- MJ Stoltz
The Single Most Important Skill You NEED to Teach your Dog.
Have you ever stopped to think about all the incredible things we can teach our dogs?
What’s even more amazing is all the things our dogs learn from us without us even trying… the good and the bad.
We don’t often think of it this way, but our dog’s are learning from us every single moment of the day. They’re learning our habits, our routines, what they can get away with, what we get a kick out of, how they can trick us into giving them part of our lunch…. The list goes on and on.
The reality is we’re training our dogs, even when we aren’t trying to train our dogs. And we don’t just teach them commands like sit, lay down, and all the cute tricks we show off to our friends. We also teach them how to live. Sometimes we do a great job! But, sometimes we forget to teach them some fundamental skills.
Our dog’s rely on us to teach them the skills they need not just to be well-behaved, but to be happy. To be at peace.
Here’s an example. Have you ever met a dog who just couldn’t seem to calm down? Who can’t seem to ever just lay down and relax? I see this a lot. With the best of intentions we tend to spend so much time entertaining, engaging with, playing with, talking to, and petting our dogs that they don’t actually know how to do absolutely nothing. Can you imagine not ever being able to relax after a long day? How stressful! We don’t ever think about it, but it’s up to us to teach them how to control their mindset.
We could talk for days about the long list of things our dogs need to learn from us. But today I want to talk about the most important skill we can teach them.
How to be comfortable in a crate.
Now, before we move on I want to be very clear about something. Throughout this article the only type of crate training we’re referring to is proper crate training. We are NOT talking about locking a dog away in a crate as a form of punishment or for long periods of time. Using a crate for punishment, for extended periods of time, or using a crate that is too small/not safe is abuse or neglect and is never acceptable.
On the contrary, properly crate training your dog is one of the best things you can ever do for them. Here’s why.
It is an excellent way to keep them safe.
Whether you have a new puppy or a senior dog, if your dog is getting into things they shouldn’t, using a crate can quite literally save their life.
If this were a perfect world, all dog’s would be able to have full freedom in the house. We all want this for our pets. But, just because it’d be ideal doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for every dog, right now. If your dog has a habit of chewing up furniture, stealing food off counters, getting into the trash or eating socks…. You need to safely put them in a crate when they can’t be supervised until they learn good habits. My goal is never to need to use the crate forever, it’s always to teach good habits and eventually phase out of needing it everyday… but if your dog needs it, there's no shame in continuing to use it.
We’ve all heard the stories of dogs who eat something they shouldn’t (and it can be a weird list of things), and then develop a blockage that requires emergency surgery. Sadly, sometimes they die before the surgery can be performed.
We all think the same thing - That will never happen to my dog. . Until it does.
No one is perfect, and no dog is perfect. Mistakes happen. Things get accidentally left out. If you aren’t confident that your dog won’t get into anything they shouldn’t, please use a crate when you can’t watch them. It could literally save their life one day.
It can help to teach them how to be calm.
If you have a dog who can’t sit still or anxiously paces around the house, the crate is an excellent way to help teach them how to be calm. And not just physically, but how to have a calm mind. Being able to have a calm mindset plays a vital role in your dog’s mental health. As mentioned before, can you imagine never being able to relax? Always feeling like you need to be doing something?
By properly crate training we can provide our dogs with a safe space that they learn to understand as a place to be calm. A place to unwind.
Now, most dogs do know how to relax. But, if your dog struggles with it we can use the crate to teach them in those beginning phases. The crate will provide a safe space, it gives them a relaxing area away from the chaos of the house, it prevents them from pacing around amping themselves up, and you can create a very den-like environment where they don’t get overexcited by things they see out the window.
Remember, though, this isn’t used by locking your dog in a crate and leaving them there. There are steps that go into crate training so the crate becomes a positive, safe, relaxing space - not a place of stress that foreshadows you leaving the house. If you aren’t sure how to do this, a local trainer should be more than happy to help guide you.
The Crate Can Make Scary Situations Less Stressful.
Even if you choose not to use a crate in your home, the odds of your dog never needing to use a crate in the real world are slim.
While there are some groomers who are cage-free, most use crates.
If your dog ever gets lost and is picked up by animal control or another person, they’ll most likely need to go in a crate.
If your dog ever needs to spend the night at the hospital, they’ll definitely be sleeping in a kennel of some sort.
In the event of an emergency - wildfires, hurricanes, etc. - If you need to leave home and stay in a hotel or shelter, you may need to use a crate.
There’s no guarantee that any of these situations will ever happen, and I hope they don’t. But, it’s also likely that at least one of them will at some point. While dogs are naturally den animals, if we never use a crate and never teach them how to think of the crate, then when one of these situations arises and your dog is in a strange place around strange people - being locked in an unfamiliar cage makes them even more stressed. This is preventable by teaching them how to be comfortable in a crate. Rather than causing more stress, we can prepare them and make the familiarity of a crate ease their stress - not make it worse.
