Bentley Gets Over His Fear of the Kennel

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 24, 2013


Bentley is a two-year-old Jack Russell – Beagle mix who was only adopted a week ago. Due to his barking and whining in his kennel when his owner left, his owner started using a bark collar. This resulted in his not wanting to be kenneled anymore. He was also pulling on the leash, jumping up on guests and not listening to his owner constantly.

When the door opened and I didn’t hear a single bark I was a little bit surprised. Usually the dogs I work with start barking before I even enter the home and that’s just the warm up!

When I sat down to discuss the situation with Bentley’s owner, Bentley avoided eye contact, remained at a distance, had a little stiffness in his body posturing and kept his head tilted down. 

His owner’s primary concern was Bailey’s fear of his kennel and the barking the dog did when he left. Because the bark collar was only used when Bentley was placed in his kennel and it’s a negative reinforcing tool, he now looked at going to his kennel as a negative. I have an exercise that changes the dog’s perception of its kennel, but I wanted to judge Bentley’s regular demeanor and energy level before addressing that problem.

I started out with a leadership exercise I use with most of my clients. However Bentley was so insecure in his movements that it quickly become clear that we need to work on his confidence first. 

His owner mentioned that Bailey’s recall was not very good which is an excellent place to start. While there are a lot of psychological difference between humans and dogs, one trait that we share is pride when we master a new skill. 

I gave Bentley’s owner a few high-value treats and sat a few feet away from him. I always advise my clients offer treats and cookies to dogs by placing the item in the palm of their hand and lowering the hand so the dog licks or scoops up the treat. This teaches the dog that a cupped hand means a treat. Because they cant see what is in the hand, we can use this motion to get a dog to come to us or give us their attention when we dont have a treat once we establish the connection.

At first, we had to coax Bentley before he came over and very timidly took the treats. However we continued at it and after about 4 to 8 repetitions we could see a difference in Bailey’s demeanor. His head was held high, his nose in the air, he moved quickly almost prancing towards us each time we called him. He was having fun!

Now that it was clear that Bentley clearly understood the concept I was trying to instill, I demonstrated how to recall Bailey by using the “bump it” exercise. While the recall is a fundamental command that all dogs should master, the bump it is a more playful variation. 

I place a high-value treat in the palm of my hand and then close my fingers around it, making a fist. His owner and I took turns calling Bailey to us “come” and as soon as he got near we gently touched the end of our fist to his nose, then immediately flipped over our hand opening our fingers to reveal the hidden treat. I tell my clients to imagine that thy have to spring-loaded hand and when the dog’s nose touches it, it causes the hand to automatically flip over and reveal the treat for the dog.

While this accomplishes the same thing as recalling the dog, it’s done in a more playful manner and it’s a nice change. Often times, owners call their dog at the end of an activity such as coming inside from play etc. Since many dogs and prefer continuing the play activity, sometimes they learn to or want to disagree with the recall command.

After Bailey seemed to understand what we were trying to accomplish, we increased the distance between us so that Bailey have to see and react to us from farther and farther away. After a few minutes I offered his owner a few suggestions on how we can continue to practice these techniques when he is home alone. By leaving a few treats around the house in areas that the dog can’t get to, we can practice the both the bump and recall by simply calling then rewarding the dog whenever its on the other side of, or in another room. Just like any other skill, practice makes perfect.

Next I tossed a few high-value treats into Bentley’s kennel to gauge his reaction to going inside. At first Batley was a little cautious, but was willing to cautiously walk inside the kennel to retrieve the treat. I continued to toss treats in until he walked in without any hesitation. Once I achieved that state, I started tossing treats into the kennel while he was inside of it. After doing this a few times Bailey stayed in the kennel on his own and eventually lay down in it. Laying down was his way of communicating he was comfortable in the kennel.

After recalling him from the kennel, I tossed another treat in, but this time I walked behind him so that I was standing at the entrance to his kennel after he went inside. This position gave me the ability to block him from exiting the kennel after he got the treat. I paused a moment the I slowly retreated away, one step at a time. I paused between each stop to gauge Bailey’s reaction. He only attempted to come out once and he immediately stopped as soon as I took a step forward to block him from exiting the kennel. After about a minute Bailey lay down inside the kennel peacefully. As soon as he did, I immediately called him to me and rewarded him with a tasty treat.

I repeated this exercise a few times before coaching his owner through it as well. Because of the experience with the no-bark collar, Bentley had assigned a negative connotation to the kennel. This exercise quickly erased that feeling and with some additional practice it will eventually allow Bentley to look at his kennel as a positive place – his own private apartment or sanctuary.  

Next I fitted Bentley up with a makeshift Martingale collar so that we could go for a short walk. When we got to the front door of Bentley’s apartment, his energy level had gone up and he attempted to rush out the door as soon as I touched the handle.

I swung the door wide-open several times while asking Bentley to sit. The first few times I did this Bentley immediately lunged towards the opening door. However after a few minor corrections he started to sit patiently while the door sprung open right in front of him. By repeating this easy exercise every time that he is asked to go out side, Bentley will quickly learn that an open-door does not represent permission to go out through it.  

When we got outside of the building, Bentley started pulling on the leash with his owner so I took it so I could demonstrate the proper hand placement, body position and timing of corrections whenever Bentley started to pull on his leash. 

After demonstrating the proper corrections and pace for a few blocks, I handed the leash back over to his owner. At first Bentley was resumed pulling on the leash as he did before, however after a block or so he started to pull less and less. It will take more time and practice, but clearly Bentley can learn to walk on the leash at a perfect heel.

When we returned to Bentley’s apartment, his energy level was low but his body language communicated a confidence that I didn’t see before. It’s clear that Bentley is a sensitive dog, so I advised his owner to use subtle and gentle corrections on the walk or in conjunction with any exercise or command.

As Bentley learns new commands and practices these leadership exercises, he will become more comfortable and confident. Due to his intelligence and his owner’s determination to work with him, Im expecting Bentley to become another poster child for good behavior, compliments of a little help from Dog Gong Problems.

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