Crate Games and the Question of Value

I got a question on my YouTube site last week about Crate Games, but for some geek-type reason unknown to me, my response never gets through, so I thought, why not blog about it?

Here is the original question;

I have been using crate games video with my puppy. What do you do when the dog doesn’t want to get out of the crate. He stays in there (which I do not want to ruin) but he gets out when he pleases. There are also times where he growls and paws at the door when it closes if we are not working on crate games. I am not sure how to handle this. I can’t work with him coming out and going in if he doesn’t come out in a timely manner

It always makes me smile when I see clever puppies figure this out. Today this may be happening in Crate games, but it will happen in other areas of your training. The key point to remember. Always evaluate your dog and her responses. Question continuously asking yourself;

Where is the value?

When you start Crate Games the value is entirely outside of the crate — found either with your or in the environment (which is why puppies can’t wait to be free of the crate) or with the food. Very quickly when playing Crate Games you get a transfer of value so that the value of the food rewards gets put into the Crate; thus you get a puppy that sees more value in staying in the crate than in coming out.

Too cute, too funny!

As an astute trainer, you now recognize the balance of value is uneven with the crate so you need to build some countering balance. That isn’t tough to do. Rather than giving high-value cookies in the crate, for the next few reps give lower value cookies in the crate and  (for one or two reps) give higher value cookies outside of the crate!

This kind of reminds me of something Feature does every day on our walk in the winter. One day, after a walk around the field John and I were behind the house talking while the dogs were waiting for another lap of the field. I guess I kicked at the snow as we chatted (which Feature loves) so ever since when we get near that spot Feature races ahead and waits there in hopes of me kicking snow at her. In this case, it only took one repetition to transfer enough value to build a behaviour chain in Feature. Too funny. Too bad running contacts didn’t work that way:).

Feature has always loved the snow.

Anyway, back to Crate Games. If your dog has an understanding of his release word when you open the crate and give that release word what should the dog do? Exactly — leave the crate as you requested. The release is a cue or command when you give it, the dog should respond. So when he doesn’t leave the crate what do you do? If you are like most people you repeat your cue — not a good idea.

What if you asked your dog to do something like “come” and he didn’t do it –what would you do? Do you repeat the “come” cue? (if you have taken my recallers e-course you better know not to repeat it!).

No, there needs to be a consequence if you ask a dog to do something and he chooses not to do it (of course — I am not talking about a forceful or intimidating consequence).

In Crate Games (again ONLY if I believe the dog understands her release cue) when I give the “break” cue and the dog doesn’t come out– I just do exactly the same thing I would do at any time during Crate Games when the dog makes any inappropriate response . . .  I close the crate door.

Closing the door is giving your dog feedback — that was the wrong choice and will not earn any reinforcement.

If the dog doesn’t understand their release cue I wouldn’t punish them by closing the door, I would just do as the Crate Games DVD suggests and encourage the dog out — building value by rewarding good choices.

If you are reviewing Crate Games, I would go back and re-read past blog posts like this one before going much further.

Today I am grateful for the warm weather of Arizona. I flew in for a quick couple of days of business meetings — nice to get out of the snow no matter how brief the visit is. I can’t stay long as I have to get back for the group coming in for Advances in Dog Training and Critical Elements (the camp formerly known as “Puppy Camp” . . . my favourite!).

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