Case files: Beau, separation anxiety and chewing

I got the following email, and thought it might be helpful for others! So, with the person’s permission…

My sister got us in touch, this way:

“Hey Jenna!

I’ve copied H on this email as she is the one needing help.
She owns a pit bull named Beau whose story is almost identical to Lily’s. Lots of shelters, new homes and people giving him back because he has separation anxiety and chews everything up when left alone.
H and D (her husband), want to work with Beau to try and get him to stop chewing, but are looking for advice and tips on how to proceed.
Are you able to offer up any advice?”
I sent:

“First, crate training is a MUST. There’s a bunch of entries on how here:

Second, does he chew things up when you aren’t home? Because if not, then start crate training, take him walking daily (the less energy he has the less anxious he’ll be), and wait about six months. It takes time for dogs to settle in; with separation anxiety and destructive behaviors, the big key things are to crate him when you’re not home, and then burn off the energy, and let time heal his emotional wounds! There’s a few other things you can do, too, if you want to email me back with some details. (Does he have crate trauma? Does he destroy things when you’re home? How old is he? How long have you had him?)”

And from H:

“[W]e think Beau’s about 2 or 3 years old.  He seems ok in a crate. We’ve only had him for about 2 weeks. He gets super upset when we leave and he starts chewing on wood, mostly door frames and doors haha.. So it’s not the easiest fix.
He gets lots of exercise! Between me and David, he probably runs about 3 miles every day! 🙂
We got him a crate today and he seems to be doing really well so far! First we put him in there when we were home and gave him his toys in there to get him comfortable, and we give him a little treat whenever he goes in the crate and lays down by himself. Hopefully he keeps doing well with the crate.  If you have any other tips for crate training, let me know!
Thanks again!

“Hi, Haley!

This all sounds fantastic! If he’s that comfortable in his crate, start leaving him in there. (He might say, “Forget it! I’m not going in anymore!” Tell him he has to, feed him in there with the door open to keep it a good place, etc. I often put a dog’s breakfast in their crate just before I have to leave for work, so that they go in to eat, I close the door, and there’s no argument!) Continue to make sure he has toys in his crate so he doesn’t get bored.

That’s the first big step. If he can’t be supervised, crate him. If you’re gone, crate him. Chewing for anxiety reasons has two big aspects to tackle:

First, it becomes a habit. We need to break the habit! That’s what the crate is for: so that he can’t do it. It’s breaking the habit, and teaching him what he should chew on: his toys and bones, which are in the crate! Now, to continue breaking the habit, when you see him SNIFFING the type of thing he would normally chew, give him a scolding and chase him away from it. (A squirt bottle works wonders for this.) This way he learns that wood things are off-limits, and because he’s crated when you’re gone he won’t learn “they’re off limits… until everyone leaves!”

Second: the anxiety. As we break the habit, we also work on the anxiety. He’s getting plenty of exercise: make sure he’s also learning down-time. He’s old enough now that he should be relaxing at night, so if he isn’t — if he paces, checks halls and doors, constantly asks to play, harasses you for attention — then he hasn’t learned how to relax. Put him on a leash with his bed nearby, and tell him he has to stay close. No wandering off. Put a couple of toys he likes within reach. We’re teaching him to stay put; eventually he’ll start getting bored, lay down, and chew on his toys. Soft, soothing pets are fine, then, but otherwise just let him be so he can figure it out. Teaching him to calm down will also help him alleviate his anxiety.

If he’s having trouble calming down after a few days, or if his anxiety is simply bad enough, consider Rescue Remedy. You can get it at Target, Whole Foods, pet stores, and a dozen other places! It’s expensive, but will last forever. A drop or two a day often helps. (Any form — for humans or dogs — is fine.)

Finally, when he is looking stressed out, don’t soothe him. You can praise him — “Good job! I’m so proud of you for staying calmer tonight!” or chide him, “Silly dog, there’s nothing wrong,” but don’t tell him, “Oh, honey, it’s okay.” When we do that our body language collapses, and what we’re really communicating is, “I can’t handle this, either!”

Phew! That’s our two-pronged attacked. Keep crating him when you leave until the anxiety is gone; it will likely take about six months. By that time, the habit should be broken, too! “

The result:
“Thanks again for all the help! He certainly doesn’t need much help calming down.. He is the laziest dog I have ever seen! That’s why we were so surprised at his anxiety problems. The crate has seriously worked wonders. I think it helps him feel safe too, so he really mellows out whenever he’s in there. Your tips were all so helpful! He totally obeys the “go in your crate” command now, and sometimes even walks on there when he sees my grabbing my purse and keys! He’s learning to love it! He’s an awesome dog, he just needed some rules. :)”
HOORAY, H and D! They’re well on their way to having an awesome dog, despite his trauma at being handed around. It looks like he’s found his forever home!

