At least once a day at work I encounter a patient who needs to, but can’t be confined away from its owner. Sometimes, dogs need to be confined because they are aggressive toward unfamiliar people and can’t interact with them. Others are destroying the owner’s home when left alone. Some dogs are not used to the new baby and are not ready to interact with the little one yet. Some of these dogs were never trained as puppies to accept confinement and appreciate alone time. Others were not able to be confined as puppies because they reacted so severely that the owner just gave up. Still others have made a negative association with the crate.
Confinement training is a necessary skill for any puppy. Confinement training teaches your dog that she can be away from you and it doesn’t have to be stressful — it can even be fun. This is a valuable lesson for your pup. We teach our kids these kinds of lessons all the time, don’t we? (I am ashamed to admit, but it was easier for my daughter to accept being away from me at school than it was for me to accept it!)
There are lots of times when you might want to confine your puppy. You might confine her to keep her safe until you know that she will not hurt herself when she is alone; to prepare her for stays at the veterinarian’s office; to housetrain her; to keep her from escaping while someone is working in your home; and to travel by plane, train and automobile in safety and comfort. Confinement areas, whether they be crates, travel bags or exercise pens, give your dog a cozy place of her own to enjoy her chew bones and other goodies without anyone bothering her. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a place which means peace and quiet?
The area that you choose to confine your dog is not as important as what you do to help your dog enjoy being there. Start by feeding your pup her meals in her confinement space so that she understands that good things happen there. Scatter treats in that area each day so that when she wanders into that space she will get a wonderful surprise. Give her any new toys, bones or chewies in that space as well. Make it so everything good comes from her special place.
Once daily, confine your dog to her special area for a couple of minutes with something great like a food toy stuffed with canned food when you are home. This will help her to understand that the confinement area is not always associated with your departure. If she barks for a short period of time, completely ignore her. Don’t call out to her to comfort her or yell at her to punish her. Just ignore her. If she barks for more than ten minutes and you left her with something incredible to chew on, she may have "Confinement Anxiety."
Some puppies cannot be crated or even confined. This problem is called Confinement Anxiety or Barrier Frustration. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the pups that have learned that the crate is a bad place because it is associated with a traumatic event like the owner’s departure or a thunderstorm from the pups that have Confinement Anxiety. Dogs with Confinement Anxiety exhibit panic when confined starting in puppyhood. They don’t just bark for attention, they cry for hours, paw at the crate and salivate all over themselves. For these dogs, a larger confinement area closed off with a baby gate instead of a closed door is a good place to start. These puppies need lots of rewards for accepting confinement without the owner for slowly increasing lengths of time. Then, as the puppy becomes conditioned to stay in her place, the space can be made smaller and smaller. Realistically, most of these dogs will not ever be able to be crated, but they can be confined happily.
Confinement is not cruel; it is a gift to your dog. It is the gift of independence and security, the understanding that she will be OK even if she is not with you.
Dr. Lisa Radosta