When should I stop crating my dog?

So frequently we hear people say:

“We stopped crating our dog. He (or she) doesn’t make a mess in the house and they’re totally potty trained. We don’t need a crate anymore.”

Typically, people who say this are also trying to resolve some stress out of their dogs life...stress which in many cases has led to unwanted behavior.

There are several reasons building and maintaining the skill of crate training is really important for dogs.

For example, crate training is super helpful if your dog ever needs vet care or grooming care that requires they are crated, or, if they receive an injury or illness that requires rest for a period of time (which in some cases can be weeks or months - trust me, I’ve been through a spleen removal and 2 TPLO surgeries recently with my dog and crate training was a saving grace for his recovery!). If your dog isn’t used to being crated, this will dramatically increase stress on them during a time of illness or recovery which can not only hinder the process but potentially lead to further injury.

But, just as far as every day life with our dogs go, the crate is an underused and undervalued resource for dog owners in our society. We see it all the time. So many people struggle with feelings of guilt around crating their dog. And, I get it, trust me. I want to be hanging and having fun with my dogs 24/7. But that’s not realistic. So, I make the time I spend with my dog count. We do fun shit that they LOVE, activities and games that make their heart soar, sports that challenge them physically and mentally.

What I want for my dogs more than anything, is that they feel emotionally, mentally, and physically safe at all times. When I’m not home or available to watch them, they are crated.

Dogs tend to feel obligated to keep busy if they have the opportunity. If they have the freedom to go bark at the dog passing by the house, mail carrier coming to the door, or any other sight or sound that may catch their attention on a daily basis...well that’s a lot of work to do! For a lot of hours!

And for many dogs the stress of that is too much. It leads to increased anxiety, frustration, potentially aggression, and a dog that overall, could be A LOT happier, more confident, and calmer... IF they didn’t have so much responsibility on their shoulders.

It’s time to shift the perspective on crating your dog. If you feel guilty about it, here are some things we recommend.

1) Make sure your dog is in an appropriately sized crate. It should be big enough for them to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down.

2) Your dog should willingly enter their crate for you and it should not be a punishment. We have a great video on crate games on our YouTube channel.

3) Be sure to provide regular structured outlets for your dogs energy and biological needs as a dog. Walks alone don’t cut it. Structured tug, retrieving, scent work, & agility are a few examples of activities you can learn about challenging yourself and your dog with that will satisfy their natural drives.

4) if you need help with a dog that is a challenge to crate train, get professional help from a trainer you are comfortable with. Ask them about their success with issues like the ones you are having.

5) Get involved with a local dog sport or club to learn about appropriate outlets for your dog.

“Crating your dog routinely provides a safe space for them. They understand it is an opportunity to take a break from the world. Nothing can come in, and they don’t have to worry about taking care of anything on the outside.”

Looking for ways to amp up physical and mental exercise for your pup?


This is such a hot topic for pet dog owners just like you.

We all want to see our pups happy and healthy and we all know that providing them with appropriate amounts and types of exercise are one of the key ways that we accomplish that.

Detailed below I have put together some really helpful tips, ideas, and truth bombs about what you could be adding to your current routine with your kiddos to take things to the next level of fun and satisfaction for them. 

First, it's really important to understand that there are 2 main types of exercise we will talk about in this article : 

Physical Exercise  VS Mental Exercise

Exercise, both physical and mental are absolutely essential to create a healthy, balanced dog but the two are very different from one another. 



Physical exercise, true physical exercise, must be regular and cause the expenditure of energy. It should not merely be a snail’s pace walk to the corner and back so that our dog can relieve himself. Although we live busy lives with limited time, providing your dog adequate physical exercise will cut back on many nuisance behaviors while helping us to keep them around longer by ensuring they remain healthy! Here are some basic ways to provide an appropriate amount of physical exercise for your dog : 


**Go for walks, the longer the better, and do not fall into the trap of forgoing walks because you have a fenced yard where your dog can play. It’s great to have a space where you can throw the ball or play a game of frisbee with your dog, but NOTHING TAKES THE PLACE OF A WALK!  Make a point to go for longer walks whenever possible, like a full hour long walk. Longer walks help your dog settle into a calmer energy level and help them feel like they are “traversing terrain” with their pack member (you), which is highly satisfying for them. Think about it, dogs in their natural environments would spend their days hunting and traveling across great distances with their pack members. How cool is it to give them a semblance of this experience, which they are designed to do daily? When we all our dogs, we are tapping into one of our dog’s primal needs, the need to feel “pack drive”, which is the rewarding energy of working together with other members of their pack, which includes YOU! So get out there and explore, move, and exercise with your dog. 


**If you are into running, running with your dog is an awesome way to burn a higher amount of energy in a faster amount of time. If you are not a runner, don’t worry. If you have a friend, family member, or even a neighborhood kid who runs track, chances are one of them would love to take your dog running!


**Teaching your dog to run next to a bicycle is another awesome way to help your dog expend tons of energy in a shorter amount of time. There is a great product called a K9 Cruiser (which you can purchase online) that attaches to your bike at your dog’s level to make this process even easier. This allows your dog to run next to you without needing to hold a leash in one of your hands. 


**You can train your dog to run on a treadmill to give them some higher intensity exercise before you go off to work. Works for people, so if your dog is into it, why not? Start with just a few minutes and work your way up to a 30 minute treadmill exercise session. 


**Diversity is everything! Get out and go walking or hiking in new locations regularly. Try to find at least one new location every week to add some excitement and diversity to the outings you are taking with your dog!


**If your dog likes to swim and you are nearby a source of clean water, take your dog swimming whenever possible. If they are into retrieving, you might look into a sport called Dock Diving where you combine the game of fetch with swimming as the dog learns to make longer jumps to catch the toy being tossed off the dock. This provides an incredible amount of exercise for your dog while they are having a blast AND expanding their strength and coordination skills. 


**Playing games like tug, flirt pole, and spring pole can create a healthy outlet for natural prey drive while giving them some high energy exercise. It is important that you learn how to properly play these games with your dogs, establish rules and boundaries so that it is controlled, safe, and fun. 


**Weight Pull can be a great exercise for dogs as well. Whether you explore training your dog to pull you on hikes, bike rides, on roller-skates or skateboards,  using a skijoring harness OR you venture into resistance training using a professionally pull harness and low weight for longer periods, many dogs can find it deeply satisfying to pull. http://canineresistancetrainingcrt.vhx.tv is an excellent source for education on pull work. 



Mental Exercise is not about movements and burning calories. It is about helping your dog to burn mental energy by stimulating their minds. A lack of sufficient mental stimulation is often the root cause for all kinds of behavior problems from barking and destructive chewing to more serious issues like separation anxiety. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and thrive on using their brains on a. Daily basis to feel balanced, satiated, and purposeful. Here are some tips for how to engage your dog mentally : 


**Teach your dog tricks! Even the most basic trick, like “sit pretty” or “roll over” can get your dog thinking and engaging with you. The sky is the list with tricks and once your dog starts learning how to learn, you will see them start to learn new tricks more quickly. 


**Teach your dog a “find it” game where they begin to learn how to search for rewards in hidden places. You may even choose to feed them their food in this manner so that they are extra inspired to use their noses to hunt out their dinner. 


**Teach your dog to do Scent Detection. If you dog has a penchant for using his nose, then this may be an awesome way to exercise his natural instincts while using some brain power! Scent work can be lighthearted and fun, it is not just for police dogs or bomb sniffing working dogs. Did you know that you can train your dog to find a particular target odor (pick one essential oil) and then place that odor on objects (like your car keys) and … voila! You have an awesome game to play that may also come in handy someday!


**Do agility with your dog. This one is certainly a combination of physical and mental exercise but it takes a huge amount of mental energy to navigate a good agility course. You can set up your own course in your backyard and start keeping track of the time it takes your dog to run the course. You can easily find affordable agility equipment online, or if you are handy, you could build a few basic jumps, a catwalk, and even a weave pole to get you started. Agility is not only a great challenge for your dog, but it can also be an amazing way to bond with your high every dog! 


**Teach your dog to retrieve items by their name. Did you know that dogs can learn over 150 words? If you have a dog who loves to pick things up in their mouth and bring them to you, this is a great game that can challenge your dog to think and, once again, may come in handy sometime. You can train your dog to get your shoes, the newspaper, or even a beer out of the fridge. How cool is that!?


**Begin obedience training!! This is, by far, the holy grail of mental stimulation for a dog. Not only does obedience work engage your dog mentally, but it creates building blocks of learned behaviors that establish greater lines of communication between you and your dog, AND highly rewards your dog by fostering. Deeper bond with their leader (that means you!!). Think about this…we all want our dogs to understand what we want from them AND we want them to understand what they mean to us. While dogs do not innately understand our words, they can readily learn what we mean, but ONLY IF WE TEACH THEM! The act of teaching is in itself a loving act when we reassure our dogs that they are understanding us well. What better way to convey our devotion and esteem for our dogs than by giving them our time, our patience, and our attention while teaching them how to understand us better? So get involved in teaching your dog something that will not only give them a fair shot at knowing what you want, but will also give them something incredibly rewarding to do with their brains!

Surprising Do's and Don'ts in Puppy Socialization

So you got a new pup! 


By now you've probably already thought about the fact that you need to do some obedience training with your new pup.

And, you've probably thought about your puppies need for socialization as well. 

But, did you know, that not all socialization is good socialization? 

That oftentimes, we are unknowingly doing our puppies more harm than good in our social habits? 

We want to share with you some of the most common mistakes in socialization we see dog owners unknowingly making, and share with you why it's an issue. 

3 Types of Socialization

*Environmental Socialization


*Direct Interaction

*Environmental Socialization is when you take your puppy or dog to any environment other than their immediate comfort zone (home / yard). It is the first type of socialization I mention because it is one of the most important types of socialization that so often gets overlooked accidentally, or done in a way that does not set your puppy up for success. 

Environmental socialization can go a few different ways. You can take your pup to any new environment, whether it's down the street for a walk, to a park, or to Heisler's for some ice cream, and let them explore, check stuff out, do their thing. That's super typical for pups. And no one thinks anything of it. It sounds normal enough, right? Heck yeah! It is! It's what most people do!

But here's the thing. Let's look at things from the dog's perspective for a moment. 

"When we go new places, I get to sniff everything. There's so many smells. Some are good, some are not so good. When I pull on the leash, my owner comes with me to smell new stuff! It's great! I saw a little furry creature that had a tail the size of its body...definitely NOT a dog like me, but I barked at it and it ran UP A TREE. I've got to learn to do that! Then, I barked at a person and they came over to pet me! So cool. I didn't know I could tell people to do that - but I learned that great new trick today and I'm going to do it all the time now when I want to get pet! Then this other person came over and reach down and I really didn't want to get picked up by them but they picked me up anyway. They kept kissing my face and telling me how cute I was. I mean, I know I'm cute, mom tells me all the time, so duh. But I was really tired and just wasn't interested. Despite the fact that I tried to hide under mom when she first came towards me, and turned my head away as she kissed me, and squirmed to get away, the lady kissed me and kissed me anyway. It wasn't too bad, but, I hope it doesn't happen again. All in all though, going out is really great!"

So what did we get out of that? 

1) Puppy learns that pulling on leash is rewarding 
2) Puppy learns that everything in their environment is relevant EXCEPT for YOU
3) Barking at squirrels makes them run away (this quickly becomes a generalized behavior)
4) Barking at people for attention gets you attention
5) Avoiding people does not get people to leave you alone and more importantly you have NO ONE to advocate for you


When practicing environmental socialization with your dog... you can make it ALL ABOUT YOU. Take your dogs places and play games with them. Do it everywhere. Inside your house. Outside your house in your yard. In your driveway. On the sidewalk. At the park. At Heisler's. Literally, anywhere you go with your dog, be the center of their universe. The most fun, the most exciting thing to your pup. This does a few things. 

1) You will have your dogs attention if they like being with you and playing with you. 
2) This will allow your to more easily redirect your dog as they grow up off distractions. Again, the more valuable you are to your dog if you are the source of fun and food the more easily you will convince them to ignore the challenges of the world (barking dogs, strangers, squirrels, bunnies, birds, etc)
3) Your dog is less likely to develop bad habits (like leash pulling & impulsive barking) when out in public, and once again, will be easier to fix if your dog finds you the most rewarding thing no matter where you go together. 
4) Having your dogs attention gives you a huge leg up in Obedience. If you have your dogs attention, you can ask them to do things for you. 

*Co Existing
The art of coexisting is something that SO many dogs struggle with. Co existing is being able to just hang out and relax. Even if there's stuff going on. Even if you're at home and have guests. Even if the kids are playing. Even if you are out for a walk and stop to chat with a neighbor. Even if you are at the waiting room in the vet. Co existing is a skill that must be developed and practiced. This is hard. Many dog struggle with this because they don't practice enough co existence at home. Developing co existing skills is largely done through management and boundary setting. Inclusion crate work, tethering, and practicing lots of the place command (go to your bed and stay there no matter what is going on until you are released), are great ways to develop co existing skills. It takes time and patience but creates a stable dog with the ability to have a calm mindset who is more enjoyable to be around. 

*Direct Interaction is the last type of socialization that I mention for an important reason. It is the type of socialization that everyone thinks of when they think of socialization. It is when puppies or dogs are directly interacting and making physical contact with other people or other dogs. Many people think, or are told, that they need to get their puppy handled by as many people as possible and introduce them to as many dogs as possible. THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE. In fact, for many dogs, this brings devastating results.

If you have a super social puppy that may LOVE all the attention you are allowing and encouraging, as this pup grows it will not only want but expect and possibly start to DEMAND attention from everyone. This can result in excessive excitement around people and new people, jumping, leash pulling or frustration, having a hard time bringing people into your home, and not being able to get your dog to settle down around company.

Conversely, if you have a puppy that is somewhat shy or reserved, that likely is a personality trait, just like the very social dog. However, not all dogs are super social and super interested in meeting new people. Just like people, some dogs are more outgoing than others. If you are putting your new puppy, who you yourself is just developing a relationship with, in the hands of new people all the time, your puppy is learning a few important things that will inform their future behavior. 

One, that no one, not even you, respects their need and desire for space. 
Two, avoiding or practicing calming signals or avoidance does not work with humans (yawning, looking away, avoiding eye contact, squirming to retreat). 

Unfortunately, for many dogs, when all these signals are ignored enough times, dogs learn to practice alternative behavior to create space. 

Growling, snarling, barking, lunging, biting. 

While we are huge advocates for practicing both Environmental Socialization and Coexisting on a consistent basis, we also love to see pups enjoying appropriate social interaction with new people and new dogs. This is something that we specialize in at our facility on Route 61 South in Orwigsburg. We put a big emphasis on teaching our clients about social interactions, what to do, what not to do, and how to read your dog's body language to allow you to better help them. There is a lot of nuance to properly socialization and the value of having a socialization plan in your dogs life can change their whole world for the better.

When it comes to dog - dog interactions, we recommend only allowing direct interaction with dogs you know are stable and healthy. It's not worth the risk of meeting every dog you meet that is friendly (not to mention the issues this can cause even if it does go 'well' every time - re leash frustration). Public dog parks can cause issues because you don't know the health or history of the other dogs there. 

A great way to introduce your dog to a new doggie friend is to first take a nice long walk together (one handler per dog) and get them to just coexist together. If they can't coexist on a walk, they shouldn't have direct interaction. If you have a successful walk, take them to an area where they can be off leash together. If they are off leash trained, the world is your dog park. If they are not, I recommend finding a securely fenced in area. Interrupt any play in which both dogs are not "into it", humping, neck or collar biting, leg biting, or anything else that looks to be over the top or inappropriate to you. Practice recalling your dog out of play and reward them for coming back to you. You should ALWAYS have control of your dog even if they are involved in direct interaction. If you do not, find a trainer who can help you with distraction work. 

