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!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk  OR  info@cambridgepuppytraining.com
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
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Boredom in puppy training! – Cambridge Puppy Training

boredom in puppy training

I’ve worked with a lot of puppies and a lot of owners, all with completely different personalities and temperaments, all with different requirements and needs. There is no ‘one rule for all’ with puppies and indeed with owners, too. You can advise a certain method of tackling a particular aspect of training or behaviour, however without actually working with that puppy, spending time understanding how it works and what motivates that puppy, you will never really know the very best course of action. I have said before, no two puppies are the same, and indeed no two owners are. However, one aspect or problem in training does repeatedly show itself to me when working with puppies and owners, boredom! The puppy seems quite simply, bored. So what is going on? Surely, if we have treats, a puppy cannot be bored, can it??

Many times I have watched puppies working with their owners, the puppy is slowly going through the motions, or drifting off looking at something else, the owner is pulling the puppy back to insist it works with them, the puppy is getting more frustrated with being hauled back, the owner is getting more frustrated with the lack of interest from their puppy, and we end up with a rather exacerbated puppy AND owner. Quite frankly, the puppy looks BORED, and the owner doesn’t really know how to deal with this.

So what is really happening, what can we see from a puppy who appears ‘bored’?

  • disinterested (in you or your treats/toy/etc)
  • established behaviours seem difficult or slow to be offered (they were good at ‘sit’ yesterday, why aren’t they now?!)
  • wandering off (oh that leaf/dog/smell looks much more interesting!)
  • over-arousal/excitement or stress (are they getting very bitey? And taking treats with a very hard mouth?)

This is just a few ideas, there are more which you may well be able to add to the list. The puppy just quite simply lacks interest, seems easily frustrated, and no amount of ham or sausage or cheese will bring them back to you.

If this happens to you during your training sessions, there are a few things that could be going on here.

1. You are raising your criteria too quickly – you are making it much harder for the puppy to understand and follow what you are asking, either with the behaviour itself, or with your schedule of reinforcement being transferred to variable too quickly
2. Your treat delivery is predictable and dull – if you are on a continual reinforcement schedule (feeding for every correct behaviour), and your treat delivery is straight to the mouth, this doesn’t really elicit excitement or interest
3. You are being too repetitive – when trying to teach something, we have a habit of going over and over the same exercise again and again!
4. Your training sessions are too long – trying to drag out a training session for an hour with no breaks is tiring for your puppy!
5. You are over-reliant on treats – you only use treats to reinforce good behaviour, not life rewards

This is just a few ideas as to why your pup may be losing interest or seem slow in offering behaviours, or simply wanders off. So, how can we tackle some of these to increase the likelihood of our pups maintaining interest and retain engagement?

1. You are raising your criteria too quickly
When teaching any new behaviour it is essential to break it down into small and achievable tasks. Leaping straight into extended loose-lead walking or down stays without building it up in tiny increments will be extremely difficult and frustrating for your puppy. Take it slow! And make it achievable for your puppy. Can he only last 3 seconds in a stay? Excellent! Gradually extend that to say, 5 seconds, and keep building in tiny manageable increments. Additionally, if your pup is used to continual reinforcement (a treat for every correct behaviour) and you decide to transition to a variable ratio of reinforcement (a treat for a certain average of behaviours), don’t be too stingy! Transfer gradually, and set your puppy up to succeed.

2. Your treat delivery is predictable and dull
In my puppy classes we touch on treat delivery, and the importance of it. There are many different ways to delivery a treat and each way will elicit varying emotional responses from your puppy. A hand to the mouth is great, but it can be a bit dull. Try instead, tossing the treat to the side of your pup, this will help in building interest and the running back to you to do more work, will in itself, be something to reinforce.

3. You’re being repetitive
No one wants to do the same thing again and again. I always advise clients when teaching any new behaviour, a few repetitions at a time is enough. Any more, the pup WILL lose interest. With my own dog, who is 8 years old, she gets bored with more than approximately 5 repetitions of any exercise! Keep interest by mixing it up.

4. Your training sessions are too long
Trying to teach a new behaviour is fun, I get that, however trying to teach a new behaviour for 30 minutes is not advisable! Short sharp sessions are essential. I advise clients to train for no more than 5 minutes at a time, lots of times throughout the day. Keeping it quick and snappy will increase interest from your pup, and give your lots more to reinforce.

5. You are over-reliant on treats
Very very common! We are all guilty of keeping the treats in front of our pups nose for far too long I am sure! In truth, a lure should be phased out within about 5-6 repetitions of a behaviour, possibly slightly longer for highly complex behaviours, but not much longer! I see people still luring weeks down the line! This is far too long. If your pup performs perfectly with a treat on his nose, but is completely disinterested when that treat is no longer on his nose, you can hazard a guess you have lured for far too long, and really need to work on removing that lure. There are, of course, other reasons for disinterest ie. raising distraction levels too quickly etc, but in my experience, luring a puppy for too long is so often the reason a pup will not perform behaviours when asked.

