Crate training a puppy

Miniature Aussie Shepherd Pali at 9 weeks old.

In Why crate training I talk about the uses and benefits of crate training a dog. Now I’d like to share with you the ins and outs in a bit more detail. At the end of this article you can watch a video of how I help a puppy settle in his crate and relax in just over ten minutes using the Trust Technique.

The Trust Technique teaches a mindfulness process which is akin to the following scenario. Let’s say your friend is distressed about something. They tell you what they are worried about, what they are scared of, what they dread, what makes them feel anxious or nervous and so on. It could also be that your friend is totally over-excited about something. Their stomach is in knots because of their tense anticipation. They feel really wired.

You could interrupt them and …

  • try to console – It’s not as bad as it looks. Just calm down. It will all work out well in the end.
  • try sharing what comes up for you – That reminds me of when …
  • try giving advice – You should xyz. If I was in your shoes I would xyz. Have you tried xyz?
  • try distraction – Let’s talk about something else. Let’s watch a movie/have a drink/etc.
  • sympathise with them – This is really horrible! You are right to be angry, upset, worried, etc.
  • try ignoring what they are saying, just waiting until they are finished talking (making a mental shopping list in the meantime or wondering what to cook for dinner) and then switch the topic.

None of these strategies are likely to help your friend find peace or a solution.

Photo by Yura Timoshenko on Unsplash

Instead of following the above list, you could let your friend speak until they arrive at a natural point of stillness, when everything has been said for the moment. There, you both are entering the present moment. You are here and now, your minds are quiet. Then, a thought arises in your friend and they begin talking once more and you are listening again. This process might repeat itself many times, though the ratio between talking and just being in the present moment will shift. The more unpeace your friend can express and let go while you support them with your quiet attention, the longer the spaces in-between their thinking will be and the calmer and more at peace your friend will feel. As a by-product, the connection between you and your friend deepens. A sense of gratitude arises and appreciation for your empathic genuineness. Trust flourishes.

That is how the Trust Technique works with the animal-human relationship. Animals do not use words but their behaviour to express unpeace. When their humans listen, a process of letting go is initiated that leads to dissolving the unsettled inner state of the animal. The world can then be perceived with new eyes. Understanding that their human has helped them in this way, the animal feels thankful. The bond between them is strengthened, affection grows, and so does confidence.

There are clear, concrete steps to facilitate this process for your animal that are easy to learn.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Pali, a miniature Australian Shepherd puppy, was ok to sleep in his crate overnight in his humans’ bedroom. During the day, however, he would not settle in it and vocalize his displeasure, quickly escalating his protest if he was not let out immediately. What’s a puppy parent to do in that situation? Let the puppy out of the crate? Offer an enrichment toy? Cover the crate with a sheet and let the puppy “cry it out”? Talk soothingly to the puppy? Yell at the puppy? Use a water squirter or shaker bottle?

If the puppy is let out of the crate puppy has just learned an acceptable way to be let out of the crate. This enables puppy not to learn the life skill of settling.

Enrichment toys have their place. In this case, however, it’s offered as a distraction. A distraction is a band-aid rather than teaching puppy how to settle.

Ignoring the puppy and letting them “cry it out”? This article in Psychology Today reports that neuroscience has found that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can harm children and their relational capacities in the long term. Puppies are not children, however, their nervous systems are similar to ours and puppies co-sleep with their mothers and siblings until they go to their new home. Caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994). Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns of distress get established, it’s much harder to change them. (Quote from same Psychology Today article)
Ignoring a puppy’s inability to self-settle yet can create an anxiety-filled dog.

So then, talking soothingly to the puppy surely is the way to go? In some cases this might be successful. In most cases it will only bring temporary relief or achieve the opposite – puppy escalates.

Using punishment such as yelling at the puppy, squirting them with water, using an e-collar, etc. might bring some results or even success. At what cost though? One drawback of punishment is that even though the unwanted behaviour may stop, it does not offer any information about more appropriate or desired behaviours. It does not foster trust. It can shut-down an animal or lead to aggressive behaviour.

Teaching an animal via the Trust Technique is a work of heart.

But again, what is a puppy parent to do if their fur baby doesn’t want to settle in their crate? We know we are not asking something unreasonable. Puppy was out for a walk, had a good play, toileted and now it’s time for a rest. But puppy disagrees and is wailing, maybe howling, licking or biting at the bars of the crate, digging their bedding, clearly unhappy. In return that usually brings up strong feelings in the puppy parent … helplessness, pity, overwhelm, frustration, concern, anxiety, exasperation, unease, and others.

The first thing the Trust Technique teaches is how to regard your animal’s inner state as expressed through their behaviour. Rather than reacting in our thoughts or actions, we witness. Witnessing means observing without interpreting. It is allowed to be exactly what it is. In the beginning, this can be difficult. Some people immediately feel sorry if their animal shows distress. Yet, if we can take the perspective that we are here to help, and seeing what is really going on without reacting is the first step, then we can progress to the step where our animal can feel calmer, followed by helping them feel at peace and comfortable with what previously was unacceptable or scary to them. It’s a work of heart.

