Crate training your puppy – Cambridge Puppy Training

crate training puppies

Crates! Most of us invest in a crate when we are planning to bring our puppy home. We hear good things about them, possibly know someone who has advised us to get one, we know it’s a wise idea to have a ‘safe space’ for us to put our pups. However, when our pups come home they are largely unsure, confused, and somewhat aghast at being put into this confined space, what can we do??

Habituating a puppy to a crate is essential. If you are lucky, your breeder will have already started the process and you will hopefully have a pup who is quite happy to be shut/confined in a crate. However, this is not always the case, far from it. I have had many puppy owners asking me how to make sure their puppy is happy and content, in a crate. Maybe, somewhat naively, we believe a puppy will simply ‘accept’ the crate, this is definitely not true as you may well find out! Vocalising, destructive behaviours, agitating at the crate door, all of these are sure signs that your puppy has not been habituated to the crate up until this point.

So, what can we do?? Here’s some top tips to acclimatise your little pup to not only the environment of a crate and being confined, but also to enjoy the process, too.

1. Size – make sure you have the right size crate for your puppy. If you have a breed which is likely to grow at a fast rate, and to a big size, consider long term what size crate the puppy will need. You can buy dividers, and as your puppy grows gradually increase the space in the crate. Alternatively, you can just buy a second bigger crate as your pup grows! Ideally, you need your puppy to be able to stand, turn, lay down and stretch out, with ease.

2. Bedding – consider soft, warm and comfortable. Soft blankets or throws are a great idea, easily washable. Ensure you cover the base of the crate with either puppy pads, or something easily washable just in case of accidents!

3. Calming aids – I have said before there is no scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of such products, however we all know someone who has had success with these! An Adaptil Plug-In Diffuser, for example.

4. Heat – there are various products on the market, for example self-heating pet pads.
5. Covers – dependent on your pup, consider putting a throw/blanket over the crate to block the view from the sides/back, this may help a puppy to settle.

6. Toys/chews – be prepared with all manner of interactive feeders such as kongs, chews and games. All of these will help to acclimatise your puppy to their crate.

7. Know your puppy! – the first day or two with your pup will be very much a case of getting to know each other, know your pup and his needs/temperament and work with that.

Try and remember you will need to start habituating your puppy to the crate immediately. For your puppy to get into the routine and build up positive associations with the crate, it must be a priority initially. If you feel your puppy doesn’t like the crate in those early days, put in huge amounts of work to show your puppy the positives of the crate, don’t be tempted to keep your puppy out and ‘hope for the best’, work through it. It will be much harder further down the line to try and introduce a crate if your puppy has not been using one, so start early! Puppies are not stupid, if they know they will get let out when they bark, they will bark. If this happens once, do not let it happen again. Never push your puppy to the point of vocalisation, set yourself a training plan and get to work on building value to that crate so your puppy sees no need or desire to firstly be let out, or secondly vocalise. If night-times are difficult, keep the crate next to your bed for the first couple of nights, you can put your fingers through the bars to soothe a worried puppy and your presence/voice will help to settle him.

It can help to have a ‘settle mat’, which is used primarily for any settling behaviours in varying environments. This can be used initially outside the crate, and be gradually moved closer to the crate and inside. If you have a puppy who is particularly struggling with the crate, this may be an option for you.

Crate training will help hugely with toilet training and will provide your puppy with a safe space, this in turn will help with minimising those undesirable behaviours and help you to reinforce the behaviours you like! It’s not difficult to reliably have your puppy going into the crate, but it is essential you spend time building value to the crate very early on. Start immediately, make it positive and fun, and be consistent.

If you need help with showing your puppy how great the crate is, get in touch about the 1-2-1’s I offer. Remember, immediate → positive → consistent.

For more information just get in touch!
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Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining


Fear stages in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

fear stages in puppies

I have been asked many a time by owners why their seemingly confident little pup has suddenly become fearful. This can manifest itself as a fear of anything in the environment, from people to dogs to dustbins! Your once relaxed little pup who would stride by anything and everything with ease, suddenly seems to have a minor meltdown at the mere sight of an outstretched hand or a dustbin in front of your home. But why does this occur? What is going on?? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to remember our pups go through quite a few developmental stages during the course of their first 2 years. It may seem quite clear cut, we get our puppy at 8 weeks, we bring them home and as long as we socialise them adequately then our job is done and we should have a confident and fulfilled dog at the end, right?? Well, maybe. There are however stages that it is important to be aware of along the way.

One of these stages is termed the ‘fear period’ or ‘fear imprint stage’. This is a stage in which your pup will seemingly out of the blue develop a fear or anxiety about something which has likely previously held no meaning. Something very normal like a person in the street, or something a bit more obvious like traffic or other dogs. This may display itself via avoidance behaviours ie. hiding behind you or pulling back away from the object, you may see a change in body posture from a relaxed tail carriage to a ‘tucked under’ tail and a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression.

Fear periods can occur twice in a pups development, the first is around 8-10 weeks old, and the second between 6-14 months (nicely coinciding with the adolescent stage which brings a whole new set of behaviours in itself!). The puppy will respond in a more fearful way to anything which it may deem ‘traumatic’. Something which is likely not traumatic, will be perceived by your pup as pretty scary and something to be avoided. It is also at this stage that events will have more of an impact than at any other time, so in short, it’s a pretty important period of time all round! The fear stage is not limited to NEW experiences or stimuli which is important to remember, it may be something that your pup has seen every day since being with you and something he has paid no attention to at all, or even enjoyed, up until now. So, to define, a fear period is a stage in which a puppy may perceive new or familiar stimuli as a threat.

We can see, biologically, why this stage may occur. A puppy at this age is just starting to ‘fly the nest’ and any wrong move or misjudgement about what is/isn’t ‘safe’ will effect survival chances. Also, the first fear stage will coincide with when a pup is leaving his mum and siblings and going off to a brand new unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and stimuli.

So, what can we do to help our pups if we feel they are going through a fear stage??

There’s a few things to consider:

  • Bond – bond with your puppy! Via training, communication, and patience. Gain your pups trust and engage with him daily. Encourage focus behaviours ie. eye contact, practice engagement training (look back at my blog articles if you’re unsure how), and work on handling techniques to gain a solid level of trust between you both.
  • Make it FUN – use treats/favourite toy to help build positive associations with every new experience your pup has! Take things at your pups pace, don’t force interactions, let your pup make a choice as to how far he wants to engage with the environment around him. Encourage, praise progress, and keep a light-hearted tone in your voice. There is actually no evidence to suggest you can reinforce an emotion (fear is an emotional response to an event/object), however there is no need to go overboard with your ‘cuddling’ if your pup is fearful! Reassurance yes, panic-stricken cuddling, probably best not.
  • Use calming aids – I have said before that the scientific evidence behind such tools ie. Adaptil plug-ins and collars is far from conclusive, but, I can tell you some people swear by them so they are worth consideration I feel!
  • Use a set up – set up ‘pretend’ situations! Your pup is worried about people going by when walking? Ask a friend to help with gradual desensitisation. Your pup is scared of dustbins? Spend some time every day building positive associations with the dustbins! Pup is scared of the vets table? Ask your vet if you could have a ‘social visit’ with just treats/cuddles and fun! They will not mind!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep! Inadequate sleep leaves a pup unable to learn, process information and will likely be more sensitive to situations.
  • Stay calm!!! – the first thing we do when our pup is worried is worry ourselves! Stop yourself, think clearly, what can I do to improve this? How can I change my pups emotional response to this object? There will be a way, so just calmly work through it.
  • Ask for advice – if you are unsure, don’t go through it alone, ask a professional for advice!

Although it may seem like a worrying time, your once confident little pup is suddenly worrying about something entirely meaningless and inconsequential, try to stay calm. Don’t build it into more of an issue than it needs to be, stay relaxed and simply work out a plan to try and change your pups view of the ‘scary thing’. It’s perfectly do-able.

There is, as stated above, a second ‘fear stage’, however I am a puppy trainer and try to limit topics as much as possible to puppyhood so I will refrain from delving into it too much! If you need more information regarding this second stage just get in touch.

I do cover the developmental stages our pups go through during my 1-2-1’s so if you feel you are struggling with anything mentioned just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Separation anxiety in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

separation anxiety in puppies

Separation anxiety is a common and quite distressing problem for dogs. Many dogs develop separation anxiety largely due to them never having to face the prospect of ‘being alone’. In puppies in particular, we can see why separation anxiety may occur. They have left all they have ever known, been put into a strange and unfamiliar environment, and when the one thing they DO cling to (you) leaves, they simply do not know how to cope. So, what can we do about it? And more importantly, how can we prevent it even starting?

Firstly, let’s look at what separation anxiety is. Separation anxiety, or isolation anxiety, displays itself when a puppy is unable to cope with being left alone. I’m sure we have all at some stage felt a little anxious or uneasy at certain points, maybe your first day in a new job and it’s daunting and scary and you just want the familiarity of home, or your first day at university when you really don’t’ know if you can cope and again want to run home! Well these feelings to us are merely a normal emotional response to a new and daunting challenge, we have the ability to see these feelings for what they are and the context they are felt in. However, for our pups, it’s a bit harder. Our pups develop a very real and strong attachment to US, so when we leave, without prior preparation and conditioning for this, it can be hugely traumatic for our pups.

So, how does separation anxiety begin in the first place?

  • A puppy who has never had to cope alone, or never been left alone.
  • A puppy who has had a frightening incident at home ie. fear of the washing machine sound, fireworks have given pup an irrational fear of a certain room of the house etc.
  • Rescue dogs – not always, but a dog who has been moved about a fair amount may develop anxiety when left alone (understandably!).
  • Genetics – exactly what it says! Genetic predisposition to the behaviour.

How does separation anxiety display itself? What will we see?

  • A shadow – does your dog follow you around the house, everywhere, even to the bathroom?
  • Obvious signs of distress – pacing, scratching at the door/flooring, whining, barking, howling, urinating/defecating.
  • Physiological signs of distress – increased HR, increased respiration, dilated pupils, restless, unable to lay down, moving constantly.
  • Destruction – often this can be something with your scent on ie. slippers, clothing, sofa cushions etc, and leaving a little ‘den’ of destruction! We have all seen images of such destruction on Facebook I am sure, the dog chewed up cushions and the debris is all around him and he is in the middle!
  • Overly-excited greetings – an overly boisterous and over-aroused greeting when you return.

Ok, so we know why separation anxiety may develop, and we know what to look out for, but what exactly can we do about it? We can prepare our pups from early on, it’s really the only way. We need to gradually and positively habituate our pups to being on their own. This IS easily done, even if you have a pup who is already showing signs of distress when you are not there.

I cover the prevention of separation anxiety in my 1-2-1’s, however we can briefly look at some top tips to gradual acclimatisation:

  • Rest/sleep area – make sure your pup is well aware of where his sleeping area is, be it a crate, pen or simply a certain area of the kitchen.
  • Start off very gradually – do not attempt to leave your pup for 2 hours to start off with! We’re looking at simply 30 seconds out of the room in the early stages, then building up slowly, ensuring the pup is confident and comfortable all the way.
  • Make sure you leave your pup with something interesting – something which will not only take your pups mind off you leaving, but something he doesn’t normally have randomly throughout the day ie. a stuffed kong, activity ball, chew/bone.
  • No long goodbyes! – as much as we WANT to have a big drawn out ‘I love you I’ll see you soon my baby you be good mummy loves you’……it won’t help with an already slightly anxious pup. A nonchalant attitude is best, ignore your pup for 5-10 minutes before you leave.
  • No big greetings! – similar when coming HOME, don’t make a big song and dance of your return, ignore your pup for a few minutes, get yourself a drink etc and then a calm hello/cuddle etc.
  • Mental/physical exercise – make sure your pup has had an adequate amount of mental and physical exercise prior to you leaving.
  • Music/radio/tv – always have some kind of background noise left on when you are out. Classical music is said to be soothing, or the tv for the sound of voices.
  • Consistency – try to make it a routine, practice all of this daily, don’t start practicing the day before you’re going out, this needs to be built up over the course of weeks/months.

A final note of caution, if you are obtaining your puppy NOW, in the summer (well it’s supposed to be summer!) months, be mindful of when you are all back at work/school and what your routine will be. Try NOW to build up the routine that your pup will have. Do not under any circumstances spend all day every day with your pup over the summer holidays, and expect he will cope just fine when everybody disappears to school/work in September. Start routinely leaving him every day now, it will pay off come September and with the correct preparation as detailed above, your pup will see you leaving as not only a nice thing because he gets something fun he doesn’t have all the time, but a completely normal and routine procedure.

As with any behaviour, if you feel it is going beyond the realms of ‘normal puppy behaviour’ please seek your vets advice. There are indeed medications to help with severe anxiety and your vet will be able to talk to you through these and discuss the best course of action.

It is essential your pup is shown how to relax and feel fairly comfortable when being left. Separation anxiety in adult dogs is not only hugely stressful for the dog, it is a huge problem for us, the owners, too. Be sure to start setting your pup up NOW to view being left as a positive and relaxing experience.

For more information just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining