Trainers’ guides to introducing a puppy to a crate go something like this: crate training should be a gradual and positive experience so that your puppy learns to accept the crate as her happy den of comfort. Start by leaving the door open and littering the floor of the crate with treats so your puppy willing enters…
Josie Junebug’s crate introduction at our house went more like this: Welcome home, adorable girl, here’s your crate, go in it.
I admit, it was abrupt. In our defense, we had not raised a puppy before and were told when we adopted her that she had been crate trained at her foster home. So, I guess we just assumed she would take to it with the grace we expected.
She spent the first night whining and barking at the top of her lungs for forty minutes, every hour. I cowered under my pillow thinking “oh, what have I done? Dogs are smelly, loud, and trouble.” I was convinced I had forfeited all domestic tranquility for the next decade and a half. (Note that this is the kind of thinking that stems from anxiety and exhaustion.) Though it was a long, frustrating, worrisome night, I felt it was important not cave to her whining.
The second night, we moved her crate into the kids’ room so she wouldn’t be all alone. She whined for twenty minutes, sans barking, after which she slept through the night without incident. From that rebound, she quickly adapted to keeping quiet and not eliminating in kennel.
When it was time to return to work (after Thanksgiving break), I was very anxious about leaving her in a crate all day. My husband was surprised: “I thought you were all pro-crate.” The funny thing was, professionally, I had no problems putting other people’s dogs in kennels all day. Turns out, as a [dog] mom, I’m a total sap. Still, though, she could not be trusted to hold her bladder or avoid the temptations of destroying all we possessed.
I knew from counseling clients that it was important from the beginning to avoid nuisance barking and separation anxiety. So, we were consistent and no-nonsense about putting her in her crate at night and while out of the house. Though she accepted her fate with slumped shoulders and pleading big brown eyes, she had to be carried to the kennel every time. The optimist in me thought “thanks for the sixty pound deadlift, Junebug.”
I’m sure her crate would be more comfortable (and quieter) with a mat or blanket. We bought a cheap rug at Aldi (my husband pointed out that, at $8, it cost the same as every toy we tried on her). She left it alone the first night, but chewed it so thoroughly the second that I felt it was safer to trash it. So, until we save up enough for a chew-resistant pad, kennel time means cold, hard, nail-tapping drudgery on the plastic.
Then, on Groundhog’s day, I get a surprising text from my husband. Josie Junebug voluntarily crated herself! Recognizing the signs of their morning exit routine, she slinked in of her own volition! Now resigned to her lonely schedule, she “kennels” on her own.
I certainly would not claim she has embraced her kennel as a comforting wolf den. We could have handled the whole situation better by working systematically on crate acclimation. A few days, I fed her in her crate so she’d have positive, short duration exposure while the cats ate in peace, but I forgot to do this consistently. Working full time, managing a house, and caring for two kids and three pets keeps me busy. Though I’m quite organized, consistent training (of dogs and kids) is not one of my strong points.
Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be. What lesson did I ultimately glean from all this? Follow your own path. When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success. After all, it’s not about me asserting my will over her, but about us all discovering how to live together. To that end, I have just as much learning to do as anyone else.