By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS May 30, 2009
HELP!! My 9 and half week old lab puppy is pretty good at night in her crate, but during the day, she barks, digs, salivates for the entire time. When I let her out she comes out crying and follows me everywhere crying. I find this extremely upsetting and I’m ready to give her back. Will she get used to it eventually by continuing to put her in her crate? When the crate is open she goes in on her own to sleep and play but the second you close the door, all hell breaks loose. I have tried everything but I’m really worried that this is going to be a lifetime problem. After speaking with two trainers, I decided to use herbal anxiety drops, but they don’t make a difference, really. At this time I’m wondering if she truly has separation anxiety or if she is just very persistent. If I knew that this was going to go away soon, I would be in it for the long haul, but frankly I am absolutely exhausted and at the end of my rope. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Jeanine Comartin from Ontario, Canada
Jeanine, it’s a good thing that you’re asking now rather than waiting several more months when the behavior is even worse. And while some 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.
So far, you’ve done a great job teaching your pup to enjoy the crate, at least when the door’s open and she can choose when she has access to you. Now it’s time to teach her that the 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 with 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 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 5-10 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 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. Or better yet have her lie down.
Once she’s sitting or lying down continue with a few more treats every few seconds or short petting bouts, then stand back. Go back and reward her again for remaining in place. Then let her out of the crate. Now she’s getting treats 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 Treat&Train®, a remote controlled food-reward dispenser, to automatically dispense food at set intervals or to dispense using the remote control.
Also download the handout Training Dogs to Love Their Crate
Switch to Closing the Crate Door
Now 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 Treat&Train® 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!