“Hey kid, want to go to the Dentist? Here’s 50 bucks, get on the chair so I can lock you in.”
Sooner or later, virtually every puppy, no matter how juicy the tidbit thrown into the back of its crate, is going to balk at going in once it’s now mature enough to form an association that the cookie in the crate leads to confinement; i.e. the crate equals an interruption to the flow. What now?
I often hear the advice that an owner should try to make the crate a positive experience. Letting the puppy go in and out for a cookie without getting locked up is perhaps the best neutralizing strategy of this method, but other than that I don’t recommend the philosophy and overall methodology in this approach because in the final analysis if one is trying to make the crate positive by investing in all these positive things, they are in fact working against the nature of temperament which works according to an energetic logic (-) – – > (+) i.e.: a negative is always access to a positive. In other words, an animal’s mind is constructed so that it isn’t possible to have a perception of a positive without a counterbalancing perception of a negative as access to that positive. A negative that isn’t access to a positive, we can then colloquially call “negative” because the dog will avoid it. So once the crate has acquired a “negative” value in that it is perceived by the dog as representing an interruption to the flow of energy, then the more energy someone invests in making the crate so-called “positive;” in reality the more the dog will come to associate this so-called positive energy with its perception of the crate-as-a-negative-that-denies-access-to-the-positive.
When I was ten years old, no one could have convinced me that going to the dentist was a positive experience. I suppose if someone offered me a million dollars and a million ice cream cones, and since while sitting in the chair I could think about all the ice cream cones a million dollars could buy after I had finished off my first million ice cream cones, I could have voluntarily submitted my body to the chair. But I still wouldn’t have believed that the dentist experience was positive, it was simply something I was choosing because I now perceived it as a negative that led me to a positive.
So in the absence of the capacity to think and mental time travel, we can’t make the crate positive by adding more and more positives to the equation because in reality we’re merely adding more and more energy to the impasse with the dog coming to perceive its owner as trying to control it, and which paradoxically is thereby knocking it out of CHOICE. “Wow, there must really be something wrong with that crate if they’re trying so hard to convince me it’s positive.” Every kid dopes this out when they sense their parents seem to want them to do something a little too much.
However, you can make the crate positive RELATIVE TO THE ALTERNATIVE. (For example, if a comb is run through hair it acquires a surplus of electrons so that the hair becomes positive RELATIVE TO THE COMB. No actual positives, no protons, have in reality been added to the strands of hair, it’s just that electrons have leaped from the hair to the comb and so the two become electrically drawn together. So in my analogy, if the comb is the crate and the dog a strand of hair, the dog would magically leap into the crate because it feels that the crate is a relief of an electrostatic pressure.) Therefore, when the alternative to going into the crate becomes more intense than the crate, the dog feels an electrostatic pull to the crate and it CHOOSES to go in. And once the matter of choice is invoked then the crate is assigned to the energy loop as a-negative-that-leads-to-a-positive. By this I mean that if anything ever positive ever happens again in the dog’s life, as for example if it is ever let out of the crate, then the dog’s temperament records the crate as the negative-that-led-to-that-particular positive. Eventually, as the dog’s temperament gets more and more involved in the dog’s way of being, all positives are perceived as being linked to the negatives such as crate duty. I have never owned a dog that as an adult didn’t race to get locked up in a crate, kennel or house when I needed them to, even when they were leaving something compelling outside. In their minds, getting confined was how they were going to connect with what they were attracted to. (I also didn’t have to do anything in regards to crate training because they naturally came to associate the crate, kennel, indoors as being integral to the positive, prey-making things they got to do outdoors, and this was because I never gave any thought to making the crate positive.)
So if one is dealing with a dog balking at the crate, how does one make the crate RELATIVELY POSITIVE? By objectifying the problem
In other words don’t give the dog a psychological problem to solve, “Go into the crate because I think you should think it’s positive.” Give the dog a physical problem to solve.
A woman once called me about her big dog that was destroying her apartment when she left it alone. She was about to be evicted. I told her to get a crate and confine it so that it could learn that being calm in the crate is how it WILLED her return. She bought a crate and soon called me back telling me that she was a big, strong woman, and her son was a big, strong man and yet the two of them could not get this dog into the crate. It wasn’t aggressive but it was like trying to wrestle the Samsonite gorilla into the luggage it was stomping into the ground. (Sorry for the dated pop-cultural reference.) She had a pickup truck so I told her to come over to my farm with the dog and crate.
When they arrived I put the dog on a “high collar” (snaked up tight behind its ears) with the crate positioned on the tail gate. I also placed a narrow bench as a halfway step and by cranking up on the collar, the dog became slightly uncomfortable and this caused the dog to get up on the bench so that now it was now facing the opening of the crate, and halfway committed to making the choice I wanted. There was a gap between the dog and the crate, with the crate about a foot higher. I should have whispered into the dog’s ear. The woman didn’t notice it but as I pulled up on the collar again and pointed into the crate, the dog began to have a mini-panic attack but now its options were reduced to two physical realities, the abyss below, or the crate above. It instantly chose the crate. After a dozen repetitions, I had the woman practice the exercise and soon the dog was zooming into the crate even when the crate was on the ground. In about five minutes the dog had associated getting into the crate with getting out of the crate. (The long term goal is that once a dog will play with its owner and wants the toy the owner wants it to want, no-matter-what, then the crate becomes linked on that continuum as well, one more negative that leads to the ultimate positive, the ultimate positive being hunting with its owner.)
This dog above was an extreme case just to make the point. Usually, before we get to the moment of truth, I have already placed the crate onto a box about six inches off the ground, and the dog is dragging a lead around. I get to the lead and then walk the dog into position, I pitch a cookie inside the crate, invariably to be consumed later, and then extend my hand a few inches inside the crate and as high to its top as I can. Then I wait as the dog becomes uncomfortable. I say nothing. The more the dog resists, the more uncomfortable it becomes and the sooner it will work out the choice. Paradoxically, the question of control is shifting away from the human and onto the dog itself, whereas with the positive approach the exact opposite tends to happen. The instant the inside of the crate is perceived as being more comfortable than the outside, the dog hops in. I’ve said nothing, I’ve invested no energy into the equation, I was merely a “smart” post leaving the dog to learn for itself that it can choose either to make itself uncomfortable, or to make itself comfortable by getting into the crate.
It turned out that I never got that blank check for unlimited ice cream cones and yet I now go regularly to the Dentist. I even pay him. Sure does beat the alternative.