Reference Material

  • Crate Training: The Benefit for You and Your Dog
  • Introducing a Cat and a Dog
  • Introducing Dogs to Each Other
  • Managing a dog with behavior challenges
  • Preventing Dog Bites on Children

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Crate Training: The Benefit for You and Your Dog

By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant

Why should I consider crate training my dog?

Dogs are hard-wired by their genetic history to be den animals. A den is a small, safe, well-defined space. It is a place in which dogs feel instinctively safe. It is also a place that they instinctively avoid soiling. The combination of these two native traits are what make crate training, done in the right way, a kind and effective component in house-training your new puppy or dog.

A crate can also be a place for your dog to rest or have “down time.” If you have just acquired a dog, a crate can limit access to the entire house until your new dog knows the house rules. A crate can help with house-training by setting up a routine. For example, you can feed the puppy in the crate and, afterwards, carry him or walk him on a lead straight out to an elimination site where you can use a word or phrase to remind the dog what the trip outside is for.

There are other benefits of crate training. At some point in your dog’s life, it may be necessary to use a crate when you are traveling with your pet or when your dog is recuperating from an injury. Such potentially traumatic situations will be much less stressful if your dog is already familiar with and comfortable in a crate.

Where do I purchase a crate and how do I know which one to buy?

Most pet-supply stores carry dog crates; pet catalogs sell them as well. Considerations when buying your crate: Make sure the crate is big enough so that the dog can stand up, turn around and lay flat on his side in comfort, but small enough that there isn’t enough room for the dog to sleep and eat at one end and eliminate at the other. If you are training a growing puppy, you can buy a larger crate with a divider for adjusting the crate as he grows.

How do I introduce the crate?

You can prevent problems with crate training by setting your dog up for success. Your dog should only associate good things with the crate, so start by putting treats and/or toys in the crate and encouraging him to go in. Some dogs may need to warm up to the crate slowly. If your dog is afraid to go in, place a treat in the crate as far as he is willing to go. After he takes the treat, place another treat a little further back in the crate. Keep going until he is eating treats at the very back, then feed him his next meal in the crate with the door open, so that he can walk in and out at will. Crate training a fearful dog can take days, so be patient and encouraging. If a crate is properly introduced and used, your dog will happily enter and settle down.

Should the crate be used at night?

Sure, you can use the crate at night. Put the dog in with a treat and a cue like “kennel” or “kennel up” delivered in a cheery tone of voice. The crate should be situated close to you so that you can hear the dog whine or whimper if he needs to eliminate during the night. (Dogs will usually make some kind of noise rather than make a mess where they sleep.)

If you are training a puppy, be prepared for one or two trips outside at night to eliminate. If the puppy goes outside and doesn’t produce, do not allow any extra time for play or long drinks of water when you come back inside. Instead, encourage the pup to return to the crate. He may whine a bit, but if you have given him ample opportunity to eliminate, try to ignore the protest and the puppy should settle down quickly.

How much time in the crate is okay?

No dog, young or old, should be living in a crate full-time. Dogs are social animals, so for a dog to have a good quality of life, social isolation should be kept to a minimum. All dogs need daily exercise and some interaction with others. Even four hours in a crate without a break during the day is a long time for many adult dogs, so we don’t recommend that you crate your dog if you’re gone all day. Except for nighttime, crating a dog for long periods of time is not acceptable.

Puppies, especially, should not be left in a crate for long periods of time (more than two hours). It is important that puppies not be neglected and forced to break their instinctive aversion to soiling their sleeping area. Unfortunately, this is what happens to many pet-store puppies and it can lead to serious house-training difficulties. Also, since they are still developing, puppies have even more need for social interaction than adult dogs. If they aren’t socialized to the world while they are young, they can develop fears and aberrant behaviors of many kinds.

Most adult dogs can stay in a crate for the entire night without a trip outside. However, young puppies and some old dogs cannot physically hold their bladders and bowels through the night.

When should a crate not be used?

A crate should not be used as a form of punishment. As mentioned earlier, your dog should have only warm, fuzzy feelings about her crate. Even though a dog can come to see her crate as a safe place, it is not the solution for a dog with separation anxiety, since she could injure herself trying to get out.

Introducing a Cat and a Dog

By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant

Some dogs do fine living with cats; others simply cannot live safely with felines.

