DEAR DIDI: I just got married recently. My three-year-old hunting lab is a high drive nut. My new wife absolutely hates crates and has put her foot down about putting my boy in a cage. She is equally upset about coming home after work to trash cans tipped over, the sofa full of hair, and her cat looking a little disheveled. She wants to know what you have to say about crates. – Frustrated Couple
DEAR FRUSTRATED COUPLE: Professors at Texas A&M University veterinary college never bothered to tell us students that we not only would be in charge of the dogs’ health but also become marriage counselors and psychotherapists! Our emotions are frequently completely tied up in our own needs for our pets. Sometimes those emotions prevent us from seeing what the right course of action is. Our egos even get in the way of doing what is right for the dog at times. We profess to love our dogs and then proceed to show love by cooking for them, buying tons of expensive toys and beds, predicting their every need before they even know they are wanting for something. We think that asking nothing in return makes us good people and good dog owners.
If you truly care about the well-being of your canine companion then we must set rules, boundaries and limitations to their behaviors. Just like our human children! They should learn to respect others and behave appropriately in public. I realize that defining “appropriately” is an argument for another time. The fuzzy kids like their human counterparts also have high energy and a lack of self-control. I like using analogies to raising children because it helps people understand that dogs can learn and be expected to do more. However, sometimes making analogies backfires because someone will say, “Well, I would never put my child in a cage!” This is where the human kids and fuzzy kids differ dramatically. Human three-year-olds can’t be left alone at home for even a few minutes. Even when we are home we make use of cribs and playpens to keep kids safe while we use the restroom or fold clothes! Luckily, our fuzzy kids can be unsupervised for a few hours at a time depending on age. The general rule is one hour per month of age up to 8 hours. There are always exceptions to this rule based on health issues and the individual dog personality.
The main thing to remember is that dogs are denning animals. They enjoy having a small confined quiet place to hole up and feel safe to nap. It prevents the high drive or high anxiety dogs from getting into things to amuse themselves while you are gone. In many cases it can reduce their anxiety of being alone. It sounds like your dog in particular has been crate trained for three years and that is his norm. Merging two households can be a challenge and compromises must be made. If your dog is used to being crated and is comfortable that way I would choose that over giving him the freedom to get into the trash where he could eat something that might make him sick or cause intestinal blockages that might threaten his life.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.