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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of the Peanut Butter Pup

Abbey's been beset with a case of itchiness, the result, I believe, of a dust mite allergy brought on by a change in her sleeping quarters. Prior to this summer's head injury, she slept quite happily in her crate in my parents' bedroom on a pillow with a cover that was laundered in hot water every week. After my concussion, though, when she went into care-taking mode, she refused to sleep in her crate, choosing instead to sleep outside my bedroom door at night. When I had to start sleeping with my door open because I was overheating in the night, she moved in and took to sleeping on the kicked-off comforter next to my bed. That's where she's been ever since. The comforter is not washed in hot water on a weekly basis, and while now I'm vacuuming it and running it through the dryer to remove all the hair and dander and have definitely seen improvements in her itchiness because of those measures, it has worked best for all parties involved for her to take some Benadryl before bed to prevent the need for any extended late-night scratching sessions. I give the Benadryl to her in a spoonful of peanut butter and Abbey has been in peanut butter heaven!

Abbey, it should be noted, has never had much in the way of treats. She's got a sensitive tummy and the best solution for avoiding cleaning up a lot of dog vomit (in addition to special kibble) is to not give her much of anything besides that special kibble to eat. She does get to have all-natural Cheetos (yes, there is such a thing and no, they are not that lurid orange color), but aside from the long-standing tradition of getting one after she uses the facilities or as a reward after getting her nails clipped, she doesn't get many treats. At this point in her life, she doesn't need many rewards for training (a Cheerio here and there will do just fine) and I reserve chicken chips for super-stressful occasions like the vet or working on not being excitable around other dogs. Thanks to this minimal-treat policy, prior to the onset of her recent allergies, we were unaware of Abbey's epic love of peanut butter and its potential power as a motivator.

Sunbathing is nice, peanut butter is better!

It took all of about thirty seconds to crate-train Abbey when we brought her home seven years ago and she was quite content to be placed in there even for long hours when we left the house on the days when all three of us were working. She happily slept in the crate at night and she'd go in it during the day when she wanted to take a snooze. Her relationship with the crate was exactly as it should be: a den that made her feel sleepy, content, and secure. When I had to stop working and was suddenly home all day every day and clearly very sick, Abbey was somewhat more reluctant to go in her crate when we left the house, but she still was perfectly content to sleep in it at night. After my head injury, though, her view of the crate changed. It was now a trap designed to keep her away from me. If given advance notice that she would have to go in her house, as we call it, she would consent to being shut in, but clearly it was a stressful experience and sometimes she would get frozen up just outside the crate door and if you didn't have forty-five minutes to spend on unfreezing her, it was best to just shut her in the upstairs study. I tried a few different strategies to desensitize the crate for her, but the truth is, most of the time I don't feel up to the hard work necessary to make the change happen.

Abbey gets to spend most of her days sleeping on my bed;
it's no surprise she'd rather be there than in her crate!

Last week, though, when, thanks to the high pressure that left me feeling better than usual, I was able to leave the house every day, I was able to get her into the crate without any fuss (after the first day, when I DID have forty-five minutes to unlock her and coax her into her crate). Clearly, the more frequently she had to go in her crate, the easier it was for her, and I think it helped that she seldom was in it for more than half an hour at a time. It also seemed to help that I gave her some peanut butter through the crate door after closing her in. Trying to build on this momentum, I've turned the crate into a "magical treat machine" and even put her in the other day when I went out to get the mail. She has grown increasingly comfortable with the crate: she went in there the other evening while she was waiting for me to go to bed and she chewed her weekly rawhide stick in her crate after I placed it on the pillow. Better still, she has a brand new favorite game: Abbey Goes in Her House and Gets Peanut Butter!

"Even though you're pointing the camera at me, I still get my peanut butter, right?"

The other day, when she had gone all the way into her crate in pursuit of some pieces of cereal I'd hidden (a change from the past few months, when she'd make sure a couple of paws remained outside the crate at all times!), I asked her to "down" and then "stay." She did as I commanded, so I went to the cupboard and got out some peanut butter. Abbey was craning her neck out of her crate to see if it was peanut butter I was bringing (it's like cats and a can opener: no matter how quiet about it I am, she can hear me open the cupboard where the peanut butter is kept and unscrew the lid on the jar!), but she stayed put and was duly rewarded. That night, rather than wanting to play with her ball or one of her other toys during our traditional after-dinner game, Abbey zipped right into her crate, threw herself down, and peered eagerly out of door: "Peanut butter, please!"

When we did a little crate-training again yesterday, I followed the same procedure from the day before: once she had gone all the way into the crate, I asked her to lie down and then brought her some peanut butter. This time I didn't let her lick all of it off of my finger, thinking that I'd see if I could get her to go into the crate again and save myself another trip to the cupboard. After I released her from her "stay" position and invited her out of the crate, Abbey quickly determined that I still had peanut butter on my person and as she eagerly investigated, I told her, jokingly, "No, sweetie, you only get peanut butter if you go in your house!" So she went in her house and flopped down, just like that. In recent months, she's only been able to respond to the traditional command, "Go in your house," if she is told ahead of time and sees me putting my shoes on, taking a drink of water, and other patterns she associates with me leaving. But if there was peanut butter to be had, she was going into her crate ASAP!

When I took the picture above this afternoon, all it took was for her to know that I had peanut butter on me and for me to give the command. I'm so happy that I've found a great motivator for crate-training! It'll be easier for me to keep up a training program even when I'm not feeling well (like today) if it involves minimal time and stress and of course it's a win-win for Abbey! She gets regular peanut butter treats and the crate ceases to be a trap and once again is a cozy place where she can retreat when she's tired or place to patiently wait for her Girl to come home again.

"Gee, isn't this blog post over yet? I'm getting sleepy!"

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