Following these easy steps during a puppy’s early development will create a lifetime of convenience and safety
You’ve heard the stories or seen the images on social media: a somewhat-guilty-looking dog standing in the middle of a snowdrift of disemboweled couch cushions, the aging contents of the trash can spread out across the kitchen floor, or the shredded remains of a jacket at the paws of a dog with separation anxiety. It may be worth a laugh or groan of recognition on the internet, but the reality of these incidents can be both dangerous and costly. Emergency treatment may be required for ingested foreign objects or toxic foods, not to mention the cost of replacing the destroyed items.
Kennel (or crate) training your puppy is one way to create a balanced dog that is content to be confined for periods of time when otherwise unsupervised. The key is to create a positive association with the kennel—it should always be a safe, happy place and never associated with punishment. A dog that is comfortable in its kennel will experience less stress when left alone and will be an easier traveling companion.
Kennel training begins with early exposure
Begin a positive introduction to the kennel right away with a new pup by following these steps:
- Place the kennel in a central location, such as next to the couch or near your desk. Leave the door open and place a few blankets inside.
- Encourage—don’t force—the pup to explore the kennel. If she is hesitant, toss in a couple of treats or toys. Give her lots of praise when she ventures inside.
- Do not close the door. Let her go in and out as she pleases, free to explore this little den that now belongs to her.
- Once she is showing some comfort with going into the kennel, you can start gently (and briefly) closing the door. Treat it like a game.
- As you increase the time that the door is closed, remain nearby to reassure her that she hasn’t been abandoned in the crate.
- End every short session on a positive note with lots of praise and play.
Next steps in kennel training
Once the puppy has been successfully introduced to the kennel, you can introduce the idea of leaving her confined and alone for brief periods of time. Follow these steps to start increasing the amount of time that the pup is comfortable being left alone in the kennel.
- Encourage the pup to enter the kennel and give her a treat with praise. Close and gently latch the door.
- Leave the room and ignore the inevitable whining and crying. The first session should be short, just a minute or two.
- Time your return carefully—ideally the puppy will never think that carrying on loudly is the key to bringing you back or being let out of the kennel. Choose a moment, however brief, when the pup has relaxed a little and is quiet before coming back into her sight or letting her out.
- Allow the puppy to come out and then leave the kennel door open for her to enter or exit as she pleases.
- Repeat with extended durations away, keeping the sessions brief and fun.
Use these sessions to also teach the puppy how (and how not) to exit the kennel. Though she’ll be excited to come rushing out, it’s important for her future safety that she not barge through the door as soon as you unlatch it. If this were to happen on the tailgate along a road, the consequences could be tragic. Instead, if she starts to rush toward the door, gently close it. Repeat this until she realizes that the door will open as soon as she waits patiently.
Assuming you are confining the puppy to a kennel overnight, it’s inevitable that these training sessions will conflict with the need to leave her in the kennel for hours at a time while she sleeps. While it’s not ideal in terms of progressing the training in baby steps, it’s just a practical necessity. Consider placing the kennel in a different, quieter location for overnight sleeping.
Tips for successful kennel training
It’s easy to incorporate early kennel training with your daily routine. Consider placing the kennel next to the couch while you watch television. Put the puppy in the kennel to build up experience with longer durations of confinement. She’ll get used to being in the kennel but also feel like part of the pack.
For best results, ensure that your pup is sufficiently exercised (mentally and physically) before being confined in the kennel. Time your crate training sessions after exercise and after she’s had a chance to relieve herself outside. Ideally, the kennel becomes a place for napping while her mind and body are fulfilled.
Ensure your kennel is sized appropriately. Check out products like the Dakota 283 Forever Insert that can transition a full-size kennel properly over a puppy’s life. The puppy should be able to stand up and turn around, but it should not be so large as to allow her to use one end as a bathroom and the other for sleeping. Dividers are available to allow the puppy’s space to grow along with her.
You can combine crate training with house training to speed up the process of both. By putting the puppy into her correctly-sized kennel whenever she is not under direct supervision, you decrease the chances of her having an accident in the house. By taking her outside immediately after coming out of the kennel, you reinforce the idea that bathroom activities happen outside and that playtime and praise always follow kennel time.
And finally, as with all dog training, consistency matters. Built a routine around your kennel training activities and stick to it. Be consistent about how and when your puppy is let out of her kennel. Don’t let her out if she’s carrying on—not even once! Dogs are constantly watching us for patterns and habits, so it’s important to be consistent with the habits that you want them to develop. This creates a well-balanced, mentally-stable dog that is comfortable and confident in any situation.