Crate Training Your Puppy

Crate Training Your Puppy

I wanted to share with you some of my recommendations for crate training a puppy. Many people have an aversion to using a crate with their dog because they think it’s cruel to put him in a “cage.” The first thing you have to wrap your head around is that dogs are den animals, and a crate for a dog is analogous to a bedroom for a human. Try searching Google images of “wolf den” and you will see that they often hang out in little dirt holes. It is safe, it is comforting, and it is their home. Instead of thinking of the crate as a cage for an animal, you can see that it is the perfect place for your dog to hang out when he needs a nap or a safe place to chill.

So my first tip is to get a plastic crate, or one with solid walls. I never put my dogs in wire crates, because they’re not very den-like. In addition, to make the crate even cozier, I sometimes put a sheet or blanket over the top to partially cover some of the sidewall openings. Make sure if it is hot in your home that you do not fully cover the crate, as this could make it a bit stuffy and too warm for your dog. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up in and turn around in. For bedding you can simply use a wool or cotton blanket, something easy to wash and dry.

Now you’ve got your crate and bedding, but where to place the crate? I’ve read some articles that say you should place the crate in a busy part of your home, so your puppy doesn’t get lonely or associate the crate with being alone. I think it’s better to place the crate in a quiet part of the home where your puppy will not be stimulated with the goings-on of the house. With a very small puppy who will need a lot of potty breaks, I usually put the crate in my bedroom so at night I can hear when he needs to go out and we avoid having accidents in the crate. During the day, he’s also in the bedroom, which is generally a quiet and peaceful place. If you can put your dog in a room where it’s easy to let him outside, then that’s great too. Our dog trainer, Kevin Behan, recommends putting the crate in front of a sliding door, so when you open the puppy’s crate he’s released directly to the outdoors. This is an ideal set up for potty training.

Now it’s time to actually use the crate! When you have a very young puppy, try to place your puppy inside his crate after he has eaten, gone to the bathroom, and had some playtime. He is ready for a nap. Place your small puppy in his crate and let him have a cozy nap time. He may whimper or cry for a few minutes, but if he is truly tuckered out, he should settle himself shortly. If you have a very young dog, make sure you are able to let him out as soon as he wakes up since he will have to potty and we don’t want him to eliminate inside the crate. Puppies grow very quickly and you will soon be able to increase the amount of time he is able to spend in his crate while also being able to hold his urine.

Another great way to acclimate your puppy to his crate is to have a second crate in the car, and when he is ready for a nap, take him for a ride in the car inside his crate. He may complain at first, but after a few minutes will probably settle down for a nap. Much like taking an infant for a car ride to soothe them to sleep, the movement and vibration of the car will make your young puppy very sleepy. Now he associates the crate with the soothing movement of the car, and he associates the car with being calm and relaxed inside his den! (But please, if the weather is warm, DO NOT leave your dog in the car.)

It’s important that you feel good about placing your puppy in his crate, knowing that it is the safest place for him to be when you can’t keep an eye on him or when you have to leave him at home. He will soon learn to love his crate and use it for safety and comfort. As your dog gets older, don’t forget to leave the door to his crate open so he can go to his “room” whenever he wants a nap.

Here’s a quick summary of these tips:

1. Get your dog or puppy a plastic crate or one with solid walls. 
2. Place a soft blanket inside for bedding.
3. Put the crate in a place that is ideally quiet, but also convenient to the outdoors.
4. Place your young puppy in his crate when he’s very tired and ready to sleep. 

5. Have a second crate in the car to train him to the crate and also to the car. It is much safer for your dog to ride in a crate rather than loose in the car. 

Hope you found this helpful, and definitely let me know if you have any questions! You can email me directly: Happy training!

Today My Dog Started Drooling and I’m So Proud, Here’s Why

Today something really interesting and fantastic happened! I was out in the yard with Eva and she picked up a stick (that’s not the amazing part, bear with me). Instead of playing tug with her, like I would have in the old days, I invited her to jump up on me. And she did, this is not new. But as I encouraged her to carry the stick around the yard and then return to me for a jump-up and a gentle push, something really cool happened. Firstly, she sustained contact with me for much longer than normal. Then, she ran over to our rock that we use as a box, stood up there holding the stick and–wait for it–STARTED DROOLING.

