A Secure, Confident Gundog With Options - Kennel Training

by Christopher D. Atkinson - Queensbury, NY

"Nice yellow Labs!" a stranger said as I ran lining drills with my dogs at the schoolyard.

"I have a yellow too. He’s a good dog but we have to muzzle him when we go to work."


"Yeah. He’s chewed the couch, kitchen chairs and a whole bunch of my wife’s shoes"

For less than $80.00 he could have had a responsible housepet, saved hundreds of dollars’ worth of furniture and clothing, and trained an intelligent sporting dog. Man and dog would have been happier had he kennel or crate trained at the outset.

My dogs run NAHRA Field Tests in the spring and summer and hunt waterfowl and upland birds in autumn. Still, they spend most of their lives as housepets. Frequently, they’re left unattended for 12 hour periods while I’m at work. When I return, I’m greeted by happy, secure retrievers who’ve done nothing but relax in my absence. I owe this to simple kennel training.

Kennel training offers several options. On the command "Kennel" my dogs will run and jump into my truck from any distance, two yards or two hundred. They’ll also hop into their crate, a canoe, or any confined area to which they’re directed. On trips, the kennel is the best riding spot for dogs. With passengers in front, and the back loaded with gear, the kennel provides a protected, comfy spot to curl up in without being crushed by a rolling bag of Uncle Steve’s cork dekes. It’s also the best way to keep Fido cool during summer NAHRA tests while he waits his turn to run. (The vehicle is parked in the shade with all windows and tailgate open.)

The human view may be of a confining, punishing prison. When properly introduced, however, the pup will think of the kennel as his secure, personal den, a place to rest and relax.

The first benefit you’ll note is how quickly and effectively pup housebreaks himself. For the working person, it’s the only way to go. Even if one has hit the lottery and enjoys replacing baseboards and cupboard doors, the old barricade-pup-in-the-kitchen method works poorly and encourages bad habits.

When using an adult- sized kennel, insert a box or barrier in the kennel to create a floor space dimensioned roughly to the puppy’s length in both directions. Some confused little guys will try to poop in the corner and sleep on the other side in an adult kennel. If you have the resources, a small kennel from which pup graduates to a bigger one works well. (Hosing dog mess out of a kennel is much easier if you don’t have to deal with a sloppy cardboard box!) The kennel cleaning stage should last only a short while.

Crate training starts on pup’s first trip away from mom and littermates at seven weeks of age. Plan a few days off work for puppy’s homecoming to allow quality time with the little guy to help him acclimate. Pup should ride in his kennel on a towel or blanket which was rubbed on mom before leaving. Expect him to urinate on it in the next few hours. Take a roll of paper towels - you’ll probably need them. It’s best to pull over every couple of hours to put the pup on the ground. If he eliminates, give plenty of praise and rubs. Get into the habit NOW of calmly but firmly commanding "kennel" as you set pup back in and close the door. Follow with verbal praise.

Give no water unless the drive is more than six hours. Unless it’s over twelve hours, don’t feed him during the trip. Pup’s next meal should be in his new dining room - his kennel. When home, immediately take pup to a selected outdoor bathroom location. If he goes, give lots of praise.

Pick a secure "family spot" for pup’s kennel where he’ll hang out while the family does their thing. A family room may work well. Locate a water dish nearby and keep it filled at all times with fresh, clean water. DO NOT PUT THE WATER DISH IN PUP’S KENNEL. Pup’s lesson is that when left in his kennel, he should relax until someone gets home to give him relief. Water in the kennel will encourage drinking out of boredom and interfere with his learning to "hold it" until relief arrives.

Pup’s scheduled mealtimes are training opportunities. Soon he’ll learn to love the sound of dry dog food " clanging" in a stainless dish, and he’ll dash for the kennel. Carrying his dish of food, call him by name as you place it in the kennel. Put pup inside while commanding "Kennel" and give verbal praise . The pup will quickly learn to dive in, stubby tail wagging, as he cleans his plate. Give pup five minutes to work on his food. After that, take it away. Pup will see food again at his next feeding time. Go with three feedings per day as prescribed on the chow label. When he’s finished, take pup outside. When he does his business, he should receive plenty of praise. Continue to feed all meals in pup’s kennel, commanding "kennel" when he’s to enter.

