It may seem daunting, but there is light at the end of the tunnel when crate training your first dog.
The whining finally made me cave despite all my attempts to resist the fluff ball in the other room that wanted nothing to do with being in a room alone. I had arrived at that moment that every new dog owner comes to. They put their foot down. This is the time I will let him stay there till he settles. As I approached the kennel, it became evident that his communication with me was not about his distaste for the kennel but more “urgent” business.
Soon, the little puppy licking my face and his novice owner (me) were in the shower, trying to clean up the disaster that has recently ensued. I felt unfit. Unqualified. I felt unprepared. My attempts at kennel training were failing on multiple levels and I was too green to realize it.
More than once I have found myself looking back at what seemed to be an impossibility on training a pointing dog. The end product would never come. It just was not in the cards. But, in the long run, it DOES come together. You just need a plan.
A Crate Training Plan
A simple Google search will reveal a large spread of puppy training resources. In fact, you could get lost in them. Avoid any type of plan that may involve forcing a puppy into bad situations. Crate training should be a positive experience for a puppy and just shutting them in and throwing away the key will fail.
After the above-mentioned episode, we started again at ground zero on kennel training. The door was left open, a comfy blanket inside, and treats were often hidden in the back. My larger error of not having a regular housebreaking plan that involved taking the puppy out hourly was eventually resolved.
As he began to make his way into the kennel on his own we would say the word “kennel” with excitement and I didn’t have to feign excitement. I was very excited to have progress! Before I knew it, he would stay in their silently for longer and longer intervals with the door shut. That hurdle made the kennel part fall right into place. Looking back, maybe I was putting the cart before the horse.
Not all Crate Sizes Work
There is actually such thing as too much space in a kennel. This can actually make for the hidden expense of having to upgrade kennel size as the puppy grows. Dakota 283 began working to resolve this issue some years ago by creating the Forever Kennel Insert. This divider allows the opportunity to invest in the larger G3 Medium Kennel and have the puppy grow into it over time.
The bars work in conjunction with the side holes of the kennel and as the puppy grows it can be stepped back and eventually removed altogether. These smaller spaces make a dog feel safe and, as a den-dwelling creature, they are right at home in their natural space. They should be able to stand up and turn around in the space, but remember that anything past that makes the experience less comforting for the dog and, ultimately, more frustrating for the owner.
The Rewards of Crate Training
Soon my puppy and I were regular vagabonds. We would go on road trips lasting days and he would willingly and excitedly find shelter in his crate. My wife and I could take comfort in the safety of him riding in a crate while driving. For him, it became what it was supposed to be, a place of safety and comfort. It became his den.
Over the years, the discipline of sleeping in the kennel at night would ebb and flow. Sometimes we would fall asleep on the couch and it was too much to bear when disturbing his sleepy face to go to the kennel. He would have long stretches of life outside the kennel and, since I worked at home, he did not have much of a reason to be in one unless I was traveling.
The first trip I took after a long stretch at home I expected him to resist his kennel life. But as I cracked the bed of my truck he leaped up inside and got in the kennel with no direction. It made me understand that not only was he smart enough to remember that this was (an indication of adventure) but also the inherent instincts of every dog. They are den creatures no matter how we cut it and their DNA makes them find peace in such conditions.
There are a few pieces of advice to find in this story. The first is to remember that kennel training needs to be mindful of other aspects of training, like housebreaking. Second, is to have a clear plan that you learned from a professional. There are plenty of resources online to give you the details of a proper plan (including troubleshooting). You just need to stick to it!
The third is that no matter how hard and difficult it will feel at moments, it will work. Dogs are incredibly smart and they will take on the cues eventually. In fact, we should take comfort in the fact that crate training a dog is satisfying their instincts not going against their freedom or natural behavior. The benefits of a crate-trained dog are numerous but, above all, the largest benefit is safety. Whether it is in the car, a party at your household, or to prevent unsupervised mischief that can result in injury, a crate-trained dog is a safe dog.
Living through the process is sure to provide you with a plethora of stories to be told at dinner parties. Those troubles will also fade away more and more every time that your dog enters its “den” with no resistance after the simple command, “kennel.” And though they are generally no longer in the fluff ball puppy stage, their newfound freedom and safety will make us forget that it was ever a challenging experience. Until the next puppy…