One area where new adopters tend most to resist the advice of shelter staff and volunteers is when the discussion of kennel or crate training the dog arises. Many people seem to think that putting a dog in a crate while you’re away from home or at night is cruel. After all, they just rescued the dog from a shelter where it was cooped up. They don’t want to put the dog behind bars all over again. That would be cruel, wouldn’t it?
Actually, a kennel provides a safe haven for your dogs in times of stress, keeps them from harming themselves by getting into things they shouldn’t, and it can be a useful tool when house training a puppy. Our mutts have terrier instincts, so when they are left loose, they could easily tear up our entire house with their strong jaws. And the few times early on that we tried to leave Charlie confined to our bedroom instead of his kennel, he chewed up carpet, blinds, and got into an overnight bag full of my makeup. Beyond being incredibly frustrating and costly to us, this could have been very harmful to him. Carpet strings can easily create an internal blockage. And who knows what damage the plastic blinds could have caused if he had actually eaten them. So we learned very quickly that Charlie needed to be kept in a kennel.
Was it easy? Not at first. The key is to make the kennel a fun place for your dog. Give them treats when they go in, put a favorite toy in there. Be careful to give only very durable toys, such as Kongs, until you know they won’t destroy them while you’re away. Likewise with bedding, observe your dog to know whether they will tear up what you put in there. You can use a carpet remnant or heavy blanket down if, like Charlie, your pooch likes to chew up any bedding with stuffing. Our dogs generally sleep on either the bare kennel floor or a blanket.
Sometimes it takes experimenting with different types of kennels to know what kind your dog prefers. Ginny likes a plastic-sided kennel, but our others prefer a wire one. Be sure to keep any loose objects away from the sides of the kennel, as some dogs are particularly sneaky and can pull blankets, toys, cords, and other objects through the bars or holes. (Ask me how I know this.)
If you have a puppy, try to limit the time they are in the kennel to one hour at a time per month of age. So if you have a three-month-old, keep your puppy kenneled no more than 3 hours. If you work away from home full-time, you might consider confining a younger dog to a playpen to give them room to romp while still keeping them safe. You can work them toward true kennel training over time.
And one last pointer, look for kennels with the squeeze-style closure or multiple slider bars that lock into place. By the second day we kenneled Charlie in a wire crate with a single slider bar closure, he figured out how to flip it and open it. He ran out of the house when we opened the front door, startling us to no end. The tougher the closure the better!
When used properly, kennels are a great way to tap into your dog’s natural den instincts, giving them a safe place to go to when they’re tired or anxious. Does your dog have a favorite toy you keep in their kennel? Or do you have a story of an escape artist? Share with me in the comments!