There are many sorts of crate aggression; this case is one where the dog barks intensely when the door is just closed. This is a sensitive eight-year-old herding dog, which is relevant, and a long standing problem, which is also relevant.
One of my sayings is “The smaller the space, the higher the stakes.” Meaning: dogs tend to react faster and more intensely in small spaces than out in the open. This is not a surprise, so do we. In the world of “fight or flight” if your flight is limited, your fight tends to intensify.
The client is an experienced trainer who has tried “the usual” to fix this problem with no success. She has both rewarded calm behavior in the crate for a long time and enforced the down as a correction for the barking over a long period. Neither really helped and she is left with this loud, startling and frustrating behavior.
That info clarifies things for me. My first question when I have this sort of case to resolve is: what is the trigger? What causes the dog to launch into barking? Here was my guess: for sensitive herding dogs, movement coming at them in a small space – like the crate door swing shut toward their face – can trigger barking/reacting.
The history strengthens this guess because everything tried still left the gate swinging shut into her face.
So, how can I defuse this tight-space situation and, even better, how can I change the trigger into a cue to do a behavior that will prevent this sequence?
How about teaching this dog to look away when the door closes?
The short-course review of my approach is:
- Send dog to crate, toss a few tempting treats behind her to the back of the crate, touch the door.
- Repeat only swing the door as she eats the treats.
- Repeat now rattle the door – VERY lightly – against the front of the crate.
- Now – touch the door THEN toss in the treats.
- Repeat only swing the door.
- Now, touch the door and pause. Be absolutely still. When dogs averts head AT ALL – praise, toss a few treats.
You get the idea.
The key points are first food then touch gate, next touch gate then food, after that touch gate and pause – dog averts (at all) causes food to be tossed behind her.
The results are promising. In three 5 minute sessions she made significant progress seeming absolutely delighted to have another option other than stressing out. There are likely to be backslides and missteps but, by changing the door shutting from being the trigger of something negative into the cue to avert, we should be able to relax this dog in her crate. And that will be a huge improvement for both this sensitive rescue dog and her devoted person.