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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The little dog in my signature belongs to my mom. I originally joined this forum to get advice for any issues that arose with Nikko and people here have been so helpful. Well now we are dealing with a very upsetting life change in that we need to look into putting my mom into assisted living. So far none of the places we have toured take dogs, though they are allowed to visit. In reality my mom is unable to continue caring for the dog anyways, so most likely he will come to live with me as I could never let him go to a shelter.

Ever since he was a puppy, Nikko has been terrified of the crate. While my mom tried to crate train him years ago, he always cried and cried and would lick his paws non stop because he was so stressed in the crate. She quickly gave in and the dog has been sleeping at the base of her bed for 5 years now.

A few months ago I tried working with him to get him used to the crate using high value treats. If I put a piece of chicken right near the door he would stick his head in and get it. But as soon as I started moving the chicken more into the center of the crate where he would have to actually step inside, he would not go near it.

Teaching him to accept the crate is very important if he ends up living with me. My husband has some allergy issues so there is no way we can have a dog in bed with us. The dog would need to sleep downstairs in the kitchen inside the crate. Does anyone have some suggestions for what I could try? I am certainly willing to hire a trainer as he also needs to learn to walk properly on a leash. The last couple years he has pretty much just gone out in the yard to do his business. Thank you so much.
 

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He's learned that crying and licking gets him out of a crate. That has to end, use an e-collar or deterrent on his feet to stop the licking and, put him in the crate. He does not get out until he has been calm and quiet for a minute or two PERIOD. He gets a treat only when he gets in the crate willingly, not a lure to get him in there and, he doesn't get to eat the treat and come right back out, he stays until he actually knows he's in a crate and, has been quite for a minute or two.

When he's quiet first, then extend the time to 4-5 minutes quiet, work up to hours and, eventually all night quiet in there.
 

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Please please please don't punish symptoms of anxiety. Suppressing those behavior is only going to exacerbate the underlying issue and likely to come out in other, possibly even more unpleasant and difficult to manage behaviors.

I would also really strongly advise against the 'cry it out' method in this dog's case for the same reason. You'll want to start with really slow counter-conditioning. Don't try to pressure him into the crate at this point, just bring it out and feed him lots of treats and give him lots of praise and positive attention for being in the presence of the crate. Take the crate away and the treats and attention stops. This is called 'open bar, closed bar'. Only when he's acting excited, eager, and relaxed when the crate comes out do you slowly start working him closer - baby steps are the real key, until he sees the crate as the bringer of good things and not a scary thing you're going to pressure him into.

Sara Stremming has an interesting episode on her podcast 'Cog Dog Radio' about what she does instead of 'cry it out', and why she doesn't use that method. The episode itself is called Happy Crating, and can be listened to for free. Might give you some more ideas!
 

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The dog is showing anxiety with the licking of his feet. I would start with an X Pen and the crate inside of that. You can get an X pen that is 40 inches tall. Tie the door to the crate open OR take the door off the crate. Put it in the Xpen in the middle so the dog cannot use it as a thing to jump on and get out of the Xpen. I am assuming a small dog like the one in your signature?

All food is fed in the back of the crate. You put it all the way in the back and walk away. Ignore the dog. In 30 minutes if the food is not eaten, you take it up. It will take awhile, but eventually the dog will not starve himself to death and should enter the crate to eat.

When that is going pretty well, start randomly tossing a treat (high value treat such as raw hot dog or a bit of chicken). Just toss it in and walk away. If the dog goes in willingly, toss another in when he comes out.

The object of all this is for the dog to CHOOSE to go into the crate. No fuss and no muss.

When the dog will willingly go into the crate to chase a treat, you can start "crate games" to further make the crate a happy place. Another thing you can do is give him kong stuffed with lowfat yogurt that you have frozen. Toss it into the crate and he has to go in and get it. Again.. he may start to choose to be in the crate to gnaw this treat (or a raw meaty bone).

When he seems comfortable going in the crate and calm about it, add the door and then add closing the door and holding it for a second and then opening it. Again.. less is more and the object is to keep everything positive and happy.

At some point you will put the Kong or bone in the crate and he will go in and you will shut the door and latch it and walk away for a few minutes and then come back and open the door BEFORE he starts to fuss and carry on. Again.. you are directing this but building a positive connotation with the crate that has previously been a bad experience and an experience he has learned to manipulate.

I would use a plastic crate with a single door so it is like a den. Wire crates are.. sort of crap for this sort of thing. JMO.
 

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Day sleepers also has some good advice so you can try that too.