Have a think, could you alter your training to accommodate your pup slightly better? Could you change your training style in any way to keep interest? To limit boredom?

For more information about my puppy classes or 1-2-1 home visits, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
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Positive interrupters in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

positive interrupter

When we bring our pups home, they have no concept of their name (unless your breeder has been working hard!). They respond reliably to no specific sound, name, noise or action. They have learned no associations to any of the words we use, and have no concept of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviours. So, how do we set about associating certain words, or actions? And how can we use certain noises or sounds to help discourage undesirable behaviours?

When you think of some of the behaviours your pup performs, the undesirable ones, the ones that drive us mad, what would they include? Biting would certainly be one! Chewing inappropriate objects, grabbing trousers/legs, barking, leaping on the household cat even! There are a lot of behaviours we don’t like, however normal and natural they may be. Puppies have no concept of whether certain behaviours are what we want, or what we don’t want.

Often, we resort to using our pups name to either distract, gain attention, or to reprimand. Our pup is merrily chomping on the table leg, and we say ‘Max!’, or ‘Max no!’. There are a few reasons this will prove to be ineffective:

  • Don’t overuse your pups name! Puppies have no concept of a ‘name’ like we do, they don’t associate a name with a ‘self’, or individual within themselves. You can, and indeed should, play the ‘name game’ and start associations being made to their name. (Get in touch for information about the name game). If you repeatedly say your pups name without following up with a consequence, good or bad, there is no associations made and that name means nothing. Additionally, if you use your pups name preceding a ‘no!’ or another negative consequence, you are then conditioning that name to mean something unpleasant will follow.
  • Don’t say ‘no’ without prior conditioning! The word ‘no’ means nothing to our pups, it means a lot to us of course, but if you simply say the word ‘no’, it is a word like any other, like bananas or sun! If you are going to use the word ‘no’, you would need to teach a puppy what that means, and ensure you are including this within your training sessions, not just WHEN your pup is doing something you don’t approve of. This is do-able, but there are easier ways.
  • You’re not telling your pup what you want them to do! The most important one! You’re suppressing behaviour, not asking for new or alternative behaviours. You will be hard pushed to ask a puppy to stop doing one thing, and presume he will simply lay down and settle, without prior training in what ‘settle’ means, plus regular practice during training sessions.
  • What will happen when you’re not there?? If you use a firm ‘no!’, your pup may be fearful of performing certain behaviours in front of you, however when you are out of the room or out of the house, then what happens? He will perform them. There is only a negative consequence to the behaviour when you are in the house, and your pup will very quickly learn this.
  • It doesn’t work! Have you ever tried repeatedly and firmly saying ‘no!’ to your puppy? I think we can all agree, it doesn’t have the desired effect and if anything, encourages the behaviour due to the added excitement!

So, how can we get around this? We can’t say our pups name, we can’t say no, what CAN we say?? We can use what is called a positive interrupter. I’ve touched on these before, but they are VERY very useful for tackling behaviours you don’t like. I am not suggesting in ANY way you should let your pup free roam in the house, and leap in with a positive interrupter when they start chewing! What I AM suggesting, is you manage/prevent behaviours, and use a positive interrupter during your training sessions every day. On the rare occasions you’re not on the ball and your pup gains access to something he shouldn’t, you can then use your positive interrupter to help. You will have done a lot of background work, and built it up to the point where it will be successful in all situations.

So, how do positive interrupters work? A positive interrupter is a verbal cue (or, can be a physical cue such as a finger touch on the back). The cue word you use should be something upbeat and fun, as you are more likely to say it in an ‘upbeat tone’ if it’s something light-hearted. Some people like to use a ‘kissy’ noise, others say ‘pup pup pup’ in quick succession, some may say ‘hey!’ in a high tone, but what word you use is down to you. You simply pair that sound with something positive, ie. a treat and set about practicing this in your training sessions every day.

You will be simply pairing the noise with the treat for a few repetitions, you will then start to mark the ‘turn around’ your pup makes when you say the sound. You can then start to incorporate this into your training sessions, a couple of times at the beginning of each training session, and start to randomly perform it throughout your day too. It is important, once you have established a positive interrupter, that you start to ask for another behaviour immediately following. Also, it’s important to bear in mind what you WANT your pup to do instead, ensure you have worked on it during training sessions, and redirect to that behaviour. Following behaviours may be eye contact, ‘on your bed’, or ‘come’, after your pup turns round then reward.

