The Primal Blog

Crate Training

Crate training. And oddly debated topic between clients and myself. I have been crating my dogs for so long, and it feels like such a normal and needed procedure, I forgot that many people do not crate their dogs and are against it for reasons I understand, but do not agree with. Why is crate training good? In short- it is a needed tool to properly manage dog(s), is necessary for proper integration of new dogs to your home, gives dogs their own space, prevents separation anxiety and is overall a good general practice. Crate training is quite the umbrella topic that houses many of the aforementioned points, plus more than I could cover or explain without going incredibly in depth.

 

People often state that their dog is already well trained, does not tear up things in the house while they are away, and therefore people see no need to crate train the dog. Generally, its better to have your dog crate trained, and never need to crate them, versus not crate trained your dog and then suddenly running into an unexpected situation where the dog needs to be crated. Next, I am asked, “well when would that ever happen?” Well dogs need to be crated at vets, before or after procedures. Say your dog tears their ACL and needs to be in a crate for the next 8 weeks, but has never been in a crate before. This presents a serious and very realistic dilemma as now your dog has had surgery, but loses their mind in a crate and undoes that lovely $3,500 cruciate ligament repair. Or a less dramatic circumstance, you are traveling out of town, your dog needed to be boarded for a week or so, or stay with a relative who doesn’t have a dog friendly dog. If you decide to fly with your dog- they will need to be crated unless they are a certified ESA dog or a medical service dog (even then, those dogs are required to have above average training and crate training will not be an issue). The point being, there is no harm in crate training your dog as a safeguard to ensure if they do need to be crated, they will be calm.

 

Now, if you have multiple dogs, there is no question in my mind that when you are away from your home or not directly supervising your dogs for an extended period of time, they should be crated. Again, I hear, “my dogs were all raised together, they get along great, never had any problems and I know they won’t ever get into a fight.” I wish I could support that level of surety, but I cannot because of personal experiences, the knowledge I have of dog behavior thanks to Mike (Primal Canine), and the simple fact of probability that come with making definitive statements- nothing when it comes to animal behavior is ever one hundred percent. Diesel was raised with Mason, at eight weeks old, Diesel was brought home and met Mason who was nine years old or so at the time. There had been no remarkable incidents of a negative nature that had occurred between them, just the simple corrections Mason would give Diesel when puppy behavior was too much. Fast forward five to six years- Diesel began seeking Mason out in the house to start fights with him. Areas of the house that Diesel had regulated as his territory became hostile spaces. If Mason was to ever get close to my bedroom, Diesel would staunchly make his way over and try to start a fight with Mason.

 

I had a hard time understanding this because I used to think as most people do; Diesel was raised with Mason, they had never gotten in a fight, they were supposed to love each other. But that is humanizing animal behavior and those thoughts and reasoning are not applicational here. Mike explained to me that dogs hit ranking drives at different times in their lives, the age of five to six is one of those times. Diesel had decided he was no longer going to be a submissive dog and began challenging the dog he had regulated as the alpha dog. I digress because even dogs that get along for years, even a decade, that are raised together can still have issues with each other. That incident might be when you have two or three loose dogs in your house and the UPS man knocks on the door and all of your dogs converge to the door at the same moment in a state of high drive. Or it could be one dog wanting the toy that the other dogs has- these situations can escalate and result in injury or even the death of a dog in your house. We simply do not know when or if these situations can or will occur, but I do know, had I not been home on the day that Diesel decided to grab Mason by the throat just because Mason walked past Diesel…I may have come home to a blood bath and a dead dog. And that would have been my fault and I would have never forgiven myself. Crating dogs while not supervised can prevent a split second incident from evolving into something none of us as owners would ever forgive ourselves for.

