Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crate game!

I find that starting a blog and writing a welcome post is a bit awkward.

I'm rereading and categorizing posts from my "other blog" in conjunction with a project (see link under the header of this blog if you are interested) and I wince at some of my first posts. It was so hard, knowing no one was reading (and secretly relieved), and feeling confused where I should start.  Should I do catch up?  Just start in the middle?  How much backstory is needed?

For this blog, I took a different approach - I started writing posts where I am.  Today.  Right now.  Even though Tess and I have been doing foundation training for less than a week, I didn't try and go "backwards",  and figured I'd fill in the blanks as needed as we went along. Consider today a "fill in the blank!" :)

I've talked about crate games several times and maybe you are thinking "what the heck is a crate game?"

What I thought a crate game was - 
I said "kennel kennel kennel kennel" over and over and over, while directing the dog into the kennel.  Finish with a treat.  Usually do this only when you need to put the dog into the crate and are going to shut the door.  This was based on forming a (eventual) conditioned response to the word, associated the word with the action, and training as part of the daily routine and not necessarily spending a lot of time training the kennel as a tool.

Those of you that have been in this game longer than me (all of you....BTW) are hysterically laughing.  Those of you that grew up like me are scratching their heads and saying "what's the problem".

After 4 months:
  • Tess still wouldn't go into the crate on her own
  • She rarely "hung out" in it.
  • It remained a place that she would dart into to get toys out of - nothing more.
  • The one and only positive (but a big one) - Tess was quiet and obedient in her crate

What the crate game ACTUALLY is (as explained to me by W):

 The crate game involves no speaking, no gesturing, no clicking.  The point is to teach the dog that the crate is a "high value" place and a place that the dog wants to CHOSE to go.  It's their idea and choice to go into the kennel, and when they make that choice, they are rewarded.

Mechanics of the game 

With the Kennel door closed, wait until the dog sits.  Say "Yes Tess", open door and reward (or reward through the top of a wire crate).  Dog should remain in position.  If the dog moves forward or moves from the sit, close the door and wait.  Don't say anything - just close the door and wait.  Repeat until dog will sit with the door open.  Reward with the high value treats!

Next, with the door open, say "OK" (or release word).  Feed a piece of kibble (low value treat).  In my case, I didn't praise Tess - her encouragement/desire to come OUT of the crate was high enough to be a reward unto itself when combined with the kibble.  Then wait.  Eventually the dog wanders back into the crate....and you praise the heck out of them verbally and give them a high value treat.  Then shut the door and restart the game. 

At first you stand really close to the kennel door when you give the "OK", and perhaps they have a leash on.  Gradually move further and further back, eventually dissapearing behind a corner, or walking around the room.

As the last "repetition" of the game for the session, say OK, but don't give kibble - just stand there.  The dog should figure out that the answer is to go back to the kennel.  When they do go back, PRAISE them and give a high value treat. 

As the value of the crate goes up, the pup should get faster and faster about returning to the crate.  Eventually, start saying the word that describes the behavior of going back to the crate (kennel, crate etc.). 

Foundations established

I LOVE this game.  It teaches so much all at the same time, and I don't have to do anything - I don't even have to talk. 

1.  The sit stay - dog sits with the kennel door  open as you run around and even go out of sight.
2.  The come and release - the dog is still getting rewarded when they come to you.
3.  Introduction of "asking a question" and letting the dog come up with an "answer"
4.  Teaches the handler self control and NOT to spoon-feed the dog answers!  Harder than it the puppy sits in front of you expectantly and you know there is NO WAY they are going to figure out to go back into the crate......LOL. 
5.  Teaches the dog obedience, focus, and restraint in the absence of voice or physical controls

Game Notes -
  • Kennel reward is "high value" - hot dog, etc.
  • "OK"/coming out of the crate reward is "low value" - kibble. 
  • It's OK to look at the kennel when waiting for the dog to go in.  That is the only signal I give. 
  • No talking except to praise them when they are in their crate. 
  • When you do start introducing the word, say it ONCE (harder than it sounds....).  You want the behavior established BEFORE introducing the word, because using the word too soon potentially end up having a negative connotation and being ignored while teaching the behavior....TEACH the behavior before you associate the word! 
  • Having them sit in the BACK of the kennel is the goal, and once you have a good sit, it's OK to wait with the door closed and see if they offer to back up - REWARD!!!!  if they do.  

