Dog owners, when they get together, will tell stories of their amazing, brilliant, astonishing and misbehaving dogs. How many times have you heard about the pet who, displeased by its owners’ absence, left a “present” of the most unpleasant kind?
The truth is – he didn’t do it out of spite. Dogs aren’t people. People are the only animals that have an idea of “spite,” “revenge,” or “getting even.” That’s not to say that dogs don’t have emotions – any dog owner knows better. But most will agree that dogs aren’t planners – they live completely in the moment – a skill humans can only attempt.
The only time to correct a dog for improper behavior is when you catch the dog in the act. Revisiting the scene of the crime doesn’t help. The dog doesn’t remember committing the crime. Yelling at the dog when you find the mess teaches the dog that finding a mess is bad. Therefore, in dog logic, it will learn to hide the mess, not refrain from creating it.
If you’ve been tempted to accuse your dog of “spiteful” behavior because it does leave messes when you’re gone, it’s time to rethink what’s going on. Your dog isn’t telling you that it’s angry you left – it’s telling you it’s anxious and unsure when you’re not there.
It’s been said many times that dogs are pack animals. If you are the leader of the pack – as you should be – then your dog is, for its entire life, a juvenile member of the group. Your dog may be a victim of separation anxiety; it doesn’t know what to do when its leader isn’t there to tell him.
Now that we understand, somewhat, how a dog thinks, we can use that to create the behavior we want. Crate training your dog is a good way to alleviate many sources of anxiety – both yours and your dog’s. A crate, or cage, is civilization’s answer to a cave or den. Your dog can feel safe and secure in its den. A crate should be big enough to allow the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. That’s it.
Don’t project your claustrophobia onto your dog. It likes feeling safe, secure and enclosed. It likes not being responsible for checking out every noise. It’s happy when it has no decisions to make. Never let a dog make a decision – it will choose wrong.
There are people who resist the idea of a crate. They think they are being kind to the dog. And there are some dogs who do not need their crates past puppyhood. But if your dog is prone to separation anxiety, you’ll both be better off with a crate. If you’ve never used a crate, or put it away as your dog matured, introduce it gradually. Leave it out, door open. Feed the dog in the crate. Throw toys into the crate for it to fetch. Never, ever use the crate as punishment, nor as a substitute for a trip outside to eliminate. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone more than six to eight hours. If your schedule requires an animal to be left alone 10 or 12 hours a day – get a dogwalker, or settle for a cat.
When you begin crate training, only leave the dog in the crate for a few minutes. Have a special treat or toy that the dog gets only in his crate. Many people use a hollow rubber toy with a bit of peanut butter or soft cheese spread inside. Happily tell your dog it’s time to “kennel,” (the word you choose doesn’t matter, just be consistent) and put the toy in the crate.
If the dog doesn’t come – go get it. Never tell your dog to “come” to you for something it doesn’t enjoy. Place it in the crate, close the latch and walk away. Just a few minutes the first time. If the dog whines or cries, ignore it. When it’s quiet, let the dog out and tell her she’s wonderful.
Build up the time your dog is left in the crate gradually. Conventional wisdom says that the first 15 minutes are the best indicator. If the dog settles within that time he’ll be fine. And you’ll both be happy – Fido has no decisions to make, and you’ll have no messes to clean.