No more entertaining a picture have I received than when a friend texted me an image of her female dog standing proudly outside the den she had dug. The mystery of why the dog had been covered in dirt for days had been solved. Although some would say dogs are den animals, they are not strictly by definition. So why do dogs feel safe in a kennel?
The Structure of the Kennel Matters
Now I mentioned above that dogs are technically not den animals. Although that is true, they do have some basic instincts of what a den should feel like in order to be safe. First and foremost is that it is protected on all sides except one. Cage-style wire crates actually make a dog feel vulnerable because they feel exposed to the environment while also being confined and unable to escape if needed. That’s why you should look for a sturdy, walled crate with only ventilation holes. Furthermore, the back of a crate shouldn’t even have ventilation holes because the back of a dog is where they will always feel most vulnerable.
Some people will go as far as covering the front door with something when a dog is in a crate to further their feeling of protection. But one must always make sure that proper ventilation is accounted for, too.
The size of the kennel is less critical to the dog feeling safe, but there is such a thing as too large. First, a dog should feel the sides against them to feel protected. More importantly, a crate that is too large sets up for poor crate training experiences. The primary example is a puppy having enough room to also use their crate as a bathroom. (Our Dakota 283 Forever Insert Kennel Dividers help with this!) A too-large crate will set both you and your dog up for failure and create a negative association with the crate.
A Kennel as a Safe Space
We cannot really make the blanket statement that “dogs feel safe in a kennel” because it is more training-based than anything else. This is why kenneling a dog should never be used as a form of punishment. The primary goal of crate training is to actually get a dog to love his or her kennel. People will often do things like leave a bowl of food or some kibbles inside to get a puppy started in low-pressure situations while the door is kept open. Maybe a favorite toy gets put in there regularly or a favorite blanket. Point being, the primary goal is to get a dog to associate positive things with the inside of a crate.
Here are some pointers on associating a kennel with a safe place
- Make it comfortable
- Put it in a place with easy access with the door open
- Play with the dog around the kennel (and in the kennel)
- Use food or treats in an open-door kennel
- Keep a positive and excited tone with the kennel
Don’t Put a Wired Dog in a Crate
There is a reason you can find countless articles on the internet about conditioning your dog. A lot of that has to do with a dog’s behavior. There’s no better way to make a kennel not feel like home than cooping up a young, wired dog. While we may not think of it as a punishment, the dog may very well find this a negative experience. This is a nod back to that core rule of never using a crate for punishment.
Kennels Can Reduce a Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Believe it or not, crate training is usually the number one recommended behavior training to reduce separation anxiety in a dog. This supports the idea that kenneling a dog is a positive and safe tool for both the dog and the owner. For those that spend their days away from home, a crate is the safest place for a dog. This adds a level of structure to a dog’s day. They should be taking comfort there and associating it with a form of relaxation.
When working with dogs that have issues with separation anxiety, it’s important to slowly build up the time spent in a crate so as to not overwhelm them with negative experiences surrounding this safe space. In extreme cases, it could require a professional to help properly train a dog.
When You Know the Kennel is Your Dog’s Safe Space
With the simple “kennel up” command, my dog jumps into his crate whether it’s in my truck, my office, or anywhere else. He never hesitates and only associates it with positive vibes. He likes his safe space and I am happy I can provide that for him.
I remember the first time a dog that I crate trained got up off the couch one late night and walked down the stairs to his kennel and put himself to bed. There was a general shock (yet silence so as not to disturb) on my and my significant other’s faces. The dog showed his independence. Like a human, he was done with the moment and wanted his bedtime. This is because we made his kennel a place where he felt safe and confident.
Dogs feel safe in a kennel when we make it their safe space through training and conditioning.