In the last two posts in this series, I’ve been exploring denning as one potential solution in the quest to help our doggie buddies relieve anxiety. I call this den, this Happy Place for Fido, a “Pup-Snuggery”.
The first two installments (Part I and Part II), provided behavioral backing and support on the value of conditioning your dog to a Pup-Snuggery, as well as minimum requirements for selecting a good place to locate it, whether to DIY or use a prefab crate, bedding options and additional considerations to outfit her favorite place.
Now comes the last part: conditioning your dog to love their new space.
Remember – the objective here is for the dog to feel comfortable and safe in the Snuggery, not punished, banished or confined.
As a quick review, you will have, at this point, selected the ideal location. It must provide:
- Accessibility: Make sure she can enter without your permission or intervention, and easily reachable for blind or disabled dogs.
- Quiet: Activity or noise should be blocked or deadened wherever possible.
- Comfort: Seasonably comfortable, warm or cool. Soft, comfortable bedding, ideally with your personal smell (like an article of clothing) present.
- Safety: Secure, free of disturbances or competition for resources. Bed, toys, food and water available, with anything harmful (breakables, chewables) removed or inaccessible.
Pup, Meet Your Snuggery
It is quite possible that your pet had already selected this place and is accustomed to spending quiet time there – if so, great! Otherwise, introducing your pet properly to the Snuggery will take time, patience and some keen observation. No worries, though…it’s not that difficult. Encouraging your pup to enjoy the space requires yummy treats, some contrived excitement on your part, food, water and toys (stuff they already love)…then lather, rinse and repeat.
You will already have the following:
- An outfitted Snuggery
- Super-yummy treats (called “high-value” treats by experts)
- Toys, an activity chew (like a Kong with peanut butter) or favorite bone
- Food and water
- A dog who has already exercised and pottied
There are several schools of thought on this, and perhaps variations are best for your dog…I’ll give you the basics, and you can adjust as your dog responds. You know your dog best!
The plan begins by creating excitement and feeding the dog in their new space.
For the first several days, coordinate a playful event with feeding time in the Snuggery. This means being an absolute lunatic with your dog for a little while in the room. Hopping, playing – anything that will create a happy and excited association. Then calm them using a command, like sit, and once calm, deliver the food and water. Once they are eating, close the door and leave them alone to eat for 15 minutes. Once time is up, release them and play a fun game. Continue to follow this pattern for the first week or so; always happy time, feeding, alone time, then happy time again.
Thereafter, once the dog is used to the space, continue to feed them there, but also begin to encourage use of the space when you leave for work or go to bed. Do this by supplying those “high-value” treats in the area, as well as an activity bone (toys should already be there) to keep them busy.
Variations on the Plan
Leaving your dog alone for 15 minutes to start with might be too much. You may want to gradually extend the time she spends alone, from a few seconds, to several minutes.
Close the door only when she is comfortable in the room, is still eating, or is otherwise busy, and only keep it closed for seconds, not minutes – because if she begins to scratch and whine, she’s been in too long. You should only release her or reenter the room when she is calm and quiet, so be attentive for those changes. Gradually increase the time by a few seconds, and before too long, she’ll be used to the space and will feel safe and comfortable there. If progress is not made or is stalled, start again with just a few seconds alone, and increase the level of play and excitement – maybe select different treats or more compelling toys – to evoke the necessary positive association. And don’t advance to the next level of alone time until she’s comfortable.
Retreat to the Snuggery!
So with that, the Pup-Snuggery Series has come to a close. Denning is just one possible answer to the complicated question of anxiety in dogs…but behaviorally, it makes absolute sense to create a conditioned association with a comfortable, safe, quiet, accessible retreat made specifically for them.
Do you have a Pup-Snuggery Success Story you’d like to share? Please comment below!
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