Earning Privileges (Becoming a "Big Dog")
Miss Ellie became what I call a "Big Dog" this week. At 2.5 years old, she finally was able to show me she was ready to spend the night in the bedroom. I never inherently trust my dogs from day 1. Instead, they earn their house privileges in stages as they show me they are ready.
If I brought Ellie home as a pup and let her have free run of my house, chances are I wouldn't have much of a house left. Ellie is extremely high drive and would have gotten herself into big trouble. She wouldn't know that things were bad or that she shouldn't do certain things. As a brand new to the house dog, she has no clue what the rules are of the house. Not only do I want to protect my house and its contents from being destroyed, but it is not safe. Pups don't inherently know things are bad for them or dangerous. They like to pick things up in their mouths and try to chew different things. One of my earlier dogs, Libby, used to like to chew power cords as a pup. If she had free access to the house that could have had a very bad ending in so many ways. I've also had Indy, who loved to chew on wood as a pup. Certain things can get caught in a dog's system and require surgery to remove. and so until I know what the new dog is going to do we do a contained approach.
At first my new pup will spend time in the crate when I can't be with them. While they get plenty of exercise and outside the crate time, the times they would need to be alone, they are crated. This serves up multiple purposes. It helps limit the amount of trouble the pup can get into and it also helps build the love of the crate. They get fed in the crate. All kinds of good things happen in the crate. Crate training does make house breaking easier too. As my dogs get older, the crate becomes a security blanket. My dogs travel a lot which can be stressful. They are always super glad to see their crate when they are in a strange place.
I have a room that is mostly puppy proof- in my house its the kitchen. There is very little trouble the dogs can get into. When the pup is out of the crate they are mostly in the puppy proof room. I see what trouble they are trying to get into. Of course new pups almost always find something I forgot or might have missed! I make adjustments as needed and start letting the pup have more and more time by themselves in the puppy proof room.
I am fortunate that I work from home. I like my dogs to hang out in the office with me during the day. As a pup, I bring the pup into the office and use a puppy play pen as my office is very much NOT puppy proof. When the pup does something I don't like they go back to either their crate or the puppy proof room depending on the stage they are at. As long as they behave they get to stay with me. Rewards do not have to be just treats. In this case the dog far prefers to spend time with me then alone. As long as they are behaving, they are rewarded by staying with me. When I first start a pup, they will be lucky to get 5 minutes in the office. But they start learning the things that make them have to leave the office and they gradually start behaving because they do not want to leave. I don't have to yell or get crazy. If they do something wrong, I tell them that was the wrong choice and move them back into the puppy proof room. Then later on they get another chance. As they start doing better, I gradually start giving them more and more time and freedom. Eventually my dogs can hang out all day in the office. With a younger dog, some of it is allowing them time to mature as well as showing them the rules.
I follow the same process with bedroom privileges only with more caution. In Ellie's case, she came into the bedroom regularly for supervised sessions. She would happily come in and chew her bone. But when she got bored with that she would be trying to get into
trouble. When she did that it was time to leave the bedroom. She was showing me she was not ready. The bedroom I'm especially careful with because even though I am in there with the dogs, they are not being directly supervised. While I try to limit options the dogs have to get into trouble, I don't consider my room puppy proof. I also really like my sleep and wouldn't want my pup to wake me up getting into trouble in the middle of the night. This last week, Ellie changed her pattern. Instead of seeing what she could get into or trying to chew on blankets, she just settled in for a nap after she finished chewing her bone. I made sure she did that for several times. Then she got to have her first overnight. She did good on that. A few nights later she decided to wake up and get into trouble. So she got kicked out of the room. The next night she was ok again and so far so good since then.
I like having my dogs around all the time. However, it is much easier and less risky to go slow and gradually allow them more and more privileges rather then giving them the full run of the house from day 1.