Friday, August 27, 2010

CU Seminar: Crate Time

Photo by Robin Sallie.

In my last entry, I laid out a plan for teaching Maisy how to get my attention. In the comments, Laura (rightly so) questioned the wisdom of this. Do I really want to teach Maisy to be pushy? Wouldn’t it be better to teach her impulse control? I know this sounds contradictory, but the answer to both questions is yes.

See, the truth is, Maisy already has a “demand behavior.” She’s barking, growling and lunging at other dogs in an effort to get my attention. And let’s face it: it works. No matter how hard I try, I can’t completely ignore it. It’s also embarrassing, and if she’s going to persist in being obnoxiously pushy, she might as well do it in a quieter, more socially acceptable way.

Beyond that, though, I really believe that she needs a way to alert me to her needs. We already have one way in the Look at That game, which Maisy only initiates when she’s feeling anxious about something, but she needs something she can do when I’m not looking at her. While teaching her a demand behavior may backfire (and knowing this dog, it’s quite possible!), I think there is enough potential value that it’s worth the risk.

Still, I don’t exactly want a pushy dog, either. And I certainly don’t want her to be dependent on me for all her needs. My ultimate goal is to help her become confident enough to relax in the face of stress without any intervention on my behalf. Which leads me to the second (and probably more important) thing I got out of the CU seminar: creating a plan to help Maisy learn how to relax.

I already knew this was important- after all, part of the problems we’ve had at trials is waiting for our turn. I really wanted Maisy to have a safe space where she could relax, but I didn’t know how to create this for her. While a crate seemed like the ideal choice, Maisy often became reluctant to go near it after a few hours at a trial site. I experimented with using her mat as a safe space instead, but this was problematic, too. Without the solid barriers that a crate can offer, the visual stimulation became too much for her, and she often seemed more stressed by the end of the day than when she’d been in the crate.

I knew that I needed to build enough value for her crate that she’d happily hang out in there, so we began playing Crate Games. As a result, Maisy is comfortable in her crate at home, but we’ve still struggled with being calm in her crate in other places. Luckily, the seminar provided exactly the opportunity we needed: 10 hours in a new, yet relatively low-stress, environment so we could practice.

At first, Maisy seemed uncomfortable. She shifted positions a lot, peeked out the top, and just generally had difficulty relaxing. I tossed a treat in her crate every 20-30 seconds or so, and dropped in a handful of treats every time she lay down. Soon, she was lying there quietly, rolled on to one hip with her chin on the ground, and I was able to gradually lengthen the time up to two minutes between treats.

The seminar provided the jumpstart we needed, because by the end of the weekend, I had a crate junkie. More importantly, it helped me turn my goal of “help Maisy be more comfortable in her crate” into a fully formed plan. Here’s what it looks like:

First and foremost, do the Relaxation Protocol from start to finish. Although Maisy and I have played with it from time to time, we’ve never completed all fifteen days, mostly because it’s mind-numbingly boring. Still, Alexa encouraged all of us seminar attendees to do it with our dogs. I’m modifying it slightly; we’ll do it lying instead of sitting, and in her crate instead of on a mat.

Next, we need to continue to build duration. I’ve created a schedule which starts with Maisy lying quietly in her crate for a duration of five minutes, receiving a treat every 30 seconds, and ending 42 steps later with a duration of an hour, with treats every five minutes. I’ll repeat each step with her until she is relaxed before moving on to the next step. Once we’ve completed the entire process, we’ll take it on the road, first at training class, then to a local obedience club, and finally, as the ultimate test, we’ll go to run-throughs or trials that allow unentered dogs on site.

Finally, I’ll incorporate impulse control and off-switch games with her crate. I’ll talk more about how to do this in the future- Alexa spent a fair amount of time on both, and I think it’s important enough information to dedicate an entire post to the subject- but suffice it to say, the entire program ought to teach Maisy how to relax in her crate even when she’s aroused or distracted.

Since all of these things are incredibly important, but not terribly exciting to do, I’ve decided that I’m going to retire Maisy from competition until we've done this. Returning to trialing is dependent upon both completing the entire relaxation protocol, and the real world test of laying quietly in her crate in a new environment for an entire hour, with treats no more often than once every five minutes.

