When Good Crating Went Bad…

My regular readers know that Cuba and I have done A LOT of work together on crating. He will go into his crate on cue,...
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My regular readers know that Cuba and I have done A LOT of work together on crating. He will go into his crate on cue, relax quietly in his crate while I teach exercises at class or vacuum the classroom, rides nicely in his crate in the car, allows other dogs to walk by very near to his crate while relaxing. Cuba has been clicked hundreds of times in the last month for going into his crate, sitting, and lying down in his crate. He is often fed in his crate. We’ve practiced resource exchanges in his crate with bully sticks, various toys, and assorted large hunks of raw meat.

Needless to say, he’s got a pretty positive association with the crate. In fact, he loves his crate so much that I must use a hand target to get him out of his crate! Often, at class, if he’s not working for a second or two, he’ll automatically run into his crate and just hang out in there. Around the house lately, it’s become one of his preferred napping spots – in the last week, he’s just started to go into his crate, lie down, and take a nap with the door wide open.

Not bad for a three month old puppy!

However, I’ve noticed some vocalization in the crate beginning to occur. It’s not very often, not very intense, and very short in duration when I do hear it, but nonetheless it’s a problem I wanted to nip in the bud. I know all too well that behavior problems don’t just go away on their own, nor do they “get better” on their own – they always get worse without effective treatment. It’s that whole reinforcement history thing.

I have implemented a multi-faceted approach to teaching Cuba that quiet in the crate is all that pays off. Here are a few of the techniques I’ve used:

  • schedule, schedule, schedule – puppies need to be on a routine schedule. Cuba eats at the same time each day, gets potty breaks at the same time each day, has bed time at the same time each day. As he grows, I’ll be sure to begin varying the schedule so that he is ok when life gets in the way of routine, but for now, routine is key to potty training success!
  • click for relaxation – I call this “biofeedback.” When we’re clicking for relaxation in the crate, Cuba gets clicks for lying down (if he is sitting), rolling over onto a back hip, blinking, sighing, resting his head on his paws or the crate floor, calming signals like yawning, rolling over onto his back, stretching out, and whenever he takes deep breaths (stops panting).
  • teach him to go in the crate on cue – I did this with shaping in a few quick sessions. I would also periodically leave really yummy stuff (treats, toys, stuffed Kong, marrow bone, bully stick, etc.) in his crate when he wasn’t looking so that he’d walk by, get a tantalizing whiff, check it out and realize that sometimes, the crate is full of delightful surprises!
  • Ignore whining – I always make sure that Cuba has recently toileted before putting him into his crate. My records have shown that he can hold his bladder for an average of four hours and he has occasionally even slept as many as seven hours in his crate. I try to keep crate time to about three hours now. If Cuba whines, I ignore it.
  • Demand barking makes people go away – rarely, Cuba stares at me and barks for attention while in his crate. Each time he barks at me, I immediately leave the room. I wait for at least thirty consecutive seconds of quiet before returning to the room and my work.
  • If I notice that the demand barking happens twice within an hour, I assume that Cuba probably needs a potty break. I repeat the previous step of leaving the room until he’s quiet. When I return to the room, Cuba is usually standing in his crate. When he eventually lies down, I open the crate door. He waits for his release cue, at which time we go outside for a potty break.
  • Sometimes, I just have to leave the house. I try to leave Cuba alone in his crate at least once a day. I leave him with a Kong stuffed with some ground hamburger or ground raw blend and do my thing. When I first practiced this, I’d often go out back and read a book. I could hear him through our opened window. Vocalization happened rarely and not for more than ten or fifteen seconds at a time.

I really do like giving Cuba lots of feedback for crating. I want to reinforce getting in the crate and relaxing in the crate and remove all reinforcement for demand behavior in the crate (pawing, whining or barking to be let out, etc.). We’ve had great success with these tips, and both Cuba and I hope you will as well!

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