The Den: Why Dogs Need Space of Their Own
Imagine a long day of work. You've been stimulated all day can't wait to crash in your bed at night because that's at least one point of the day where you can relax and decompress... except you aren't conscious for it! You wish that your nervous system was able to relax more throughout the day. Gosh, that meditation plan sounds great right about now.
So, maybe for 2018 you've made that resolution to start a meditation practice or take some quiet time alone to fully connect to your body, your mind, and your spirit... to take a step away from always being "on". Within a few meditation practices you feel better - you can breath more, your reaction rate has gone done, you're able to digest more stimulants in today's modern world. Your threshold has heightened. You feel more clear, stronger, and all around GOOD. My point about all this is that by practicing meditation, you've stepped out of the constant chit-chat and stepped into your body alone. It's sacred. How does this relate to dogs, you ask?
Dogs need space from the constant stimulation that's going on in their world... including the owner and family :) Yes, I just said it! How do you do this? A crate. Think of it as their "den". Why? It's in their nature.
Wolves (the great ancestor of the modern dog), have dens where they keep their young, use it for shelter, and take their kill (prey) back to enjoy. It's a space of decompressing and protection.
A Wolf Den
A wolf without a den would lead to many things: one of them being anxiety. Sure, we don't have wolves as pets - we have dogs. But my point is that you can take the dog out of the wild, but you can't take the wild nature and instinct out of the dog. That's programmed deep in their essence of being a part of the animal world.
It's popular to crate train puppies, but why do we stop? Do we feel the constant need to have our dog near us at all times whenever we are together? I know I used to - and it led to extreme behavioral problems for my dogs... Including some pretty gnarly separation anxiety.
If you're looking for information about how to crate train your puppy a natural and holistic way, I recommend reading this great blog post from our friends at Canine Movement Lab.
If you're like us and have a rescue dog (or multiple), then the following steps are of the upmost importance in helping your dog to feel safe and secure.
1. Stick with an enclosed crate that's cave-like. We sway people away from wire crates because they have a tendency to be unsafe. We've heard some horror stories. You can invest in a plastic crate, or get one of our personal recommendations: The Impact Dog Crate.
2. When bringing home your new rescue dog, put them in the crate to decompress. It's hard to not want to be all over them and comfort them from what may have been an extremely stimulating and traumatizing experience for them, but keep in mind they don't think like us: they feel. The last thing your rescue dog wants is constant hugs and kisses - they want to relax & assimilate to their new environment.
3. If you've had your dog for some time, start slowly. Feed your dog in the crate and let them hang in there for 10 minutes at a time. If they are loud or seem in distress, try to put the crate on an elevated surface that's somewhat shaky. We use ottomans, trunks, card tables, anything that's somewhat raised. This helps because the dog focuses more on being "off balance" and having to settle in order for the crate to stop moving. So, they feel in control when the crate is still. If there are still problems, you can separate the crate in 2 pieces and practice down-stay in bottom of the crate for a few days (use treats!) and eventually you can add the top and the door to the crate while helping your dog to feel the crate time is actually a good time!
4. When you go on car rides, use it as an opportunity for crate training. Dogs love car rides because it's constant movement. How's this relate to the crate? When the dog is in the crate in the car, it becomes a place of movement. You may have to practice this a lot - it takes time, but it pays off.
5. Be sure the crate is in a serene spot in the house and do not bother the dog when it's in the crate. The crate is the den: it's a safe place of resting & meditation. This is a place where their nervous system can come back to neutral.
6. Finally, be sure to use the crate for a place of rest, set your dog up for success and let it be known (and felt within your heart) that having a practice of decompression is positive and healthy... because we all know it is! Give your dog a den, and pick up a meditation pillow for yourself!