I know that this is going to be boring, and you all can expect a whiny post from me in a week or two about how this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. When that happens, remind me that the result is going to be awesome, okay? Because I really think that this is one of the biggest things missing in Maisy’s foundation. Boring or not, I really believe this is the change we’ve needed, and I’m excited to see it.


K said...

I think that you are doing the best thing for maisy. Sometimes we need to go back to basics, the slowest plans with the most amount of baby steps are usually the ones that work - and work forever. It may be dull but it will be worth it in the end. Maisy will thank you for it I'm sure!

Crystal said...

I agree. I've kind of done things backwards with Maisy at times- we began trialing before I really knew that she was reactive (or what that meant). We've sort of cobbled things together, which means at times, I discover huge gaps in her foundation.

But, she is my first dog, so we have to learn all this the hard way. With my next dog, I will definitely do a better job of laying strong foundation behaviors first! :)

Kristen said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that struggles with the relaxation IS incredibly boring!

Your plan sounds great. How about I send my dog to you and you can work him through it too....

K said...

just remembered, I was going to suggest you teach Maisy to sniff the ground as a default to seeing another dog. I have started clicking Franks for literally just showing any sign of calm around another dog, but sniffing the ground is my main one that is easy for him to do and eventually I hope he can do that when I am busy doing something else - it's just not practical to be there every time your dog wants to give you eye contact.

sniffing is a calming signal so if I can encourage him to do that then not only will he feel calmer but the other dog will feel calmer too.

I like LAT but I think it's also good to encourage a dog to use his own natural way of interacting with another dog.

andrea said...

you aren't retiring - you are taking a sabbatical :)
to learn new things, refresh yourselves and get ready for the comeback :)

Crystal said...

Kristen- no, you're not alone, but sorry! You have to do the boring stuff with your dog. :)

Kat- I like your idea of teaching a calming signal as an attention getting signal. Sara suggested somethign similar in the comments to my last post. I'll have to play around with a few different options.

Andrea- I love the word "sabbatical." Much better choice than "retirement." It really does describe what we're doing much better.

Cinnamon said...

You always show new things and ideas to look at in order to address Cinnamon's reactivity. Thank you so much!!

Also, I found K's idea of teaching a dog to sniff the ground as a way of calming itself very interesting. However, I would hardly try that with Cinnamon (a Beagle), as it conflicts with what I always try to do; keeping Cinnamon's nose off the ground!

Cinnamon's mum

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Yay for Maisy! I hear you on crate games, I have done so so many with Vito and while we still have issues it really has helped a ton. With him, it was also helpful to use the manners minder. it actually got him to eat treats as the machine was so much cooler then anything I would offer him. Plus it had the added bonus of working on sep. anxiety as it would dispense with me not right there.

Good luck on the relaxation protocal. I know you can do it, 15 days really isn't all that long compared to how much time you have put into everything else!

Crystal said...

Laura, I was actually thinking a Manners Minder would be ideal for this. It might be time to invest in one...

I agree that the time I put in now will be minimal, however, I do think it's going to take me a minimum of 2-3 months. I intend to repeat each day of the relaxation protocol until she seems truly relaxed... I suspect that each "day" will take a week or so each.

By the way, thank you for all of your comments. You often challenge my plans, which forces me to think through what I'm doing a bit more. I like that!

Katie said...

Oh man. I couldn't get past day five of the relaxation protocol. Boring boring boring. But we already know you're a far more patient trainer than I am ;)

Good luck with it!

Crystal said...

Nah, just more stubborn, Katie.

Joanna said...

Kudos to you for having the stubborn-ness to work through all that. I don't think I could do it! Ira and I were "back to the basics" for a while, too, and it was sooo boring. (Now we're back to trailing since he has a limited amount of time left, and I don't care so much about how he does!)

Crystal said...

Oh, Joanna, I am regretting the decision. It's so boring, and I dread the evenings now because I know I have to do it. It really, really better be worth it.

Good luck to you and Ira- may you kick ass with the time you have!