In the video below you can watch how I help Pali settle in his crate and relax in just over ten minutes using the Trust Technique. Read the next few paragraphs of useful explanations before you start watching, so that you can follow what is unfolding.

In the first five minutes of the video Pali is telling me how he is feeling about being in the crate, he cries, jumps up, paces, digs, etc. I listen to him without trying to stop him, distract him, telling him off, or ignoring him. He has some moments where he is quiet because something else temporarily catches his attention. But soon he sits more often rather than jumping up, indicating that his inner turmoil is lessening. In case you have the volume low when you are watching the video and wondering why I am looking away at 4:28, it’s because I am asking one of my dogs quietly to go back onto his bed.

Yawning is a sign of release. At 5:30 and 5:50 Pali has a stifled yawn each and at 6:44 a big yawn. Right after, a whole lot of unpeace is coming up for him again expressed through his agitated behaviour. From about 8:00 minutes on, Pali starts to settle. It’s a gradual process, interspersed with more unpeace bubbling up. At 10:42 he is relaxed and at peace.

Throughout Pali’s process it looks as if I am just sitting there but that’s not all that is happening. I am not going to explain here what it is that I am doing. That is not the purpose of this article or the video. Rather, it’s a demonstration that the Trust Technique can be applied to settle a puppy in their crate. The details of how to do it can be learned via a video course or a consultation with a practitioner such as myself.

Pali was 9 weeks old in this video. He met me once before but had no previous exposure to the Trust Technique. It was his first time at doggy daycare at my house. To date I have helped about 50 or so dogs settle in their crate this way – daycare, holiday (boarding) and foster dogs. Usually it takes 30 to 60 minutes the first time. Puppies responding more quickly on the whole. Pali’s process was very swift.

Settling a puppy in the crate with the Trust Technique. From Lemme out!!! to I can be peaceful now.

The Trust Technique has an accumulative effect. This means that the next time your animal encounters their challenging situation again and you are using the method with them, they usually respond to it faster. Eventually – how long that takes is individual – the problem dissolves, the issue is fixed. I filmed this session with Pali in the morning. Throughout the day, every time we came inside after a walk or play time, I put him into the crate again and his settling process took less and less each time. A few days later I had a consultation with Pali’s family and taught them the Trust Technique. I also showed them how to apply their newly learned skill to helping Pali settle in his crate during the day at home. It was easy as we build on what he had already experienced at daycare with me. The family was astonished and put things into practice right away. They were grateful to have some of their independence back, no more little shadow following them everywhere, even to the toilet.

Fully settling a puppy in the crate may require other steps too, for example, puppy might be happy to settle as long as you sit right next to the crate or, at least, as long as you are within sight but not otherwise. Or, they might settle and have a snooze but when they wake up, they run a riot again. Or, a changed environment, such as transporting puppy in a crate in the car, might cause them to act like a madpuppy. No matter the hangup that causes distress, over-excitement or anxiety, helping puppy with the Trust Technique will pay off more quickly each time. And not only that but each hurdle mastered is another solid building stone in the foundation of your relationship with each other.

Once Pali settled in his crate easily and without help at home, we took it on the road. It required five short stops on the side of the road to help settle an excited Pali with the Trust Technique until he was able to be calm while I was driving. There was no help from me needed when we took another drive together a week later.

Even though puppies usually are more energetic than adult dogs, that doesn’t mean that it is healthy for a puppy to just go go go all day long. Most puppies have a hard time settling because they are so easily distracted. The world is busy and just full of things needing to be checked out! Crate training helps promote the idea of down time. As the puppy matures, they won’t necessarily need the crate anymore to be able to chill and relax. However, many dogs love the safe feeling their den (aka crate) gives them. Cage-style crates are not aesthetically pleasing but have you seen homemade dog crate furniture? If a project like this exceeds your arts and crafts skill level, there are many such pieces available online sold through Etsy, Ebay, and other market places. If your dog’s budget doesn’t stretch that far, at least choose a fabric you like to cover the crate and so have a win-win for both, you and your fur family member.

Including the Trust Technique in the upbringing of a puppy is a life-altering experience for puppy parents. A great starting point to understand what the Trust Technique is about is the mini-course Messages of Trust, please use my affiliate link if you decide to purchase it. Part 1 (20 minutes) is free to watch, the complete series (90 minutes altogether) is £ 6.50, a bit more than $ 10. The most comprehensive way to learn the Trust Technique is their online video course. If you prefer one-on-one, you can work with a certified practitioner such as myself.

For questions or to book a consultation with me, please email me at mia@thedependablecompanion.com.au

“Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart.”
Howard G. Hendricks

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