Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind; large ones weaken it.
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— Leonardo da Vinci
A man as famous for his curiosity as he is for his art, Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man — painter, sculptor, mathematician, musician, architect, botanist, geologist, inventor … dog trainer?
While little evidence exists to support the idea that the man who gave us the Mona Lisa also dallied in dogs, the idea of boundaries as a force for good certainly applies.
In terms of dog training, a “small dwelling” is better known as a crate. And a crate is one of the best tools available to dog owners.
Without fail, as soon as I start telling someone to crate their dog, the smile fades, the voice cracks, the eyes widen and even tear up. Last week, while working with a woman whose dog routinely knocks the phone off the hook, destroys furniture and shatters breakables while she’s at work, I said the “C” word. Her response? “But I’d feel bad!”
Crate training is not the parenting equivalent of hiring a babysitter off of Craigslist. Crate training saves lives, protects homes and promotes harmony. Here are some tips to get you started:
• Pay a visit to your local pet supply store and purchase a wire or canvas crate. No plastic. The crate should be big enough for your dog to fully stand up and completely turn around, and you want good visibility. Think panoramic. The idea is to play on your pup’s natural denning instinct and provide a comfortable, pleasing, private retreat.
• Introduce your dog to his crate in the room where family most often gathers. Keep the crate door open, and add a soft cushion and a favorite blanket. Use food, toys and a friendly tone of voice to create a curiosity and sense of security about the crate. Never use the crate as a punishment.
• Begin feeding your dog meals near or in his crate, depending on his comfort level. Some dogs will follow a full food bowl anywhere; others will hesitate due to the possibility of confinement. Place the bowl according to his signs. If he happily goes halfway into his crate, place the bowl at the halfway point. If he’s all in, place the bowl at the back of the crate. Once he’s comfortable eating inside his crate, begin closing the door.
• Once your dog is voluntarily going in and out of his crate, begin lengthening the time of confinement. Use a command for your dog to enter his crate — “kennel,” “crate,” “casa” — and once he has entered voluntarily, close the door and hang out with him for five or 10 minutes. Then leave the room for a couple of minutes. Then hang out with him for another five minutes. Repeat this process several times a day, gradually increasing the time you stay out of sight.
• Once your dog can handle a half-hour alone in his crate, he’s good to start sleeping in his crate at night, preferably in your bedroom. After that, you can start crating him for short errands.
The primary purpose of the crate is to aid in housebreaking, especially puppies. It’s also a safety measure at home and when traveling and can be a trusted source of security for your dog at any age. The key is not to rush the process. Small steps. The dog sets the pace. Keep it pleasant at all times. And let the small dwelling do the disciplining.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at PO Box 3300, Diamond Springs 95619.
Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc.