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Monday, December 6, 2010

ASK THE DOG TRAINER, with Mike Shamp: Restlessness in High Energy Dogs

by Mike Shamp
Master Dog Behavior Therapist and Trainer

Dear Mike:

My mini schnauzer is going on 3 years old, but she still sleeps in the crate at night. She is a very high energy dog and only within the last 6 months or so has she settled herself down to sleep in the dog bed in the living room. She pays attention to everything and everyone and without forced confinement she will not sleep. What is the best time and way to transition her to sleep in her dog bed in the bedroom instead of her crate. I tried 4 nights, about 30 minutes, of letting her roam, redirecting to her bed, etc., but she never settled down. As soon as she went into the crate she was curled up and sleeping.

Pepper, is crate trained very well. She knows the command "Go to your crate." I have a large house and therefore she has 3 crates for various times/occasions but mostly she is out all day unless there are a lot of people here or activity. 

I have a crate in the bedroom and she has had no problem at all during the night, even as a puppy. She goes in on command with a treat, curls up and goes to sleep. When I tried leaving her in the bedroom, she wouldn't settle down and wouldn't lay in her dog bed. She kept walking around, getting toys, jumping on my bed etc. As soon as I put her in the crate she curled up and went to sleep. I have been using a different term lately, "Time for bed", instead of go to your crate. I'm just wondering if she will ever be a dog bed sleeper or always need the crate for nightime?
G’day Dawn,

Congratulations on sensible use of crates in your home! Crates are a practical way of not only keeping a dog safe, they also provide a den and a place to rest. Many dogs will go back to their crates for rest and refuge for their entire life. Our 11 year Greyhound, Yukon, has lived in our home for 9 years but still goes to his crate. We often find him lying there resting with the door open.

Miniature Schnauzers are by nature highly alert, vigilant and intelligent. This combination of traits may contribute to Pepper’s nighttime activities. She may feel a need to be the pack sentry while the rest of the pack sleeps, thus her alertness and restlessness outside of the crate.

Pepper appears very willing to go into her crate and sleeps restfully all night. This may indicate that she has “clocked out” of her shift and her job as sentry is over for the day. She can rest peacefully when she is relieved of her guarding responsibilities. As long as her leader has asked her to rest she does not need to worry about protecting the pack. Many dogs left free to roam the house become anxious. They are left to guard a large area with no help or back up for long periods of time. It is a huge responsibility that makes it difficult to rest with all of that real estate to protect.

Making decisions concerning whether to crate or not to crate depends on the dog’s environment, temperament, and energy level. Some puppies are wonderful from the start without ever using a crate. While other dogs need a den-like place to find solace, a safe haven. There are also dogs that are high energy working dogs that need to be told when to rest.

Pepper shows signs that with age she is more willing to lie on her dog bed outside of her crate. This is a good beginning, but it will take time. Consider the level of exercise and mind stimulation that Pepper receives daily.  Does she get sufficient exercise for her age and breed? Is the level of mind stimulation she receives from toys, games and training enough to keep up with her intelligence? Does she need to be out of a crate or is her need for freedom a human desire?

A program of structured exercise and training is often a good way to work with high energy dogs. If you have children, they can play games that involve thoughtful responses from Pepper. Hide and seek; find the hidden toy; naming toys and picking the correct toy from a pile are all good ways to stimulate and satisfy Pepper’s busy nature. There are other ways to fit “brain” activities into a busy lifestyle. Satisfy her natural foraging instinct by hiding raw vegetables around your back yard or treats around your home. This will direct her energy into a constructive and thoughtful exercise that takes very little of your time. Toys such as a Kong, Buster Cube or Canine Genius require Pepper to work and think to retrieve the treats and food inside the toy.

As a closing thought, Pepper may desire a formal end to her day. She may need to be told when her work day is over. Our relationship with our dog, as with a relationship with our families requires two way communication. Listen to Pepper to see what she has to say so that you can satisfy her needs. She may be more comfortable in her crate at night knowing that her daily responsibility has come to an end for the day. 

(c) courtesy M.S.

Our ASK THE DOG TRAINER Column can be reached at

For more information on Mike Shamp and his training, you may find him at Bark Busters of Central Florida. you can also visit Bark Busters' Training Tips Page for help.

A personal appointment with a trainer will likely provide more specific information on your dog's issues and your questions.

Related Posts:
Is Agility in Your Dog's Future?
Oliver is yammering on about Trainer Mike over at 5 Minutes for Fido. Stop in and see what he's up to.

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Kristine said...

My husband and I were talking about this very issue just last night.

He was saying how he hoped we wouldn't have to crate our dog for the rest of her life when we leave her alone in the house. I said how she seemed to relax a lot better when she is inside her crate than when she is left loose. She remains quiet and sleeps instead of going on a destructive rampage. It's good to know we are on the right track. That maybe this is the way she prefers it after all.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Keep in mind that this Schnauzer's problem was related to knowing when to end his day--AT NIGHT.

Your issue may be one of needing more exercise and mental stimulation to fatigue Fido. Quite often this is a bigger problem for many dogs.

However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your pup sleep in his crate. After all, we sleep in our beds quite happily all our lives; it's not much different.

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