Barking And Crating: Answers To Reader Questions

In this update, I plan to field some of the reader questions that have come to me via email, comments, or other ways. If you have questions that you would like me to address, please add them to the comments, or email me and ask. You can find my contact info in the about section of this blog.

This blog is first and foremost the story of one particular pup (named Zeke) getting trained up to be a hunting dog. However, the techniques for training field dogs stem from the same place as the techniques for training companion dogs. So, don't automatically tune out, just because you do not hunt with your dog.

Without further ado, lets talk about some of the issues that the readers of this blog have brought up.

Question 1: Barking

512px-Military_dog_barkingBarking has come up, in different ways and and forms. One reader has a dog that barks when he sees strange dogs. Barking is one of those things that is really hard to fix, because it can be a self reinforcing behavior. In other words, it feels good to the dog, so there is no good reason to stop. Kind of like beer, chocolate, or binge television watching (and if you partake in all three, you may die on your couch).

One technique that works pretty well is to train an incompatible behavior. For instance, most dogs will stand when they bark. If they choose to bark, they will stand first. Therefore, if you can get the dog to lay down, the barking should stop. Get the dog laying down and staying down in a host of situations and places and distractions before trying it when Pup is barking. Only when you have the behavior really solid, then try it when the dog is barking. You could ever try to get really fancy. Perhaps there is a particular trigger (mailman, doorbell, etc) that really gets the dog barking. You could try and teach the dog to go into a down when the trigger appears.

I've used "down" as the incompatible behavior. But if you are out for a walk, you really can't have the dog go into a down and still be a-walkin'. There are other incompatible behaviors that could be used. Something like "look at me" could work. Or having the dog carry an object might be a solution as well. Options are as varied as your imagination

The bark collar may be another viable solution to a chronic barking dog. I wish we all had the time, energy, know-how, and skill to train our dogs using non-aversive methods. But we all live in the real world. Not everyone has the time to learn the nuances of dog training. Not everyone has the cash and time to work with a trainer. Also, lets keep things in perspective: if the choice is between surrendering a dog because of neighbor complaints or putting a bark collar on the dog, which is worse for the dog?

Question 2: Getting into a crate

Another reader asked how to get her dog to get into a soft-sided kennel and then lay down, so that the sides and top can be zipped up without zipping the dog's head into the zipper. The dog goes willingly into the crate, and will even sit on command, but going into a down is the challenge.

If you cannot get a dog into a down position outside of the crate, there is no way he will offer this behavior inside of the crate. The place to start is in the middle of the living room floor and begin teaching the down command. Much of what I will say will assume you have a basic understanding of positive reinforcement and clicker training. Here is my article on the subject. If you Google "clicker training", you will find hundreds of articles almost as good as mine.

The basic idea is that you want to reward the dog with a tasty treat when he goes into the down position. The question is, How do you get him into the down in order to reward it. One way is to lure him. You take the treat and hide it in your closed hand. Dog knows it is there and can smell it, but cannot get to it. Put the treat in your closed hand right in front of her nose; so close that dog can lick your hand. Lift your hand over dog's head. To get a better angle, dog will sit to get the treat. Once seated, bring your hand to the ground so that dog has to go into a down in order to follow the treat. It looks like this:

Once the dog is in the down position, you can reward the behavior. You'll need to practice this a bit and drill it. One thing that will help is if you vary the reward. Sometimes it is the same tidbit as usual. Other times, it is a chunk of raw meat. Sometimes (for really good performance) the reward is huge! Another way you can drill this or any behavior is to ask it of your dog before you put the food bowl down.

You've drilled, and now the dog is going into a down pretty good. Now you need to back chain it. This means that you put some behaviors at the start. Give the kennel command. No treat...not yet. Then give the down command. Click and reward. When doing this in the crate, you may need to do the luring bit to start, since Pup has never done this in the crate. Don't bother zipping up just yet, but do expect Pup to stay in the down for a bit.

You can finish up the training by actually zipping the crate, then clicking (if you are using a clicker) and rewarding the dog. Obviously, you'll need to open the crate to reward the dog, but you got it zipped, so that is good enough.

Some Hints

  • Like I said before, variability is key. Offer different treats, and different sized treats. Don't be afraid to let the dog pig out on one big reward, especially if the response was really good.
  • Once Pup seems to be getting the idea, introduce variability by not giving a reward every time. Start rewarding for only the very best of behaviors. This turns the game into a kind of slot machine for the dog, and can often increase effort from the dog.

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