Ask Crystal: Destructive Adolescent Dog

A medium sized brown and white dog rolls in the grass

A medium sized brown and white dog rolls in the grass

Dear Crystal, 

My dog is 8 months old. He will walk in and out of his crate all day long. I’ll leave the doors open he will lay down for a while, but he likes mainly sleeping on the floor during the day. At night he will fall asleep on his bed on the floor and when I get ready to go to bed he refuses to go in his crate biting and fighting with me, once he is in crate he goes to sleep. What do I do? I can’t have him run in the house because he chews everything. 

Sincerely, 

Destructive Doggo 

 

Dear Destructive,

Crate training woes seem to be a common issue especially for owners of adolescent dogs. I commend your attempts to manage your dog’s behavior and prevent problem behaviors. Management is the first, crucial step in preventing problem behaviors.

You do have to pick your battles when working with your pets. Some things will work out fine if we leave them alone at least for the time being while we work on some other issues. I wonder if the issue of the dog not wanting to sleep in the kennel at night is worth the fight. The fact that he is fighting you on it says to me you need to do more work on his association with the crate.

A potential solution for the moment is to get a puppy pen and place that around the crate and place him in the pen with the crate door open. This way he will be confined to an area, but he has a choice about where he will sleep. If he has a favorite bed he likes to sleep on, can you put the bed in the crate or at least in the pen?

If he isn’t chewing anything up in the bedroom at night while you are sleeping, you could potentially keep him in the bedroom with you without any issues. Most dogs don’t chew on things in the middle of the night. You can close the door or put a baby gate on it to keep him in with you. Be sure to puppy proof the bedroom by removing or moving anything that might be enticing to him.

When you try to put him in his crate at night, are you giving him a treat for going in? If you are and it isn’t working to motivate him, maybe try a small frozen bone or Kong with some canned food in it. This will give him something to do and help relax by licking. Licking is soothing and can teach a dog how to self soothe themselves. If he really likes it, it will also help motivate him to go in. I would suggest that you start by giving him these toys at a time when he doesn’t mind going in to the crate. You may just leave it in there for him to find as a surprise. The part of the brain that registers surprise also houses long term memory. This means when something is a surprise the dog is more likely to remember it.

  • Feeding all hid meals in his crate is important for building a positive association. I recommend enrichment only feeding for all young dogs especially those that are still in their adolescent period. Stuff Kongs, bones or other hollow toys with can food and kibble and freeze. This will take him a lot longer to eat, give him an appropriate chewing outlet and help soothe him. You can also stuff cardboard boxes, cereal boxes and paper towel rolls with food for him to rip up and find the food. This helps meet the need dogs have to destroy and rip up things. It is important that we find legal items for the dog to destroy and chew so that we can meet their natural needs.
  • Be sure to have a hefty selection of chew toys available for your dog. In this stage of life, I usually offer a chew nightly before bed to give the dog something to do at those times when they are most active and to satisfy that chewing need. Most dogs enjoy bully sticks, cow hooves, trachea, etc. You do need to supervise this kind chew for safety reasons. Other chews like Nylabones are great for most dogs but they do get bored of them if you leave them out all the time. I suggest rotating chew toys by picking up some and bringing them out later one at a time. The dog will often think that it is a new toy and get excited about it again. When you see your dog chewing on an appropriate toy be sure to quietly praise them. We should be sure to notice when our dogs are doing something right not just when they are doing something wrong.

Destructive behavior can often be caused by boredom. To combat boredom, we need to make sure we are also meeting the dog’s needs for exercise and mental stimulation. I suggest you write down what his typical day looks like and try to find times where you can add in additional mental and physical stimulation. It is a trial and error situation to figure out exactly what the right combination is for your dog.

One of my new obsessions is decompression walks. I have seen some amazing results with dogs that I am working with at the shelter by incorporating this type of walk daily. This walk simulates an off leash walk so that the dog can get more exercise and use their brain to sniff 80% more than on a short line. Find a quiet field where you can walk your dog. I use school grounds after hours usually but use your imagination. Use a long line that is at least 15 feet long. Let your dog control the walk. They can sniff as long as they want as they walk. This is their walk. This type of walk will go a long way to tiring the dog out by mental stimulation. It is also a much better walk for dogs that are anxious or fearful since they won’t have to confront their triggers while walking.

  • If you don’t have time for a walk that day or as additional exercise, add in structured exercise a few times a day to burn off some energy. Teach your dog to fetch or play tug-of-war with rules. Hire a dog walker to come midday and give your dog a nice long walk.
  • I find that adding in a couple training sessions daily goes a long way to tiring a dog out. Work on your dog’s crate training a couple times a day. Toss treats in and let him come out as he desires. Slowly build up to the dog being in the crate with the door shut while you sit next to him feeding him treats. Add a cue to the behavior by saying “kennel up” right before he is about to walk in the kennel.
  • Adding in other training will also help with tiring him out and help you have better ways to communicate with him. Another current obsession I have is relax on the mat. We often find that most young dogs are not being reinforced for calm behavior and they don’t know how to relax on their own. These dogs are described as never being tired and always on the go. The premise is highly reinforcing the dog for laying on the mat. This is not about telling the dog to go to the mat and forcing them to stay there. The dog is allowed to choose and that choice is highly reinforced so they want to do that behavior more and more. It gives the dog something to do when they feel anxious or don’t know what to do with themselves. Check out ww.wholedogtraining.com to get more information on how to train this behavior.

We really want to avoid forcing the dog in the crate if we can. That makes it a negative experience for him and we want it to be a relaxing and comfortable place that he wants to go into not that he is forced into. Being an adolescent is like being a teenager and sometimes you just can’t win so you do the next best thing and move on. It isn’t about the dog obeying at all times but rather how to convince them that they want to do what we are asking them.  Good luck and happy training!

Until next time,

Crystal

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