Saturday, August 16, 2014

Crate and Rotate

I am currently managing the issues between Brisbane and Ulysses, but for the first couple of weeks after I got bit, I had them on a crate and rotate routine.

What is "Crate and Rotate"?
Crate and Rotate is a management technique for keeping two dogs in the same house separated. It is most useful for preventing fights between dogs. 

How does it work?
The idea is that the two dogs are never unrestrained in the same space at the same time. When one dog is a liberty in the house, the other is contained in a crate or xpen, behind a door or baby gate in another room, or outside. The dogs take turns being loose in the house and being contained. At my house I generally had either Brisbane or Ulysses in the crate in my living room. I also have two crates in the bedroom, a baby gate across the doorway of my office, a bathroom, and a fenced front yard in which to stash dogs.

What are the benefits?
Crate and rotate allowed me to keep both Brisbane and Ulysses in my house without giving them the opportunity to fight. After Ulysses bit me, I initially felt that I could not keep him in my house because I could not prevent him from fighting with Brisbane. Our options were to find him another foster home (always in short supply) or euthanize him. While I discussed the issue with my rescue peeps, I decided to crate and rotate the dogs. Briz and Uly both like hanging out in crates, so the urgency to make a decision quickly faded. After a couple of weeks with incredibly tight management, I started to feel more comfortable working with him.

I now feel comfortable having them loose at the same time with close supervision, so I can let one out of the crate and put the other one in without worrying that they'll suddenly erupt into violence. I'm still doing a lot of crating though, as it allows me to use various food puzzle toys and long-lasting chews that could start a fight if both dogs were loose. To keep the boys happy about being crated, I always send them in with a chew, stuffed Kong, or at least a cookie. Sometimes I even toss something super exciting in there and then close the crate without letting them in, they stand there staring at that knuckle bone for a while and are extremely satisfied when I finally let them in to have a good chew.

What are the drawbacks?
When we're all just chilling in the living room, nobody minds being in a crate. It's a much harder system to maintain when I've just gotten home from work and want to greet everyone and let them out to pee. It's tough when someone has to wait their turn. Playing musical dogs was also sometimes irritating, since I was doing total separation I couldn't just let Ulysses out of the crate and send Brisbane in. Instead I would have to shut Brisbane in the bedroom, let Ulysses out of the crate and put him outside or in the office, then put Brisbane in the crate before letting Uly back into the house.

The biggest drawback to crate and rotate is that it is a management system that relies entirely on not messing up. One person who is always alert and vigilant might be able to pull it off flawlessly, but the reality is that there are two people living in my house, and sometimes we are tired or distracted, which increases the likelihood that someone is going to forget and let the wrong dog out at the wrong time. The risk for our situation was relatively low, since neither dog had hurt the other, their fights were not occurring on a daily basis, and they could at least tolerate each other almost all of the time.

If I was dealing with a much more serious aggression problem, the risk of messing up would be significantly higher. I would not be comfortable using crate and rotate to manage two dogs who were at serious risk of hurting each other, or two dogs who disliked each other enough to have a conflict every time they interacted. I would not use crate and rotate if I didn't trust my husband to maintain this system or just leave the dogs where I put them when I'm not home. I wouldn't use this system if I had children or other irresponsible/unpredictable people in my house.

Does Crate and Rotate Really Work?
This management system allowed me to keep Brisbane and Ulysses in the same house with a barrier between them at all times. It allowed both dogs to participate in family life without the stress of trying to deal with someone they don't like. It gave me time to analyze Ulysses and the bite he inflicted, and make a well-thought out decision instead of euthanizing him in despair. Crating and rotating also provided Brisbane and Ulysses with some much-needed structure and routine, and some practice at waiting their turn. It is currently allowing them to enjoy both the company of our family and high-value chew items at the same time, without fear that another dog might take their prize. Crating and rotating allows me to have training sessions with one dog at a time, and allows both dogs to have rambunctious play time without the other policing their activity.

While it's not the solution for every household dog aggression issue, crating and rotating is an excellent way to manage dogs that don't get along.

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