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Go to your bed or Go to your crate

donna in crate

One of the things that get reiterated online by dog trainers when it comes to helping the dog to adapt and learn to live in a new home is that Crate Training is highly recommended. Particularly if one brings home a puppy, with the associated teething and destructive issues, having the puppy in a crate when you don’t have the time to supervise can save you much heartbreak over the expensive, now ruined furniture.

I don’t talk to anyone about crate training much offline simply because I get told that Crate Training is cruel or the dog doesn’t like it in there. But I do like to write about it on the blog so that Mr P can read it in detail when he is in the mood. :P

Because we had planned to spread out our dog expenses across the months, we didn’t get the crate (which cost about $100) right off the bat in the beginning. I didn’t know much about crate training then and needed the time to do the proper reading before we commit to a crate.

But let’s start right at the beginning, shall we?

January 2013

When we first brought Donna home, the shelter advised us to let Donna sleep in the room with us for that first night at least. That was pretty good advice, if you think about it. Imagine what damage a strange, curious dog could wrought in a new environment unsupervised in the middle of the night! But of course, we were dog idiots at that time and weren’t aware of such … concerns.

That whole night Donna was restless and kept clattering about the room. So I was happy to kick both dog and her tub bed out of the room the second night so that I can finally get some sleep!

dog's first night at home
That’s the last night you’ll spend in this room, missy! *kicks dog out; dog flies out of the room; exit stage left*

Thankfully, Donna apparently had the wisdom to leave most things alone even when unsupervised for the night. So we did not suffer too much in terms of damage to both dog or property. One of the perks of adopting an adult dog perhaps?

The tub bed was old and I was finicky about things looking nice in our new flat so one day, it disappeared. :P (She preferred the towel anyway.) The poor dog had to make do with towels in the meantime. Luckily she is young and not suffering from aches that may plague an elder dog. That said, there was always a chance that she might pee on her towel when it rains. (She suffered from thunder phobia and her first instinct still is to pee on floor rugs, towels or anything of that texture lying around.)

And so we got her a new fluffy bed!

The problem was, Donna was a little like Jake, she hadn’t figured out what the pillow on the floor was for. And she didn’t really want to approach it. So it was time to build positive associations with the pillow by decorating it with food!!

February 2013

What's this, the dog thought to herself looking at the line of kibble on her bed. What's this line of treats doing here??
What’s this, the dog thought to herself. What’s this line of treats doing here??
Why's the human not saying anything? Am I supposed to leave it?
Why’s the human not saying anything? Am I supposed to leave it?
Shit, she is looking at me. What do I do? Maybe, I should pretend that I am not interested.
Shit, she is looking at me. What do I do? Maybe, I should pretend that I am not interested.
That's it. I am not interested.
That’s it. I am not interested.
NOT interested!
NOT interested!

The only problem was, this cynical dog had just learnt two things during her short stay with us (1) leave it and (2) nothing in life is for free. And so she left her new bed and the food alone.

The human had to keep leaving food on her new bed, quit the scene and leave the dog to discover the food and learn to approach her bed by herself.

Eventually, she did start using it. I continued to reinforce her use of her new bed positively, by doling out treats every time I see her using her bed. By this time, I was also able to start positive training her to Go to her bed to get her treats.

March 2014

Donna, bright-eye and eagerly waiting for her treat for going to her bed.
Donna, bright-eye and eagerly waiting for her treat for going to her bed.

I soon discovered the bed was an amazing tool for teaching her to Stay. Before, she could never stay. She always wanted to come towards me rather than stay at the spot that I asked her to. That bed somehow  became an anchor that helped her to stay better than she ever did before.

“This is taking so long I am getting sleepy… zZzZzZzZz…” Yup, real good at staying.
“This is taking so long I am getting sleepy… zZzZzZzZz…” Yup, real good at staying.

Benefits of the Go to Your Bed Command

  • Gets dog out of the way to a specific location, e.g.
    • consistent use during floor cleaning helps dog learn to automatically retreat to her bed when a human starts to clean the floor
    • consistent use helps dog learn that the right thing to do is to go to her bed and stay when someone rings the doorbell and you answer the door
    • when you need a time out from your dog
    • when your dog needs a timeout from you

June 2013

We eventually got her an even bigger bed, and she had no problems using it right away.

For some reason or other, she developed a mania around digging the bed every single night. All that energy pushed the bed into the room that she was kicked out of the first day.
For some reason or other, she developed a mania around digging the bed every single night. All that energy pushed the bed into the room that she was kicked out of the first day.

August 2013

After months of dawdling, we finally bought her a crate to function as her “bedroom”. At that time, these are the perceived benefits that I thought I would get out of the crate.

