I was thinking about training this morning. Not actually doing any training, mind you, just thinking about it. What I was thinking was “wow, it’s been a while since Rush made any fuss about going into his crate.” I remember when he was a puppy: the crate was a place to sit and howl. I had to pick him up and put him in for a long time. Yesterday, though, he actually ran into his crate when I gave the cue (“Puppy jail!”*). He was faster than Dancer.
How did that change come about? Slow training. I didn’t spend hours every day drilling crate games. I didn’t want to make the crate exciting and thrilling. I want my dogs to go into their crates, lie down, and go to sleep (or just relax) until I come back. I want the crate to be a refuge from the world. When I ask my dogs to go to their crates, I follow them there (or take them there if they’te feeling reluctant), give them a few nice treats, and then walk away. They spend time in their crates almost every day, because my dogs do not get the free run of the house while I’m gone. Sometimes, I close the crate door while the dogs are out of the crate and toss a few treats in, so they want to go in. Sometimes, I send them to their crates (cue “puppy jail!”, as I said), give them some treats, and let them out immediately.
Slow training. I didn’t expect immediate results. I wasn’t trying to get a snappy sit or a perfect set of weave poles. I was trying to make a place in my house a special place. It took time. Rush is three and three-quarters now and he’ll live another ten years (I hope)–it’s okay that it took a while for his crate to become a favorite place. Now he sleeps in there even when he doesn’t have to.
*”Puppy jail” is the cue Elly chose for going to her crate, years and years ago. “Kennel up!”–the traditional cue–resulted in a slow despairing walk to her crate, but “puppy jail!” resulted in a sprint to see who could get there first. Elly had a sense of humor.