Crates or kennels are a fantastic house training tool, recommended by dog trainers of all disciplines. They’re also sometimes the only place for an injured dog to rest. Some dogs simply cannot behave when left alone. When utilized properly, a kennel or crate will make your dog feel safe, and keep them from harm when they’re alone.
Unfortunately, plenty of dogs hate going into their crate. Here’s how you can make it a place they look forward to, instead.
INTRODUCING YOUR DOG TO THEIR KENNEL
First impressions are very important. If your pup’s first impression of the crate is scary or unpleasant, teaching good crate habits will be that much harder.
- Make Sure the Kennel Isn’t Scary: Make sure the kennel won’t squeak, bang, or wobble as your dog moves around. You want a smooth introduction with no unpleasant surprises.
- Take Your Pup Outside First: Especially in the beginning of your crate training, go for a walk before putting your dog in the crate, so they’ll be tired and have an empty bladder. If possible, start out with very short sessions in the crate, like fifteen seconds, so your dog doesn’t start to worry about being trapped.
- Make Being in the Kennel Fun: You know what your pup likes; make it happen in the kennel. Sometimes a food reward or praise is enough. Even better is a special toy or treat that ONLY happens in the crate. A puzzle toy or a challenging chew that will keep your dog occupied for a while is ideal.
- Take Your Time: If you can, take a few days to teach your dog to feel comfortable in the kennel. Begin by allowing them to sniff and explore the crate. Encourage them to nap or eat inside the crate with the door open. In your next session, shut the door, offer a reward, and open it again right away. Work up from there.
Some dogs are scared of the kennel at first. You may have to work a bit to get your friend to be near the thing at all. Not all dogs will react this way, but it’s easier to start out gently just in case.
The Kennel is Not a Time-Out Place
Never send your dog into the crate for being naughty or as punishment. Let the kennel be a place of positive associations and comfort, and they’ll likely retreat there, happily, on their own.
Don’t Let the Kennel Become a Crutch
If you’re living with a fearful dog, they may begin to spend inordinate amounts of time in their kennel. Remember that while a kennel is a great teaching tool, it can also become a retreat for a dog who’s scared of facing the many terrors of an ordinary household. Sometimes, the kennel becomes a tool for avoiding growth.
If your dog is able to manage their bladder in the home, if they’re no longer destructive around the house, but they’ve taken to “hiding” in their kennel, you may be at the point where learning is no longer occurring in the kennel. At this time, you may wish to consider removing the crate. A confident dog is happier and healthier than a dog who’s scared all the time. If your dog is permitted to run to their hidey hole instead of facing fears, they’ll never learn that your home is really a safe place. If you’re unsure, consider consulting a pet behaviorist.
WHAT IF YOUR DOG ALREADY HATES THE KENNEL?
Some dogs simply hate being caged from the beginning. If yours panics in the cage or risks injury while trying to break out, consult a professional trainer. If your pup has learned to hate the kennel for whatever reason, you can usually change the animal’s mind with proper training.
Most Important: Fix the Problem
Your dog has a reason for hating the kennel, and your job is to address that concern. Dogs crated for too long too might learn to associate the kennel with thirst or soiled bedding. Maybe there’s a cold draft. Sometimes another animal or a child has bullied the dog in the crate. Maybe you, or a previous owner, used the crate as punishment and now the kennel = angry human in your dog’s mind. You’ll have to fix the problem and then rebuild trust.
Remember your dog’s problem is likely a dog thing—something that wouldn’t bother a human. Maybe the crate is next to the dryer with a scary buzzer sound. Maybe your dog can see or hear the letter carrier and feels helpless in the kennel to defend the family home. Whatever it is, it’s real to your dog.
Then, Bring on the Positive Associations
Once the problem is fixed, reintroduce the kennel slowly. If separation anxiety or a learned phobia is the problem, call a professional. Medication might help break the cycle of panic so your dog can learn to trust again. Kennels are great for dogs, and you can teach your dog to agree with that assessment.
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