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    1. #1
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      happy_blackbird's Avatar
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      Intense Separation Anxiety/Barrier Frustration

      Happy holidays, everyone, and happy new year! I am wondering if the folks who have worked through difficult crate training issues could tell me a little bit about what methods you used to help your lab puppy accept their crate.

      My apologies in advance for the long post, but I wanted to include as many pertinent details as possible to give a clear picture of what we're dealing with. Our history: We've had our 4 1/2 month old female, Ellie, since she was 8 weeks old. For info sake, though I realize it's a controversial designation on the message boards here, she is a field trial lab from active hunting lines and we knew going in, having just lost our last field lab in July, how much activity, exercise, mental stimulation, and training we would have to provide for her every single day. I'm pretty much retired at this point and home during the day, so felt up for the challenges that would come from raising a healthy dog from a working line.

      We've been able to meet and successfully deal with all of her run of the mill puppyhood issues (biting, house training, commands, recall, socialization, etc.) but for one glaring exception: crate training. At this point, it's beginning to look more and more like severe separation anxiety/barrier frustration and I am beginning to feel increasingly desperate to find way to leave her alone in the house in order to get some errands run (or even have her confined so that she is safe while I take a shower). No matter the amount of exercise she has prior to being confined or if she has peed and pooped just moments before going into either her crate (in our bedroom) or her indoor ex-pen (in the living room), she pees or poops in her space and barks non-stop till I come get her out. We're talking hysterical, eye bugging, panting barking. I brought Ellie to puppy daycare in an effort for her to be supervised so that I could get some errands done on a day too hot for her to be in the car and while she did fine out and about with the big dogs, when they put her in a crate for a time out/nap, she rubbed all the hair off the top of her nose (and then flagged her as "no crate!"). We've set up a puppycam in both rooms, so we know she never relents and quiets down (before the camera, I left her in her crate to "cry it out"-ugh- for 60 minutes, not realizing she had popped all over the space). I just need to add that Ellie has some serious gut/skin issues that have made it impossible for give her the kind of high value treats that one would normally use to distract while in a crate (we're still trying to get her settled on a food without repeated bouts of diarrhea/loose stool/straining/severe itching, but that's for another post).

      Things we have tried since she was 8 weeks old:
      • slow acclimation training to the crate (she'll go into the crate when we give her treats, and we work on this every single day for anywhere from a few seconds to thirty minutes, but we have not gotten anywhere with this, no matter how slow/over the course of weeks we go. Close the door on the crate or the ex-pen and when her high value treat is finished, she flies into a panic. I want to add that we have been practicing removing her from the crate/ex-pen the second her high value treat is finished before she starts to bark in order to short circuit the panic. This has not led to any progress so far.)
      • We feed all her meals in her night time crate or her ex-pen. All good things happen in these two places.
      • changing the kind of crate being used (wire vs plastic airplane)
      • bully sticks (gave her projectile diarrhea)
      • her favorite toys mean absolutely nothing to her in her confinement areas.
      • frozen kongs (she abandons them when she licks off the areas she can reach with her tongue and we can't use the kind of treats most often recommended to stuff the things)
      • kong treat training (again, difficult to do, as anything other than her kibble gives her diarrhea and she can get all the kibble out in record time)
      • feeding puzzles (again, she's a master, and once all the kibble has emptied, she goes into freak out mode)
      • elk antlers (loves them outside the crate, ignores them entirely within)
      • exercise (we walk a mile a day in the morning, a mile after dinner, she plays with me for more exercise and trains with me for mental stimulation, goes to 3+ puppy socials a week, and has a number of puppy play friends who we meet for romps regularly). I feel very protective of her joints and don't feel comfortable walking her more than these distances at this time, though think she will really benefit from running with her daddy when she's an adult.
      • DAP collar (worthless), DAP diffuser (worthless and sent me to the ER with a whopper migraine)
      • Rescue Remedy (worthless)
      • thunder shirt (works beautifully to calm her down her panting/eye bugging and keeps her from throwing herself against the side of the ex-pen, but then instead of barking, she just cries the most pitiful sounding whine, which she continues to do even after I remove her from the ex-pen/crate)


      Things we've discovered we can not use as high value treats because of her gut/skin issues:
      • peanut butter
      • anything containing chicken
      • bully sticks
      • rawhide (woah, that was an unfortunate visit to the ER)
      • cream cheese
      • anything containing beef marrow
      • "hypoallergenic treats" (hahaha!)


      The interesting thing is that after a lot of work and practice, I was able to acclimate her to the car crate (she'll go in on her own and after a few seconds of complaining, settles in while I run errands for upwards of three hours). She also goes into her house at night to go to sleep and sleeps through the night (8 hours) just fine, but does wake us up with the panicked barking (she will not just rest quietly in her crate). She'll go into her ex-pen on her own with the door open to nap in the big bed in there while I am in view (though close the door and she goes straight into panic mode). She'll also hop into our last lab's PuppyWagon and nap if I am in that room (it's the Dutch Design one that looks like a babyjogger), but she will never, ever go into her night time crate on her own steam during the day. Ever.

      We did a consult with a local vet behaviorist and after watching the videos we shot of Ellie in confinement panic, she basically told us we may never be able to use a crate with her. I find this very hard to believe considering she will tolerate the one in the car. I have started paying an awesome 12 year old in the neighborhood to come over and basically babysit her, which Ellie loves and the girl loves, and this gives us the ability to go out to dinner and have a date night, but it doesn't address Ellie's issues with being separated from us or being left alone.