Crate training – the basics

I’ve talked about crate training before, but I think it’s time to do it again, step-by-step. I’m gearing this toward puppies, but it applies to dogs. The only real differences are that dogs will either learn a lot faster, or they’ll have some previous crate trauma to get through and therefore move a lot slower. Whichever way it goes, just work at their schedule. (“Their schedule” = getting closer/farther into the crate as they become comfortable with where they are, or staying in the crate longer as they become comfortable being in there.)

When I start crate training, I don’t just shove a puppy or dog in a crate and walk away. We start carefully. I set the crate somewhere they can see it as they’re out and about. Then I toss treats toward the crate. If the pup is nervous about getting within five feet, then I toss the treat so it’s six feet away. When the pup is comfortable doing that, I toss treats five feet away. We gradually move closer.

Note that at this point, when I say “I toss treats,” I usually mean that I’m sitting on my couch, working on my computer, and every few minutes I toss a treat that way. This may last for HOURS. I might as well get comfortable.

Now, this alone will go a long way toward getting a dog used to a crate. As they start going in to get a treat, I add the words, “In your crate,” every time I toss a treat in there, regardless of whether or not my dog goes in. I also add dinner and breakfast to the mix. By the time we’re ready for a meal, the pup is probably willing to take a treat from just inside the crate. I set their food bowl just inside the crate (just outside the crate if they’re not comfortable enough yet to eat inside it), and let them at. I don’t expect them to go inside the crate to eat. Most likely, their bodies will stick out while their heads are in. That’s fine! I’m building up confidence and fearlessness.

As they become more comfortable, I’ll move the bowl farther into the crate. (I may do this all during one meal, by giving them only part of their meal at a time.) Once they’re willing to step inside the crate, I close the door while they eat, and open it as soon as they’re done.

Now, what’s happened so far is that they’ve made positive associations with their crate via treats and food. They’re comfortable around it. They know good things happen there. If they spook easily inside their crate, continue doing this until they aren’t spooky. This is the base from which we want to progress. With dogs who have no trauma and with puppies, this usually takes me 6-12 hours. I typically get a dog in the morning, and by that evening they’re sleeping in their crate.

But wait! There’s another step.

Now they’re going into their crate to get their treats and dinner, no problem. Many dogs will want you to step away from the crate before they go in: that’s fine. Now I close the door when they eat. No problem. Next I leave it closed for several minutes.

If my dog is quiet and calm, then after five to ten minutes I’ll open the door and let them out. Most likely, though, after just a few minutes they’ll whine or scratch. At this point, I tap the crate. If the dog doesn’t stop, I tap harder, creating a little earthquake. Because the dog knows the crate is safe, they relate this new thing to whining, instead of relating it to being in the crate. I might make my bad dog noise, but more likely I’m just going to be quiet. When the dog stays quiet for several seconds, I open the door, block them from coming out, give them a treat, and then let them out. Now they’ve learned that whining creates earthquakes, but being quiet gets them treats and lets them out. (I block the crate to give them their treat so they don’t feel they’re getting  a treat for ‘escaping’, but for hanging out in their crate.)

Step three! I’m going to add toys and good chew things (like kongs filled with peanut butter), and I’m going to keep on with the treats. Now when my dog goes in, I’m going to leave the crate closed for 20 minutes. Every time we start barking or whining, we get an earthquake OR I’ll use a squirt bottle. When they’ve been quiet for several seconds, we get another treat. Most dogs and puppies settle down within this first long session. They know the crate is a good place to be, and they’d rather not get squirted. I stay calm and quiet. When they’re quiet, they get treats. After 20 minutes, I open the crate, give them a treat, and let them out.

I will then immediately toss a treat back into the crate. If they run in to get it, I praise them and give them another one inside the crate. If they don’t, I just walk away. No big deal. What am I doing here? I’m teaching them that they won’t always get shut in, and that everything is fine.

I also take away any really fun chew thing (kong with peanut butter, bully sticks, the favorite toy). It is for crate-time ONLY. That way, if your dog really wants it, they’ll happily go in their crate so they can have it.

Using this method, dogs without trauma and puppies are fully crate trained typically within 12 to 24 hours. Puppies might have a lirtle bit of residual whining, but it’s VERY minimal. When I say “My dog is crate trained,” I mean, “they go in the crate willingly when I ask (even if I might need to straighten up and step away while they go in to get their treat), they stay quiet until I let them out, they aren’t panicky, stressed, or unhappy.”

It takes most people significantly longer to get their dogs crate trained. Most people aren’t professional dog trainers, so assume it’ll take you longer! But if it’s taking days, there’s probably something funny going on. (Most often, the dogs are perfectly comfortable at that stage, and the owners are lingering to make sure. If this is you, give your dog a little nudge along and see what happens!)


Crate Training

Ohhh, puppies. I’m boarding a puppy at the moment, a 9-month old welsh terrier who has some issues her owner needs help with. One of those issues is housebreaking.

