Although I introduced Lucy to a crate right at the beginning of her stay with me, I have not actually confined her in one for more than a few minutes at a time until today, nor seriously gone about training her to think of the crate as her safe happy place. I've primarily used it to keep her confined when she's having her favourite treat - a frozen stuffed kong. No point adding mushy kibble and yogurt to the dog hair on the carpet. But that's been about the extent of her "crate training".
Last night we began crate training in earnest, as her youthful exuberance and cat-assisted mischief when I'm out of the house was getting to be a problem. Today I used an accelerated program from what I would normally do - pushing into one day crate training that I normally do over the course of five or more days.
So each meal and a series of hourly treats were given inside the crate, with the door closed, and after she finished she was left in there for increasing periods of time - a minute, two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. She was excellent. No whining, no pawing at the crate - just sat waiting to be let out.
This afternoon I stepped it up a bit, and after taking her for her walk I put her in the crate with a bully stick* while I took my other dogs out for a twenty minute walk. She was fine - still chomping on the bully stick when we got back.
I took the remaining stick away from her as it was the only one I had and I knew I would need it later, plus I didn't want Charley and Sadie getting hold of it and starting a fight. She traded for a cookie, and made no objection when I removed the stick from her mouth. What a good dog!
This evening I had plans to go out for dinner with an old childhood friend who now lives in Chemainus. I didn't think we'd be gone more than an hour as the pub is just around the corner. I figured this was another opportunity to step up the training and I put Lucy in the crate with the bully stick** once again. Well, the pub service was a bit slow, the meal was excellent, the dessert tempted us, the conversation was great, and before we knew it, we'd been gone almost three hours.
Lucy was just fine. Her bedding wasn't destroyed, her paws and mouth didn't have sores from trying to escape, and she didn't seem distressed at all. I got my usual very enthusiastic, over-the-top welcome from her, and twenty minutes later she is back to playing pogo-stick with the cat before climbing into my favourite chair for a nap.
Big sigh of relief. Tomorrow we shall work on leaving her in there without a time-consuming treat and see how she does. Hopefully she will soon consider her crate the best place on earth - next to someone's lap. And that will make living with Lucy a whole lot easier.
* A bully stick is a dried meat chew treat which, unlike rawhide, is fully digestible.
** I generally do not recommend leaving dogs alone with chew treats, as there is always the possibility of choking. Charley, for example, has been known to suck in the last two inches of stick and choke on it - she no longer gets bully sticks at all. Other dogs have been known to break off a chunk of rubber kong and swallow it. In today's scenario, I weighed the risks and benefits and opted to leave her with a braided bully stick which is less likely to be a choking hazard than the wider, cigar-shaped ones.