Now that Trooper is 4 months old, I've been trying to let him have a little freedom with his schedule, especially as it relates to crate time.  I believe in the crate training method for my dogs, but I think that it is a method that requires adjustment based on the individual dog.  For instance, Cosette required minimal crating as a puppy.  Minimally meaning that I crated her at night until she had a significant amount of housebroken time underneath her and just a few hours during the day when I couldn't be directly supervising her.  

At about 6 months of age, I let her have the kitchen alone unsupervised.  She did well, except when dishtowels were out.  She ate a few corners off some rugs, so I learned to pull the dishtowels off the stove and pick up the rugs when I left her for the day.  Otherwise, she had no accidents and didn't destroy anything else.  At about a year, though, she had a bit of a relapse.  She would definitely start getting into clothes, towels, toilet paper, trash - whatever was lying around without a lid on it – even when I was home.  No amount of stuffed Kongs, toys, or rawhide chews would suffice.  I had wanted to move her into the spare bedroom (strangely attached to the kitchen in this house), but not with her behaving like this.  A little confused, I started crating her during the day when I couldn't watch her.  I kept her crated during the unsupervised times for about six months, at which point she was 1.5 years old.  At this point in time, we also discovered that if she had a window to look out, she wasn’t getting into anything.  I slowly started uncrating (de-crating?) her during the day and allowed her to have reign over the kitchen and the spare bedroom.  The spare bedroom faces the street with a large window that is level with her head, so I’d open the shades in the morning; apparently this was enough to satisfy her previously bored state, and I have had absolutely no problems with her since.  This is a Lab, people.  Labs are renowned for destroying things until they are 2 and 3, sometimes older.  I don’t have enough evidence to say that this was necessarily a nature thing (“Cosette is a good dog”) or a nurture thing (“combined with strict obedience, positive reward structures, and crate training”), but I do think dog development occurs at an individual pace, and some ‘techniques’ might be better than others for certain dogs. 

With Trooper, the first night I left him in his crate and he was miserable – cried for about an hour, then woke up in the middle of the night crying, and then woke up very early crying.  I had to teach at 9 a.m. that morning, and I was not in the mood to do it again the following evening.  So, I crated Cosette and Trooper together in a large wire crate I have in my office.    He slept beautifully.  No sound until 6:30 a.m. – I was so impressed.  Just the comfort of having Cosette with him seemed to calm him down quite a bit.  At night for the past few months, I have crated him in his smaller crate with Cosette in the same room (not in the same crate) in the guest bedroom.  This has seemed to work out very well.  I’ve slowly started to bring Cosette out and let her meander around the house while he stays in his crate; he didn’t like this at first but has seemed to grow used to it.  I wanted to do this primarily because if I ever travel alone with him (and not with Cosette tagging along), I want him to be okay in hotel rooms/houses by himself in the crate with Cosette not there.  

We are now at the stage that he is becoming almost reliably potty-trained, and I’m starting to let him have a little bit more freedom during the day.   This means that while I never, ever leave him loose while I’m out of the house, I’ve started to just let Trooper and Cosette “hang out” with open doors while I work in my home office.  They seem to be keeping themselves quietly entertained for the most part with all their chew toys.  This plan so far is working nicely.  Hopefully soon I will be able to leave him uncrated at all times when I’m home, and not just when I have time to keep an ear/eye on him. 

I think the next few steps are to let him have more unstructured free time, then to start leaving them in the kitchen for a few minutes while I leave the house, stretch that out to an hour if all goes well, and then look into buying him his own bed to lie on.  But, he’s pretty chewy right now so I want to make sure that phase is under control first.  He’s definitely had to be crated a little more than Cosette was when she was a puppy, but maybe he won’t need the intermediate crating as he grows older.  

Hopefully, within a year, I’ll have two awesome Labs that can be trusted completely loose inside the house; but until then, I’ll just enjoy Trooper’s puppydom and all the joys that come with PUPPINESS!

 


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