Ike came to us with the comment "He's kind of noisy in his crate." After easy-peasy Teddy, Ike did indeed seem quite noisy in his crate. He whined. He barked. He shrieked. He gave me a headache. And I think if dogs can get headaches, my three dogs had 'em!
I approached this problem like I would any other behavior problem: find out exactly what I'm dealing with (get a baseline), set goals, develop a training plan, create a management plan, implement both to improve behavior.
I started by getting that baseline. I observed Ike's crate behavior for two days before I started to work on it. I needed to see precisely what I was dealing with, when he'd bark, when he'd stop, IF he'd stop (he did, but it took awhile), and the potential triggers of said barking.
My two days of observation yielded lots of good information I used to develop a training and management plan. First, Ike was perfectly happy going into his crate. He'd leap in, turn around and happily wag his tail, waiting for his treat. So going into the crate was fine and dandy. And he didn't mind staying in the crate, either, as long as there was something in there to do. If his dinner was in a Kibble-Nibble or a Squirrel Dude, he was happy as a clam. The second the dinner was gone, though, he was unhappy. And wasn't shy about it.
I had our trouble narrowed down, then: Ike didn't like staying in the crate if he had nothing to do. I'd also observed that Ike seemed to tolerate the crate a little bit better even after the goodies were gone if he was in the same room as the other dogs. Proximity to people and other dogs was important to him.
Knowing that, I created a training plan that looked like this:
- Continue feeding all meals (and special treats) in the crate with the door closed.
- Monitor Ike in the crate to determine when he was nearing the end of his food. I wanted to capture even one second of silence after the food was gone. I would gradually increase the duration of silence required to earn a click and release from the crate.
- If Ike began to bark before I was able to click and release from the crate (example: if I was in the shower when he finished his meal and wasn't able to click him for one second of silence), I waited until he took a breath, calmly praised him (gave him the attention he was so eager to receive), then clicked and released from the crate after a second or two of silence.
- Send Ike to his crate at random times during the day with a food-stuffed toy so crating didn't become predictable (only at meal times or only as I was preparing to leave).
- After Ike was quiet in his crate for 30 – 60 seconds, I changed the criteria a little bit. I started going out of sight while Ike was eating. I'd come back into sight as he was finishing up.
- I then clicked Ike if he was quiet for one second while I was out of sight. I'd then come back into the room and calmly let him out of his crate.
- I gradually increased the time Ike needed to be quiet while I was out of the room.
- After Ike was able to be quiet for a few minutes, I changed the criteria again. I stayed in the room, but now, for Ike to earn the click and release from the crate, he had to relax in the crate. That meant Ike had be quiet and had to lay down. I didn't ask for a down, I simply kept an eye on him and clicked and released him the instant he laid down.
My management plan looked like this:
- Move the crate to the room I was in when feeding Ike. (Remember, Ike seemed to do better if he could see me and/or the other dogs.
- If I had to leave the house after crating Ike, I'd turn the radio or television on. I also made sure Ike was in the same room as the other dogs. (Even though I was pretty sure he gave my dogs a headache with all the barking!)
Ike's crate hate has now turned into crate tolerance. We're at Step 8 at the moment. He's able to be quiet in the crate, even if I'm out of the room, but only for a short period of time. And he's just now started to lay down to wait for his release. I'll gradually extend the amount of time he needs to lay down.
We're not yet at crate love, but we're getting there! I'll keep you updated on his progress. If your dog is a crate screamer, as we so lovingly call them, start using the protocol above and see how it goes. And leave me a comment to let me know your progress. Happy training!