Tonight I had some friends over for dinner. Despite the fact that my dogs are very well behaved and would have happily stayed in their beds during our meal, I had them baby gated in a back bedroom while we entertained our guests. “You can let them out, we love dogs!” my guests recommended. It was then that I explained my confining them had nothing to do with any bad behavior, but instead their long term emotional stability and ability to handle “stress,” or otherwise “frustrating” situations.
I can’t tell you how many times I have met or interacted with dogs that simply flip out if they have to be away from humans. They’ll whine incessantly from behind a closed door, frantically attempt or succeed at jumping over a baby gate, bang around and bark from the confines of a kennel, and yet their humans are only in the other room! And even worse, when they are released from the perceived torturous situation, they are absolutely spastic to be reunited with you.
So why is this a problem? Maybe it’s not for some people, but the way that I see it is that it is our responsibility to make dogs comfortable and confident in an environment (the human environment) that is relatively unnatural for them. I mean, let’s face it. Despite the fact that objects all over our house would make great chew toys, the rug seems plenty perfect for peeing and pooping, not to mention that running around barking loudly and having a great time seems perfectly acceptable to our dogs — it’s just not appropriate for us to peacefully coexist. At least, not for me.
I strongly believe that dogs need to be taught, from an early age (or whatever age we acquire them through rescue), to enjoy and accept confinement, kennel time, down time, away from human time. Yes, dogs are absolutely social creatures so this is not a skill that comes naturally. Again, neither does chew training, house training, or most behaviors us humans require of our canine counterparts. But at a minimum, it’s so important that owners teach their dogs to enjoy quiet time without freaking out. I still can’t seem to understand why people feel so bad about crating or confining their dogs. I certainly don’t. Then again, my dogs are not distressed or sad, because through a lot of ritual desensitization and plenty of non stressful practice opportunities they’re learned that the world isn’t over if they have to be confined. Teaching dogs confinement actually builds confidence, and that is a very important skill for dogs to have.
I know the first few trails of confining a dog can be tough. We’re tempted to let them out, shush them or console them, but this only prolongs the process of them learning to accept that they can’t always be with us. There are times in a most dog’s lifes when they will have to be away from us. So when we fail to teach them the skills of solitude or separation from us, we are actually setting them up for failure –creating stress and panic for that animal when they have to be away from us. Confinement teaches confidence, and you owe that to your dog.
Here’s some tips to start teaching your dog that quiet time is OK:
1. Set up your confinement area or kennel close to where you are the first time you want to confine your dog. This way you can monitor his comfort level, and reward him for quiet behavior.
2. Make sure to confine your dog with a high value chew bone or stuffed kong that he wouldn’t otherwise get if not in confinement. This way he associates being confined with a special treat
3. Do not confine your dog for long periods of time when he is first learning to enjoy his separation from you. Even 30 minutes can be too long for some dogs initially. Try 10 minutes at first. As long as he is quiet and isn’t struggling to get out of confinement you can allow him to re-join you. Never allow a dog to rejoin you if he is being fussy. Simply ignore him until he can behave, then let him rejoin you.
4. Feed and water your dog in his confinement area everyday until he loves being in that area.
5. Do not make a big deal about your dog being put in or our of confinement. If you act like this is just a part of the routine, he’ll learn to accept it as just part of the routine.
By the end of the evening I did release my dogs to come out of their room and interact with my guests. This is the perfect example of a life reward: My dogs were quiet, calm and compliant so I let them interact with new fun people who petted them. Had they been noisy, obnoxious or fussy they would have not been allowed to interact with the new fun people we had over for dinner.
Remember, it’s always better to practice confinement when you don’t really need to have your dogs confined. That way when you actually find yourself needing your space, or needed them to be put away for maintenance on your home, a visitor that may be afraid of dogs, for whatever reason… you’ll know they can handle it already. And that is win-win.