How to introduce a dog to a cat

Even if the dog has cat experience and the cat has lived with a dog before, proceed cautiously during the first introduction. It’s best to have two people present, one to intervene with each animal if necessary. If you have more than one dog, introduce each dog separately to the cat.

Watch animals’ body language

The dog should be held on a loose lead. One person should watch the dog’s body language and the other should watch the cat’s. If the cat is not acting aggressively (raising his back, hissing) toward the dog, he can be allowed to move around freely. A cat is rarely a threat to a dog, but there are some cats who will meet dogs aggressively. If the dog is not acting aggressively toward the cat, then you can ask the dog to sit, or lie down and stay, while the cat moves around freely, sniffing the dog if he wishes. The dog should be praised and rewarded if she ignores the cat.

Prey instinct in dogs

If the dog has a strong prey instinct, she will become very focused; she’ll stiffen and stare, and may start barking or whining. If you see these signs, do not allow the dog near the cat. Especially, do not allow the dog to chase the cat. If the dog lunges and tries to chase the cat, you should try a different strategy for getting them to share space.

Instead, put the cat in a bedroom with a tall baby gate across the door. Give the kitty all needed supplies: litter box, food and water. Allow the dog to view the cat briefly through the gate, and then get the dog to focus on something else, like playing or practicing cues. Praise and reward the dog for being able to focus elsewhere. Continue to give the dog short viewings of the cat throughout the day.

The hope here is that the dog will eventually lose interest in the kitty. In some cases, the dog will lose interest in the cat within a couple of hours, but some need days, and others simply will not be able to share a space safely with a cat. If you don’t feel you can trust your dog around your cat, you should keep them apart. Many dogs can injure or kill a cat very quickly, and dogs can also be injured by cats (eye injuries are not uncommon).

Handling kittens and puppies

Now, about kittens and puppies: If you are introducing a kitten to more than one dog, again, introduce only one dog at a time. Small kittens may not have any fear of dogs, so you must watch the dog carefully. If your dog is young and high energy, he could hurt or kill the kitten simply by trying to play. Because kittens are small and want to run and play, dogs with a strong prey drive may be very excited by a kitten’s movements.

In fact, kittens and dogs should not be left alone at all. Even if your dog is okay with your adult cats, she may become too rough with a kitten and hurt him. So, for safety’s sake, keep small kittens and dogs apart any time you are not watching them.

Introducing puppies and adult cats can sometimes be easy, since a well-socialized adult cat will quickly stand up for himself and “tell” a puppy to respect his personal cat space. However, if your rambunctious puppy is chasing your shy cat, the cat may need your help to control the puppy. Until the puppy is old enough to have more self-control and has had some training, baby gates can be used to keep the animals safely and comfortably apart.

Seeking help from a professional

Animals with good past experience often adjust well and quickly. But, if introductions do not go well, seek professional help from a behaviorist. Don’t ever use punishment: It will not help and it could make matters much worse.

Introducing Dogs to Each Other

By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant

If you have a dog and a new one will be entering or visiting your home, there are things you can do to ensure that the meeting comes off without a hitch. A new dog can mean you are bringing home a foster dog or a new puppy; someone who has a dog is moving into your house; or someone is visiting with a dog.

If you know that both dogs are very social with other dogs, the meeting should be easy. But, you may not know this, since some dogs don’t get out and mix with other dogs that much. If your dog (or the new dog) has not been spayed/neutered, the meeting may be more difficult.

If you are uncertain how one (or both) of the dogs will react, be cautious. First, the dogs will need to meet on neutral ground. Choose a place where neither dog is likely to feel territorial. Even your dog’s favorite park is not a good spot, unless it is a dog park (dogs are often used to meeting other dogs there). If you are adopting a dog from a shelter, ask the staff if they can help to introduce the dogs. If your dog is accustomed to meeting dogs at a pet supply store like PetSmart or Petco, you can ask their trainer to help with the introduction. The dogs could casually meet while you are on a shopping trip.

When the meeting occurs, have each dog on lead, each with a calm, relaxed adult handler. Keep the leads loose, since tension on the leash might communicate to the dog that you are fearful or anxious about their meeting. Walk the dogs side by side with a safe distance between the dogs. Then, cross paths (still maintaining that distance) and allow the dogs to smell where the other has walked.

