Can you help us prevent our dog from growing to hate her crate?
July 19, 2018 11:56 AM   Subscribe

We adopted an almost 4-year-old retired greyhound about two months ago. She was not fostered, so she had never lived in a house before - always in kennels on the track or a dog boarding place that our rescue group works with. We've crated her since day one but she's getting more and more stubborn about not wanting to go in the crate when we leave.

Not unexpectedly, there was some separation anxiety when we first brought her home - no destructiveness, but whining and shrill barking when we left the house. Roxy is the third greyhound I've owned, so I'm not new to greyhounds, crating, or dog ownership. We did separation anxiety training and with the help of some anti-anxiety meds, and she got much better. It's still pretty important to stick to our routine, though, or she'll have setbacks. Most days she doesn't need the medication, but we do use some if she seems particularly anxious.

Our routine is: 15 minutes before the last person leaves for work, she gets put in her crate and given a few treats. The 15 minutes gives her time to settle down before we leave so her anxiety isn't already ramped up. Immediately before walking out the door, she gets a bone or kong stuffed with peanut butter and treats and wet dog food that has been frozen. The crate is the only place she gets this treat. We don't fuss over her when we get home, although she does get very excited. We've tried covering the crate but she pulled the blanket into the crate and chewed it - she seems to prefer being able to see out.

Lately she's been running away and trying to avoid us when it's time to put her in her crate. I hate having to use her collar to direct her towards the crate, and wondering if there are things we can change up. She cares much more about people than food and is smart enough to know that crate = people leaving. Treats, even the highest value ones I can find, aren't enough to lure her in. We haven't had to physically shove her into the crate yet (even a stubborn greyhound is pretty compliant) but I worry we may be approaching that point and know it's bad and we should avoid it. Hence this question!

We're open to testing her ability to roam free (possibly using doors and baby gates to restrict access to parts of the apartment), but my hesitation is that I am fairly certain her reluctance isn't about the crate per se - he crate door is always open and she does sometimes choose to hang out in there when we're home, although that is happening less and less - and more about her not wanting us to leave her alone and knowing the crate is part of that process. However, I could be wrong and it's possible the crate is now hurting more than it helps. She has the run of the house at night and does not sleep in the crate - she tends to sleep on her dog bed or the rug in the living room.

Getting a second dog is out of the question, unfortunately. We had a cat but he just unexpectedly passed away 2 weeks ago and aren't able to get another one right now. Day care isn't affordable for us - and honestly, as long as we stick to her routine she sleeps the day away, in traditional greyhound fashion.

My question is: is this the developing problem I think it is? Have you experienced something similar with a previously crate-trained dog? What did you do? Should we continue working with the crate, or explore not crating her when we aren't home? A coworker suggested randomly putting her in the crate with treats while we're home for short periods of time. Would that help? Thanks for any and all ideas to consider.
posted by misskaz to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What your coworker suggested is what helped with our dog. He had pretty severe separation anxiety when we got him and we worked through it by giving him a Kong full of food that he got only when he was in his crate and leaving him for longer and longer periods. When we had worked up to about 15 minutes (which took awhile) he started refusing to get into the crate and he decided he wanted nothing to do with the Kong, because it meant we were leaving.

So instead of making the Kong the special only-when-we're-gone treat I started putting a Kong full of food or treats into his crate multiple times during the day and letting him go in there to eat it while we were nearby, at first with the door open the whole time. After a few days I started shutting the crate door sometimes while he was in there, but still stayed nearby. For a week or two he got a large portion of his daily food from the Kong in the crate. So the Kong in the crate went from being the signal that we were leaving to just an ordinary thing that might happen during the day. A thing that fortunately also happened to be enjoyable and distracting so that before long we were able to start leaving again for short periods sometimes while he was in the crate. But I also continued to give him the Kong in the crate at times when we weren't leaving. That fixed the problem for him. After a couple of weeks we were back on track and making rapid progress with leaving him alone.
posted by Redstart at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

You're probably right about what the crate means. It's common for rescue dogs to begin showing separation anxiety only when they've had a few weeks or months to settle into their new home and get attached to you. So, on the one hand, it's a good sign: she likes you! On the other, well...I know there have been AskMes on dealing with separation anxiety before, and you'll probably need to deploy some of the more active training techniques discussed there, since the "little guns" aren't working.
posted by praemunire at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Before she was being non-compliant, how were you getting her into the crate? If you haven't trained an explicit "Go to Crate" or "kennel up" command, now is the time that it's needed. You won't want to do this before you have to leave - you'll want to do this on the evenings/weekends. And ideally you would do this training in a week where she didn't need to use the crate at all, or train it on a crate in a different area of the house.