 

With that being said- it is never too late to start crate training. Doesn’t matter if your dog has never been in a crate, is an old dog, a perfectly behaved dog, is “from a breeder and has great genetics so no way do they need training,” or is a rescue and you think the dog deserves and needs ample freedom because of their past. First, start by getting a crate that is appropriately sized for your dog. Most people get crates that are WAY too big for their dog, once again with the thought in mind that crates are prisons and dogs need lots of space in them. If crate training is done and used correctly, it will not be used as a punishment or seen as one by your dog. Only putting a dog in a crate when they have misbehaved or upset you only creates a negative association, be sure that crating is not used strictly for punishment. The correct sized crate is one that your dog can stand inside of without the top of the crate hitting their head, and the dog should be able to do a 360 inside of the crate without being lodged. This does not mean your dog should be able to pace around in their crate, or run circles, too much room inside of a crate is not a good thing.

 

Crate training is all based around creating a positive association with the crate. Throwing a dog inside of a crate only when you leave the house for work is what creates anxiety about being in one. Dogs are smart as associate things quickly, start by having the crate open, throwing a treat inside, and allowing your dog to afterwards freely walk out of the crate, and repeat this several times during the day. Next, begin feeding your dog only in their crate (you will quickly see after a period of time when your dog knows it is time to eat, they will run inside of their crate and wait), this allows your dog to start spending more extended periods of time inside of the crate. Slowly you can graduate to giving your dog a toy/chew/long lasting treat (I use raw meat bones from Primal Raw) inside their crate, close the door, and be sure to remain in the area of the crate where the dog can still see and hear you. Giving the dog something highly desired in the crate, closing the door, remaining within eye/ear shot- creates positive association. The dog gets something it loves, in a safe space of their own, and you are still in the area. It is important after doing this to not allow the dog to come out of the crate if they are whining, waiting until they are calm and quiet is essential. Otherwise dogs learn they can control our behavior by acting in a certain way, like whining at the top of their lungs for hours. So this part can be frustrating, and for me, it required a lot of watching movies on my laptop with noise cancelling headphones. But stick with it, and your dog will learn that being calm and quiet results in being allowed to come out from the crate.

 

I feel like there is so much more that can be talked covered and talked about in depth on this topic but I hope this brief overview of a post is helpful to people who are on the fence about crate training, are in need of it, or just have not tried it and would like to as a safeguard. As always, we always want to do what is best for our dogs and I know it can be hard to begin crate training as it feels like we are taking away something from our dogs. I truly do feel that crating is in the best interest of your dog(s) when done correctly. Please feel free to ask Mike or myself about any questions you may have, we are always happy to help!

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A DOG IS A DOG SMALL OR LARGE

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E-collar, Prong Collars & Muzzles

E-collars are such a taboo topic among many animal lovers, along with prong collars and muzzles. My stance is that it is your job as your dog’s owner to know what tools and methods are best for you and your dog. Every tool can be abused and misused. Dogs have sustained injuries from the improper use of e-collars, prong collars, nylon collars, leather collars, harnesses, head halters and the list goes on. Realize that abuse with training tools occurs when an owner decides to be neglectful and abusive. Lobster does in fact wear an e-collar, he is the only one of my dogs who does and he is by far the best behaved and best trained dog I have. And honestly, I have a better relationship with him because of the e-collar. So here is the story of how I have arrived at e-collar training with Lobster and why I refuse to let anyone tell me what is best for my dog just because they do not understand or it makes them feel uncomfortable.  

 

When I first adopted Lobster it was clear that either in his previous home or in his time at the shelter, he was the boss. Don’t get me wrong, Lobster was and always has been very affectionate and sweet and playful, but, when it came time to be crated or told to not chew on this, or get down from there – basically any effort by me to deviate his behavior away from something he was not supposed to be doing, he would snap at me. His issue appeared to be only with establishing dominance with me, with my dogs and my cats he is a total push over and constantly submissive and avoidant at the first sign of conflict. Of course, I was surprised when I first tried to crate him by putting his food in his crate then slowly trying to guide him in with his collar, as soon as I would touch his collar and attempt to navigate him he would snap at my hand/arm/wrist. So naturally being taken a bit back by the situation, I backed down and backed away from him, figuring he was probably stressed out from everything that had transpired in the last few days. Going from the rescue in New York, to being transported from NY to Philly by one person, then from Philly to Michigan by another person, then driven from Michigan to Minnesota with me. In the following weeks I began to realize that Lobster had some deeper issues with aggression in relation to feeling any form of dominance from a person. To be put plainly; Lobster thought he was tough shit and in charge.

