Crate-Training for the Whole Family

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My sister-in-law and I were talking on the phone a day after our whole family had been together for a holiday event at my house. She said, “The funniest thing from my view in the living room was seeing you repeatedly scoop up your sister’s dogs and lock them in the big cage in the bedroom, and seeing your sister repeatedly come through and let them back out!”

My sister has three little dogs. One of those dogs, Mokie, lived with me for more than three years, and while I had him, he slept in a crate nightly, with the door open. He loved his crate, and made a habit of dragging any favored toys or treats or chews in there to hoard. The second dog is a 6- or 7-month-old rescue pup, a terrier mix. At her former foster home, she was crated regularly. The third is a 5-year-old terrier-mix they took in after a friend fell on hard times. Supposedly he was crated at various times, too, without any problems.

But my sister seems to regard crates as a cruel hardship for a dog. *She* can barely stand it when her dogs are contained. And her anxiety about whether they are comfortable and happy quickly cues the dogs to exhibit anxiety when she comes to “see how they are doing.” Despite the fact that I filled, corner to corner, the German Shepherd-sized cage-style crate with a super plush bed, and prepared canned-food-stuffed frozen Kongs for all the little dogs to enjoy while crated, when my sister ducked into the room and saw them lying in the crate together working on their Kongs, she’d trill, “Oh, my poor babies!” and they’d all jump up and start showing clear signs of oxygen deprivation and beatings (apparently). So she’d let them out, “just for a minute!”

But we had lots of other people in the house, including a three-year-old child who is CRAZY about dogs and who lives with a super-tolerant large dog; I didn’t want my niece to get bitten by a small dog who wasn’t expecting a toddler’s exuberant hug. And Mokie is a unrepentant urine-marker; he’ll lift his leg and mark anything if you’re not watching him closely. The dogs, my house, and the party were better off with the little dogs locked up. (My own dogs were also sequestered, relaxed and comfortable out in my husband’s office, an outbuilding in our yard.) So, yeah, we had a bit of a sister power struggle with the little dogs in the middle.

The day after the party, I lectured my sister some more. “You’re doing them a huge favor if you teach them to relax in a crate! Then they’d be comfortable if they ever had to be in a cage at the vet’s office, or if you ever had to board them. And when you have parties at your house, you wouldn’t have to be so worried about one of them slipping out the front door, or eating someone’s plate of appetizers off the ottoman!” (Those last two things have happened.)

I made a little progress with my sister that day, especially after I moved the giant crate into my dining area, so her dogs had a warm, comfy place to lie and chew the Kongs while my sister and I cooked in the kitchen. I left the crate door open, so she could see that they chose to go in the crate. The truth is, my floors are cold, and if they wanted to keep an eye on her and be warm, too, the crate was the best option. But this was about training my sister, not her dogs.

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