The Little Rascal Files 2: Crate Training

I got to watch Hadley yesterday, while Tom was at work. I used this opportunity to work on a few things I consider important. One of them is crate training. This is how I started the process:

I let Hadley explore his crate first, clicked and treated for stepping inside and settling inside, then closed the door and gave him a dried cow’s nose to chew. He chewed himself tired. Then I treated for relaxation (first for sits, then for downs, then for lying relaxed in his crate – gradually increasing the time between the individual treats, as he got more tired and relaxed.) When he did get up and made a fuss, I ignored him until he was quiet (which usually went hand in hand with sitting down). Then I slowly counted until 3 (1 quiet puppy, 2 quiet puppy, 3 quiet puppy), then treated for being quiet again, then chuted-and-laddered my way up to longer and longer periods of relaxation. Now, for example, he’s sound asleep in his crate. When he wakes up, I’ll take him out to pee before he starts making a fuss in his crate. We’ll have a little adventure outside (either having a few minutes of positive experience with the neighbors’ kids or playing beginning recall games for a few minutes), then he’ll come back in and go back in his crate, and hopefully be ready to relax even faster. Rinse and repeat.

Indeed, in the course of a day, I had a puppy who happily walked into the crate whenever there was nothing else to do and sat down, waiting for a treat to happen. He also retreated into the crate after Phoebe startled him, and at night, he went into the open crate and fell asleep. Success!

In the morning of day two of crate training, he settled quickly after I put him in. Inspired by Emily Larlham, I marked with his marker word for quiet behaviors (“Top!”) whenever he was not thinking about the treat for the first few minutes. Using a special marker word for quiet behaviors is something I learned from Simone Fasel.

In the late morning, Hadley got to join Phoebe and Fanta for a few minutes of off-leash fun on the field across the street. Afterwards, he found it more difficult to settle – especially since I was stuffing Kongs with smelly tripe and potatoes, and he was stuck in his crate and couldn’t come check it out! However, Phoebe, Fanta and the little Rascal got to lick tripe goop off my fingers whenever they showed signs of relaxation, and soon, everyone was happy. Hadley also got a little lesson in frustration tolerance whenever I waited him out for the next calm 1 calm puppy, 2 calm puppy, 3 calm puppy moment. I learned from the Phoebe experiment that

a little bit of extinction is not only acceptable, but even beneficial – as long as it is part of a DRA or DRI protocol.

I took this video on Hadley’s second day of crate training. Once he had learned to comfortably settle, I combined the crate training with leaving him alone for short periods of time. One of the big advantages of using a crate is that your puppy can’t get into trouble while in his crate – he cannot destroy your furniture, and cannot hurt himself, and won’t have accidents in the house when you’re not looking. Since Hadley moved in as dog number 3, I want to make sure that he is okay even if Phoebe, Fanta, Tom and I are gone. About half the clients who contact me with puppy problems have puppies who cannot stay home alone – and I want to make sure Hadley doesn’t become one of them! Once you’ve got a full-blown case of separation anxiety or isolation distress, lots of patience and training is required. Better to start early, so separation anxiety and isolation distress don’t even have a chance to develop!

On day 2, Hadley relaxes in his crate while Phoebe, Fanta and I leave for 3:15 Minutes. We’ve gradually worked our way up to this amount of time, starting with no more than a few seconds, and starting with only me leaving, then only me and one dog, then only me and the other dog … As you can see, systematic training pays off! Hadley hasn’t even had a moment of fear of being left alone, and I’d like to keep it that way, working our way up to a few hours.


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