By Nikki Johnson, Chief Dog Officer & Canine Behaviorist
Let’s talk kennel training.
Kennel training might not be something you ‘need’ to do for your daily routine, but it is something that most dog owners wish they had done. Here are some scenarios in-which your dog could benefit from kennel training:
1) You don’t stay at your current work from home job for your dog’s entire life. Yes, you WFH now and your company says it will stay that way. But let’s be honest, big business is not known for their honesty and they aren’t continuing to build multi-million dollar campuses to let them sit empty. Or, you may take a different job for a pay increase or a better work environment offered by a company that isn’t 100% WFH based.
2) Dogs go to veterinarians throughout their lives. When dogs need veterinary care that extends beyond what can be done in an exam room, they are taken back & sometimes wait in kennels. For everyone’s safety (your dog included), dogs do not run loose in veterinary facilities.
3) Boarding your dog while you are away is a part of pet ownership. You could have your dog for 10+ years. At some point, you’ll probably want to go on vacation or have an unexpected trip, possibly to a place your dog can’t travel. Even ‘free range’ boarding facilities kennel dogs. They use dog ‘runs’ which to your dog is just a version of a larger kennel.
4) Your lifestyle changes in another way. Maybe you start having children, and your dog needs its own ‘safe’ place to feel comfortable. When babies start crawling, they often want to go towards and play with your adorable dog. But your dog might want its own space sometimes. Giving your dog a ‘safe’ place that the baby can’t physically get to can be the thing your dog needs most when it’s tired.
5) Natural disasters happen and during evacuation animals are often kenneled in mass to be evacuated safely. Millions of dog owners never imagine leaving their animals behind in an emergency, however, when conditions are bad enough, doing so is no longer a choice.
How to begin kennel training is most people’s first question. The training goal is to teach your dog that the kennel is its safe place, a relaxation area, and not something to fear. Here are some helpful first steps and tips for how to turn kennel training into long term success for your dog.
1) Have the kennel available all the time with the door open. Pulling the kennel in and out of a different place shows your dog that something different is happening, rather than just a part of daily life and routine. The door should be propped open by something sturdy or held open by something like a bungie cord, so that it doesn’t accidentally close.
2) Place your dog’s food and water in the kennel. If you have a dog that’s particularly afraid of the kennel, start by placing its food just outside of the door of the kennel, instead of inside. Slowly work toward moving the food inside the kennel. If your dog is not fearful of the kennel but has not been kennel trained, the best thing is to put the food and water halfway back or at the back of the kennel. The ultimate goal is to have the food and water at the back of the kennel. This teaches your dog that going into the kennel is a part of daily life and routine.
3) Use the kennel as a toy box. Instead of having all the fun toys in a toy box, having the toys in the kennel means that your dog goes into the kennel for fun stuff and can hang out in the kennel to chew on toys. This helps the kennel become a part of daily life and routine.
4) I bet you’re seeing a trend right now. The kennel needs to be a part of your dog’s daily life and routine. Look at you being a smarty-pants and getting the above steps done already. Sure, you’ve got this kennel training thing down. But if you want more advice keep reading. There’s bound to be at least one more helpful tip, right?!?!
5) Praise your dog with a lot of verbal praise, physical praise (if you can touch it through the kennel), and eye contact whenever it goes in the kennel for the first 2 weeks, then wean off the overly excited praise. The goal is for your dog to go into the kennel and be calm. So, although we want high excitement praise in the beginning of training, the reward needs to shift to eye contact and calm verbal praise over time. Your calm praise will help them be happy but not over-excited. We want your dog to like the kennel and see it as their calm place. Notice we aren’t using food rewards. This is because too often a dog will go into the kennel, look at the owner, and then when the owner sees it, a treat reward comes out and the dog will leave the kennel to get the treat. Doing this teaches the dog to go to the kennel, then come out for a treat, instead of going and staying in the kennel as a good place. praise needs to be a part of a normal life routine too!
6) Have more than one kennel if you want or need the dog to be in different spaces. Your dog can get used to using more than one kennel. Many dogs like having comfortable almost squished around them, kind of beds. This is why you see dogs curl up in beds that are too small for them. Just having its own space, even a dedicated space in multiple rooms, is good for a dog.
7) Don’t let anyone except you interact with your dog when it’s in the kennel. This is essentially your dog’s bedroom. If you don’t want people harassing you when you’re in your bedroom, then your dog probably doesn’t either. This also teaches the dog that if at some point a guest is in your home and your dog doesn’t like that person, the dog can safely leave the situation.
8) Using a kennel in the car is a very helpful tool for many dog parents. It also keeps both of you safer. If your dog loves going in the car, it will see the kennel as a means to go fun places. Don’t make the first trip in the car kennel to a place like the veterinarian or groomer. For at least the first 3 times your dog uses a kennel in the car, the outcome should be someplace fun like a dog park, friend’s house, or treat shop.
9) After your dog is used to coming and going from the kennel, start implementing the kennel into training sessions with TREATS! Yaaay, finally the cookies! Teaching your dog sit, lay down, shake, stay, etc. can all be done with the kennel, too. I also like to name the kennel, and to use a pointing motion to tell the dog that I want it to go into the kennel. Using success commands will be very helpful at first (success commands = commands your dog already knows and can be successful at right away). Have your dog “go to kennel” then while in the kennel ask them to do their success commands. This reinforces the interaction with you and the kennel. Then, start introducing the stay command and close the kennel for 3-10 seconds. The amount of time the dog stays with the kennel door closed should increase over time. The amount of time and speed of increases will be based on your dog’s ability to stay calmly in the kennel. Also, when your dog is inside the kennel with the door closed, start with full eye contact then decrease the eye contact over time. Once the eye contact isn’t something that you give at all, you physically start moving farther away from the kennel. Eventually you’re able to tell your dog to ‘go to kennel and stay’, close the door, your dog will be relaxed, and you can leave the room and home.
Your dog’s speed at learning this is based on Your Dog. It is not based on the ‘trainer’ that made a YouTube video about their dog that is already doing everything right. Odds are that ‘trainer’ is using a working breed in that video and you probably aren’t. But even if you are, that dog’s abilities are different than your dog’s. Just like people, dogs learn at different speeds and by using different methods. The above tips offer a few different ways to help teach your dog. Some people need to use all these methods and some use one or two. Practice makes perfect and trying different techniques to see which is most successful means you’ll learn alongside your dog.
If you found this information helpful, want to share what worked or didn’t work for your dog, or want advice let me know! I’m always happy to collaborate on how to help dogs in our communities.