Dog Training/Crate Training
QUESTION: Hi! I just adopted a 7 month old male german shepherd puppy (not yet neutered). I have a few problems with him in crates. He gets very nervous and anxious. He will scream, howl, and shriek and also paw at the door and also bite it. I am afraid that he could get his teeth caught on the door and hurt himself. Also he's just loud and no one in the house can sleep very well. Any tips? I've put a slip leash on him and put that through the side holes of the crate so I could correct him. Eventually he behaved, but soon he's going to have to be alone at home crated and I don't want him to hurt himself. Thank you!
ANSWER: Thanks for your question, Sarah. Your pup needs to know the crate is a safe place and good things happen there. Stop correcting him with a leash when he's in there. He's already stressed and anxious. Adding physical punishment to that scenario will only make it worse.
The crate needs to be big enough for him to stand up, turn around, and stretch out a bit when he lies down. It should be in a living area or sleeping area.
Start to feed all his meals in the crate, but leave the door open so he's free to come and go.
When he's not looking, plant a high-value treat (tidbit of meat, cheese, liver treat) in the back of the crate for him to discover on his own. When you see him start to go in after the treat (and NOT before), toss another treat in there and keep dropping treats in the crate as long as he stays inside. Praise him the whole time he stays in there picking up the goodies. When he comes out, treats stop and you ignore him.
You should see him start to go in the crate more often to find the planted treat. Start to add a verbal cue to this behavior ("kennel up", "into your box", "crate", etc) when he goes in willingly. Always reward AFTER he has made the decision to go in the crate on his own. Don't toss a treat to get him to go in there. No bribes!
At this point, you can close the door. Feed him one treat after another quickly through the crate door for about a minute, praising the whole time. Do not open the door if he paws or bites at the door.
You should crate him at various times during the day while you're home. Ignore any barking or whining and give him a special chewy item (like a bully stick) that he only gets when he goes in the crate. He only comes out of the crate when he's quiet.
Be sure he's exercised well before you have to leave him in the crate when you leave the house. A tired dog will be more likely to rest.
Here's a good article for more information: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_11/features/If-Your-Dog-Hates-His-Cra
Training to accept the crate can take some time. If he doesn't make any progress with the suggestions I've given, please contact a trainer in your area. Some dogs have serious cases of confinement anxiety, but I can't tell that without seeing the dog. I can probably refer you to a qualified trainer in your area, if necessary. Let me know if you have questions or want to share more information. Good luck.
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QUESTION: Thanks for the response!
We have two crates, one wire and one plastic airline crate. Both are large enough for him to turn around, stretch, and stand in. I notice that if a crate is left open, he'll sometimes go in and come out right away. So I don't think he's afraid of the crate itself, I think it's the separation from us. Even if we're in the same room as the crate he screams and bites at the door, almost panicking. He also seems to follow me EVERYWHERE. If I'm in the bathroom, he paws at the door. If I'm outside without him, he stares out the door and sometimes runs around and whines until I come back. He doesn't do this with anyone else in my family. My mom doesn't really want him in our kitchen ever, so I've been trying to teach him to stay in our living room, which is adjacent to the kitchen; he can clearly see everyone in the kitchen from the living room. If I get up to get a snack or something, he follows me. And if someone holds him back or blocks him, he will persist. It's almost like he's obsessing.
He doesn't whine or scream or bite for as much time when I'm in the room though. He sleeps in my bedroom in a crate. The first night we had him, I just completely ignored his behavior until he quieted down. That took about 20 minutes. The second night someone was spending the night, so I put his crate outside my room so my friend wouldn't have to hear his whining as loud. He cried for about 45 minutes. And last night, I put him in the crate (which I moved back to my room) and just sat in front of the crate calmly telling him no when he exhibited whining or physical behavior. After about fifteen minutes, he was lying down almost sleeping. At that point, I moved to my bed to go to sleep. He stood up and starting to turn around and whine. I told him no again, and put my hand through the side holes to let him know I was still there. I laid in bed and told him no a few times for about twenty minutes. He finally quieted down, and he slept through the entire rest of the night.
I've been debating on maybe trying to let him sleep on a dog bed on my floor, because he has no problem sleeping that way. But school is starting again and on certain days no one is home for a few hours so he'll need to be crated. (My mom is a part-time college teacher a few days a week.) And he's a very curious dog and would probably get into trouble if left in a room un-crated.
Thank you for all your suggestions, I'll definitely try them! I'd just thought I'd elaborate a little bit more; give a little more detail on exactly what he does and what I've tried.
Thanks for the additional information. Start to discourage him from following you everywhere. All dogs take some time to settle into a new home and know that they are safe. This should improve as he starts to feel more secure.
Ignore all whining and fussing in the crate. Any attention to it reinforces the behavior. When he whines, he's looking for your attention. When you make contact with him and tell him "no", he's getting what he wants. Ignoring it will get him to quiet sooner and he won't need you in order to self-soothe when he's alone.
He should learn to get comfortable in the crate both when you're home and away. At night, you could make the crate the most comfortable place to be by putting the softest bed there and leave the door open. Assuming you don't allow him on your bed (you shouldn't with this dog), he may choose to sleep in the crate on his own.
Here are some good articles to read on separation distress: