Thursday, August 19, 2010


Kuna has been whining in his crate for 30 minutes now. "Ignore him, " I tell J. But the constant, high-pitched whine can really take a toll on your sanity. We notice we're getting irritable. "I'm trying to ignore him!! But he just won't stop!" We start questioning why we have a puppy in the first place. What made us think we could handle this responsibility? What if we put a blanket over the crate? What if we sing to him? What if we yell at him to stop? Maybe we can put him in a basket and leave him in front of a firehouse!? (I'm kidding about the last two...) You see, as a trainer, I would give my clients the same matter-of-fact advice: never reinforce behavior you don't like. Ever. I think in giving this advice, however, I've somehow implied that it's easy. It is NOT easy. Even for a dog trainer.

My dogs aren't much different than anyone else's dogs when you think about it. Sure, Sarah can literally open doors for me, pick up things that I drop and come when I call in the most distracting environments. She also eats her own poop. Bizzle can spin, sit, speak, dance, find my keys and "hallelujah" faster than I can type the words. But if I want to take her somewhere with the slightest chance another canine will be present?? Fuggetaboutit! Then there's Kuna. He was doing "sit" before he turned 7 weeks. He could "kennel" at 8 1/2 weeks and just the other day, he walked up to the door and scratched to be let out to go potty! He plays well with other dogs, loves people and has the most solid rebound from something potentially frightening that I've ever seen. And yet, here he is, screaming in his kennel as if the walls were caving in. All I have to do is open that crate and let him walk out and this will all stop. Right?

As a trainer, I've seen the future, so to speak. This is because we're usually called in to fix problems that have already taken root. I've witnessed many times the result of a puppy that was allowed to jump: they are now 80 lbs and jumping wildly on children, elderly family members and house guests. I've seen the adult version of puppies that were not properly socialized and are now afraid of light bulbs, picture frames and other seemingly normal items to us. A puppy that is let out of the crate when he whines turns in to a dog that whines even more. It is hard work. It is taxing. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. As a dog trainer, I know this. As a dog owner, it's harder to convince myself of that reality.

So what gets me through all of this? Patience. It sounds all sweet and fluffy but it's truly the number one tool in my dog training toolbox. It's what got Bizz to allow another dog in the house. It is what taught me to recall my dog before she has a chance to eat poop (duh!). Here I sit at my computer, reminding myself that if I just remain patient, Kuna will eventually stop whining. He has to take a breath, drink water, or snuggle in for a puppy nap. When that happens, I will jump for joy and open his crate. It's only a matter of time...


  1. It is always helpful to hear a dog trainer talking about how hard this can be.

    My last dog Shadow was perfect in the house. Except for one thing. At 5 a.m. she would bark to be allowed onto the bed. Never at any other time. For 3 1/2 months we ignored her. Every day. She never stopped.

    Finally, I reflected a bit. We adopted Shadow at 9 years old from the local SPCA. We were told her family gave her up because of health problems. Although it was obvious from her behavior Shadow had not been walked or driven by her previous family, she showed many signs of having had a loving family life.

    I concocted a story where she was allowed onto the bed every morning to protect her disabled Mama when her pup Dad went to work. We decided to fold and allow her what she wanted.

    However, later I reflected that Shadow just might have been an exceptionally slow learner. When I tried to get her to make eye contact before opening the front door for a walk, we had to wait for 20 minutes (no, I'm not kidding!). Any of my other dogs would have taken 20 seconds to figure out I was the key to opening the door.

    Perhaps if I had been patient for 6 months, she would have gotten it!

    On the other hand, about the time we gave up on the "No Shadow on the bed rule" we found out she had osteosarcoma and wasn't expected to live until the end of the year. For the 2 years she remained with us, I never regretted letting her "win" the battle for the bed.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. I guess that's the sign of a good post--it takes people to different places in their thinking.

    Please share your progress with Kuna in the crate.

  2. Pamela,
    Thank you for taking me along on your story about Shadow! It makes me smile and think of all the battles my dogs have eventually won and how good it feels to be "defeated"...I suppose in those cases, they're resolve is stronger than ours ;P