My dog is anxious in the crate. She barks and whines incessantly every time I crate her in the house which, needless to say, drives us nuts! We are exhausted and weary from a severe loss of sleep. Please help me!
That’s what Jack and Maggie were experiencing with their newly adopted rescue dog Nellie, a 6 month old Australian Shepherd mix. I spoke with Jack and Maggie about life with Nellie. They found her picture on line and fell in love with her infectious smile. Her sweet disposition absolutely cinched the adoption. Their two girls, both under the age of 6 also liked her a lot.
The kids quickly lost interest
Once Nellie settled into the family routine back at the house, the girls quickly decided they didn’t like her that much because she jumped and nipped at them. When I asked how the girls reacted, Maggie said, “The girls scream and try to run from Nellie who gives chase.” Attempts to hug Nellie’s neck got the same results as well.
Now that I had a clear picture of the girl’s interactions and reactions, I turned my attention to Jack and Maggie. They described Nellie as hyper, nervous and extremely needy as she jumps on the couch and constantly requires their attention.
Feeling sorry for Nellie and her sketchy past, they both gave in to her need for attention and provided her with a lot of love and affection. Through repeated interactions that started the day she arrived, a relationship or bond was developed between Nellie and her owners, Jack and Maggie.
Even though she had an overabundance of plush toys and chew toys, the love and affection better satisfied Nellie’s need for companionship.
Love and affection – a high value commodity
I explained that all of this love and affection tends to be extremely reinforcing and had become a high value commodity for Nellie. When you cut off access to this attention/love and affection by crating your dog, the lack of social contact becomes too much for Nellie to handle. So Nellie begins to bark when crated as her way to relieve her frustration. Nellie is now a dog that is anxious in the crate.
All of their corrections for sofa jumping and jumping/nipping at the kids contrasted too sharply with the attention and love and affection she demanded. This was confusing to Nellie causing her to feel very insecure as to who was running the show. These insecurities complicated her life in her new home increasing Nellie’s anxiety in the crate. She was now barking at night as well. No one is getting any sleep.
More problems in paradise
Not coming when called was another big issue. This stemmed from the interactions between Jack, Maggie and Nellie in how they corrected Nellie for chasing the two back yard cats when Nellie would go in the yard to relieve herself. Trying to correct Nellie for her “cat chasing” created this issue of not wanting to “come when called” because of the corrections Nellie got–which was being crated. All of these became multiple sources of concern for Nellie and being her crate.
A program was needed for Nellie and her owners
More than anything, Nellie and her owners needed a lot more structure. Nellie especially needed more structure in the rules and boundaries that could be maintained over time – my Groundrules for Great Dogs approach. For the short haul – 4 to 6 weeks – Jack and Maggie needed to:
• Throttle way back on love and affection.
• Any love and affection Nellie wanted had to be earned with sits and downs.
• Once earned, Nellie could be briefly petted.
• This was high need to balance all the free love and affection that created her neediness.
• Nellie was also required to earn everything else: food, toys, potty breaks on leash (to prevent cat chasing.)
• Jack and Maggie worked Nellie daily on dog obedience training – short 2 minute sessions frequently each day.
• Jack and Maggie involved the kids in the feeding of Nellie and, with parental supervision, both kids began to get Nellie to perform sits and downs improving their own relationship with Nellie.
• We also implemented an “independence” program of rewarding any voluntary efforts by Nellie to be somewhere other than glued to Jack and Maggie.
During the behavior modification course of four lessons over a 6 week period dramatic improvements took place in the home of Jack and Maggie. They were thrilled as they were anxious to get back to life as normal – lots of love and affection with Nellie maybe on the couch.
BUT, I cautioned that time on the couch with required sits first should be balanced with time off the couch.
With encouragement, I’ve been able to help Jack, Maggie and Nellie maintain a balance between required work and the affection they all want. Nellie now goes willingly into her crate and sleeps through the night. All is well.
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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog. His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the step by step system to a great dog.