I’m often asked by clients how to reduce dependency on crates or extreme confinement and give the dogs greater trust during owners’ absences. I like to use metaphors to better help people understand the dog mind.
If we remember The Three D’s (Distraction, Distance, Duration) we’re talking about all of the above for increasing freedom when we’re not home.
Crating (or confining to a small space like a kitchen or utility room or bathroom, etc.) is a management tool. You can’t really expect a dog to go from extreme confinement to total house freedom without the POSSIBILITY of some negative thing happening (and remember, dog’s failures are subjective — the dog doesn’t see its behavior as failure) like eating rugs or furniture or walls or floors or some part of the house, howling for hours, pooping somewhere inappropriate, tearing at curtains, and in extreme cases — shattering windows and jumping out of them.,..my goodness, the list can go on (I should ask you to send me some of the really rotten things your dogs might have done — the worst I remember is my first dog eating a windowsill in a rental house way back in 1981, but I digress).
So let’s imagine you’ve decided you’re going to go climb Mt. Everest. Because it is there, because you’re a risk taker, because you want an excuse to go to Nepal, whatever. So first you have to get to Nepal. Let’s say the altitude where you’re coming from is different than Nepal. Your body has to adjust to the altitude. So you go to Nepal, you hire your Sherpa guide, you eat a few of the local delicacies, and you spend some time adjusting. Think of this as crate training.
Next, you gather up your equipment, your guide, your food and you head to base camp. It’s a little higher than Nepal. Whoa. You take a few days to adjust. Think of this as the crate PLUS a space like the kitchen. You start to feel stable, things are going well, so you strap on your crampons and fling your backpack on and whatever else people who are foolish or brave enough clamp on themselves to climb Mt. Everest and up up up you go.
Whoa, you start to feel like crap. Maybe your dog, when it feels like crap, starts eating the baseboard or the dryer vent. This isn’t very good. So what to do? I say go back to base camp and relax and adjust for a few more days or, in the case of the dog, go back in the crate for THREE DAYS (I’ll have to have a three day rule post one of these days).
Now you’re feeling better and/or the dog has been GREAT in the crate for those 3 days. You go back up the hill, er, I mean mountain. Up, up up to the next level. Gasping for breath and feeling headachey, you crawl into your sleeping bag and rest and readjust. Things are getting better.
You’re ready to ascend again. This time the dog gets Crate + Space + Space 2. As long as you feel up to it, you keep going up. If you feel not so well, you GO BACK TO BASE CAMP.
And so on and so on. EVENTUALLY you get to the top, plant your flag in and hustle back down. If you’re unlucky the weather sucks and you never make it to the top. And if you’re really unlucky, you don’t make it out of the mountain.
The good news is that the dog doesn’t really get altitude sickness, weather conditions in homes are usually fairly stable, and if you’re patient and do it at the rate YOUR DOG can handle it, the dog can have freedom responsibly.