Now, sometimes when a dog’s behavior is out of the normal and they start drooling, you might want to take them to a vet. However, sustaining contact, calmly carrying and holding the stick, and finally drooling are all actually very good things!

A few hours later, she was laying on her indoor box (a plastic crate) waiting for dinner. Instead of giving dinner, which wasn’t properly thawed yet, I decided to hand feed her some sea-bones (non-affiliate link). So we worked on collecting, not just the down, but really getting collected. Something that has taken me a LONG time to understand is the nuanced art of collecting a dog, and the absolute primal importance of it. So I took my time. She surged. Hand fluttered away. She collected, hand moved towards snout. She surged, hand fluttered. And so on, you get the picture (at least, my fellow NDTers do).

As Eva got more and more collected, she kept scooting her butt backwards on the crate, creating a posterior tilt with her pelvis. Her snout wrinkled a bit when she went to surge (the common fear smile), but the surging and snout wrinkling eventually subsided and turned into, yes, once again, DROOLING.

After years, and I do mean five long years, I have finally, by the grace of God and the patient teachings of Kevin Behan, gotten this dog into a state of hunger over balance (for a few moments at least).

Sometimes it’s the little, and I do mean very little things that have the biggest significance. A small amount of drool–which to many dogs is a natural and everyday occurrence–means that Eva is finally becoming magnetic vs. electric, and going by emotion rather than instinct.

What Is Your Nervous System Saying to Your Dog?

brindle babe

Dogs are very sensitive to body language, so the least little tense movement–a change of gait, a slight hunching of the shoulders–can be observed and interpreted as something being amiss. When we’re upset, our voices can go up slightly in frequency as well. Dogs get these nuances in ways most people don’t. 

Masking strong feelings by acting like things are OK may not always work, either: It’s quite likely that dogs can smell fear, anxiety, even sadness… The flight-or-fight hormone, adrenaline, is undetectable by our noses, but dogs can apparently smell it. In addition, fear or anxiety is often accompanied by increased heart rate and blood flow, which send telltale body chemicals more quickly to the skin surface.

It makes for a trifecta of revelations to a dog: a bouquet of visual, auditory, and olfactory cues that makes dogs incredibly tuned in to how we’re feeling. 

–Maria Goodavage, in Soldier Dogs

These paragraphs from Soldier Dogs really resonated with me. I’ve finally come to realize that I’m communicating much more to my dogs with my nervous system than with any amount of dog training. If I even just relax the muscles in my face and change my tone of voice, I communicate so much more to them than months or even years of training can. (I have found that the imprint of the training is there, and now that I’ve learned to chill out a little bit, the dogs can finally express all the positive things we’ve practiced. So I’m happy that I put in the work, but even moreso now that I can finally enjoy it.)

From a conversation I had with Kevin last fall, I came to understand that the five core exercises are meant to be used to rehabilitate the dog, not to be used indefinitely. If you go on with them for years and years and the dog stays the same, then the problem is not in the dog.

I now see that if I have a continuous and unchanging problem with my dogs, it usually means there’s some part of myself that I haven’t yet integrated. And that is actually fine as long as I recognize and manage the situation. But at the same time, I should also work to gain some self-awareness about what is up with my issues around: load/overload, addiction, fear, etc. Because I’ve been known to get caught in a feedback loop with my dogs in which I’m stressed, so the dogs are stressed, so the dogs act out, which makes me stressed. And so on.

I now believe that dogs are like perpetual children who can’t yet self-regulate, differentiate or self-actualize. They are always are in a process of attunement, and constantly looking to us for the “answer.” Their nervous systems get entrained with ours, et voilà, your dog is your mirror. When my dogs look at me, they are analyzing my body language, and especially what I’m communicating with my face, which is connected to my vagus nerve. So if I’m feeling stressed by my dog’s behavior, and then stressing them out with my behavior, I have to break this cycle of disregulation. I basically have to change my default settings. (Which is incredibly difficult to do and can take years of self-work, therapy, an act of God, or a willingness to believe in some sort of networked intelligence for the human heart, i.e. our ability to self-heal.)

This is not to say at all that the training is not necessary and that we can magically fix our dogs by fixing ourselves. Absolutely not. But if you’ve put in the time and done your work with the NDT core exercises (or as I like to call them: doggy somatics) and your dog is still acting up, or just can’t seem to change, then you gotta look at what you are REALLY communicating to your dog. Are you unconsciously telling your dog that the world is not safe by your subtle body cues? By your startle reflex, hypervigilance, and body odor full of stress hormones?

Does your dog training feel like serious work because lives are depending on your ability to “get it right”? Do you feel physically tired and emotionally fragile? Then  you need to take a break, get yourself a massage and learn how to calm down. If you start to self-regulate, so will your dog. That way, when you practice your dog training, it will come from a place of emotional grounding instead of a stressed out nervous system.

Yappy Hour at Planet Dog

If you’d like to learn some fun exercises you can use to better communicate with your dog, come join The Evolved Dog and Natural Dog Training at Planet Dog Company Store for Yappy Hour on August 14th from 1-3 pm.

Kevin Behan, the founder of Natural Dog Training, will be demonstrating the five “core” exercises that anyone can (and should!) be practicing with their dog. These exercises build emotional rapport with your dog, creating a lasting bond. They also aid in keeping your dog grounded and well-balanced in any stressful situation.

Planet Dog is located at 211 Marginal Way in Portland, Maine. Hope to see you there!

Sometimes NOT Training IS the Training


Freya and Eva recently spent some time at the farm (doggie rehab) since I still needed help with Freya, and had also reached some sort of (albeit manageable) plateau with Eva. Kevin’s prescription for us: DOWN. That was basically it. He said, “If you don’t have a down, you don’t have anything.”

He also said it’s going to look like a lot of obedience work. Which normally, NDT is not focused on obedience, although eventually you do get the standard obedience behaviors from working the five core exercises.

The problem I had was that I loved the active exercises: the bite, the bark, the push. But I loathed the collection and could not settle myself long enough to relax my dogs into a rub-a-dub. I believe my nervous system has been fairly out of whack (on screech) for a good many years. That means I’ve been stuck in fight or flight, and in avoidance of the freeze response. Collecting and relaxing feel much like freezing (to me), and the reptilian brain only goes into a freeze response when unpleasant things are happening. So it’s understandable why someone with unconscious trauma may avoid these types of collection exercises. And it’s not that I had avoided them altogether, it’s just that my collection work was way out of balance with my projection work.

As a result, I’ve been overstimulating my dogs. So when we got back home, I set up “Leah’s Sober House For Owner Addicted Dogs” (and dog addicted owners). Eva and Freya were on bed-rest. Meaning, they were crated much of the time. After a couple days of protest to her crate, Eva settled into long naps full of guttural snoring. She was catching up on years of sleep (as was I). But they spent the sunny hours of the day taking turns relaxing in the yard. I’d look out at them in the yard and I’d have to check if they were still breathing, because I’d never seen them so relaxed before. Sometimes Freya would be sunbathing, and if I looked closely, I could see her nose working the air, just the muscles of her shiny black nostrils analyzing her environment.

The little training we did consisted of working the down, walking nicely on the leash, and evening massages before bed. This was the antidote for all the surging I had allowed in the years prior.

And it worked. I was no longer using my dogs to express my unconcious trauma. I was just letting them be dogs. It also reminded me of something I’ve heard Kevin say: “Up fixes down, down fixes up.”

So I would say what I have learned from all this that it’s not neccessarily that the down is the key to all of it (although in my particular case it was) but that if you don’t have balance, you don’t have anything.

And also, if you are a type-A, “too-sensitive,” over-achieving perfectionist, you may be unconsciously over-training your dogs in one way or another as an outlet for your unresolved emotion (which is basically fight or flight energy that never got discharged). You could very well be stuck in a load/overload cycle of addiction, even if your drug of choice is dog-training. Give yourself and your dogs a break. Un-training is the new training!