by Micaela Frank, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
*Note: This article does not address dogs who have true separation anxiety or distress.*
What is Confinement Training? Confinement training is simply teaching your dog that being confined in a safe, clean space for a short period of time is o.k. While the word “confinement” might sound kind of scary, it’s actually quite humane to teach your dog to tolerate, and even enjoy, a small bit of down time in a certain space.
Why Train a Confinement Area? You might actually be amazed at the amount of unwanted behaviors that can be mitigated by confinement training, and the things that can suddenly become easier if your dog knows how to chill in a confinement space for just a bit. Check out this list:
Canine housemates not getting along
Resource guarding between dogs
Jumping on guests
Overall stress reduction in multiple dog households
Being able to focus on training one dog at a time
Ease of cleaning house (if you vacuum around the dog, you’re guaranteed to miss a spot)
Prevention of separation anxiety before it develops
So Where Do I Begin? Choosing the appropriate confinement space will be key, and not all confinement spaces are created equally. Keep this in mind when determining what will work best for your given dog. If you have a young puppy or dog who is working on house training as well as chew training (and just about everything else, right?!) you are probably going to want to invest in a crate that is big enough for the puppy to stand up, turn around, and be comfy, but not so big that they can go potty on one end and then get away from it by going to the other end. Dogs are not inclined to soil a small space they are confined to (unless they have not had ample opportunity to do their business somewhere appropriate, or if they are panicking – another topic for another time).
If you have a dog who is housetrained already, a crate is still an awesome option. But there are others. One great confinement option for an older dog is a laundry room or mudroom with no dangerous objects or chemicals the dog can access. Training a love for this space is easy, using their meal time. Provide their meal and close the door. Listen for them to finish eating, and then set the timer for thirty seconds. Open the door and release them after this short amount of confinement post-meal. Your goal is that your dog is released before there is any scratching at the door or whining to come out. You can gradually extend the time your dog spends post-meal in this room and the result is an instant confinement space!
Another great option is the use of a baby gate. You can gate your dog in a room where they are still able to see and hear you, but not reach the area you are in. This is useful if one dog in the home has higher training needs than another dog in the home, because separating the two can often aide training success. But sometimes the gated dog will take a bit of training as well in order to tolerate the fact that they’re not in the middle of the action. Make it easy on yourself by loading up a delicious treat dispensing toy or purchasing a yummy chew item for the gated dog to enjoy while you train the other dog within earshot.
Think your dog won’t ever need to tolerate confinement? Consider these scenarios – one of them is guaranteed to occur!
At the vet or groomer
At a boarding facility
At a shelter should they ever become lost
When you are training another dog in the home
Integrating a cat or other animal in to your home – separation is key for management
During a natural disaster or emergency such as a car accident
If they are injured, ill, or are recovering from surgery
If you redo your floors or carpets
If a small child or someone who is afraid of dogs comes over
If you are ill and need space
If you have a friend or neighbor watch your dog – your dog will need to follow their rules!
I guarantee you that every dog will need to tolerate some amount of confinement at some point in their life. So consider teaching them now to calmly tolerate it, rather than surprising them in the moment! You will discover an added benefit: teaching your dog to tolerate a confinement space also helps teach them to be calm overall!