What our game looks like at this point.....
  • The sit with the door open at the kennel - pretty darn solid.  Sit stays have always been a strong point for her, so I'm not suprised.  We still have an average of 1 break per session, so I'll scale back our practice (stay closer to the kennel) for a couple of sessions with the goal of ZERO breaks and then try it from "afar" again.  
  • The release - Perfect.  She comes running to me, wherever I am for that ittybitty piece of kibble
  • Going back to the kennel - could be faster and snappier, definitely still gets distracted.  She seems to have picked a "pace" to go back and that would be a trotting "saunter".  W assures me that as the value of the crate increases, so will the I'm trying to be patient and not worry about it.
  • Sitting when I go up to the door - good!  After starting clicker training in other areas, she's been offering other behaviors when I don't open the door - such as getting further "back" in the kennel.  She is offering some "frustration" behaviors (rubbing her nose into the side of the crate etc.) so will continue to work on this by waiting it out and insisting that she sit in the back. 
  • Have started combining with the impulse game by leaving treats and food she has to step over as she goes in and out of the kennel.  Does "OK"  and continues to improve. 

As I learn more I'm sure I'll be modifying the game - if you have suggestions, please offer.  I don't have a good youtube video for this game, but I would encourage you to check out Susan Garrett's resources for this game, her website can be found on the "Resources" Page.


  1. The good thing about a crate is that it can become the dog's "safe place", the place where she knows that she is a GOOD DOG. For dogs in stress, this is essential. Stress can come in lots of forms: fireworks outside. Arguing or distress among family members. Pressure from other animals (or children) in the household can be relieved when the dog goes into the crate. I had a rescue dog once who would fly into the crate if people on the radio commercials were "arguing." The crate is such a relief to very sensitive dogs, b/c the rule is that, in the crate, NOBODY BOTHERS HER. Nobody yells at her, nobody pokes at her. Maybe she doesn't get food in the crate, but at least she knows she's being good, which for some sensitive dogs is better than food.

    When I was doing dog rescue, sometimes I had to coax distressed dogs OUT of the crate in order to teach them that "with me" was as safe as "in the crate." It's a sad state of affairs when I had to lock the bedroom door so that dogs couldn't get to their crates, but some dogs would put themselves in the crate anytime you stopped talking to them directly. That's too much. At that point, I had to do "reverse crate training"! I don't imagine that Tess will ever go there.

    My dogs know that when I jangle my keys, they need to crate themselves, and they race to do it. (It helps that the dog cookies are stashed right next to the key hook). They also run to get it when we're in camp and it's time to head out on horseback. I yell "cookie in the box" and they all scamper to their crates, which are stashed out of the weather in the back of the horse trailer. It works so well, and everyone is happy!

  2. In the begininng I was so afraid of overusing treats - I had concerns about begging, a pushy dog, and one that was only obedient for treats. Now, I realize that I should have been more liberal in my treating - especially with a dog that is very independent and bold - give her a reason to want to pay attention to me and develop that habit early and often!!!

    I knew that my crate game was a success when the german shepherd scared her and Tess went screaming into her crate. It's the first time I've EVER seen her use it as a place of safety. And that's when I really started to believe in this - yes I "taught" the crate with treats - but obviously the bigger lesson got through as well.

    Im so glad I started with a puppy and not a rescue for my first "real dog". I feel kiosk just now developing my tool box for dog training - so much of what I "thought" I knew about dog training was so limited and although it worked to develop a good country "farm dog" - it doesn't do so well for an indoor companion. I think getting a rescue would add a whole 'nother dimension I'm not ready for yet!