Helping Watson Get Over His Fear of the Kennel

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 8, 2014

WatsonWatson is a four-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi. His owner called me for help with his digging in the trash and separation anxiety. His separation anxiety was so bad that it caused him to break out of several kennels. Out of concern that he may injure himself, his owner stopped using them. Unfortunately this didn’t address the separation anxiety which was so intense that he had a number of accidents in the home while his owners were gone.

Watson’s owner had purchased another kennel prior to our session so my goal was to make sure that this is the last kennel that she ever needed to buy.

While discussing the situation with Watson’s owners, I noticed that he frequently pawed at them or stuck his nose under their hand in an attempt to get them to pet him. This is a needy behavior that is common amongst insecure dogs – although the behavior itself is not related to insecurity. However, it is an attempt to control or give orders to the human “time to pet Watson.” I have found that anytime an unbalanced dog is giving orders to its owner, its a recipe for disaster.

I suggested that his owner’s adopt the “nothing in life is free philosophy.” This technique involved the dog’s owner only providing pets or abreaction when the dog follows a command. By asking your dog to sit or come to you before you scratch it behind it’s ears, you can use positive reinforcement to communicate to your dog that it is in a follower position and that following commands is rewarded.

I demonstrated a few leadership exercises and went over various communication techniques before turning my attention to the kennel.

To gauge Watson’s perception of the kennel, I tossed in a few high-value treats into it from a few feet away. Watson saw me do this and was clearly interested in retrieving the treats, but he would not get within 3 feet of the kennel. This was likely due to my proximity to the kennel’s door, so I increased the distance between myself and the kennel before I tossed in another treat. This time, Watson cautiously approached his kennel, entered it while keeping an eye on me before finally taking the reward.

Because my primary goal at this point was to get him comfortable with the kennel, I moved several feet farther away from it, sat down then tossed another treat inside. This time Watson walked over to the kennel faster and with only a little hesitation. When he went inside this time he did not keep an eye on me – instead he just focused on getting the treat.

I repeated this process several times until Watson was trotting into the kennel without any hesitation whatsoever.

Once it was clear that he was completely comfortable going into his kennel, I tossed in another treat, but this time I followed silently behind him. After gobbling up his high-value treat, Watson turned around to see that I was standing in the kennel’s doorway blocking him from exiting.

I waited for Watson to pause before taking one deliberate step backwards. As soon as I moved away from the kennel door, Watson started to move towards it. To communicate that I did not want him leaving the kennel, I took a step back towards the kennel door so I was in the blocking position again.

As soon as Watson stopped moving forward, I took another deliberate steps backwards and then paused myself. Watson was paying close attention to me, but he did not move to exit the kennel this time. After waiting up a second or two, I took another deliberate step backwards. I kept repeating this process until I was all the way across the room and Watson was still inside of his kennel with the door wide open.

As soon as Watson laid down in the kennel, I took a knee, extended my hand palm upward with a treat on top and gave him the recall command. Watson got up and trotted over to me so that he could retrieve his reward.

I repeated this exercise a few times to make sure that he got it, then I coached his owners through it as well.  I advised them to practice this exercise daily and to gradually increase the amount of time they asked Watson to stay inside of the kennel.

By teaching the dog that his owner wants him to stay inside the kennel and leaving the kennel door open, we changed the perception of the kennel itself. Prior to the session Watson had looked at his kennel has something that was keeping him away from his owners. By leaving the kennel door open while conducting this exercise, we are able to change the dynamic so that Watson sees staying inside the kennel as a way of making his owners happy.

It will be important for Watson’s owners to gradually increase the amount of time that the dog spends inside of the kennel. This allows the dog to “practice” being calm inside the kennel. Most importantly, they need to practice this while they are home so he can see them while inside the kennel in a relaxed frame of mind. Many dog owners think it’s cruel to put their dog inside of the kennel while they are home because the dog spends so much time in the kennel while they are away.

But if the only time the dog is inside of the kennel is when its owners are gone, and it has separation anxiety, this can cause the dog to panic or at the very least put it under a great deal of stress.  But if the dog is able to practice remaining inside the kennel in a calm frame of mind with the door open while his owners are home, the dog can gain confidence from the experience and actually go into the kennel on its own when it’s in a stressful situation.

It will take a couple of days before Watson learns to remain completely calm while inside the kennel. Once that’s the case, his owners can begin the process of leaving for very short periods of time then gradually increasing the duration. By gradually wrapping up the amount of time with the dog has to remain inside of the kennel while his owners are gone, we can help the dog learn to stay calm rather than stressing out or panicking.

I suggested that his owners introduce new toys, treats and other rewards inside of the kennel over the next few weeks so that every time Watson enters it, something good happens. As his experience and comfort in the kennel increases, his confidence will grow. With enough practice at exposing him to time in his kennel this way, Watson will eventually  go in there on his own to relax.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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