Sunday, February 26, 2017

Puppy Snooze Button

A quiet Dakota peers at me from beneath the blanket

Dakota is an alarm clock. As soon as it hits 7 a.m., she sits up in her crate next to my side of the bed and looks at me. And then she whines.

When she was a young puppy, I would take her outside as soon as I heard her start to fuss because that was her way of telling me she needed to go outside. Unfortunately, it quickly became a habit, and now she starts whining at 7 a.m. every weekend. Dog is 8 months old now. She doesn't need to go out immediately anymore.

It’s my own fault she whines. I created the pattern: Dog wakes up, dog whines, human gets up, human lets dog outside. Even though I would wait until she stopped whining, I didn’t wait long enough for her to disassociate her whining with the opening of the crate door. In her mind, she whined and a few minutes later, the create door opened. Magic!

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m a morning person. In the winter, I like to be up and out of bed by 7 a.m. on weekends. In the summer, it’s even earlier. It was just natural for me to take the dogs outside soon after I woke up. But in doing so, I created a whining monster puppy.

Something needed to change.

I knew she was capable of staying quiet when I got out of bed. During the week, I get up at 4:30 a.m. so I can be at the gym by 5:30. Little dog doesn’t even crack her eyes open anymore. When I first got her as a tiny puppy, she’d whine while I got up to get ready for the gym, but since it was so ridiculously early, I just ignored her. After 2-3 weeks of whining, she stopped and kept right on sleeping.

Why I never applied the same rules to her 7 a.m. whining on weekends baffles me. I should know better. It was time for some tough love, because as a service dog, Dakota needs to be silent in her crate. She’ll be spending time crated in advanced training, and her future partner will undoubtedly need to crate her sometimes. Besides, her future partner might not be a morning person. Even if Kota’s not crated, she can’t be waking up her future partner at 7 a.m. every morning.

So after assuring my fiancĂ© (who likes to sleep in on weekends) that Kota’s whining would soon go away if we completely ignored her, I began Operation Puppy Snooze Button.

When the clock hit 7 a.m., I got out of bed like I wanted to. But instead of just waiting for Dakota to be quiet for a few minutes before letting her out of her crate, I ignored her completely. I got a cup of coffee and my book, and curled up on the couch to read.

Well, Dakota wasn’t happy with this turn of events, and she whined. She’d stop for a few minutes, and then whine again. Sorry, pup, I can’t hear you!

Half an hour and two cups of coffee later, she was still alternating between a few minutes of silence and awful, high-pitched whines. Since my fiancé was still trying to sleep, I decided I needed to do something.

Dog was staying her crate, though. No way was I rewarding her for whining for 30 minutes. So I covered her crate with a blanket and went back to my book. The blanket seemed to do the trick. She whined once or twice, and then I heard a grumbly “Hrmphf!” as she flopped down.

And then nothing. Absolute silence for 35 glorious minutes.

When I came to a good stopping spot in my book, I let her out and we continued with our morning.

Dakota’s a quick study, so I’m hoping that after a few more weekends, she’ll stop her 7 a.m. alarm clock whining and simply wait quietly until I let her out of her crate.

In other news, I can now feed Kotes and Fire in the same room! Instead of morphing into a mindless food monster as soon as I fill her food dish, Kota continues to remain a thinking dog. She eats at a normal pace, even though Fire’s only halfway across the room, and when she finishes, she licks her bowl completely clean. When every last drop of flavor is gone, she looks at me instead of trying to dive into Fire’s bowl. Little puppy waits for me to tell her “okay” before she tries to lick Fire’s bowl clean. Puppy’s come a long way! Someday, I should be able to feed them right next to each other, just like she’ll one day be fed in advanced training.  

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