Back From Hiatus/Crate Training Tips

Long time no write!  I apologize for my prolonged absence.  I have no excuse.  But I am going to pick up where I left off!

So much has gone on – we competed in our first off-leash competition this past summer and actually got first place!  It was petrifying but exhiliarating, and very good for my faith in our abilities.  Sometimes you need to push yourself and your dog to see what you’re truly capable of.  You may find you surprise yourself.  Here is the video of us competing – it was at the Dog Sports Open in MI, which is not your typical obedience event!

Now, with the newly renovated blog, I’m going to be posting both updates on Inara and I as well as training articles.  I have a few in mind and am open to suggestions if there is something you are interested in reading.  I’m going to start with crate training as I get a lot of questions about the best way to do it.

The main thing to remember with crate training is that you should NEVER use the crate as punishment.  NEVER.  The crate is always to be a place of good things.  Even if you are putting your dog in as a timeout, make it a good thing for them.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the process.

First you need to choose the crate.  There are two main styles that are appropriate for full-time use – wire and plastic “airline” type crates. Some dogs have a preference of one over the other, but most will be just fine with either as long as you properly acclimate them to it.  Size-wise, if your dog isn’t house-trained yet, it is recommended to start with a small crate that is just large enough for your pup to stand up, turn around and lie down in.  Not being able to escape a mess will sometimes encourage dogs to hold it.  That being said, it is your absolute, no excuses, responsibility to get the pup out as often as necessary so they are not forced to mess in their crate and lie in it.

If your dog is already housetrained then feel free to get a larger crate.  Inara’s is quite spacious as she does have to spend quite a while in there.  I wanted her to have room to sprawl out if she desired, and I like it to be big enough for her to have a bowl of water and lots of bedding.

How do you start crate training?  The easiest way is to be gin by feeding their meals in it.  If your dog is afraid to go all the way in then set the bowl of food right outside the crate, door open, and then over time move it further inside the crate, keeping the door open.  When your dog is happily bounding into the crate at meal time, begin to shut the door as they eat and immediately open it when they are done eating so they can come out.  As your dog shows that they are comfortable with this process, begin leaving them in the crate for a few minutes extra after they are finished.  Feel free to drop a random treat in as you pass by the crate if they are being good.

Alright, is Fido nice and relaxed?  We want to take this slow – patience is DEFINITELY a virtue when it comes to crate training.  If Fido is content relaxing in the crate after a meal, start putting him in it at random times throughout the day, always with kind words and treats and fun.  At this point, any time he’s going to get a really good treat (marrow bone, Kong, etc) feed it in the crate to reinforce the fact that Crates = Very Good Things.  At first, once the treat is gone, let Fido out, but eventually start leaving him in several minutes afterwards like you did with meals.

Now that Fido is happily chilling in his crate at random times when you are home, you’re going to up the ante.  Get a really good treat ready that will take him some time to finish – a deer leg, a tightly-stuffed frozen Kong, a frozen marrow bone, etc.  Put Fido in his crate, give him the treat and just quietly leave.  Come back before you think he’ll be finished with it.  As with every step before, you’ll slowly start leaving him in for a bit longer than it will take him to finish his treats.  As long as when you come back he’s still nice and relaxed, you’re doing great and can keep increasing the time.

This seems like a ton of steps, I know.  But I can’t repeat it enough – baby steps are crucial when it comes to crate training.

Troubleshooting help:

1.  Fido won’t stop barking in his crate:  Alright, what kind of barking is it?  Is Fido annoyed and demanding to call his attorney? (thank you, Greta, for that phrase!)  Or is Fido truly panicking?  If he is simply demanding to phone his attorney, ignore him until he is quiet for at least 3 seconds and then praise him and let him out.  And then back up in your training as you went too fast.  If Fido is panicked, LET HIM OUT.  It is cruel to keep a truly panicked dog in a crate.  Let them out and go back to absolute step one.

2.  Fido is pottying in his crate:  Make sure he is not being kept in there for too long.  If he isn’t, make a vet visit to rule out a urinary tract infection.  If that isn’t it, try changing the bedding type and make sure all smells of his accidents are out of the crate (use an enzymatic cleaner).  If that doesn’t work, stick something solid in his crate to reduce the size of it so he doesn’t have room to potty at one end and nap in the other.  Also, keep feeding meals in there – dogs will very rarely go to the bathroom where they eat.

3.  Fido is destroying his bedding: This can be a tough one.  Some dogs will just destroy bedding no matter what you do.  You have options here – if Fido is shredding but not ingesting (and you are 110% positive of this), you can buy cheap towels and sheets to throw in there that you won’t mind having destroyed.  If there is even the SLIGHTEST chance that Fido is ingesting, fabric bedding is a no go or you risk an impaction.  In that case, try a Kuranda (or equivalent) bed.  That way they are still off the hard plastic/metal/wires, but there’s nothing really to chew.  If Fido persists upon trying to eat his Kuranda, he has thus lost all bedding privileges.  Will this break your heart and make you feel like a horrible person?  Probably, but it won’t kill Fido, whereas him ingesting bedding might.