All that being said, our greyhound shows many signs of separation anxiety when she's alone in the crate (howling, destructive behaviors), but is perfectly fine in the house if she's alone and uncrated. And when we are home she will go into the crate voluntarily for a nap. So I don't necessarily think that she will show signs of separation anxiety if you start to leave her out of the crate on a trial basis.
posted by muddgirl at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

If she’s not destructive, just leave her out. Why does she need to be locked up all day?
posted by shoesietart at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2018 [33 favorites]

(I meant to add if she does know a "kennel up" command but refuses it before you leave, then I think it's an issue of reinforcement - you'll want to use the command at random times when you're not planning to leave, and always ALWAYS give a high-reward treat.)
posted by muddgirl at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

High value treats she only gets while in her crate. Kong with some treats in is optimal you want something distracting. Do it randomly through out the day, start with the door not being shut. Then graduate to yummy high value only in the crate treat & shutting the door for a few seconds while you seat by the crate, then shut the door longer & longer then shut the door & walk away across the room & slowly until you can leave the room. Do this random time during the day when you're not about to leave the house. Tie a command word to the giving of the treat in the crate.

From now on when you are about to leave the house have exactly the same routine that ends with her getting the treat in her crate & you immediately leaving. Do this for slowly extending periods of time. Slowly she will learn the cues of if you leave in the manner I'm used to you are coming back.

I say all this as an Australian that comes from a culture that never crates dogs & can't see the point, but know that Americans seem to think it's a vital thing to do to dogs, it might be something you can rethink that, if she's not destructive & is house trained crating isn't necessarily .. errr necessary. . To help with anxiety when leaving follow the same advice of following a routine & high value hard to work at kong just before you leave. Your dog is new, she's learnt that you leave sometimes, she has to learn that you will come back.
posted by wwax at 12:57 PM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason to crate her? Our greyhound resisted the crate and we ended up just letting her roam free. And with that freedom, she just sprawls in her big dog bed all day. We have a live feed and she basically never moves. I think she just likes being able to stretch out.
posted by inevitability at 1:02 PM on July 19, 2018 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Our hound dog is not food oriented and at roughly 9 months, she stopped wanting to go in the crate. At that time she'd lived with us for about 6 months, hadn't had any accidents in the house and showed little signs of being destructive when unobserved.

So we put up cameras and gradually let her spend time outside the crate when we weren't home. We started with just 10-15 minutes and then gradually worked up to a half day when we could go home at lunch and check on her. After about a month, she was content and chill about us leaving and spent the majority of her day sleeping, playing with the cat, chewing on her toys, or staring out the window.

We did have DogTv on while she was crated and for the first year she was with us and she actually did watch it and I think it helped soothe her from time to time. But now she spends the day alone and the worst thing she does is get on my side of the bed when I forget and leave the bedroom door open. If your pup isn't destructive, it can't hurt to try her out on some time outside the crate.
posted by teleri025 at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

We went from crates to confining our dogs in the kitchen with the help of these dog gates, which are both extra-tall and include a small (removable, if you pull hard) door for cats if you need it.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2018

I am in the U.S. and apart from metafilter I know no one who routinely crates their dog all day while at work. I only know on person who even leaves their dog in the kitchen. Every dog I know just sleeps in the living room, looks out the window, and putters around for five minutes before sleeping again. All day.
posted by nantucket at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2018 [16 favorites]

I know many, many people who crate their dogs while they work. This is not a rare thing and for many dogs is a good thing. You know this, just reinforcing it. I also agree with your coworker, see if you can break the immediate association. I know cats and dogs are different, but we wanted to make sure our cat always wanted to go in his carrier so for a long time it was the only place he received treats (we leave it out all the time like a crate/bed), sometimes we'd leave it open and sometimes we'd close it. It worked really well in reinforcing that it was his place and a good place.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2018

My greyhound initially loved his crate but gradually lost interest and we started leaving him out and had no problems. He eventually stopped using it and we put it away. He never had separation anxiety, though.
posted by sepviva at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2018

Special treats only given in the crate (not just the Kong - something really high value, like hot dogs or tuna fudge) on random spontaneous moments throughout the day when you're there. Also, train the "go to your bed" command and make it a high value reward as well (this is also useful for when someone comes to the front door - some people call it a "place" command - you're asking the dog to go to one place and stay there).
posted by Nyx at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2018

I’m all for crate training if it works, and I know a lot of dogs who do well in crates. I also think having a dog be adjusted to a crate is good if for some reason they need to be boarded at the Vet or in an emergency. That being said, I tried everything under the sun to crate train my dog (because I read that was the thing to do) and he hurt himself multiple times trying to break out. I eventually expanded it to just the kitchen and he promptly chewed open the door to get out.