Next, let the dogs meet. As the dogs approach each other, watch their body language closely, paying attention to the entire body. The dogs may need to do a little posturing or make a little noise, but if you don’t know how to tell the difference between dogs getting to know each other and dogs who don’t like each other, have someone there who does.

Do not allow nose-to-nose greetings. This type of greeting is very stressful for many dogs, particularly those who are fearful or feel threatened by eye contact. For these dogs, nose-to-nose greetings may cause them to make a bad decision and bite. When dogs first look into each other’s eyes, the appropriate behavior is to give a glance and then look away. A hard stare into another dog’s eyes is a challenge — not a friendly way to greet. If the dogs practice inappropriate behavior like stiffening, staring or threats, try to get the dogs to focus back on walking.

If they stiffen their bodies and stare into each other’s eyes with their hair up and their teeth bared, they probably aren’t going to become fast friends. If they lunge at each other and try to fight, separate them and don’t try further introductions without help from someone with experience in dog training and behavior. Some dogs cannot safely interact with other animals and therefore should be the only pet in the home. Most, however, can be taught to ignore other animals while out in public.

If the dogs try to play by pawing or play-bowing with their legs stretched out in front of them, they may want to be best buddies. Allow them to sniff each other, and give praise for a nice greeting. If you want, you can take them for a walk together, stopping occasionally to allow them to sniff and investigate each other.

If neither of the dogs is food aggressive, you can practice cues that they know and give treats as rewards. Giving treats can also serve to distract the dogs from focusing too much on each other.

If the dogs seem fine with each other, drive them home and settle in, but make sure you’ve put away your dog’s toys, bones and food bowls first, since these items may be sources of conflict. If you’re going to offer “high-value” items like Kongs or chews, it may be best to separate the dogs. Once the dogs are good friends, they may be more willing to chomp side by side on high-value items.

To introduce a puppy to a dog, use the same procedure as above. But, if the puppy is under four months old, both the dog and the puppy may need frequent breaks from each other. Some adult dogs will quickly lose patience with puppy energy. If the dog does not like the puppy, do not leave them alone together.

If you are not confident or comfortable at any point, please seek help from someone who is knowledgeable about dog behavior.

Managing a dog with behavior challenges

By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant

I have met many dogs with behavior challenges whose people want to keep them and help them, but they just don’t know how. This resource can help people learn how to manage dogs with behavior challenges like aggression.

Managing dog behavior problems

“Managing” means doing what is required to keep your dog from getting into trouble, while offering him great quality of life. It involves getting to know your dog, helping him to become as social as possible, supervising your dog when necessary – with the ultimate goal of keeping him safe for life.

You probably know that it’s not OK to allow your dog to injure a person or another animal. But, it’s also unacceptable to let your dog practice inappropriate or threatening behavior (such as lunging or nipping), even if that behavior hasn’t led to injury. Don’t wait for your dog to bite someone before getting help.

If you allow your dog to continue threatening behavior, you are putting yourself, the dog and others in danger. Without help, the dog can make bad decisions that may result in physical damage to a person or another animal, and could ultimately cost the dog her life. Don’t take that chance: Learn how to manage your dog so everyone stays safe.

There are various tools and techniques that can help dogs who are currently exhibiting dangerous behavior. I recommend reading this resource (and the others mentioned below) and working with a kind, gentle trainer, a veterinarian, and your family and friends to help your dog become less fearful and more comfortable in the world.

Fear and a lack of positive experiences are the main reasons for aggression in dogs. (For more information, see the resource called “Dogs and Aggression.”) You should be aware, though, that aggression can be genetic: Not every dog is born genetically stable. Your vet can help you determine if there’s a genetic component to your dog’s aggressiveness.

Get to know your dog

Just like people, dogs communicate using “body language,” so your dog is communicating with his entire body, not just his tail or his voice. To know how your dog is feeling, you’ll need to learn to read your particular dog’s body language.

Many people chastise a dog for growling, thinking that the dog is being “bad.” But growling is actually a good way for your dog to communicate. Growling is his way of saying he is feeling threatened by something or someone. If you punish your dog for growling, you will have less warning before a possible bite.