I’m a firm proponent of crate training.  Even if you don’t plan on crating your dog when you leave (and I could give you tons of reasons why doing so is a good idea!), you never know when Fido may have to spend time at the vet in a kennel or crate and you don’t want him panicking.  Or what if YOU get sick and Fido has to be kenneled or stay at a friend’s house?  Having a crate-trained dog opens so many doors and just allows you to relax a bit.  Let me know if you have any questions!


P.S. I adopted a kitty several weeks ago and he and Inara are starting to get to know each other.  I can’t help but leave you with a pic that makes me smile:

Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.
Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.

2011 in review from WordPress

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Nosework and Flea-pocalypse

Hello to both my faithful long-time readers and any new readers who may be popping in!  Welcome!

So Inara’s nosework has been going fabulously.  We transitioned away from sniffing out food and are now sniffing out a plastic container with clove oil scent in it.  I was a little nervous that Inara may have trouble with the transition, but nope!  She acted like she’s been finding clove oil her whole life!  This girl is just blowing my mind!  I’m going to have her assessed to see if she has the potential to become an actual detection dog.  Not sure what I’d want her to detect though – bombs?  Drugs?  Bedbugs???

I’m having a hard time finding places to hide the scent in my living room now, so I think it’s time for us to move on to other rooms/locations.  My only issue is that I can’t put out a row of boxes for her to sniff down because she’ll do the beautiful search, but when she finds the right box she pounces on it and I don’t want her to learn that behavior.  She’s “normal” in class, but at home she goes into search and destroy mode, LOL.

Now, Flea-pocoalypse.  *grrrrr*  Apparently I came home from somebody’s house 2 weekends ago with some hitchhikers.  Biting hitchhikers.  Last week I saw just a couple on Inara so I did the routine of:

  1. Bathe both girls in Chagrin Valley Soap’s Cedar & Lavendar Dog Shampoo.
  2. Wash all bedding – mine and Inara’s.
  3. Vacuum everything well.

In the past that has been sufficient.  But this time was different.  The fleas disappeared for a couple days, lulling me into a false sense of security.  In actuality, what they were doing was GATHERING REINFORCEMENTS.  They came back with a vengeance.  Inara was scratching.  The Piss was scratching.  I was scratching.  And I was angry.  I don’t get fleas.  My animals are clean, my house is clean.  I’m not one of THOSE PEOPLE who has fleas.

So I did some research and took Tuesday off work to wage war on the house and yard:

  1. Pretty much any piece of fabric that was small enough to fit into the washing machine was washed that day in hot water, with lots of Borax.
  2. Area rugs and throw rugs were intensely vacuumed or washed and then pulled.  They won’t be put back down until I’m sure the little nasties are gone.
  3. The Dyson has a flea collar in its canister to kill anything that gets sucked up.
  4. Both girls have Revolution on them.  Yes, it killed me to do this and I deliberated and stressed over it.  I don’t like putting that poison on them, but I knew these fleas were different and needed the big guns.  They’ll get another dose next month.
  5. The house was Vacuumed, with a capital V.  I spent about 45 minutes on just the couch, and then spent a ridiculous amount of time Vacuuming (still with a capital V) the rest of the house, getting every nook and cranny with the attachments.
  6. I mopped with a mixture of white vinegar and water.
  7. I treated the yard with Seven Dust.
  8. I closed the windows and turned the AC on as fleas need a certain humidity and temperature to hatch.  Not sure if my little window unit can reduce the humidity and temp enough, but it’s worth a try.
  9. The girls (and I, I’m embarrassed to admit) are getting spritzed thrice daily with a 50/50 mixture of water and organic apple cider vinegar (ACV).  Inara also gets spritzed on her legs and belly before she goes out, every single time.
  10. I’m vacuuming every single day and doing laundry every two days.

I’m exhausted.  Every time I see a black speck I go all Rambo-like and fly at it to snatch it and kill it if it’s a flea.  I stare obsessively at Inara, watching for any nasties.  If I have a normal itch I get all paranoid.  I DREAM about fleas.  So fingers crossed that my suburban warfare was effective and they disappear.

One of my new fave pics of the pupper
One of my new fave pics of the pupper

The Calling

Inara has finally received The Call.  After all the sports/games/STUFF we’ve tried, we have found THE ONE.  The One that she has a natural talent for.  Nay, not just a talent, but a PRONOUNCED talent.  What is her calling?


The girl is apparently part Bloodhound.  When I give her the command to “search” she glues her nose to the floor and works it, occasionally lifting up for an air sniff, but mostly going for the ground sniff method.  We started a 4 week Nosework class last week, so we’ve had two classes so far.  And due to a wedding this past weekend we didn’t practice at all in between our classes, yet she still rocked it.  Right now she’s still sniffing for hidden treats, but next week we’re introducing a new scent for the dogs to find.  I hope she can transition her searching behavior to a non-food item.