Benefits of Crate Training

  • the benefits of Go to Your Bed, plus…
  • calm visitors (friends, plumbers, electricians, etc, etc) who are scared of dogs by giving them the assurance that dog is crated and cannot approach them
  • gives dog a “room” of her own to run and hide in when the flat is invaded by too many strange and overly-friendly humans
  • gives dog a “room” of her own to run and hide during a thunderstorm
  • gives dog a chance to get used to and be comfortable with being confined, in case she ever needs to be, e.g. at the vet or at the dog boarder, etc.
  • helps dog learn that it is ok to be by herself and that she does not need to be overly attached to the human, which helps to lessen the chances of separation anxiety

When introducing the new crate to her, I stuffed the bed she was used to into the crate but she was still hesitant about it.

Based on my past experience getting her to love her bed, I used the same method to positively condition her to like the crate.

The top hatch of the crate proved rather useful for dropping treats into the crate.The top hatch of the crate proved rather useful for dropping treats into the crate.

And while at first, Donna didn’t really want to put a foot in, she at least tried very hard to stretch and crane her neck in to reach the treats.

Eventually she did put a foot or two in and she got a ton of treats. I continued with trying to positively condition her to be comfortable with going into the crate totally. This meant I continued to treat her when she did so. And I continued to scatter treats in her crate that she may discover on her own.

I forgot how long it took but she eventually was happy to go into the crate in anticipation of her food.

So by that time I started to feed her all her meals and her kongs in the crate because I really, really wanted her to love her new bedroom cum dining room. At some point, instead of of hanging around the child gate that barred her from the kitchen while I prepare her meals, she took it into her head to wait for it in her crate instead. 

I'm going to have breakfast in crate, thank you.
I’m going to have breakfast in crate, thank you. 

I can safely leave her crated for 2-3 hours with her Kong toy  while I work on things at home. Sometimes, I get pre-occupied and forget she is still in there and the poor dog starts to whine so I know her patience has been exhausted and I should let her out :P

It took some months before I had the confidence to leave her crated for short periods of time with me out of the house. We started with short durations of 15-20 minutes to about a couple of hours when we go out for dinner. And I’m pleased that she has not damaged herself or suffered from any forms of unwillingness to go into the crate for her food when we are ready to head out.

In fact, she is always happy to rush into her crate for her own dinner and ignore the humans that try to depart from the house as quietly as possible. :P

Note: That said, I don’t really like to leave her crated at home when there’s nobody in the flat. It just doesn’t seem wise, say if there were an accidental fire and she was unable to escape because she was trapped in the crate. Although in some cases, it may be safer for the dog prone to destructive behaviour to be crated than left to roam freely at home.

Nowadays it has become her personal preference to take all her treats, food toys and dental chews into her crate, even if I had given it to her outside of it. So I think the crate training is pretty successful. ;)

However, although Donna learnt to go to her crate pretty fast for food, it took more than a couple of months before she went in there just to chill out or to sleep for an extended period of time. I read somewhere that dogs only sleep on their backs if they feel totally secure in the place. Dogs that feel a need to stay guarded tend to sleep in the donut shape, which is least restful but easiest for them to wake up fast to respond to a threat. For months, Donna has been sleeping in there as a round ball.

February 2014

It was only in the last month or two that I finally spied her sleeping on her side in the crate, looking so much more relaxed than before! I was ecstatic and needed to take this picture :P

Donna sleeping on her side in the crate

Perhaps one day, I may be lucky and find her sleeping there on her back. I hope it won’t take years for her to finally safe and secure enough in the flat to do that!

So there you go, a pretty long tale about how we progressed from Go to your bed to Go to your crate. Of the perceived benefits listed above earlier in the post, we were able to achieve most except for having her use the crate as a safe refuge from the thunderstorm. That is still something that we are working on when the storm season rolls around the corner.

Other than that, Donna still has her old beds about the flat so she has the freedom of using either the crate or bed. She uses both and the floor rather equally.

And of course, I have to say that Crate Training is NOT cruel and the dog can learn to love her crate. It’s the training methods we use that determine whether the crate is a cruel confinement tool or a cool, chill out den for the dog. Using positive methods to reinforce happy associations to the crate for the dog, it is not a hardship for the dog to go into the crate, enjoy her food or a little nap in there or just to get out of the way when you need her to do so. ; )

Given our own experience, I do think we could have invested in a crate right from the start, but we were tentative dog idiots then so no harm, no foul.

Did you get your dog a crate right at the beginning or did you wait to get it like us?

Useful equipment mentioned in this post that you can get on Amazon:

– Teach your dog to go to bed – http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-training/teach-your-dog-to-go-to-bed
– Five steps to teach your dog to go to place – http://www.clickertraining.com/node/3308
– How to crate train your dog – http://smartdoguniversity.com/crate-train-dog/
– When can I get rid of the crate – http://smartdog.typepad.com/smart_dog/2012/09/dog-training-ask-the-trainer-when-can-i-get-rid-of-the-crate.html
– Three Must Have’s – http://smartdog.typepad.com/smart_dog/crate-training/
– Crate training a puppy or dog – http://www.perfectpaws.com/crt.html
– Crate training on wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crate_training

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