Some Crate Training Helps a Pointer Mix Get Over His Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 18, 2016


Woody is a one-year-old German Shorthair Pointer mix who lives in Gretna. His guardian booked a dog obedience training session with me to get him to listen better, eliminate his fear of the kennel, learn to respect boundaries and personal space and address his Separation Anxiety.

Woody was a little bit excited when I arrived for the session but showed pretty good manners in terms of not jumping up on me. However, once I sat down with his guardian in the living room to discuss the situation, Woody decided to give me a good illustration of some of behavior issues his guardian wanted help with.

Seeing that Woody obviously did not have any restrictions on getting up on the furniture, I asked his guardian what rules and boundaries were in place. After thinking about it for a couple of minutes, his guardian was only able to come up with a few minor rules.

Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety often are overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. This results in them entering a panic state win the human leaves them alone. Frequently a lack of rules and structure is a major contributing factor.

I have found the best way to help dogs that suffer from separation anxiety is to incorporate clear rules, boundaries and structure so that they see and identify as a follower. This eliminates much of the stress that leads to the anxiety.

I suggested some rules, boundaries and limits and showed Woody’s guardian how to enforce them properly. This structure should help Woody feel less stressed out and instead look to his human to be the responsible authority figure who handles things for him.

In the course of this discussion I noticed that anytime that Woody got near his guardian or even after being corrected for doing something, she instinctively reached over and started to pet him. The problem with this is anything a dog is doing when we pet them is what the dog thinks we are petting them for.

It is very common for a dog’s guardians to actually reward the dog in a way that teaches the dog to continue doing the exact behavior that they want to stop.

I spent the next few minutes going over a technique that will help the guardian stop rewarding the dog for the wrong things and instead give the dog some motivation to engage in habits and behaviors the human wants.

By always asking Woody to do something before his guardian pets him, she can help him feel even less stress and pressure as he will know exactly what it is that she wants him to do.

Im my opinion, positive dog training is always the best way to go. But sometimes we need to disagree with the dog when it does the wrong thing. As I mentioned at the beginning of the above video, I used a couple of nonverbal communication cues to disagree with Woody’s unruly behavior before going through my Petting with a purpose strategy.

I spent the next couple of minutes going over the rest of the nonverbal communication cues that I like to use to disagree with a dog when it does the wrong thing. Because Woody is on the more sensitive side, it shouldn’t take many corrections to get him to listen or stop engaging in unwanted behaviors.

I also stressed how important timing is when rewarding or correcting a dog. Many people are far too late in disagreeing with dogs for doing something they don’t want. The sooner or earlier you can correct the dog, the easier and more effective it will be. Same thing for rewarding them for desired actions or behaviors.

I always tell my clients to focus on a three second window whenever they are rewarding or disagreeing with their dog. After three seconds, its hard for a dog to connect the reward with the action. This makes it easy for the dog to understand exactly why the human is rewarding or correcting them.

I wanted to give the guardian another way to reach and connect with Woody so I shared a focus exercise with her.

By practicing this exercise a couple of times a day when there are no distractions present, Woody’s guardian should be able to get his attention faster and hold it longer when needed in the future.

Now that we had it covered communication, rules and structure – we were ready to address Woody’s primary issues; fear of the kennel and separation anxiety.

We headed into the guardian’s basement so that I could see where the kennel was kept. Because the kennel was located in a room that the guardian did not frequent often, it is very likely that the location itself was a major contributing factor to Woody’s fear of the kennel.

Only real punishment for dogs is to be excluded from the group. By putting Woody’s kennel in a location that she didn’t spend much time, she was unintentionally telling the dog he was being punished every time she put him into the kennel.

We relocated the kennel into a spare bedroom and then I tested Woody to see how fearful of the kennel he was.

By using some dog treats and positive dog training, we were able to help him develop a positive association of the crate. This is the first step to positive crate training.

Now that Woody felt comfortable going in and out of the kennel, we were ready to take our next step. For many dogs, the problem with the kennel is actually twofold. First off they are restricted or restrained inside the crate. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this only occurs when a human is about to leave the dog.

The technique that I have developed to help dogs get over this issue is to practice having them to be in the kennel with the door open with the human in the room for progressively longer and longer periods of time.

I explain the methodology to this rehabilitation method in the following video.

While the guardian is practicing this rehabilitation method, I suggested that she make other arrangements for Woody on the days that she has to work. If we force the dog into the kennel before it is ready while using this technique, it will take much longer to rehabilitate it.

While the process for helping a dog get over a fear of the kennel is relatively easy, it does take quite a bit of repetition. I go through that in detail in the following video.

It took a little bit of time, but by the time we ended the kennel exercise, Woody was laying down inside the kennel with the door open while completely calm.

As we were wrapping up the session, Woody’s guardian told me that she was already seeing a difference in his energy level and behavior. Always love hearing that.

Woody is a great dog. He simply lacked the rules and structure he needed to feel confident and to identify as a follower. If his guardian can practice the kennel or crate training exercise that I outlined in the videos, enforce the new rules and boundaries in a timely fashion and start petting him with a purpose, his days of going into a panic state when left alone should stop.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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