Monday, September 26, 2011

Crate Games & Unintended Consequences

Tess and I have been working on crate games...and I managed to create a monster.

The crate has never been Tess's friend.  It didn't matter that I was careful not use it as punishment, or that I associated it with treats, Tess still regarded it with suspicion and mistrust. 

That isn't to say that she's disobedient in a crate.  She sleeps in a crate, settles, and is a model citizen crated in the homeroom.

But it still wasn't her choice to be in her crate and so never volunteered to go in on her own time.

One of the first foundation games I introduced was the "crate game".  Simply put, she gets a low-value treat for coming to me outside of the crate (a piece of kibble), and a very high value crate (piece of hot dog) for going into the crate.....all on her own.  I don't tell her to go in or direct her in.  She decides that she would like a piece of hot dog, and so she decides she would like to be in her crate.  There's no nagging, coercing, bribing or luring - just a puppy who figures out the answer to the question "how do I get that hotdog?" and CHOOSES a behavior.  I'm quickly figuring out that this is a dog that loves a choice.  Force the issue and she goes along grudgingly - make her think it was her idea and there's nothing better that she would like to do, than to march into her crate.

Tess started popping into the crate when we weren't playing the game.  "Great!", I thought, "the crate is her happy place".....and I would give her a treat.

Oh yeah.   You can see where this is going.

In a matter of days, Tess now begs for treats by getting her kennel and waiting.  Some of the time she gets the treat, and sometimes she doesn't, but she likes the odds well enough to try.  As soon as she gets a treat (or doesn't) she pops out of the crate, only to try a little while later.

While the behavior isn't inherently BAD, it misses the point of the crate game and what I want her to learn about the crate - that it is a safe and fun place to hang out, play with toys, and take a nap.  I want her to ENJOY being in the crate for its ownsake - not because she thinks she might get a tasty treat.  The treat was there in the beginning to help mold the behavior - but it's important to keep in mind what the end goal/behavior is and realize when MY behavior is sabatoging our efforts.

I'm very new to the concept of shaping behavior, training with treats, and the philosophy of rewarding for offered behavior.  It's quite a switch from the conditioned response/command based training I'm familiar with.  It's so easy to reinforce the wrong behavior with any method of training, and I'm more likely to do so now, because I'm new to the training method.  So, I'm being very diligent about spotting "unintended consequences" before they become a horrendous problem.

The solution to the "crate for treats" dilemma?  When not playing the crate game, she'll get treats for being in the crate ONLY if she's hanging out "for real" - ie chilling or napping.  Thanks W!

***W is a classmate and dog trainer that is working with me and Tess. 


  1. wow. I can't believe you've started ANOTHER blog. Do you have one for your third pet, Jonah? You haven't forgotten you own him, right? RIGHT?

  2. So...this isn't the only new blog I have either. :) I've decided that since I don't have a job, that blogging shall be my part time job while in vet school. :)

  3. and the other new blog is...? feel free to email if it's PRIVATE and PERSONAL :)

  4. it IS private and personal - haven't decided if it's going to be public, or whether I'll have a password to access it yet :). I'm busy setting it up and getting the first couple of posts up, I'll let you know.