 

Over the next few weeks it was clear some proactive steps would have to be taken to ensure I was going to be able to manage Lobster and be safe in the process. I refuse to have a dog in my home that thinks he can do whatever he wants, that is not behavior I support and it is also behavior I cannot have with four bully breed dogs. As Mike (head trainer of Primal Canine) has put it, dogs quickly and easily pick up bad habits and bad behavior from other dogs. Adding Lobster to my pack has added another dimension of dynamic, making it even more essential that I establish rules and boundries – crate rotation, crating when I am not home, crating my dogs while I sleep, not allowing them on furniture etc. Initially I said I did not want to do e-collar training with Lobster, I wanted to try everything else possible and spend some more time forming a bond with him in hopes he would be more responsive to direction from me when we had a solid relationship. So we tried multiple things to ease then tension of crating like treats, and kongs and chew dogs and lots of praise, and instead grabbing his collar to direct him or pull him off the couch I tried having him use a drag leash so I could direct him that way. Lobster eventually became wise to bribery with treats, toys, food and would persist with whatever undesirable thing he was doing. Same with the drag leash, at first it helped to not directly grab him by his collar but then if I was across the room, coming over and grabbing the leash became as tense. He started becoming more confident in trying to bite me and small snaps at my hand eventually manifested into harder bites, and even a few attempts to get at my face that thankfully I was able to move away from in time. But I wasn’t ready to give up and knew no matter what I was going to keep Lobster and find a way to make this work.

 

The day before Thanksgiving, Lobster was perched up on the gate leading into my kitchen because he was super anxious to get into the car and head to my parent’s house for the holiday. I attempted to lead him away from the gate so I could continue to get things packed in the car but he refused to get down. I was finally able to push him off the gate so I could get into my living but as soon as I got on the other side of the gate I was frustrated and was going to crate him so I could finish packing in peace but tensions rose and he wound up biting me a handful of times on both hands and arms and on my left leg. Thankfully I was wearing a winter coat and mid-calf height boots so the physical damage was minimal but it was at that point I decided that if I was going to keep Lobster, we were doing e-collar training.

 

Over the next few weeks, Lobster did a board and train with Primal Canine and we started him on e-collar. Three weeks later, Lobster had transformed from a dog that had reached a point of being unmanageable for me, to a dog that I now have such an amazing relationship with. His recall is amazing, his off leash training and his ability to listen and focus on me is something I never thought was possible. Everything has been great with Lobster since December, we have had no incidents and I barely even think about or remember the issues him and I first had. He was meant to be here with me and I am so glad I never gave up on him. Gone is the tension between him and I, there is no longer a vying for dominance, there is no more frustration of trying to crate him or direct him away from chewing up a dog bed or climbing on things he is not supposed to. Because of his training I can now take him anywhere, around anyone and anything with confidence knowing that he understands that he needs to listen to me. Above all, I now have a dog that I trust, and a dog that trusts me.

 

We get dirty looks when we are out walking because people assume that Lobster is some unhinged, wild animal and that’s why he has the e-collar. It bothered me at first, worrying about what people thought of him especially because of his breed and what people thought of me…probably assuming that I am some monster torturing her dog with an e-collar. But the now I just laugh when people act judgmental about it. Usually the people who are giving me dirty looks are the people who have a dog hauling them down the street, barking and lunging at other dogs, while the owner is tugging on them yelling the same command over and over as their dog doesn’t listen with this growing look of frustration on their face. If you don’t want to have control over your dog, that’s fine. If you want to use other tools or methods to train and manage your dog, that’s great. Just respect what each person has decided what is best for their dog and realize that one method of training and one tool is not going to work for every dog. If someone has to muzzle their dog to keep you and others and their dog safe, let them. Because if a muzzle, or e-collar or prong collar is the reason that owner can control that dog and keep others safe – that’s sure a hell of a lot better than an incident occurring, and the price being paid by that dog because that owner was more concerned about what others think. I would rather see a dog with a prong collar being controlled by an owner, than a wild dog wearing a nylon harness.