Word of warning! If you are going to start teaching a positive interrupter cue, ensure you ALWAYS practice this in situations where your pup is NOT performing undesirable behaviours. If you only use this when your pup is chewing/biting/barking etc, your pup will learn he has to perform that behaviour, then you say your interrupter to cue, he stops, and gets a treat! This is called back chaining, they learn that the performance of a certain behaviour elicits a response from you, which results in a treat. So, always practice this regularly when your pup ISN’T biting or chewing or barking.

I must add, watch your puppy! All puppies, at some point, lay down, relax and settle. You may feel these calm moments are few and far between, but they do occur. These are your moments to reward your puppy, reinforce a behaviour we like and which is naturally occurring. Never let yourself get into the habit of only rewarding your puppy for stopping doing something bad! So, prevent -> watch -> reinforce -> repeat.

For more information about the services I offer, including 1-2-1 puppy training and puppy training classes, just get in touch! 
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
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Distractions in puppy training; life happens! – Cambridge Puppy Training

distractions in puppy training

Distractions, they are all around us! So often in puppy training we recommend that we teach a new behaviour in a low distraction environment, and gradually increase the level of distraction until you reach your final goal of having a dog that will perform the behaviour in ALL environments. This is, of course, the best and most effective way to train. However, real life gets in our way, life is annoying like that! In the ‘mid way’ stage, between starting training and BEING trained, is a bit of a grey area where owners get a bit confused and panicky.

All of us wish to have a dog who will behave well (or how we want them to) in all environments. From the house, to the park, to the car, to the vets, to training classes. We do ask an awful lot of our dogs! Often, with distraction training, one of two things can happen.

  • Firstly, the distraction levels are simply ignored, and a dog will be perfectly behaved in their obedience class, and in their living room at home, because this is where they are taught their gold standard training. However, if we put that dog into a vets waiting room or a pet shop, we see a very different dog who does not appear to have done any obedience at all! The behaviours taught have not been generalised (or proofed) and the context in which they are being asked has changed far too quickly.
  • Secondly, life happens! However much we try to set up scenarios in which we can train and gain focus from our dogs, we can not control what we encounter in life. So, you’ve done fantastically well with teaching your pup to walk on a loose lead, you’ve progressed to getting out of the house with no pulling and full attention on you, but uh oh……there is a dog walking past just as you leave your front door and your pup is delighted and pulling like a train to see it! Life happens.

So, what can we do? Distraction training is important, essential in fact if you are to have a dog who will engage with you well in varying environments. That won’t change and I will continue to teach all puppies how to focus around distractions using various exercises. So we continue to set our pups up in the best way we can and prepare them for all manner of distractions.

But what else can we do?

  • Management of the environment – break behaviours down into achievable increments, and work through them. Say, for example, you have a guest coming over, long term you are hoping to have your pup go to his bed and wait to be released to greet the visitor. This will take time to practice, and you will likely have guests over in the mean time! Try asking for ONE part of the behaviour to start off with, simply sitting for the guest in the beginning stages. Or, more practically speaking, pop your pup on a lead whilst your guest is over and reward him for settling next to you. Use a baby gate and let your pup have a nice stuffed kong to munch on whilst you are with your guest. You can still continue to practice and teach your ‘on your bed’ and wait, you can still set up ‘mock guests’ to work on this with, but in ‘real life’ you may just want to chat to your guest!
  • Know your pup – recognise your pups current level of training and don’t expect too much too quickly. What is your pup capable of? If you can’t walk up to a person to say hello without your pup pulling, can he maybe walk 3 steps without pulling and sit for the person to approach? Can we reward that? Building up to 4 steps, then 5? etc? Work with your pup and his current level of ability.
  • Be practical – sometimes in life you have to be realistic. If you have an extremely exuberant pup and you are, for example, having something delivered to your home, there really is nothing wrong with popping your pup in his crate or behind a baby gate with a chew toy to minimise disruption and keep everybody safe and happy. You don’t need to stand with your delivery man struggling to keep your pup from jumping up at him whilst trying to sign for your delivery and muttering words of apology in the process! Be practical, if your pup is not up to the level of sitting for visitors and it is not an appropriate training situation, then take the easy way out, there is no shame in making life easy for ourselves sometimes!

As I said, distraction training is very important and will help your pup long term to focus and engage with you in any environment, however, life does happen! Distractions are everywhere and we can not always predict when they will occur. Be prepared, if you are going to a new environment with your pup think ahead, what could happen and what will you do, at what level is your pup and how will you tackle it if he does pull you somewhere new, or jump up at people in a new and exciting place, or bark at a strange and unfamiliar dog. Think ahead, plan as best you can, but don’t forget it is not always a bad thing to sometimes take the easy way out!

For more information about any of the services I offer, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining