Some Kennel Training Helps a Anxious Boxer Get Over His Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 20, 2017

Kobe is a eight-year-old Boxer Pitbull mix who lives in Bellevue, Nebraska. His guardian reached out to set up a dog psychology training session to address Kobe’s Separation Anxiety and fear of the kennel. It was so intense that he has been breaking off teeth trying to get out of the kennel.

Kobe was excited to meet me at the door with good confidence and energy. After sniffing me he demonstrated the familiar Boxer butt wiggle greeting I have grown to love.

I sat down with Kobe and his guardian to discuss the situation. I learned he had some rules and structure in place which is not usually the case with my clients. But when you have an insecure dog, a lack of rules and structure can often contribute to the problem.

I did spot a number of things the humans were doing that may be sending the wrong message such as petting Kobe when he is anxious, invades their personal space or demands attention. Over time, these interactions can actually intensify a dog’s unbalanced state or insecurities.

To help the humans stop contributing to Kobe’s issues, I recommended that they start practicing my petting with a purpose method. This involves asking the dog to sit or lay down before we pet them. This way the dog has to pay for or earn its praise. Over time, this can help a dog adopt more of a follower’s mindset which will help reduce any feeling of responsibility Kobe may have which will reduce his overall stress and anxiety.

I also recommended the humans use passive training to reward desired behaviors and some non verbal communication methods they can use to disagree or correct Kobe if he breaks any of the additional rules I suggested to help him move into a follower’s mindset.

After covering the things the humans may be doing, or not doing, that could be contributing to the problem, we headed downstairs to do some kennel training.

In my conversation with the humans I learned that Kobe was not crate trained. This is a common mistake many people make. But simply putting a dog into a crate and leaving is not training at all. Well unless the goal is to have the dog not like the crate.

Once we got downstairs, I could immediately tell that the unfinished basement was a contributing factor as well. Dogs are very social creatures and banishment from the group is a serious punishment in the dog world. When we kennel a dog in this kind of environment, it can easily influence the dog’s perception of being kenneled as it thinks the humans are having a good time upstairs and its being punished.

I explained this and made a few other observations while I tossed treats into the kennel to start to change Kobe’s perception of the kennel.

After about 10 minutes of tossing treats into the kennel, Kobe’s guardian commented that he couldn’t even get the dog to eat a treat in the kennel. This is likely due to not taking the time, past experiences and over suggesting. Although he wasn’t using the kennel as a punishment, there were times he forced the dog inside as he was late to go to work, etc.

As I mentioned in the above video, the key is for the dog to practice being in the kennel in a calm state of mind. We accomplish this by practicing tossing treats inside until the dog goes in without any hesitation. In Kobe’s case, I had to do a few additional creative things to help him start to feel good about the kennel before he would go inside on his own.

By taking our time and using a lot of positive reinforcement / positive dog training, eventually Kobe walked into the kennel without being so fearful. Only after I was able to get him to go inside with all four paws on his own was I ready to take the next step.

By taking our time, using a positive approach and a lot of patience, Kobe was now comfortable enough to go into the kennel and stay there without feeling panicked. After all, the door was gone, his human was only a few feet away and he had a belly full of chicken liver treats.

Once I communicated I wanted him to stay inside, I kept backing away from the kennel as I wanted Kobe to be restraining himself. This is a key part of helping a dog get over a fear of the kennel. Dogs with Separation Anxiety see the kennel as the enemy or obstacle preventing them from reuniting with their guardian. By removing the barrier (the gate and my legs) in a gradual fashion, Kobe was calm and able to control himself.

But being inside the kennel is only part of the rehabilitation process. I spent several minutes explaining the next steps the guardian will need to take to help Kobe get over his fear of the crate for good.

We weren’t able to film the entire crate training exercise, but Kobe did eventually sit down in the kennel on his own. As soon as he did, I immediately gave him permission to exit. It took over an hour, but our patience and positive dog training approach did the trick.

I recommended that the guardian enroll Kobe into dog day care while they work with him on the kennel training. I also recommended that he get Kobe a larger kennel as the crate they were using was too small.

A few hours after the session, I got a text message that the guardian had already picked up a new crate, relocated it upstairs and was practicing the crate training exercise we introduced in the session.

Aside from filming the video up and down instead of a landscape orientation, the guardian did an outstanding job, lol. As you can see, Kobe’s hesitancy of going into the crate was almost completely gone and that progress was great to see.

Its going to take time, practice, patience, dog day care for a few weeks and a lot of high value treats. But by taking the time to help Kobe get over his fears and training him how to behave using positive reinforcement, Kobe’s guardian will help him put his fear of the kennel behind him for good.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Incorporate new rules and boundaries to help Kobe start to adopt more of a follower’s mindset.
  • Consistently enforce these rules within 3 seconds to help Kobe understand what is and is not allowed.
  • Use passive training to reward Kobe for engaging in desired actions and behaviors (also within 3 seconds) while simultaneously saying the command word.
  • Whenever possible, disagree with Kobe before he breaks a rule or gets into trouble.
  • Recreate any difficult situations or scenarios that Kobe struggles with and help him practice each step individually.
  • Train Kobe to wait for the humans to go up or down the stairs before following when given an invitation.
  • Stop walking around Kobe or deferring (bending away) when he jumps up or invades space.
  • Practice the kennel training exercise multiple times a day and always follow them up by tossing another treat inside which he can get and exit.
  • When time permits, play with Kobe after kennel or other dog training exercises.
  • Teach Kobe a new trick or command each week for the next two months to build up his self esteem.
  • One of the new commands should be training Kobe to stay. This link shows the technique I prefer to use.
  • Once Kobe can stay, his guardians should use this command when they get up to use the bathroom, get a drink of water etc. This will help Kobe practice being alone.
  • Enroll Kobe into dog day care and avoid putting Kobe into the kennel at all costs unit the crate training is complete.
  • Start asking Kobe to wait for permission to eat food in the kennel and only give this permission after the human east something first.
  • Dump any remaining food and replace the empty bowl to the floor as soon as Kobe moves away.
  • Once the kennel and stay training are complete, the guardian should practice leaving the home for progressively longer periods of time.  Start with only 1 second outside the door and work up from there. Recreate the sounds that are associated with departures like picking up keys, putting on shoes, garage door opening, car starting, etc.
  • Practice the door answering exercise with the guardians playing the part of the guest.
  • Practice establishing invisible boundaries such as when food is being prepared in the kitchen, people are eating food, etc.
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