I think the X pen will help you in the short haul. The object is to offer choices to the dog and create a positive association with the choice you want him to make. HE thinks it is up to him, but you have set him up to do what you want and have that be the best choice.
 

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I absolutely agree that an x-pen or a carefully dog-proofed room with baby gates can be really helpful in the interim for a dog in his situation. He may still struggle with the transition to sleeping on his own, but many dogs with confinement issues do better with these setups because they give a better sense of freedom (and, of course, he'll have a nice comfy bed of his own in there).
 

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How is simply preventing bad behavior punishing it? it's stopping it so that the dog can learn to do something better. If I let my pups out of the crate for whining and crying the first few days of training, they's never get crate trained. Yes, I've had them bite the crate, try to chew and dig out, whine and cry for hours, try to chew bedding in the crate, all of which requires preventative measures ranging form e-collars to muzzles to bitter sprays to white noise.
 

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Licking as the OP described is a classic displacement behavior, not simply an undesirable behavior that the dog does for the heck of it. It's a manifestation of anxiety. Preventing dogs (or any animal) from doing a displacement behavior without addressing the core cause typically either increases anxiety, makes the animal resort to a different displacement behavior (perhaps a more dangerous one), or both - hence it's punishing in that it's a negative experience for the dog. With a dog that has a clear and significant negative emotional response to crating, I would not consider it appropriate to simply flood the animal by forcing them to stay in the crate, unable to even engage in displacement behaviors that might marginally mitigate the stress, until they're either exhausted or shut down.

That's different than a dog that's testing boundaries or is attention seeking. These days, I'm not a big fan of letting puppies cry it out either, but imo it's absolutely not appropriate for an animal that's clearly in an emotionally distressed, anxious state.
 

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I think the simplest answer is often the best one. Sure, over time I think leaving the crate open and loaded with goodies, or shaping, are good ideas. But I would first explore alternative means of management like using an Xpen, putting up a baby gate, or even strategically tethering. There probably is an option that is easier for this dog.

I know many dogs who are fine alone but have confinement anxiety. I know many dogs who are great in the pen but horrible in a crate. I know many dogs who are calm in a crate but will knock over pens and gates. But especially because you have a small dog, I think you can experiment and figure out which option is best for this dog.
 

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If the dog has already developed negative associations with being confined, and if you're currently using the same crate that your mom used previously, I'd consider starting "fresh" with a new and different crate.

I would try a plastic clamshell-type crate. Perhaps against typical recommendations I'd suggest a bigger one than usual, if the dog is reliably housetrained already. Give him plenty of room. In the very initial stages use the unassembled bottom half only, and no door. Build confidence and trust by playing a game vaguely similar to "101 Things To Do With a Box", although the objective here is merely to go into the half crate calmly and directly. A happy and willing attitude is fine of course. Over significant time, eventually install the top half, then the door, open at first, then closed for very brief periods, etc etc etc. Click and feed for position. Build a confident automatic 'stay' inside, slowly increasing duration each and every time right from the very first session or very soon thereafter just so the dog doesn't think it's entirely an in-and-out thing. And also have a clearly understood release cue. So basically it's: *go inside / brief stay / click and feed for position / release / throw a second treat a short distance away from the crate in order to reset / repeat / increase stay duration slightly / repeat*.

I'm all for 100 % choice, in this particular situation. Pretty much shaping only. No luring of any kind -- as you've noticed, most dogs will simply see it as a booby-trap. And definitely no use of any force, or potentially aversive equipment like bitter sprays and such.

You can do a web or youtube search for further details on how to effectively use shaping, and a general overview of the 101TTDWAB concept.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thank you so much everyone for all your great suggestions. You have given me many options to think about. Maybe I will try putting him in the laundry room during the night. It is a good size room and he is only 9 pounds so he would have plenty of room to move around. Instead of closing the door, I would probably try a gate so it feels more open and he can then see into the kitchen.

I just have to be careful what kind of gate I get. When my mom first got him and he cried non stop when crated, she tried leaving him in the kitchen with a gate. Well that little escape artist figured out that if he got in the corner and ran and jumped onto the gate, he could shimmy his way up and over it. And then he would run upstairs to her bedroom and jump up on the bed so he could sleep with her. It will be a challenge for sure but I will try your suggestions.
 

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Don't forget you can use two gates in one doorway :)

You might have an easier time crate training with a much larger crate. My old girl pitches a fit in crates appropriate to her size, but she's perfectly content in my other dog's XXXL crate. (To be fair, I think that crate is bigger in proportion to her than my college dorm was in proportion to me.)
 
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