Your children can actually help in kennel training! They must understand that when pup is in his kennel HE IS TO ALWAYS BE LEFT ALONE! Puppies tend to play outside the kennel, only to suddenly suffer a sleepiness attack. Then they’ll crash on the floor whenever and wherever this hits them. Growing up with kids, pups learn that when they lie down, kids want more playtime and will keep them awake. Pup will quickly learn that when he’s had enough he can head to his kennel for refuge and a nap.

Being single with no kids, I calmly scoop pup’s belly off the floor and put him on his feet when he crashes, gradually guiding him toward his kennel. After a few repetitions, he’ll take a diving Pete Rose slide into his kennel for a snooze! Whenever pup kennels voluntarily, always command "kennel" as he enters and follow with praise.

In the first few days at home, pup should spend short periods alone in his kennel. Gradually, extend his solitary times over the next couple days. He should always go outside to relieve himself before being kenneled (don’t forget to praise). ALWAYS remove pup’s collar before leaving him alone in the kennel. I know of two different occasions where new pup owners returned home to find a dead puppy, hanging by its collar. Pup should then be taken to his crate and told "kennel" as he hops or is placed in. (OK, I admit I cheat here. For the first few weeks I give a small chip of dog biscuit AFTER PUP IS IN THE KENNEL AND I’VE LATCHED THE DOOR.) This is the only time that I use a "treat" for dog training, and it lasts for just a few weeks. Pup will rapidly learn to leap into the kennel when commanded.

Start pup with thirty minutes alone. When you return, immediately take him out to relieve himself. Don’t check the answering machine or the mail until after pup has gone out. As with all dog training, be consistent. Pup’s lesson here is that if he holds it, relief will come. Now and forever, if pup "goes" in his kennel - don’t make an issue. Simply remove him and clean up - that’s all. Pup learns on his own that the kennel is the wrong place to take a "rest stop." The incentive to "hold it" is self- induced as he endures some unpleasant sessions waiting in his kennel after an accident. Try a towel or a blanket for a mattress. Some do well. However, if he’s like my old Lab Champ was as a pup, he’ll shred any bedding he’s given. This can lead to dangerous intestinal blockage (plus towels aren’t cheap). Champ spent his first two years sleeping on the bare kennel floor. He did well on this plan.

If you must, provide one large nylabone for pup during crate time. (This may be helpful during teething). Multiple toys, food, or rawhide are no-no’s! I leave nothing for my kenneled pups. The goal here is for the student to learn to relax when left alone. Encouraging chewing in the kennel may promote undesirable habits.

Gradually increase the time pup is left alone. Remember: a seven-to- sixteen week old puppy has a maximum six hour capacity to "hold it." Until pup is four-to-five months old, he must be let out after four-to-six hours. Hire an assistant to let pup out at lunch time if you can’t make it home. Make sure that the helper is consistent in using the same commands and sequence that you use in kenneling, feeding, etc.

For the first couple weeks, set your alarm when you go to bed and let pup out after three-to-five hours of sleeping in his kennel. He’s learning that this is his spot for sleep, and he won’t want to soil his own bed. You must show up frequently enough for pup to know that relief will come, and if he holds it, life is much more pleasant.

This program is the best for any Retriever pup that lives in the house. This is also THE LOWEST RISK method to condition the hunting pup to gunfire. (Gun-shy dogs are made, not born!) After pup loves mealtime and enthusiastically leaps into his kennel, (I wait until twelve weeks of age) he’s ready to associate a loud bang with pleasure. Using a .22 caliber blank pistol with crimp ammo, begin pup’s mealtime as normal. As pup chows down, go outside and pop off one round (Having an assistant shoot while you watch pup is even better). Pup may lift his head. As soon as pup resumes feeding, tail wagging, give verbal praise. Reading pup’s reactions, continue one shot session during a mealtime per day, gradually getting a few feet closer to pup. If pup shows any signs of stress or discomfort, IGNORE IT! DO NOT "CODDLE" PUP AND REINFORCE THIS REACTION. Eventually, you’ll be shooting over pup’s head as he happily cleans the bowl without flinching!

A Lab shouldn’t have to be muzzled unless he’s been injured and is trying to bite, confusing the pain with someone’s attempts to give first aid. If only I’d written this plan for the stranger at the schoolyard… and more importantly, for his poor yellow Lab.

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