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Ending crate training

Client question:

How do we handle Lonnie's behavior when we aren't at home? We like to leave him in the main room with the patio door open when we are gone for a a few hours. He ends up chewing stuff even when we think we've completely dog proofed the place. For example, he somehow nudged our closet door open that was 100% shut when we left, and got into a backpack and tore apart the dirty socks in it. We call him Houdini as he literally gets into things a human can barely get into. And it's only while we're away from home. Can you suggest how we work on him to minimize the anxiety while we're away?


The Magician's Mama

My reply:

Many people opt to put their puppies in a crate while they're away because if they don't they'll destroy the place, which is the right choice to me when they're super young, but once they grow up to about 6 months or so I'd rather see them starting to get introduced to being left out like you're doing. And when you make that move it's important to make it intelligently. Everyone should understand from the beginning that young dogs who are left out will make mistakes, and that's just a normal part of the process. So put away anything you don't want destroyed during this training period like good rugs, throw pillows, blankets, shoes, electronics, or backpacks. It's up to you to try to mitigate the damage as best you can by "puppy proofing" the place. It sounds like you've tried. For the closet why not take a walk down to the hardware store and get a little hook and a loop that you can attach to the closet door so it can't be opened. Or maybe you could get away with putting a chair in front of it. You are definitely going to need to get creative, because he will if you don't. Block certain areas off, keep things closed, hide certain items that are just too tempting like magazines, wires, or things that smell like you like shoes, socks, blankets, or pillows. And consider some anti chew spray like Bitter Apple spray, which you can put on hard furniture or closet openings at his level, so that he'll be deterred from touching those areas.

I think you might be thinking it's separation anxiety but it's probably more likely it's just boredom mixed with lots of youthful energy and an increasingly curious mind. Lonnie is in his adolescence, and adolescents crave stimulation. They explore their worlds, and the do it with their teeth. And they have endless supplies of energy. Obviously the more tired you can get him before leaving him the better. A lot of our clients leave their dogs in more enclosed areas before we pick them up but say we can leave them out after because they'll be tired. Make sure when you leave him you leave TONS of toys so he has acceptable things to play with. You're going to want to leave something he can chew because chewing helps alleviate energy, and the strong desire to chew. Consider some interactive toys, like the Kong, or puzzle games. Go down to the pet store and ask them what they have. I have a toy that has treat filled compartments all over it that my dog has to uncover by scratching and nudging. You can fill a Kong with peanut butter, cottage cheese, or Kong filling and freeze it so it lasts an hour. For dogs like this I like to keep a basket full of cheap toys that I only dump out when I'm gone so the dog isn't bored of them. You can order a box of cheap dog toys on the internet. They're going to get destroyed so don't pay too much. It's important to weigh enrichment activities as highly as exercise with young dogs. So these puzzle games or Kongs where they have to think things through, along with lots of brain stimulating training, new environments to explore, and sights and sounds will tire your dog out and make them smarter.

In the end I think the important thing to remember is that he will make mistakes, but he will grow out of it, and that you have to really think hard and work to remove all the temptations or all the items you really don't want to get eaten. When you're home make sure to watch for any behaviors that you should reprimand like chewing furniture, grabbing a shoe, or sniffing around your closet, so that you can teach him there are limits to his exploration, but be fair too because he's still learning. When you're home it's time to learn how to be in the home. When you're not at home is when you limit the learning he can do on his own.

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