New to dogs? New to Weimaraners? Just got a Weimaraner? Been told that you need to crate train your dog, but don’t know how to get started, overwhelmed by the information that’s out there, or currently having trouble? Read on!
The philosophy behind crate training. There’s an article about it, here. In summary, having a crate-trained dog keeps him out of trouble when you can’t look after him, keeps him comfortable when he’s away (like at the babysitter’s, vet’s office, or boarding kennel when you’re on vacation), and saves you thousands of dollars in damages from chewed up sofas, gnawed off dining table legs, broken windows, and surgical procedures to remove rocks, whole roast chickens, and a pair of athletic socks.
Weimaraners are not one size fit all. Some dogs naturally take to crates. Others need more time and baby steps to get all the way there. Some dogs are naturally not destructive and won’t touch a single thing they’re supposed to have. Other dogs will get into whatever they can reach, even if you’re just in the other room. Some start out destructive because they’re busy-body puppy bees, but they eventually turn into perfectly behaved creatures when they’re older. Some will still be assholes at the age of 13.
Here are 11 elements to get you on the right path:
- Belief. First, you have to believe that crating a dog is normal, humane, safe, and ideal. A crate is not a jail cell. It is not mean. It is not cruel. If you believe that it is, nothing in this article will help you.
- Patience. You can’t expect to bring a Weimaraner home, put him into a crate, and expect your dog to be happy and quiet. Just with anything else, you have to start at the beginning. Additionally, if you just brought home a rescue, keep in mind that your dog may have been through some tough periods in his life before he came to you, and he’ll need time to adjust and settle into a new routine. Time varies, but it’s very possible a rescue will need three months to feel settled in his new home.
- Incorporation. A crate should be placed in a “central” part of the house. Bonus points for multiple crates scattered through different rooms in the house. Sequestering your dog in a crate in the guest room usually doesn’t work for people who are starting the crate training process. If you don’t have room in your living room, it’s time to rearrange the furniture.
- Association. Convince your dog that the crate is a cool place to hang out. (Note: This is easier if your dog isn’t allowed on the sofa.) Start by removing all the dog beds on the floor in the main part of your house. Then go to the crate and make it the best-dang-comfortable-spot there ever was. Bonus if you make it an over-sized crate. My girls who fit into a 36″ crate LOVE their 48″ deluxe setup that’s full of cushions and shade. It also helps if you have hard surfaces. If the crate is the ONLY accessible place in the house that’s comfortable to snooze in, the choice for your dog to sleep in one is obvious. When you begin this process, leave the door open for a week, so your dog understands that the crate comes with in and out privileges. Again, association. You’re teaching the dog that he’s okay in a crate all the time, not just when you leave him. Feeding your dog in the crate is also a useful habit. My dogs run into their crates and wait there until I feed them. (This is also handy for multiple-dog households in the form that it prevents dogs from stealing one another’s food.) You can also use marker training to teach a dog place, and the place just happens to be a dog bed inside a crate. Do a few crate games with your dog to help with crate acclimation.
- Routine. Maintain your routine, and and incorporate your dog into it, not the other way around. Coming and going should be part of the program, and you shouldn’t make a fuss about it. (The more you fuss, the more they fuss.) For example, be very intentional about leaving your dog for short periods of time, both when he’s loose in the house, and when he’s locked up in a crate. Leave when he’s awake. Leave when he’s asleep. Go out the back door. Come home through the front door. Start small, like going to the garage for a few minutes. Walk down the street to get the mail. Pull weeds out of the yard. Get to a point where it’s NBD if you walk into another room or out the front door for a couple of minutes. Work in longer periods of time (going to the post office, session at the gym, hitting up the grocery store). The same is true when you return home; it’s not a big deal. Take your coat off, put your keys away, and pour yourself a glass of water before you go to your dog and let him out of the crate. (He should be quiet when you let him out. If he’s fussy, wait until he’s quiet.) And if you’ve been away awhile, remember that the first place to go should be OUTSIDE to potty, before being allowed back in.
- Distraction. Putting a frozen peanut butter filled kong into your dog’s crate will temporarily distract him from the fact that he might be in a place he’d rather not be. It works well in cases where your dog spends 30-45 minutes licking out the frozen peanut butter, and then is so exhausted by that activity that he takes a nap when he’s done while waiting for you to come home. Another thing you can do is put on some background noise, like music or television. The idea behind this is to help your dog think he’s not alone. Unfortunately, Weimaraners are smart and I don’t find that white noise works that well.
- Exhaustion. One of the better tools (and something you should be doing anyway), is wearing out your dog, either mentally with a few games and obedience lessons, or physically by going for a run or playing fetch in the yard. The old adage goes, a tired dog is a happy dog. And a tired dog is much more likely to take a snooze in his crate, than a wound up one who’s ready for action.
- Assistance. Behavioral trainers can help, but in my experience, they won’t tell you anymore than what you can learn by reading this article and incorporating everything you’ve learned. Plus, they cost a lot, and if you don’t follow through with their suggestions, you will have wasted your time and money.
- Medication. I feel like this is a last resort, and I’ve been successful acclimating my foster dogs to crates without having to medicate them. But hey, if you’re frustrated and nothing else seems to be working, and you need to get some sanity back, go ahead and try some CBD oil or get a low-dose prescription of an anti-anxiety medication from your vet. (If your dog is very destructive and exhibits a lot of separation anxiety, medication will take the edge off BUT IT WON’T FIX THE PROBLEM.)
- Buddy. The suggestion of “get another dog” is stupid in most cases. If you can’t get one dog under control, the chances of getting a second dog under control, is slim. More likely than not, you will just turn one headache into two. Disclaimer: It can work; I’ve seen it happen. If you think it will be easier for everyone in the household if you added another dog to the pack, consider fostering a dog for rescue. It’s a temporary commitment and will help you determine whether or not another dog will help your situation.
- Acceptance. It’s very possible that your dog just isn’t a crate dog. I have a 12-year old like that. She has broken more than half of her teeth by bending and breaking crate bars. She’s scratched off the skin on her nose by busting out of Rough Tuff Kennels (yep! I have dog that has successfully broken out of “indestructible” Rough Tuffs!). She’s busted pads, nails, ears, and every other part of her body trying to break free from the confines of a crate.
While I don’t regret buying her out of a newspaper ad when she was a puppy, and I love her dearly, I know now that she wasn’t well bred to begin with, so asking her to accept a crate with her baseline level of anxiety is impossible. So for her, we do other things, like take her everywhere with us. She stays in the car with the air conditioner running when we’re at the post office, grocery store, etc. (Crazy, but she’s NEVER anxious in the car.) On the rare chance she has to stay at home, we leave the slider open and she can go in and out when she wants. We know her well enough now to know that nine times out of 10, she’ll simply sleep on the sofa. We fully understand that she’s a nut job [see also: she wasn’t well bred] so we’re prepared for that occasional slip-up where we come home to the laundry room missing the door frame, the bedroom door missing a few panels, or the carpet missing some texture. Because she’s mentally unstable (and I mean that in the most lovingly way possible), we never know if “normal Britta” or “crazy Britta” will be greeting us whenever we come home. We’re 11 years in now and we’ve budgeted in Sunday afternoons for house repairs, so we’re good with that. Again, we wouldn’t trade her for the world, but we know her well, we know her limits, we accept who she is, and we make it work for us.
YOU CAN DO THIS!!!! Best wishes and good luck!
P.S. Need to read another article on the same subject? Here’s one from the Weimaraner Magazine, originally printed in April 1985.