      I know a lot of people have success using high value treats and slow acclimating to an open crate and we have been working on this for 10 weeks now with no luck. Has anyone used a method not listed above that I haven't yet tried? Has anyone had success using an SSRI with their lab (I'm not ready to go down that road yet, but am curious as to whether or not it has been helpful to some). Thank you so much for all your input and help!
      Last edited by happy_blackbird; 12-29-2014 at 03:20 PM. Reason: forgot to add other things we have unsuccessfully tried

    2. #2
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      You are an awesome dog parent, and you have tried so many things!

      The only thing I thought of you haven't tried is to cover the crate with a dark sheet or towels.

      That's my only suggestion. Luna cried in her crate when she was a pup until we covered it. Now, she doesn't make a peep, and we can leave it uncovered if we choose to. She's a year and a half now.

      Worth a shot, chances are you already have something in your house you could try it out with.
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    4. #3
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      Unfortunately, your vet behaviorist may be right. Some dogs have so much barrier confinement fear that they can never be safely crated alone. Is her crate in your bedroom? That would explain why she sleeps through the night, you're right there with her. As far as the car crate, same thing, for the most part. She can look out the window for you to return.

      I honestly think your best bet would be to try some other method of confinement for when you need to leave, take a shower, etc. I never had a problem taking my dogs in the bathroom with me, you may want to try that.

      If you have to leave, perhaps you can set up an exercise pen with a crate inside, so she can go in there for napping, but still not be locked in. The trick would be to get one sturdy enough to prevent her from knocking it over. I would take two of the ends and attach it to the sides of the crate, so Ellie has the room. I'd do something like this:


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    6. #4
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      Aw poor girl. We had a puppy that was terrified of his crate. The only time he'd ever go in one was if his sister was in there with him. We had an absolutely gigantic crate that would fit them both, but he was so unhappy. He actually displayed a lot of the traits your girl does. In the end, we had to stop crating him.

      I know you mentioned a lot of foods you can't give her, but what about other fruits/veggies or maybe Turkey? Maverick loves veggies and most fruits and I give him a variety of meats as training treats.

      Good luck with the crate training

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    8. #5
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      Thanks, everyone, for the advice! Still no luck on the crating. We've been experimenting with covering her crate, but she seems to panic even more intensely when she can't see what's going on around her (I love reading your posts about Luna on the message board!). I am beginning to think the indoor ex-pen is blown for good and that we will have to change it from the mesh panel sided type we currently have to a wire version that we use outside (like in the picture you posted, Sue). Meeps83, if you had to finally stop crating your boy, how did you confine him in a safe manner when he couldn't be supervised? I took her into the bathroom with me the other morning and as soon as she finished her kibble puzzle, she went to work on the sink vanity leg (my fault for not giving her something more long lasting to focus on, but she thought it was hysterical when wet mommy jumped out of the shower covered in hair conditioner. yummy!). I am so proud of her after a pretty rough start that first month (we placed ridiculously high expectations on our nutty 8 week old puppy, which, apparently is not uncommon, but I'm still disappointed that we were so, so wrong all the time), I just want to somehow help her get more comfortable being alone in her house.

    9. #6
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      Polly Pipkin's Avatar
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      Our trainer said that in a car, the dogs learn how to be patient and will wait until we return. Like you, we can't crate Polly because she has such separation anxiety from me. She follws me everywhere and has to know where I am at all times.

      We started leaving the house for short periods of time and then returning, gradually increasing the time so that now we can leave her and she will sleep/rest until we return. We did confine her with a baby gate and we use the ex-pen inside so she doesn't have full access to all of the house.

      We even tried Rescue Remedy but I can't say it made any difference at all, either. Good luck!
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    10. #7
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      I'll second DoubleDip1 that you are an awesome dog parent! I can't imagine how frustrated you must feel. The only thing I thought of is a potential treat. We give Mocha plain vanilla yogurt before bed. It's very high value for him. I see cream cheese on the "been there, done that" list, but I wanted to suggest yogurt.

    11. #8
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      Wow, I can't think of anything that has not already been discussed. I just wish you luck.

      Sam would panic in a crate when I got him but he would settle down after I left. He even panicked in the walk-in kennel at the shelter before I got him. He could not deal with confinement which I think was related to how he was treated before he ended up at the shelter. I had to force him the crate and he was miserable. I learned that he actually was good if I left him loose in the house so I went that route to keep him happy. Then I spent six month slowly acclimating him to the crate until he was fine with it and would often go in it on his own to nap. This really did take that long with him but since he was good alone in the house, I had the time to take it at his pace.

      Ava is ok in the crate but hates being crated if I am home. She's been crated since she was a puppy and has never liked it. She never spends any time in her crate by her choice. She knows she sleeps in it at night and walks in willingly and settles but she often starts getting antsy before I get up in the morning. She really does not like being crated but she does not panic.
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    12. #9
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      An acquaintance of mine had this same problem with a rescue and they called in a behaviourist. The behaviourist (I'm not typing that word anymore lol) said that they (the family) had to devalue themselves in the dog's eyes, so that the dog wouldn't care whether they were present or not. This took a lot of time, and they had to be emotionless with the dog. Utilitarian. No affection or cuddles or even baby talk. Absolutely stoic. Eventually, the dog learned that the people were nothing to get excited about and the sep anx disappeared. At that point, they were able to very slowly bring back the affection again.

      I don't know if this will work for you, but it's food for thought. Good luck!
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    13. #10
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      Have you called the breeder and discussed the issues you are having with the crate? One of the positives from buying from a reputable breeder, be it show or field lines, is that they have experience, are familiar with the temperament of their lines and know what works with them. I read through your post and one of theings that struck me was that you are putting a lot of effort into it but I wonder how much is the pup left alone or just crated for a nap? It almost sounds like your pup is with you or someone all the time, and has not learned how to be content alone or to self soothe. Do you give any correction (such as a NO or AHAH) when she starts barking in the crate or a settle down command?

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