This past week our instructor, Katie, lined up six boxes and put a container with treats in one.  The dog had to sniff down the line and find the one with treats.  Inara was crated so she didn’t see which box the treats in.  When I told her to “search” she went to the first box and sniffed each box until she found the one with treats and pawed at it, got her treats, and then continued sniffing down the rest of the boxes to make sure they were empty.  And just as cool?  She’s totally ignoring the other dogs when she’s working the line of boxes.

I’ve got a couple vids from our informal practice at home this evening.  This was our first time trying nosework at home.  These two vids our Inara’s last two searches, so she had done maybe 6 or 7 before these.  I was having her sit in the dining room while I hid the container with treats, and then I would call her to heel and give the cue to search.  This first one was apparently way too easy for her:

For her last search, I hid the container up off the ground so she had to work a bit harder.  You can see her look to me for guidance at one point, so I didn’t point or anything, I just encouraged her again to search, and she did!

Hives, Prozac and Sharks

Heheheh, this title should get some odd hits coming in!  LOL

1.  Hives – Inara has never had hives before but for some reason broke out in them this week.  Fortunately they are confined to her back, just behind her withers (do dogs have withers or is that just a horse term?), so they aren’t hindering her breathing in any way.  That confined location makes me think something touched her that caused a reaction, but for the life of me I cannot think what has changed.  I gave her a couple Benadryl (please always consult your vet before giving meds to your dog) and they’ve mostly gone done.  She still has a couple small ones but I really don’t want to give her more Benadryl as it made her feel not so good.  Even stranger, I’ve had a few other friends across the country say that over the past couple weeks their dogs have also broken out in hives.  What’s going on???

2.  Prozac – Not for Inara this time.  For the cat.  She has always been crazy but her level of miserable-ness has increased exponentially over the past few weeks for some reason.  She growls out the window at anybody that dares to walk by the house.  She skulks around.  And best yet, she’s attacking Inara.  Not just a swat, but full-fledged yowling, swinging paws and chasing Inara through the house.  Kind of funny until you realize that at some point Inara may get tired of this and whip around and nail her.  So Prozac it is.  We’re on day three.  I really hope it works.  I don’t want to think about what to do if it doesn’t.

3.  Sharks – Okay, not really, but sort of.  I ordered something for Inara called a shark line leash.  It’s like super strong fishing wire attached to a small toggle handle, with a light snap at the end.  It’s to help us transition to off-leash work.  Because it’s so light, she won’t realize that she is still on leash, but should she decide to act like an ass (my dog?  NEVER!) I still have control over her.  A lot of friends recommended it to me so I’m kind of excited.  I think it may be exactly what we need to get over our training hump.  Here’s a link:

Finally, a friend of mine has been having some issues with her pit bull, Toby, and has started a blog to chronicle his training.  Today she posted that instead of pushing him further when he’d already had a great day, she STOPPED.  That was such a hard lesson for me to learn, so it made me thrilled to see that she got it so quickly!  So please visit her blog and give her some love!

Between a rock and a dog…

Inara and I seem to have hit an impasse with our training.  Not due to lack of skill, but because I can’t trust her off-leash.  She’s totally ready for advanced rally signs, but even the 2nd level of rally and obedience stuff is off leash.  Ginger and I were talking this evening and we feel she’s kind of hit the max benefit from our Rally classes we’ve been taking.  Ginger thinks I need to expand outwards, into new training places.  That frightens me.  It’s very difficult finding good, positive trainers.  And quite frankly, other places are really expensive ($140 for 6 weeks?  Really?).  And I like Ginger and her style of teaching.

I suggested to Ginger that maybe she can offer “semi-private sessions.”  Her normal rally classes have 6 dogs and are $85 for 6 weeks, so I said that maybe she can offer 3 week sessions, with only 3 dogs, for $85.  It’d be a lot more individualized attention, and if we chose the dogs well we could do off-leash stuff w/o worrying.  Once Inara got used to being off-leash around those 2 dogs, another dog could be added in.  I’m not looking to get her playing with other dogs – I want her to IGNORE them entirely.

I may also just do some private sessions with Ginger out and about in the community, just for the change of scenery.  We all know that dogs don’t generalize, so I do maintain Inara’s training elsewhere.  It would be nice sometimes to have Ginger on walks in the park with me when other dogs are passing in close proximity.  Not because I don’t know what to do, but because my confidence increases with her around *blush*.

Any other ideas for me as to break through this impasse?  I’m going to start working hard with Inara on training/walking w/o relying on the leash to keep her by me, even outside.  It will be on, of course, but only as an emergency measure.  But while we’re doing that, I want to DO something – classes, seminars, something.

Inara with Joe, Big Mike and Johnny O of Rescue Ink.