When it comes to direct interaction with people, again we recommend sticking with people you know and that your puppy is going to have a relationship with. If you took your puppy out in public and let everyone say hello, your puppy is going to think that all people are relevant to them. For most dogs this creates one of two issues : a shy or less confident dog may develop reactivity or bad leash manners to stay away from people. For confident and very social dogs they will expect and possibly demand that they say hello to everyone and not know how to pass by a neighbor without barking and pulling out of excitement. 

One thing we talk to our clients about all the time is that it is OK to say "No thank you" to people who want to pet your dog. You are allowed to take your dog in public and work with them on environmental socialization, a very important part of raising a puppy, and set boundaries with the public. Many people struggle with this and get offended. It's hard to do. But, remember, it's YOUR job to advocate for YOUR puppy. Be nice to your neighbors, but be firm as well! After all - you're the one that has to live with and take care of your dog! And we know you want what is best for them. 


Working On Changing Relevance of a Specific Trigger

Dog behavior can be a tricky thing if you do not understand how the behavior got developed. When it comes to fixing behaviors like reactivity, there are few things you will want to figure out about your dog. I find that the two most important things to figure out are, how or why is the trigger relevant to my dog, and how can I make myself more relevant to my dog? If you can figure these two things out, you can begin to make changes in the ways you live with your dog, and also begin to develop a better mindset in your dog. Mindset is everything. If your dog has it in their mind that those specific triggers have some sort of relevance to them, you will not have great success in working them through those moments. Most people at that point believe that the must try to fix the behavior the dog is displaying and not address the reason for which the dog feels they must act that way. Often times you will see or hear a lot of talk about correcting dogs for reactive or aggressive behavior towards other dogs or even people. I can tell you right now from my experience, the correction is the last thing you to bring into the picture. Corrections certainly have their place in the process, but its not going to be the thing that fixes the issues the dog has. When you add corrections too early, you are only teaching the dog that you do not want them to choose that behavior in that situation. What your not teaching them is that there is no need to even feel like they must choose that behavior to begin with. The only way to achieve that to successfully get them to coexist in the same space as their trigger, but not be focused on their trigger. How do you do this?


Here at Lead Your K9 we practice and push dogs to be engaged with us. We develop the behavior of engagement by rewarding offered focus. This is done through playing a game with the dog where you get them to seek food (can also be toy or personal play) from you and “mark” (marker training) the moment they make eye contact/offer focus to you. You do this repeatedly until the dog now finds it super rewarding to just offer you focus. At this point you have now created more RELEVANCE about yourself. This is best done in a stale environment first to create the behavior. When your dog is just looking to you and trying to turn this game on, you’re on the right track. If they are sniffing around the environment and not just staying eyes glued to you, you have more work to do before moving on. Once they are ready, you will want to work them around a variety of distractions and in numerous environments to truly build the skill up before having them around their trigger. If the can not ignore the simple things in life, how can they ignore the big triggers?

When you’ve built up that relevance about yourself in almost any environment where the dog is choosing to be engaged with you and not caring about anything else going on, you are ready to bring out their specific trigger. Get your dog engaged with you before brining the trigger into the environment. If you’ve done your homework, your dog will be eyes glued until they see their trigger. If they get instantly distracted and loose all focus, it may be too soon for them. If they are bouncing in and out of focus, you need to work hard to keep them on you. You must become more relevant than the trigger by being the more rewarding choice. When they get distracted, using your “no reward marker” (marker training) is a good way to help them understand they are not making a good choice. Be sure to have them on leash to prevent any failure of the dog. If your dog is working well and ignoring the trigger in the environment and just staying fully engaged with you, you successfully changed the relevance of the trigger and have made yourself the clear choice.

Below is a link to a video from our YouTube channel. In the video, Tony is working with a dog named Meeko and you can see how he used this concept to get him working around a dog in the room. This is not a finished product, but once you have the relevance in your favor, the dog with be more willing to perform the behaviors you’re looking for and not just blow you off.