Helping Duke Learn to Like His Kennel

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 12, 2013

Duke is a two-year-old yellow lab

His owners had contacted me to help with his separation anxiety; specifically Duke’s inability to remain in a kennel without freaking out.

When I arrived, Duke greeted me at the door with one of the most mellow and passive demeanors I’ve met on any dog behavior session.

We sat down to discuss the situation and as I always do, I asked his owners what rules Duke had to live by. Aside from not being allowed on the furniture, Duke didn’t really have many rules. Normally this is something I would advise his owners to correct, but since Duke had such a mellow energy and didn’t have any behavioral issues other than the separation anxiety, we moved on.

His owners told me that he had escaped from a few previous kennels, and that his fear of the kennel was so great that the only way they could get him inside was to physically force him in there.

I have always advised my clients to never try to force the dog into a kennel. If a dog is hesitant about doing something, forcing them to do so only reinforces the dogs belief that the hesitation was correct.

I started out by tossing a few tasty treats into his kennel one at a time, allowing Duke to walk into the kennel, grab the treat and then walk out. At first Duke rushed into the kennel and rushed out with equal vigor. However after tossing about seven or eight treats in, he slowed down and wasn’t so quick to exit the kennel.

Once I was certain Duke was calm and not showing any hesitation towards entering the kennel, I tossed another treat in, but this time followed in behind him and stood at the door way to the kennel. After Duke gobbled up the treat, he turned and tried to exit only to find that I was blocking him from doing so. I waited for a moment and then slowly took one step back away from the kennel’s door. When I did this, Duke immediately took a step forward to try to exit the kennel. At that point I took a step back towards Duke to block him from being able to exit.

We repeated this back-and-forth dance three times before Duke sat down in the kennel. At that point I immediately took a giant step backwards to communicate to Duke that his sitting was exactly what I wanted.

I cautiously took another few steps backwards, one at a time, and then remained standing about 12 feet away from the door. Although Duke looked clearly uncomfortable being in the kennel, he was restraining himself and did not try to exit the kennel again. After a few moments Duke laid down in the kennel at which point I immediately dropped to one knee and said “Duke come.”

When conducting this exercise, it is important that the timing is precise. By immediately letting Duke out of the kennel once he laid down, I was able to communicate to him that when he stopped protesting and gave up, I gave him what he wanted.

I repeated the exercise a second time to make sure Duke got it, then invited his owners to repeat the exercise themselves.

As it turns out, Duke is one stubborn dog. It took him nearly a half an hour to lay down for his owner when she repeated the exercise the first time.

Next his the other owner repeated the exercise with Duke and he took about the same a lot of time before he lay down. This is likely due to a built-up fear of the kennel that was difficult for Duke to overcome.

Before repeating the exercise again myself, I suggested we go outside and give Duke a little bit of a breather. Dogs really shouldn’t be trained for longer then a 5 to 15 minute stretch at any one time and we have been at it for over an hour. By tossing the ball a little bit and allowing him to chase rabbits and relax, we were able to put him in a more peaceful frame of mind.

When we came back inside and repeated the exercise, Duke laid down within two minutes. I advised his owners to take Duke out for a brisk walk or a short game of fetch before conducting the exercise again. By draining Duke’s excess energy, it will be easier for him to learn to relax in the kennel and to become comfortable enough to relax and lie down sooner.

I suggested that they take Duke out for a game of fetch or some other play activity after completing the exercise as well. We need to change Jake’s perception of the kennel so that he see’s it as a positive, happy, fun loving place he should feel comfortable in. To help in that regard, i suggested they leave the kennel door open and leave treats and new toys inside for Duke to discover on his own. The most positive we can make the kennel, the less of a reason Duke will have to fear it.duke

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