Socialize your dog

Many dogs with behavior challenges can learn to feel better about other animals, including people. If your dog is aggressive and fearful because she hasn’t had a lot of positive experiences, there is a good chance that you can have a more comfortable, less aggressive dog if you work with her gently and consistently.

Before starting any training with your dog, please bring the dog to your vet for a medical exam. You’ll want to rule out medical causes for the dog’s aggressive behavior.

Start the training by teaching basic cues using reward-based training methods. Be a kind, gentle, patient leader. Don’t expect your dog to know what you want; you’ll need to teach him to focus and learn from you. So, work with the dog in your home, away from distractions. Teaching him in your home is going to help him know what you are asking for when you need him to focus on you in all other situations.

In every interaction with your dog, think in terms of building a positive relationship: He must be able to trust you. Give plenty of rewards, but have the dog earn them. Ask the dog to give you a sit or a “down” before you give a treat. He should learn to wait for everything he wants. Remember, too, that even though training is a serious thing, learning should be fun for your dog.

If it’s warranted, train your dog using a muzzle. Again, focus on the positive: Teach your dog to look forward to wearing her muzzle. For more details on the use of muzzles for training, read “Muzzles: A Tool to Keep Everyone Safe.” This resource will help you to work safely with your dog to change how she feels about new people and other animals.

If at any point during training you feel that your dog may injure you, stop! Think about what you were doing. Keep in mind that progress takes time; if you were pushing too far or too fast, slow down. Back up a step or two — to a place where the dog was having fun. Check your tone and emotion. Did you become frustrated or angry? Could the dog have felt threatened? Most genetically stable dogs will respond to kind, gentle training by making steady progress. If you do reach a plateau and your dog stops making progress, make an appointment with your veterinarian for another medical checkup. Any kind of pain, infection or injury may have a negative effect on a dog’s behavior.

Finally, learning and using socialization skills is a lifelong process for the dog. Keep practicing and rewarding her for the rest of her life. Your goal is a relaxed dog who is comfortable in the world and can enjoy a wide variety of experiences — doing more while staying safe.

Preventing Dog Bites on Children

By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant

Children can have the most amazing relationships with dogs if both are taught how to properly interact and respect each other. Proper training and management of both children and dogs can prevent tragedies from ever happening.

Dog bites on children

When a child is bitten, both the child and the dog pay a high price. Even if the child is not physically damaged, he or she is still emotionally affected. The dog may end up homeless (and a poor adoption prospect) in a shelter or be destroyed as a future safety precaution.

What does my child need to know to prevent dog bites?

  • Teach your children that they should never tease a dog. Teach them to be especially gentle and calm around dogs that they don’t know.
  • Tell your children not to run, jump or scream around an unfamiliar dog, since you are unaware of what actions may cause fear or predatory aggression in that animal.
  • Children are often the same size as dogs and may stare into a dog’s eyes without meaning to or without understanding that the dog may feel threatened.
  • Tell your children not to wake up a sleeping dog. The dog may be startled and react aggressively.
  • Tell your children not to climb on any dog, even the family dog. It may be perfectly safe with your own dog, but children may try this with another dog and get bitten.
  • Tell your children not to pet strange dogs without asking permission.

What does my dog need to know?

  • Socialize your puppy or dog to children. Watch your puppy or dog as she plays with children; stop the play if the child or the dog gets too rough.
  • First, handle all of his body parts. If your dog objects to any part of his body being handled, go to an area of his body that he likes to have touched. As you talk soothingly to him, begin touching him there and then move over to the area that he does not like. Praise him if he does not react, and do this over and over until the dog is fine with touch everywhere. Use treats in addition to praise if necessary.

What do I need to know?

  • Have your whole family go to training classes with the dog. Everyone in your family should have some understanding of acceptable dog behavior.
  • Don’t stare into a dog’s eyes, since this can be threatening to him.
  • Watch your dog carefully around other people’s children, since he or she does not know those children, and you can’t be certain of how your dog will react.
  • Get your dog checked out by a vet if your dog’s behavior suddenly changes (i.e., she becomes more irritable). Sudden negative behavior change may mean your dog is in pain and needs medical attention.

Finally, if you have a dog that is not okay around children, it is your responsibility to protect your dog from her tendencies. Never allow her to be in a situation where she might bite a child. If you teach both children and dogs how to properly interact, they will enjoy a wonderful, safe, fun relationship.