A kennel-trained dog makes traveling, potty training, and bedtime much easier and more enjoyable for both you and your SideKick. A kennel also provides a safe haven, a little den for rest and relaxation when your SideKick needs a break from the hustle and bustle of the family.
This blog post covers several basic kennel games to practice with your SideKick with the goal of teaching your SideKick that the kennel is a great place to be!
Before getting to the good stuff (the kennel games), here are a few general tips for making the kennel a fun, positive place to be:
Avoid using the kennel for punishment or time-outs; we want the kennel to be seen as a good thing - not some place they go when they get into trouble.
Allow your SideKick to choose to enter their kennel; avoid forcing them into it.
Include a toy or two in the kennel with your SideKick; however, ensure that the toys cannot be chewed to pieces and won't have bits broken off and swallowed.
Try not to toss your SideKick in the kennel for a full, 8-hour work day immediately after introducing them to it; instead, try to build gradually up to more and more time spent in the kennel.
Encourage your SideKick to explore the kennel on their own and at their own pace.
Find the Goldilocks of places to put the kennel in your house: an area that isn't so high-traffic that it's loud and distracting, but not so low-traffic that it's isolating for your SideKick.
Always ensure that your SideKick has done their business outside before putting them in their kennel.
Game #1 The Magical Kennel of Goodies!
This game is fun and easy and takes no extra time at all. When your SideKick isn’t in the room place a few rewards in their kennel - a favorite toy, peanut butter Kong, tasty (non-perishable) treats, etc. Leave the kennel door open and allow your SideKick to discover the rewards on their own. The kennel isn’t scary; in fact, it’s the bearer of delicious things and fun!
Game #2 The Treat Toss Game
Get a fair amount of pea-sized, delicious treats ready (maybe about half a cup total). Begin the game by letting your SideKick watch you toss a treat into the kennel. Let your SideKick enter the kennel on their own to retrieve the treat. Praise them for going into their kennel and call them back out to you when they've eaten the treat. Repeat this process for a few minutes or until you've finished the treats you prepared. Keep the game fun and light and watch your dog for any signs of discomfort or boredom (take a break if you see either - you can always come back to the game later or tomorrow).
Game #3 Upping the Ante
Once your SideKick is racing to retrieve the treats you're tossing in the kennel, it's time to add another element: closing the door to the kennel. Start by tossing a treat into the kennel just like in the Treat Toss Game; when your SideKick goes into the kennel to retrieve the treat, close the door behind them for just 2-3 seconds. Repeat this game for a handful of treats. Bear in mind, when practicing, that the initial goal is to simply introduce the door closing - we don't want to close it for so long that your SideKick has the opportunity to get uncomfortable and bark or whine, etc. Start super slow and keep the door closing very brief in the beginning. Slowly add a couple seconds to each training session.
Game #4 Soup's On!
This is another easy game to play with your SideKick: Simply feed them in their kennel at meal-time. Start with the door open, but, usually, after a few days of this you’ll notice that your SideKick is so excited about dinner time that they won’t even notice if you close the door. If you do close the door while they're eating, be sure to stand nearby to open it just before they finish their meal to allow them to exit freely.
Game #5 Hold your Horses!
Leaving the kennel can be an exciting thing, since it usually happens after you've gotten home from work (or even a short absence) or it means playtime outside, etc. However, it's worth it to teach your SideKick to exit gracefully and a little more calmly than the Tasmanian Devil. Start by tossing a treat into the kennel and closing the door behind your SideKick when they enter it. After a few seconds, tell your SideKick to Wait (use whatever word you would like!) and slowly open the door just an inch: If they stay put, open the kennel door and say, "Okay!" (or a different word you'd like to use as a Release cue). If your SideKick did not stay put and attempted barging out the door, simply close the kennel door, pause, and re-open the door an inch. Continue this process until you can get some hesitation, then throw the door open, giving the Release cue you've chosen. Repeat this exercise for 5-10 minutes at a time. It won’t take long for your SideKick to realize that waiting until released will get them out of their kennel and on to other fun!
Game #6 Safe Space
Once your SideKick is comfortable entering the kennel and with you closing the door behind them for a few minutes at a time, you can begin rewarding relaxation. Behaviors that indicate your SideKick is relaxed are lying down, rolling onto their side, stretching, yawning, resting the head on their paws, etc. You can get the ball rolling by asking for a Down and tossing a treat into their kennel when they lay down. Wait for the behaviors we just mentioned and toss a treat into the kennel when you notice them. After they have relaxed, and you have had the opportunity to reward relaxing, calmly open the door and give the Release cue you've chosen to exit the kennel. Repeat this a few times each training session.
Your SideKick's kennel should be a safe, comfortable place for them to rest and relax. A small investment of your time and patience will help make that the case for your SideKick and it can make traveling, potty-training, and leaving the house much easier and more enjoyable for both you and your SideKick!