You need about a dozen extra cups of coffee to make it through the day because that new puppy would NOT stop whining and crying all night!
I’ve been there, and I truly feel your pain.
You’re not alone!
One of the biggest challenges people have when raising a puppy is dealing with one of the most obnoxious sounds on the planet, besides somebody’s snoring, a howling screaming puppy!
The good news is that it’s your fault it’s happening!
How is that good news?
REFRESHER ON THE RULES OF BEHAVIOR
Before any discussion can be had about the behavior of a dog and how to possibly modify it, we need to to a review. For a detailed explanation of the terms used be sure to read my article HERE that goes into more depth.
No matter what behavior we are talking about, the same rules apply.
A behavior will continue and even become stronger when it is reinforced.
A behavior is reinforced anytime there is a consequence after it happens, that would make the dog be inclined to do that behavior again. This applies to all living and thinking organisms, not just dogs.
The term positive reinforcement is commonly spoken about and is one of two ways we can reinforce a behavior. What is specifically refers to is the addition of something that the dog finds reinforcing as a consequence for a behavior, which results in the dog doing that behavior again.
There are other elements of behavior but for the context of this article, we will leave it at that.
LET’S TALK ABOUT HUMANS FOR A MOMENT
Putting the behavior information into context is important, so let’s talk about some things most of us can identify or relate to.
If a man wants pleasant attention and affection from his lady, he might buy her flowers. After he gives her the flowers, his lady gives him a hug, kiss, and showers him with adoration. Do you think he will buy her flowers again? You bet! His behavior of buying and giving her flowers was positively reinforced by her giving him something he found ‘reinforcing’.
Now in that example, both parties seem to benefit and it makes sense why each would deliberately do what they did. Sometimes though, behaviors we do NOT want to happen, end up being positively reinforced without us realizing it.
It is a well known phenomenon that some kids actually behave badly, or act out, in an effort to obtain attention from adults, parents, and teachers. Some people don’t understand this because they think that being yelled at, scolded, or chastised couldn’t possibly be reinforcing.
But it is, to that child, in that moment.
And when they get yelled at for doing an undesirable behavior, because attention is what they wanted, and attention is what they got, that behavior will happen again and with greater frequency and intensity.
What is reinforcing to a person, or to a dog, can’t be assumed or judged by anybody else. It is 100% out of anybody’s control. It is up to the organism, and often times, it’s not even conscious or deliberate decision. Some things are inherently reinforcing, like food, freedom, and attention.
The #1 MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE!
So you have your pup in a crate. It is perfectly normal for that pup to start screaming, hooting, and hollering right away. Especially if you haven’t spent the right amount of time teaching the puppy how to enjoy their crate (more on that in another article).
You’re about to go insane!
So what do you do?
If you go over to the crate and shake your finger while saying in a stern voice, “Stop it Puppy!” , then you just messed up.
If you approach the crate and try and “soothe” the puppy calming them down to let them know everything is ok, then you just messed up.
If you so much as peek your head around the corner to look at them, and they see you, you just messed up.
For many puppies, any type of communication to them while they are doing that has a high likelihood of making the behavior worse. Let’s think about it.
Your puppy wants your attention so it makes noise. Then you appear and give it attention. To the puppy, you appeared as a consequence to its behavior, and that consequence is indeed reinforcing.
Congratulations, you just taught your puppy to scream in the crate.
WHEN THEY ARE MAKING NOISE YOU SHOULD……..
The safest way to make a some behaviors go away is to simply ignore them. A behavior that is NOT reinforced will eventually stop. This is called “extinction” for rather obvious reasons. We have to go back to what we have already learned about behavior. Dogs, like people, don’t do anything unless they get something out of it. If a behavior is not reinforced, it will eventually go away.
Now combine extinction with positive reinforcement for the OPPOSITE behavior of being quiet. If the puppy is wailing their head off then stops, wait for a second or two and appear with a treat, smile, or both! You just used positive reinforcement to teach the puppy NOT to make noise in the crate!
EVEN BETTER THOUGH…..
Is to decrease the chances of them even feeling the desire to make a fuss!
Most unwanted behaviors first develop because owners failed to prevent them occurring in the first place. I frequently refer to dog ownership by saying
MANAGEMENT –> RELATIONSHIP–>TRAINING
The first piece of that, management, involves creating an environment where the dog is set up for success.
This can be accomplished by making sure you have a very well structured routine for your pup that includes TONS of exercise and training activities including games that specifically make the puppy comfortable in the crate.
Puppies and dogs sleep a LOT.
If you are doing what you should be doing when they are awake, then they should want to sleep even more! The crate is the place where that quiet time and sleeping should be taking place.
Have you been teaching your pup to cry in the crate?
Have you been reinforcing the noise by walking over to the crate to “check up” on the puppy?
Often times the very behaviors we wish would go away, are being reinforced by us without even knowing it. Reflect on how you interact with your puppy or dog when they are in the crate. The reality is, if they are making noise and doing things you do NOT like, then you shouldn’t be interacting with them at all because there is a good chance they will find that reinforcing.