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 Dog Behavior Library

Canine Positive Portable Kennel Training 

     From the human perspective, a portable kennel might resemble solitary confinement and punishment. Many pet parents tend to think of their dogs as a furry four-legged people so they're appalled by this type of confinement for hours. What's not considered is that dogs are den animals by nature as they evolved from wolves. Unlike humans, dogs derive seek out confined spaces under tables or desks for a sense of security.

     A portable kennel provides a wonderful tool for teaching good habits and curbing hyperactivity and all sorts of destructive behavior, from digging to chewing to house soiling. When introduced properly and if dogs receive the daily exercise they need, dogs adopt their kennels as their lifelong sleeping area overnight, or while the owner is at work. 

     A kennel can be a safe place for a dog during wild child visits. What's more, it makes traveling easier and safer than a pet seat belt.  Some molded plastic kennels are airline approved, while the wire kennels have the advantage of folding down for storage. To mimic a den, wire kennels should have a blanket draped over 3 sides.

Portable kennel-training requires a proper introduction and some time and effort.  Depending on the pet's personality, this "contented confinement mind set" can take from a day to a week.

Here's how to do it:

Introducing Kennel Contented Confinement

First introduce just the bottom half of the kennel (at any location you want) as the pet's new dining room. Feed a few meals and leave food puzzles inside. You don't get a second chance to make a positive first impression. When the pet is not eating, remove the food and provide a comfy bed. Lure the pet with a chew to encourage resting in the kennel.  Praise and stroke the pet when inside the kennel.

Second, when the pet's body language looks relaxed during the time in the kennel, assemble the kennel top but leave the door open and toss special food treats inside. At this point, insist the pet stay in the kennel with hand and verbal cues.  If she comes out, simply put her back in (toss a treat inside) and prevent her leaving until you give permission. The key is that the dog understand it is your will, (not the door) keeping her inside.  Wait until she visibly relaxes, then call her out and praise her.

Third, begin to close the door during feeding, and other times try to associate some tasty food like peanut butter inside a Kong® toy every time she is locked inside. This is an excellent time to teach the dog to only chew on your approved items.  Chew toys left inside should be too large to be swallowed, and only made of a substance that is acceptable to be destroyed.  (No squeaky or plush toys.)

Fourth, after 1-3 days of gradual introduction, (and extra exercise that day) close the dog inside overnight with chew toys but no water. The best location the first night is next to your bed so the pet can hear and smell you sleeping. Interrupt fussing by tapping the kennel, then praise quiet rest.

Resistant Cases

For anxious pets, go slower and during the introduction and include a worn T-shirt, and a commercial anti-anxiety pet pheromone (D.A.P. collar).  Smaller dogs accustomed to sleeping on the bed can be put in a kennel on the owner's bed overnight as a transition. 

If the dog is fussing and you are unsure of toileting needs, take the dog outside once and watch to confirm something is eliminated.  Don't allow any rewarding experience and return to the kennel. Withhold food and water earlier in the evening.

Don't release the pet during a tantrum but avoid scolding or punishment. A good way to get a dog to stop fussing is to jangle the handle on the kennel without opening it. This sound usually startles the dog into a moment of silence you can praise. Try to get 3+ seconds of quiet, and then begin praising that. Release the dog if quiet 10 seconds, but require a longer quiet period each time. In rare cases, it might be necessary to apply a head collar and string a line the door of the kennel so you can rattle it from a distance. Some dogs may need to wear a gentle leader with a drag line outside of the kennel that can be gently pulled to achieve a moment of silence.  A gentle pull will close the mouth so you can insist on quiet, praise and reward that silence by releasing the collar pressure.

If the pet panics repeatedly when left alone it is possible that, "Separation Anxiety" is part of the problem. Once any medical and behavior problems are properly diagnosed, this category of pet might benefit from veterinary medication such as Clomicalm® or Reconcile® and a behavior modification program.

Rolan Tripp, DVM is a Veterinary Behavior Consultant for Antech Veterinary Labs, Petmate Pet Product Manufacturing, and founder of www.AnimalBehavior.Net

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