Exasperated, I gave up and let him have the run of the house and he’s been perfectly content going on 13 years.

So, I’d say if your dog isn’t destructive and her behavior seems to be worsening just try letting them have more freedom.
posted by canda at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

A question on the crate--are you sure the crate is large enough that your dog doesn't get stiff and uncomfortable during the day? A lot of greyhounds are already arthritic at a young age due to racing stress. If she can't easily roll over without hitting her legs (usually not easy in the average crate) or stand and turn around completely, it may be causing her discomfort. Also, how padded is your crate? Greyhounds don't have much padding on their bony bodies, and if the crate lining is thin, it may be uncomfortable for her to sleep in for many hours.

If she were my dog, I would be very tempted to confine her to one room with treats in her crate and the door open. I would also put her dog bed in that room to give her the option to sleep in either the crate, the bed, or just on the floor if she's too warm. Have you tried leaving the radio on for her? Sometimes a stressed dog can be soothed by either talk radio or quiet music.

I think Redstart has a fine idea about putting your dog in the crate for short periods sometimes when you are at home. You want a compliant dog for reasons canda mentioned. Good luck with your pupper!

PS You know there is a dog tax if you ask questions, right? We need to see this girl!
posted by BlueHorse at 3:07 PM on July 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Consider the dog tax paid. :)

Just to answer a few questions -

- She does (normally) come when called and used to go in her crate when I pointed and said "go in your crate." She is more and more reluctant to come when I call her in the mornings and will try to dodge the open crate door.

- The crate is plenty big for her. She's on the small end for a greyhound (about 58 lbs) and can sleep in just about any position in it. Also, that's an early picture but now she has an additional dog bed in the crate that's made of about 4 inches of memory foam. There's also a blanket in there that she can fluff up/move around.

- I'm not opposed to seeing if she does well outside the crate, at all! Not sure where people are getting the idea that I am determined to make the crate happen. Both of my previous greyhounds eventually went without crating. The whole reason for the question is that I am not sure the crate is the problem, more just a way for her to be stubborn/reluctant about being left alone, so I want to make sure I tackle the problem effectively without making her anxiety worse.

- She's not destructive, but the first week we had her she did chew through a charger cable, so there would be some dog-proofing necessary and we'd probably use a baby gate (we already have one of those extra tall dog gates with a cat door) to keep her out of the kitchen.

- We rent, and our apartment building is currently for sale, which means inspections and showings. So for now we do have to keep the crate and keep her comfortable enough with it that she can be safe and secure when strangers are walking through our house.
posted by misskaz at 6:45 AM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recommend changing up your pre-leaving process. You're right that she is definitely recognizing the signs of leaving. She may also be picking up on your nervousness about her recognizing the signs.

One thing to change immediately is to not give her the kong right before you go out the door. Basically what you're doing now means that she settles down in the crate but she knows that when you give her the kong, that's it and you're out.

Try putting in the kong when she first goes in her crate and then ignore her and do other stuff for 15 minutes before heading out. Don't look at her, just go about your business as you would if you were working on something else. Try to also mix up your routine so that you're not doing the exact same thing right before you head out the door. So if you typically pack your bag before leaving, try packing your bag the night before or right when you wake up so one day before you leave you can stick dishes in the dishwasher right before you head out.

And yes on giving her some low stakes in-crate time while you are home.
posted by donut_princess at 11:22 AM on July 20, 2018

Response by poster: Well folks, thanks for all the ideas. We tried just about all of them with little success. She started trembling in the crate whether we were home or not - it was no good. She would happily go in there with the door open to eat treats or whatever, but the minute the door was closed she got nervous.

So we started leaving her out of her crate when we left for short periods of time. Set up some cameras, and she was happy as a clam. A few days later she discovered the couch (she had never been on the couch before, not because of us but she just never jumped up there) and now Couch is Life and nothing else matters.

We still have the issue of what to do with her when there is a showing because our building is on sale - going back to the crate after a few days of free reign did not go well - but we are going to see if using a baby gate to restrict her to a room will be good enough for our landlord.

Also, right on the typical new-dog-settling-in schedule (3 months after being adopted), this week she started getting into mischief while we're gone - grabbing papers off the table and shredding them, stealing a muscle roller ball and chewing off some of the nubs, and chewing on the corner of our bedside table. So we have to do better dog-proofing and restricting her access to certain rooms now while she goes through this phase, and some puzzle toys are being delivered today, but all in all she's so much happier without the crate.

I thought I recognized the signs of separation anxiety well enough, but looks like it was as much crate anxiety as anything, so thanks for all the answers.
posted by misskaz at 6:17 AM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

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