munch on, a bone is fine as long as it is not a choking hazard. Verify the item you place in your dog's crate is age appropriate.

6. Put on some tunes man... smile emoticon Sometimes background music is soothing to dogs, sometimes the sound of your washer, dryer, or dishwasher does the trick. 

7. Crate the dog when you're home during the day or night. This sounds horrible. I know it. It's not though. The idea behind crating your dog while regular daily activities are occurring is to communicate to the dog, they're required to relax and aren't required to be the focus of whatever is actually occurring. Dogs (especially those that struggle with separation anxiety), have an instinct to assume the center of attention position. Eliminate that urge by insisting your dog chill out while you're handling every day activities. Your dog won't have to live in its crate all day everyday once he/she is properly crate trained. The idea here is to associate the crate with a calm state of mind. Once the dog understands that, they will have more of a calm state of mind, and therefore be more relaxed in general.

8. Don't get your dog a "buddy". THAT idea doesn't work. Trust me. In fact, the owner with the separation anxiety case dog that gets the dog a "buddy", ends up struggling with another dog that has other massive behavioral issues. Often the "buddy" dog has aggression issues...but honestly that makes total sense because if Gandhi moved into an apartment with an anxious tweaker of a roommate, that would be enough to make him aggressive. 

9. Avoid using the crate as punishment. Ideally it's a happy relaxing place. Dogs do not understand the concept of a "time out". They quickly forget why they are where they are, especially when they're young. If you're frustrated, just calmly lead the dog to their crate without a conversation or lecture. Then get the dog training so their behavior is much more predictable.

Finally, I just want to point out that Gus is welcome to return to finish out his remaining nine days of his board and train here with GKT. He, and his owners are absolutely not failures. This circumstance is just one example of a regular struggle dog owners experience. Once Gus is fully crate trained and not injuring himself while crated, I will gladly resume our training together.