The Crate Can Make Potty Training a Breeze.
Regardless of how old your dog or puppy is, if your pet is having accidents in the house, your best solution is to crate train. Dog’s have a natural desire to NOT eliminate where they eat and sleep. Would you want your toilet right next to your pillow? Didn’t think so.
Crating your dog when you can’t supervise them can prevent them from leaving you a smelly gift on the carpet, and allows you to supervise and quickly take them outside when they’re free in the house.
The key to stopping any “bad” behavior is to stop the habit from being practiced while working on building good habits. This is exactly what the crate allows us to do since we can’t be home giving our pets our full attention 24/7.
The Crate Gives Your Dog a Safe Place for Alone Time.
Maybe you have a dog who velcros themselves to your leg at all times, no matter what. But, just like people all dogs are different. They have personalities. They have good days and bad days. They also have things that annoy the crap out of them.
You love your kids, right? You usually love to play with them before lunch, right? But, let’s say you have a splitting headache. You probably don’t want them crawling all over you right now, do you?
You love having family over to visit, right? Usually you’re the first one to host the holiday gatherings. But, maybe today you’re secretly stressed about something and the husting of people and noises around you just seems overwhelming. Instead of being your usual social self, you just want a minute alone for goodness sake!
…. Just like us, our dog’s can have off-days or pet peeves. And that’s ok. It’s important that we provide them with a place of their own to go to when they need a few minutes to themselves. In my house we have two dogs. They each have their own crate and are not allowed to invade their brother’s crate. They know their crates are somewhere safe they can go to get away, no one is going to crawl in after them and the other dog won’t be sniffing and pawing at them through the door. It’s a space they have all to themselves.
Think of their crates like your bedroom. When you just want to go lay down, be left alone, or lay in bed and binge watch re-runs, that’s where you go. Your dog should have a space like that too.
And in case you’re still not convinced… Your dog should definitely be crated in your car.
While every reason I’ve given you so far is incredibly important, this one has to take the cake. Next time you take a drive, pay attention to how many people drive around in their cars with their dogs in the backseat, heads hanging out the window. That’s the perfect image of a happy dog, right? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t the safest… .for you or your dog.
I used to ride around with my dogs in the backseat like most people do. Then, one day I was rear-ended at a stoplight. It was raining hard and the roads were wet, I heard the car behind me try to stop but their brakes gave out. Luckily, we weren’t hit hard. There was zero damage to either car. BUT, my 45lb dog went flying from the backseat and slammed into my dashboard with a force I never would have imagined was possible from such an insignificant fender bender.
Thankfully, my dog was okay. He was sore for a few days, but otherwise fine. But that moment was a huge wake-up call for me.
Dog’s don’t wear seatbelts like we do, so when we’re in an accident they become a projectile that can injure us and our passengers. The bigger your dog, the more damage they can cause. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if the accident we were in happened at 50mph, and god-forbid if he hit me instead of my dashboard.
After that accident I became passionate about dog vehicle safety. They do make special harnesses and seat belts for dogs. I’ve bought and tried a bunch of these harnesses, but to be honest, unless you have a really small dog I don’t think they’re worth it. They’re difficult to put on, you need a special vehicle harness, (NOT a walking harness that you bought at Petsmart), the restraints aren’t comfortable for your dog and they usually tangle themselves up and can hurt themselves. Not to mention that my larger dogs could still hit the back of my seat when restrained just due to their size.
Your dog should be crated while in your car. Always. This prevents them from injuring you in an accident, and a properly sized crate also helps protect them in more ways than one.
Aside from actually getting injured in the accident, your dog’s safety after the accident is still important. Many dogs are shaken and spooked after an accident and will often escape the car through a broken window, which can result in them running into traffic and getting hit, or running away and getting lost.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re badly injured in an accident and paramedics can’t get to you in a timely manner because your dog is loose and “protecting” you out of fear, that can be bad news for both you and your dog.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we all love our dogs and want to do what’s best for them. Unfortunately, many people think we need to give our dogs as much freedom as possible to be safe and happy. But too much freedom can be dangerous.
Not accepting that our dogs have to live in a human world can prevent us from preparing them for a life outside of the comfort of our living rooms. We also need to remember that even though we humans can get claustrophobic, dogs are den animals. They are genetically programmed to like having a small, cozy place of their own. What they don’t like is running your household, being allowed to follow you everywhere and having complete control only to have it taken away when you suddenly add a crate into the mix.
When done correctly, crate training can be fun! And it’s one of the most priceless skills you can possibly teach your dog.