So, you’ve purchased the kennel, set it up in your living room or other “pack-friendly” area so your dog won’t feel isolated and now your pet won’t go near it. What to do?! Don’t panic!
When I first bring home a new dog (whether for myself, training for someone else, or a foster dog) I teach them how to “kennel up” as soon as possible. Whether puppy or adult dog, most like this new “game” that is easy for them to get rewards for. It is very important that you do not force your pet into the crate – let them discover it, get rewards for being in it, and they will then CHOOSE the kennel as a safe place. If the best things happen when they are in the kennel, then they choose the kennel to be in.
So let’s discuss some helpful hints in having your pet begin to accept their new den:
• After the crate is set up, let the door remain open all the time. If your pet is old enough, a bed or other blanket can be set up in there, but remember that some dogs can chew up and destroy bedding when anxious or just by being a puppy. So also place appropriate chew toys (nylabones, kongs, maybe a marrow bone, etc) in the kennel so that the pet can have a chew toy as well.)
* When it’s time to feed your pet, put the dish of kibble into the back of the kennel and walk away. Let you pet “discover” the kennel has food in it, and they can come and go as they please.
* Throw treats into the back of the kennel and walk away frequently throughout the day and evening…anytime you walk past the kennel, toss in treats, and let your pet go in to get them as you leave the area.
* When you are ready to play fetch or tug with your pet, toss the items into the back of the kennel and let your pet “go get them” and bring them to you.
* All of the COOLEST things are IN the kennel.
• The next step is to start closing the door BRIEFLY (mere seconds, really) and opening it up again.
* While your pet is eating, close the door to latch it, then open it up right away and walk away. Repeat this for many sessions before you start adding time to keeping the door closed.
* Do the same with treats and when they go in to get their toy, etc.
* Do NOT talk to your pet if they start to whine or act anxious (remember…WE know what “it’s okay” means and if they are anxious, we are only reinforcing the anxiety by trying to tell them that.) but simply make no big deal of it and just wait.
* If they whip around and try to get out, keep the door closed (sometimes I use my foot if I didn’t have a chance to latch it yet) and just wait. Don’t make eye contact, don’t speak…just wait.
* Do NOT open the kennel door if they are anxious, start whining or barking. Just wait. Stand there, DON’T look at them (eye contact IS reinforcement, so don’t do it!), and just wait.
* I know it’s hard, but even if they start to throw a temper tantrum, just wait. ONLY CALM BEHAVIOR will get them out of the kennel. So, when they stop (for a breath even!) use your verbal marker (Yes!) and open the door calmly…do not rush it open or this only feeds into their “need to escape.” Freedom is a reward in this instance, but this reward should be handed to them calmly to help encourage waiting for the door to open and not darting through it.
* If your pet starts to dig or chew at the kennel, sometimes you can “bark” a firm “No!” or “Fooey” to startle them into looking up. This is a verbal punisher to hopefully Stop The Behavior. If you have to say it more than twice, it isn’t working, so stop saying it. If you say it firm enough the first time and it startles them into looking up and/or sitting down, etc, you can wait 3 seconds, use your verbal marker (Yes!) and let them out calmly.
* If they just keep on digging/barking…ignore them and walk away. When they settle down (even for a breath), then start talking to them, walk back, and let them out. When they are quiet, they get let out…when they are obnoxious, they do not.
* Repeat these mini-sessions many times over many hours/days before adding time to the closed kennel door.
* The goal right now is to teach them that you will return and they can handle this.
• Then, begin adding time while you are standing next to the kennel or in the same room for a few sessions.
• If your pet is okay with 3 minutes of you being there, start adding sessions when you walk away and instantly return.
* Then add sessions where you walk away into another room, count to 10, then return.
Be PROACTIVE and STUFF A KONG (something your pet ONLY gets in the kennel right now) (ask us for a Kong Stuffing Technique brochure if you’re not sure how to do this) or give them a chew-bone that they don’t get unless they are in the kennel…i.e. a peanut butter filled marrow bone. This helps them go “wow…this is awesome!” and then they start WANTING you to “go away” so they can get their cool chewie.
Also keep in mind, that if you play with your dog a bit BEFORE you do your kennel sessions, they are more likely to be tired and want to lay down calmly and go to sleep. So, play a good long game of two-ball or fetch or even obedience games BEFORE doing your kennel sessions.
If your pet is okay with you being gone for 5 minutes, start leaving your house and instantly returning. Then leave for a few minutes by staying outside, then return. Then leave for a car ride around the block and return. Then leave for a store trip and then return.
Each time you return, you should let your pet out if they are calm. I also help them understand that when they come out they get more cookies in the kennel and the door stays open for a few before our next session, where I toss more delicious treats like chicken or hot dog bits in there and close the door and leave again.
Don’t always make things harder, though. If you were just outside for 5minutes, the next session you sit down and read in the same room for 3minutes. Keep sessions varied to keep your dog guessing and confident.
If your pet is still having trouble with kenneling, please give us a call and we can schedule a kennel-training session to help you evaluate what is occurring on a personal basis and help you and your pet work through the issue.
CVT & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy