How to Create Productive Spaces for You and Your Dog, Part 1

Brought you to by Charley Perkins and Romi  

This is a makeshift crate I made for Romi to use in our office when she was 7 months old.

Just a couple months ago, I had never heard terms like “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” or “ PPE.” Nowadays, such things are a way of everyday life. These are weird times for sure, and for many of us, that means spending way more time at home than usual. Romi and I are really lucky: We live in a place where we can easily enjoy the fresh air outside, and finding time in nature these days really helps us both manage the stress. However, many of our friends and their dogs live in cities, and for them, things are starting to feel pretty claustrophobic. It feels timely that we think about how we set up our living situations, especially if we want to make this time as positive as possible both for us AND for our dogs. 

In this two-part post, we want to talk about setting up your living space for you, your dog, and the training that is coming. When living so closely with your dog, it is important to create some boundaries and to assign specific places for working, resting, eating, and playing. Of course, different people and different dogs will have different needs for space, but in the end, it helps to make your home as functional as possible.

Before we get into the specifics of how I set up my space for Romi and me, I want to talk a little about boundaries, which are an essential part of the relationship between humans and dogs. Although we love to interact with our dogs, it is healthy to find a balance of time together and time apart. Some dogs, just like some people, need more “alone time” while other dogs, especially in these stressful times, will be particularly clingy, or excitable, or needy of our attention. It is important to be realistic about how productive we can be if our dog is always at our feet, especially if they are needy; this makes teaching boundaries all that more important.

Romi and I have a hunting cabin. We love our time together and hate leaving. Our visits are fairly routine and about an hour before its time to leave Romi disappears. I can always find her in her crate, with the door open. This is her safe space.

I have found that one of the best ways to introduce the concept of boundaries to your dog is to “crate-train.” If you have never used a dog crate, you may be worried that it will feel like a prison to your dog. The opposite is actually true: dogs benefit from time in a crate. Confined to a small, den-like space, they can relax, let their minds rest, and feel safe and protected. Crates are a great training tool; they take us people out of the equation and are helpful when teaching the dog how to be still, calm, and ideally quiet. I don’t believe that you should ever let the crate represent a place of punishment. I never put Romi in the crate with negative emotion or tone, even though some people like to use the crate as a form of “time-out.” I always want Romi to think of the crate as a safe space . . . her space.

Even though a crate is a sanctuary, you may need to help your dog get comfortable using it. So how do you do that, especially if your dog has never used one? It’s pretty easy.

  • First, put the crate in a dedicated spot in your home, and let it sit for a day or two, so your dog can get used to it. Put something familiar–maybe a jacket or blanket with your smell on it–on the floor of the crate for warmth and comfort.
  • Next, put your dog on a leash, and guide them into the crate. Once they are in, take the leash off, give them a treat and a ton of praise. (Tip: slip leads are great for training because you can remove them quickly when needed.) Be really expressive; your dog has to know that going in the crate results in something positive. The first few tries getting your dog in the crate may be tough, but stay calm and consistent.
  • After your dog begins to get the hang of what is expected, add a command such as “kennel” or “crate” when you lead the dog in. This will label the behavior. Continue to reinforce the named behavior with praise, and be sure to make the process fun. By getting in a lot of reps, you will ensure healthy progress, and you will also be teaching your dog a lifelong skill.

*You will notice that this is a very similar process I will use for training most of the skills to come. It’s pretty simple actually: first, you need to show/get your dog to do the desired behavior, then “name” that behavior, then reinforce that named behavior.*

Don’t fall for the sad eyes and let your pup out of the crate early. They must learn to settle themselves in their crate.

You should feel comfortable leaving your dog in the crate for up to a few hours. Again, as long as you mix up these sessions with play and exercise, time in the crate will become a welcome break for your dog. You might, however, experience some challenges. Your dog might scratch or bark, distracting you from what you are doing. This is not acceptable behavior, and you may be tempted to verbally reprimand your dog or let them out. Giving in now is a terrible idea. Your dog will see your attention as a result of their behavior, meaning they will think that barking or scratching is the key to getting let out of the crate. Do your best to ignore the bad behavior, and only let your dog out when they are quiet and calm. 

If barking is an ongoing problem, and the above training is taking too long, consider a citronella bark collar. These collars are helpful in that they release a spray of citronella only when the dog barks. Citronella is harmless to dogs but is highly effective because it is an uncommon smell that surprises and distracts the dog right in the act. Barking can be a big problem in tight spaces, so focusing on this is critical to your happiness. 

Editor’s note: In the second installment in our “How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog” series, Charley Perkins discusses a great way to give both you and your dog “alone time.”

My friend Chico having a little fun and taking a new approach to help Romi’s brother, Hopper, get used to a new crate.

If you know me or follow me online, you will notice that Romi doesn’t spend much time in her crate. We have moved along in her training to using a “place” concept instead, and she finds her space on her beds, or on special blankets/throws that I have designated for her. In next week’s post, we will build from this foundation to discuss how to use beds and blankets to create boundaries inside the home. Until then, start with a crate, and be consistent

As a final note, I want to acknowledge that spending more time at home right now is an opportunity not everyone has. I know, and all at Orvis know, that there are so many folks out there on the front lines, putting themselves in a vulnerable place each day. All of the healthcare workers, all of the grocery store workers, all of the delivery people, and all others who get up each day and fearlessly do the work of keeping our world running, please know that we are thinking about you every day. 

Charley Perkins is Orvis Brand Marketing Manger, and a member of the third generation of family ownership.

Click here for previous posts in this series:

1. New Series: How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog

Products to Help Create Productive Spaces

Dog Crates

Dog Beds

Dog Blankets

Dog Treats

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