Most trainers encourage crate confinement to prevent a young dog from getting into something dangerous or destroying valuables when unattended. But what happens when crating presents a danger to your dog? Such is the case with Laura Carr’s dog, a determined escape artist who pushes and slams against the door of her plastic crate until she forces it open.

THE DOG:

Two-year-old Poppy, a female Rhodesian Ridgeback, came to live with Carr when she was 10 months old. Before Carr took her in, Poppy suffered an elbow problem that required surgery and a restful recovery period, which forced the caring breeder to keep Poppy inactive while the joint healed. Once she was living with Carr, Poppy fit in easily with the family and its 5-year-old mixed-breed dog, Manji. Both dogs enjoy access to 2 fenced acres through a dog door, but Carr says Manji, who is smaller, doesn’t play with Poppy.The Situation:

Though Carr thinks Poppy’s crate phobia stems from her unavoidable confinement following surgery, she says, “Poppy didn’t show any crate issues when we first got her, but my husband and I work at home, so we didn’t leave her much.”

Soon, Poppy started breaking out of her crate anytime her owners left her alone. “When we’d arrive home, there would be drool inside and around the crate, trash strewn about, and household items carried outside,” Carr says. “It’s like Poppy went wild once she escaped.”

Poppy’s energy level exceeds that of their previous two Ridgebacks, Carr says, adding that this makes it difficult to provide enough activity to tire Poppy out. “The only time Poppy settles in the crate is after we’ve taken her to the dog park and she’s exhausted from playing with the other dogs,” she says. “But the more exercise we give her, the more she expects.” To finally thwart Poppy’s crate escapes, Carr chained the door so it couldn’t be forced open.

THE EXPERT:

Jenn Merritt, a certified professional dog trainer-knowledge assessed, owns Blue Dog Creature Coaching in Efland, N.C. Merritt is also a certified Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner. Tellington TTouch is a method that uses touch and balanced movement exercises to improve health and behavioral issues. Merritt shares her expertise via articles, television shows, and DVDs.

THE PLAN:

Merritt first advises a veterinary examination for Poppy. “Health problems, such as hypothyroidism, can contribute to behavioral issues,” she says. In addition, rather than risk Poppy breaking teeth, nails, or potentially her neck, Merritt believes medication might be necessary. “For dogs willing to hurt themselves, I wholeheartedly support the use of veterinary-prescribed medications as part of the treatment,” she says.

Merritt recommends further reducing Poppy’s anxiety by providing daily TTouch sessions — either independently or with the help of a TTouch practitioner — applying a compression garment designed to alleviate anxiety in dogs several times a day for 15 minutes, and slowly reintroducing the crate and making it a positive place.”Poppy should eat all meals in the crate and spend short periods of time in it while the owners are home,” Merritt says. Also, she advises supplying treat-stuffed rubber toys for Poppy to work on when left alone, which should teach her that something wonderful happens when Carr leaves. This treat-time should start with brief periods that gradually lengthen.

DOG IN A CRATE

Quality exercise also proves vital. “Poppy is from an active hunting breed and has an energetic personality,” Merritt says. “To assure her inherent needs are met might require giving her breed-specific jobs.” Merritt suggests nosework games, such as hiding toys around the house to play Find It. She says tracking would offer another hunting instinct outlet, as would cooperative prey games like tug and fetch.

“Our goals for Poppy are to decrease her stress level so she is tired when the owners leave the house, for the owners’ departure to predict something pleasant, and for her to feel comfortable and safe when home alone,” Merritt says.

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