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Shelter Dog - Is He Too Attached To His Crate Now?

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Shelter Dog - Is He Too Attached To His Crate Now?

Postby Golligan » Mon Sep 01, 2014 7:59 am

Theodore Edward Bear  

Our dog, a male St. Bernard, lived the first 3 years kept caged up for breeding purposes. The neighbor finally convinced the owner to turn the dog over to a no-kill shelter. At this point the dog was unsocialized, aggressive and distrusting of people. The lady who ran the shelter was the only one who would go near him. He would growl and bark threateningly at anyone who came near him. He was there for 1 year before we adopted him. We bought a humungous cage for him when we first brought him home which was the spring of 2007. He was allowed to run around in the fenced-in backyard or if my husband was with him, otherwise he stayed in the cage at first. It took us a few weeks before we let him out on a regular basis and months before we felt he was safe to have around the other family members(older boys, late teens, early twenties). Eventually he was given free choice and often chose the cage as a place to sleep. He has some real issues with his food bowl so he has his own kept in his cage with him. We have 1 other dog in the home, a female Samoyed, who is quite submissive to him and 4 cats that he likes and they don’t bother him. One thing that played in our favor was he had a bad case of heart worm when he moved in with us.(Because of his size and aggressive behavior the shelter had a tough time getting him in for vet visits.) He was extremely sick during the treatment process and that allowed us to take care of him, fussing over him, and put him in a vulnerable position where he quickly learned to trust us. He spent a great deal of time in the cage while he recuperated which took place over an entire summer. In the time since he has moved in with us, we did move our bedroom back to a regular room and we did include the cage since he seemed so attached to it and didn’t adapt to changes very quickly. Since then, and since moving in with us, he has become an entirely different dog with his true St. Bernard personality coming to the forefront. He has free roam of the house, loves all his “people”, and is totally sweet. He seems extremely happy and is loved as much as any pet could possibly be loved. So… to the question. I would really love to get this gigantic cage out of our room and we aren’t sure whether it is necessary for Ted’s peace of mind and comfort. We still keep his bowl of food in it and he has several toys and his bed in there. He does sleep outside of it quite often but the floor space is limited in here with the bed, cage and all. There really is no other place to put it so it would either be here or not, no transition to another room.  And he wants to be in the same room with either my husband or myself. We feel he sustained a little heart damage after the harsh heartworm treatments so we want to keep his life as peaceful as we can. If this means keeping the cage, then so be it but we decided to ask for opinions on this and see what others think. ANSWER: I LOVE that name!  Theodore E. Bear lol.

Well congratulations for being spectacular human beings.  You've totally turned this poor dog's life around, along with the wonderful work done at the no-kill shelter where the dog obviously got the exact care and socialization he required.  You're correct that his illness helped him to learn to trust, although it could easily have gone the other way, so you've obviously managed this dog in a magically marvelous manner(MMM!)

Crate issue: aside from the food bowl aggression(which I don't know has abated), there's no need for Ted E. Bear to require a crate UNLESS circumstances involve strangers in your home for any extended period of time(such as carpenters, anyone doing work); even at that, the dog could be confined to the bedroom providing he didn't exhibit any barrier frustration(aware that strangers are in the house and attempting to get out to them by eating through doors or walls).  If the dog still has food bowl aggression, then he will need to be fed twice daily in his sleeping area(in your bedroom) with the door closed so people and other animals don't interfere; this means putting the bowl down and walking out, leaving the dog ten to fifteen minutes for his meal, after which time you would remove the bowl out of his sight.  Food aggression is often the result of a dog's not having been fed adequately(as would be the case in the lunatic's premises where the dog was kept caged) and usually self extinguishes once the dog comes to expect adequate amounts of food on a regular basis, and providing no one messes with the bowl in an attempt to change the resource guarding behavior(you'd be surprised how many people think sticking their hand into the dog's bowl will somehow defeat food aggression.)

Here's what I would do: remove the bed, toys, food bowl, etc. to a space adjoining the crate for a few days.  With the crate thus rendered "bare"(no pun intended), observe what Ted E. does: if he insists on sleeping in the crate despite the lack of bedding, then re-post for instructions on how to change that without infringing on his sense of security.  If, however, he adjusts(with some confusion perhaps) to sleeping in the bed outside the crate and shows no interest in the crate, CLOSE THE CRATE DOOR so he can't obtain entry at any time and leave it that way for about a week while the dog makes an adjustment to never having access to the crate and shows no anxiety about it.  You'll know the dog has made the transition by observing him; be certain he has lost all interest in the crate, then remove it from the room.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Yeah, that name pretty much suits him these days! Our boys can't walk by him without hugging him. Strangers actually are viewed as just another possible person to pet him. Previously he would shake and try to avoid other people if we took him out anywhere. My husband can actually take him to work for "take your dog to work day" and he does fine. His true Saint personality has come to the forefront bigtime!