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to get up EARLY because the puppy can’t hold it like my adult dogs can — 10 hours regularly overnight, and 12-16 if it’s my day off and I’m feeling really lazy! At 9 months, it’s possible for a puppy to hold it that long if you’ve worked on it. But a dog that isn’t housebroken and isn’t used to holding it — even an adult dog — can’t do that!

The best way to potty train any dog, regardless of age, is crate training. I know, I know — it’s MUCH easier to get puppy pads, if your dog will use them, and do it that way. And if you have a job where you work 8 hours and can’t get away, and no neighbor to let your puppy out after 4 hours, then that might be your only solution. However, puppy pads teach your dog something else: to pee in the house. It’s very common for a dog to look for the next thing closest to a puppy pad when you take the pads away: carpet. Small dogs are especially prone to peeing in the house when they don’t like it outside because it’s too cold or too wet. (Another option is to litter train them, so you never have to worry about it. Yes, they make litter boxes for small dogs!)

If you want your dog to potty outside, the best best best way is crate training. Let’s talk about crate training.

There are some common concerns I hear:

1. It seems cruel.

I know people have a hard time believing this, but a crate for a dog is like their den. Unless your dog has had some major trauma in a crate, and I mean major trauma, once they get used to it they’re not going to have any qualms about spending large amounts of time in one. Puppies especially should be sleeping 15-20 hours a day, depending on the age of the puppy. We keep our puppies awake MUCH longer than is healthy for them, assuming that’s normal. A crate gives your puppy a chance to calm down long enough to get the sleep they need in a quiet, dark, undisturbed place. This will make everyone’s life much easier, and your puppy happier, healthier, and easier to train!

2. My dog/puppy barks and whines and I CAN’T STAND IT!

Okay, I can’t blame you, there. I can’t stand it, either! There are two easy solutions, though, other than the usual “just ignore it and they’ll stop” solution you normally hear. (Trust me, I understand that frustration — I’m a dog trainer, and I can’t ignore it until it stops! I’m very noise sensitive, and it drives me bonkers!)

The first solution is to say, “Quiet,” and then tap the crate on the side. If it doesn’t work, tap a little harder. You can tap hard enough to jiggle the crate just a bit. (I’ve been known to hook the lip with my fingers and pluck the near edge off the ground by a finger’s width.) You’re creating a mini-earthquake, so the dog learns that barking or whining will make the world shake a tiny bit. It’s not comfortable!

Concerns: I have heard other trainers say, “This will make a dog feel unsafe or scared of his crate.” In ten years, I’ve never seen that happen.

The second solution is to get a squirt bottle. I don’t mean a little mister, I mean a bottle from Lowe’s that’s meant to have cleaner or something in it! Something with a powerful stream on it. This stream needs to get through the air, the bars of the crate, and hit your dog with enough force for your dog to feel it! A mist won’t do. You need a squirt! Don’t aim for your dogs face if you can avoid it; we don’t want to hit the eyes. And DON’T put anything but water in it!

Concerns: From trainers, I occasionally hear the same concern as above, and the answer is also the same! From owners, I hear: “But my dog LIKES water.” My dogs both LOVE water! They hate, however, the squirt bottle. There’s a big difference between getting into water willingly and getting squirted with something cold and wet surprisingly. It startles them out of their bad behavior, and that’s all we really want. Even dogs who aren’t particularly bothered by a squirt bottle will usually stop barking; it annoys them into good behavior!

Now that we’ve stopped the barking issue, let’s talk about making the crate an okay place to be. When I start crating dogs, I make sure they have at least two toys in their crate that they like. Every time they go in their crate, they get a treat. I feed them in their crates as well. I also put their bed in their crate (or piles of old towels, if you’re afraid they’ll chew up their bed out of boredom) so it’s comfy. Think of it as a kid’s bedroom: it needs all the stuff in it they might want so they can hang out and ignore their parents!

Once you have all that good stuff in their crate, start tossing treats in there. Leave the door open until they’re comfortable to go in, get the treats, sniff around for more, and come back out. You can give them more treats while they’re in there, too. Once they can do that, start closing the door for a few seconds at a time, giving them more treats while they’re in there. Once they can do that, start leaving them in there for a few minutes at a time. If they’re comfortable eating in there, give them dinner with the door closed and leave them in for ten minutes after they finish.

Build up the time slowly; when they get comfortable, add more time. It generally takes a day or two if you’re home all day and can devote time to it. If you aren’t, or if your dog has some trauma associated with crate training that needs to be overcome, it could take up to a week. I hate to say it, but usually if it takes longer than that, someone is letting them out when they cry — though the person may not even be aware of it!

All right, all that said… I’m going back to bed! All this getting up early to let the puppy out has worn me down!

(Not quite what you were looking for? Wondering how to potty train once Fido’s crate trained? Have no fear, just click here!)