By Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
My 8 week old puppy won’t sleep in her cage and when ever she is in it she whines even if I’m still beside her and nobody can sleep what should we do?
Brittany, it’s a good thing that you’re asking now rather than waiting several more months when the behavior is even worse. This is a common problem that many new puppy owners have. And it’s made worse when they let the whining puppy out because then the pup quickly learns that whining works and now, can whine for hours on end.
While people might think that just nixing the crate expectations will solve the problem-you’re right in pursuing the issue. Your pup gets frustrated and anxious when she can’t get to you on her own terms. Right now it’s just the crate but down the road you’d probably find the same results if you separate her from you by putting her in another room, on the other side of a babygate or just tethering her by leash on the other side of your backyard.
Crate Training Starts by Feeding the Pup All of Her Meals in Her Crate
The first thing you can do is feed all over your pups meals in her crate. If your dog really dislikes being confined, start by feeding her daily meals just outside the crate. When she’s comfortably eating her meals in this new location, move the food just inside the crate so that she has to stick his head in to eat. Within a days or two, you should be able to move the feeding location farther in the crate so that she has to step in with her front feet. In this manner, move the feeding location farther and farther in. Once she easily goes in and out on his own, which usually takes no more than a few days, you can start shutting the door while she’s eating or putting her in with a special toy, which can be a Nylabone® Rhino or a tasty bone. As soon as he’s finished, or just before, open the door to let him out. You can also randomly place secret food surprises for Fido to find in her crate. Try peanut butter smeared on the back wall of the crate or pieces of hot dog under his blanket. This process sounds like it will take a long time, but in reality it usually takes less than a week, even with adult dogs that don’t like the crate.
Put Really Tough Puppies through the Learn to Earn Program
If the above method doesn’t work within a week or her behavior gets worse, it’s time to teach Fido that they only way she gets your attention is when she sits or lies down away from you. This is part of what is called the Learn to Earn Program where dogs learn to say please by sitting to get whatever they want.
First Teach Her To Say Please By Sitting
This starts first by teaching her to sit automatically to get treats from you. Just hold the bite-sized treats in your hand and stand completely still. When she sits, immediately get the treat to her while she’s still sitting. Then give her a few more treats sequentially for remaining seated. For fast training, it’s best to have her earn her entire meal for automatically sitting but spread it out a kibble at a time, throughout the day. If she’s earning 100-200 kibble for sitting and remaining seated, she’ll learn to sit when she wants things from you virtually overnight.
Next Apply the Automatic Sit to Other Situations
Next it’s time to apply the sit to other things she wants. One exercise is called the “leave-it game.” Have her on leash and toss a treat out of her range. When she gets to the end of the leash, she’ll pull for a few seconds, then when she figures out she can’t get the treat she’ll come back and sit and look at you. When she does, give her a treat for the polite “say please” behavior and then a few more for continuing to look at you. When she’s stable at looking at you then reward the eye contact by letting her get the treat on the floor. The goal of this exercise is to teach her self control. That instead of impulsively demanding what she wants, she controls her excitement and asks politely you by politely sitting and looking at you.
Now Train Her That Sitting or Lying Down Calmly Get Her Your Attention
Ok, now for the real work. She knows to automatically sit for treats and to get an item that’s out of her reach. Now we are going to make you the item out of her reach that she must sit or lie down calmly for in order to gain access. Tether her 2-10 feet away from you while you watch T.V. or are engaged in some other activity. Ignore her pulling, whining, pacing to get to you. When she sits politely, give her several treats in a row and/or pet her for 5 seconds at a time if she’ll remain seated when you do so. Then toss a treat on the floor so she’ll get up and you can repeat the exercise. You may need to wait 20-30 minute for the first sit. But if your timing is good and you pair the reward with her sitting, then next sit will take probably ½ the time. And shortly thereafter she’ll be sitting every 30 seconds.
The goal is that the lightbulb goes on and she understands that sitting or lying down quietly is what makes you give her your attention. From now on the only way she gets your attention is for sitting and you continue to practice tethering her away from you so you have many opportunities to make it clear that calming sitting or lying down gets her what she wants. Once she’s making the association you can walk away and then come back while she’s still sitting or lying down. Now you’re working on a sit or down-stay.
[Refer to Chapter 22 in How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves ]. First come back frequently and then wait longer and longer in between. Also practice walking out of the room. She must sit or lie down before you approach her.
Now Transfer the Training to the Crate
Now have her go in her crate and block her from coming right out. You can do this by shoving your hand with a treat right in her face to block her path out. Once she’s stopped guide her into a sit with an additional treat. Better yet have her lie down.
Once she’s sitting or lying down continue with a few more treats every few seconds or a short petting bouts, then stand back and go back and reward her again for remaining in place. Then let her out of the crate. Now she’s getting treat and petting rewards for going into her crate and lying down and she gets the added reward of coming out. Repeat this until she acts like she’s clearly having fun running into the crate because it predicts that she will earn your attention and get to run out. Now, with the door still open add a down or sit stay. That is, work on being able to be far away or in the other room. I find the easiest way to do this is to practice when I’m watching T.V. or working on menial tasks around the house. And, actually, I’m really lazy, so rather than my going back and forth, I prefer to use a MannersMinder, a remote controlled food-reward dispenser, to automatically dispense food at set intervals or to dispense using the remote control.
Switch to Closing the Crate Door
Next for that all-important final phase. Have the pup go into the crate and lie down, close the door, feed her treats, then open the door while she’s still lying down and let her out. So the door should just be closed for a short amount of time. Short enough so she’s just thinking about treats and rewards and not how she’s locked inside. Then systematically increase the time she’s in the crate.
Again, at this stage, I prefer to use the MannersMinder so that I can walk away and reward her with food rewards while I’m far away. The goal is that the treats are coming frequently enough so that she is focused on the food and that I get back before she has a chance to get anxious. So I can increase the interval between treats sequentially from 5 to 7, 10, 15 or more seconds as long as the puppy remains relaxed, lying down, and focused on the food rather than looking like she wants out.
By the beginning of this stage, your problem pup should already be relaxed in the crate because she’s learned overall that remaining calm is what gives her access to you. And this final stage should go really fast.
The End Results
For me it would probably just take a day or two to get through this program, but it may take you a bit longer since you aren’t being coached through each stage. In any case, if you can get her to understand that being calm and control her emotions is what gives her access to you, you’ll have a puppy who can quietly sleep in her closed crate whenever you want! If you’re still having problems in a week or two it’s time to find professional help for her. Fast!