The food thing is confusing as I know he had plenty at the shelter and was not in a cage with other dogs and he has plenty here. We did try taking his bowl out of the cage for awhile but it upset him too much so we put it back. We have been giving him a can of food a day to keep weight on him as he tends to be too thin since being so sick. He wouldn't eat it while anyone was around so I worked with him on that and he is fine now. Sometimes the cats go in his cage and actually eat a bite or two of his food and he will not attack them or growl but rather will cry! We have been just keeping food out all the time as both dogs eat what they want/need and neither are overweight. Ted will "hug" his bowl with both paws, sleep with his head on it and even puts his toys in it. So we have made sure that is HIS bowl and he knows it. What I wondered is, should we plan on feeding him this way from now on? He gets anxious when we take his bowl away now even to fill it up so I am concerned about how he will react if we do both - making the crate changes, and moving/removing the food bowl. That sounds like a lot of emotional stress to put on him.

ANSWER: "Wet" food should never be the staple diet; it is mostly animal byproducts(this means animals contaminated or dead on arrival, can't be consumed by humans) plus fillers and other disgusting things.  Dogs should be fed a very high quality kibble such as those found below or other sources your veterinarian can suggest:http://www.canidae.com/dogs/grain-free-salmon/dry.html

There is far too much protein in canned food, plus additives and basically unhealthy ingredients. Stool is loose, large, smelly, because there's not sufficient nutrition.  A good quality kibble(NOT anything you can purchase in any supermarket) reduces stool to smaller, less smelly result because nutrition is being extracted from the food and what's left is what the body is eliminating.  Change the dog's diet; purchase high quality kibble, ask the veterinarian what amount this dog requires(it's based more on body type and present weight than anything the label will suggest).  Do NOT remove the dog's bowl, simply ADD TO IT(in sight of the dog).  No dog will easily recover from food deprivation; a stay at a shelter or even in a good home does not necessarily help the dog to trust the food source: this takes time and consistency.  Your dog may be getting inadequate nutrition from this food; once you switch to a high quality kibble(no matter the cost, you chose to have dogs), he will be less "hungry"(because he's getting proper nutrition) and MAY stop guarding his bowl.  Until, and unless, this happens, you'll have to keep the crate.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Oh, I am sorry. I didn't make the post very clear. We are only giving Ted the canned food as an extra. After spending over $1000 on the heart worm treatments the cost of the food is not something we will cut corners on. Ted deserves the best we can give him. We DO definitely give him a very high quality dry pet food(making a special trip to the feed mill for it) and he does well on it but we noticed if we give him the can of food IN ADDITION he eats even more of the dry and keeps a bit more weight on to a healthier proportion. LOL one can of food would definitely NOT be enough for a St. Bernard's diet! He has access to the dry food all the time with his own bowl and his own water bowl, too. The other dog is fed in the kitchen with another bowl and food. Ted has a huge yard to run in for exercise and he is walked a few days a week in addition to that. The vet has been very happy with the weight he regained after his heart worm treatments were completed. When we tried moving his bowl he just changed to guarding that one in the new location and seemed very upset despite the fact that food is always available. Because of his attitude towards the food, we have just left it available for him all the time rather than feed him once or twice a day as we wanted him to become comfortable with the idea that he will ALWAYS have as much food available all the time hoping he would get past feeling the need to guard it. Just to clarify: the shelter was unable to do anything about his aggressive attitude which is why he was there a year. People came to see him but, as soon as the growling, barking, and jumping started, they wouldn't take him. The one lady, Shelly, who would care for him there said he would clamp down on her arm when she tried to play with him. It took us several months for him to no longer have such aggressive behavior and many more months to learn to trust people. We have been able to take him for Pet Adoption day for the shelter to show his "success" story and Shelly was thrilled as she was able to now walk him and pet him.
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Shelter Dog - Is He Too Attached To His Crate Now?

Postby Saturnin » Tue Sep 02, 2014 1:54 pm

Given this further information, the shelter seems not able to manage dogs from traumatic background.  Adding wet food to the dish is raising the value of the dish: it becomes a high resource.  Instead of adding the wet food to the dry(in his crate), I suggest you give the dog his wet food portion separately OUTSIDE the crate: ask him to "sit", put the dish down, leave the room for ten minutes; remove the dish out of his sight.  In this way, he is comforted by his isolation with this high value resource and does not associate the 'disappearance' of the dish with you, but rather EARNS it; he also will lose the association to his "normal" food dish.  As he becomes more accustomed to this regimen, he will likely be more willing to have his dish outside his crate(generally).  This may take some time(even months).  I also suggest you do some reading in regard to positive reinforcement training and what it can accomplish.  It's very possible that a careful approach to Ted E vis a vis his food bowl fixation MAY extinguish this.  I want you to read Karen Pryor's "Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training".  The clicker is an amazing tool that can be used to change many serious behaviors, including active(defensive) aggression.  Read this book and then return with any questions you have.  If used correctly, the clicker may be able to assist in separating Ted E from his crate AND his anxiety over his food bowl.

Your assessment of my advice is outrageous.  I can ONLY KNOW WHAT YOU TELL ME, I can't read minds.  This is a PRO BONO activity for me and I spend HOURS every week doing it. I gave considerable thought(walked away from my computer and actually THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR DOG) for some time before addressing your problem.  Next time you want advice, PAY FOR IT: behaviorists are not cheap.  One can be found at one of the following sites:http://certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/page6.htmlhttp://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/caab-directory  
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Joined: Sun Feb 02, 2014 3:17 pm

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