A dog crate/kennel is a rectangular enclosure with a top and a door made in various sizes to fit almost any dog. Most kennels are constructed of metal or molded plastic. Its purpose is to provide your dog with a ‘den’ for security, reassurance, to aid in house training, to keep your household goods safe from the dog, for travel, illness and overall control of your dog.
Is a Kennel Cruel?
No. When used appropriately, a kennel is a widely accepted, humane training tool. Unfortunately, many dog owners perceive a kennel as cruel, inhumane or unfair confinement of a dog. Thankfully, dogs don’t see things as we do. Dogs are den-dwellers and can learn that a kennel provides a safe and secure a place of their own. To you it may be a ‘cage’ but to your dog, a kennel can feel like ‘home’.
Why Use a Kennel?
A kennel is a great tool for dog owners; you have the peace of mind knowing that while you are away from home your dog and your possessions are safe. Kennels help:
- With house training dogs by establishing a regular routine and prevent accidents.
- Safely confine your dog if you are hosting guests, during mealtimes and family activities or while service people are over.
- Provide a safe place if the dog is bothered or confused by the presence of many children.
- Keep your dog safe during an automobile accident.
- Your dog enjoy the privacy and security of a ‘den’ of his own to retreat to when he’s feeling tired, stressed or ill.
- You dog avoid the fear/confusion/punishment caused by your reaction to problem behaviour.
- Your dog be spared the loneliness and frustration when isolated (basement/garage/outside) from comfortable indoor surroundings when being restricted or left alone.
Selecting a Kennel
Kennels may be plastic (often called “flight kennels”) or collapsible, metal pens. They come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Your dog’s kennel should be large enough for him to comfortably stand up, turn around, and rest.
The Kennel Training Process
Kennel training can take days or weeks, depending upon your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. It’s important to keep two things in mind while kennel training. The kennel should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps. Don’t go too fast.
Step 1: Introducing Your Dog To The Kennel
Put the kennel in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room.
Add a soft blanket or towel into the kennel. Bring your dog over to the kennel and talk to him in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the kennel door is securely fastened opened so it won’t hit your dog and frighten him.
To encourage your dog to enter the kennel, drop some small food treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the kennel. If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay, don’t force him to enter. Continue tossing treats into the kennel until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the kennel to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the kennel. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
This first step is meant to allow your dog to become comfortable entering his kennel and give him the option of settling in or leaving the space. You can use his kennel as his toy box. Toss his toys into the kennel so he can go in, select his toy, settle with it in the kennel or bring it out. If he brings all his toys out of the kennel, toss them back in. You can hide special treats in his blankets to encourage him to enter the kennel, randomly searching for something good.
Step 2: Feeding Your Dog His Meals in The Kennel
After introducing your dog to the kennel, begin feeding his regular meals near the kennel. This will create a pleasant association with the kennel.
If your dog is readily entering the kennel when you begin Step 2, put the food dish all the way at the back of the kennel. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the kennel, put the dish only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the kennel.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the kennel to eat his meal, you can close the door while he’s eating. At first, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. As he is comfortable, with each successive feeding leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he’s staying in the kennel for ten minutes or so after eating.
If he begins to whine to be let out you might have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the kennel for a shorter time period. If he does whine or cry in the kennel, it’s imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, he’ll learn that the way to get out of the kennel is to whine.
Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog to The Kennel For Longer Time Periods
Once your dog is eating his regular meals in the kennel without signs of anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while you’re home. Call him over to the kennel and give him a treat. Give him a cue to enter such as, “kennel up.” Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the kennel with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the kennel, praise him, give him the treat and close the door. Sit quietly near the kennel for five to ten minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out of the kennel.
Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the kennel and the length of time you’re out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the kennel for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him kenneled when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
Step 4: Part A/Kenneling Your Dog When Left Alone
After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the kennel without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him kenneled for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the kennel using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys in the crate
You’ll want to vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the kennel. Although he shouldn’t be kenneled for a long time before you leave, you can kennel him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving.
Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the kennel and then leave quietly. When you return home keep arrivals low key. Continue to kennel your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate kenneling with being left alone.
Step 4: Part B/Kenneling Your Dog At Night
Put your dog in the kennel using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the kennel in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside.
Older dogs can initially be kept nearby so that kenneling doesn’t become associated with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his kennel near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
Too Much Time in The Kennel
A kennel isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is kenneled all day while you’re at work and then kenneled again all night, he’s spending too much time in a small space. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate his physical and emotional needs.
Remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a kennel for more than three or four hours at a time. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer periods.
If your dog whines or cries while in the kennel at night, it can be difficult to decide whether he’s whining to be let out of the kennel or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures outlined above and your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his kennel, try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you he’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the kennel will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you will be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the kennel training process over again.
Attempting to use the kennel as a remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A kennel may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he can injure himself in an attempt to escape from the kennel.
Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal behaviorist for help.