Kennel train your dog to prevent behavioral issues

Brindle and white American pitbull terrier with pink collar

Before agreeing to foster Vixen, I was informed about her issues with being in a kennel and left home alone. I know that in order to increase her chances of finding a permanent home soon, I need to work with her on kennel training.

If more people would train their puppies to stay in a kennel, a lot of behavioral issues would be prevented from the start. Many people make the mistake of letting their dogs have too much freedom when home alone. Obviously, this gives dogs the chance to bark, destroy property, go to the bathroom indoors, injure themselves or other pets and develop “separation anxiety” where they become conditioned to feel anxious when left alone.

Many dogs end up being re-homed, abandoned or surrendered because of the damage they cause when left alone. I can totally understand this because I would not want to live with a dog that destroyed things or barked nonstop whenever I left. Training a dog to stay in a kennel prevents all of these issues, assuming the dog is not left in the kennel for unfair amounts of time. When a dog barks when left alone, two of the best things to do are increase the dog’s exercise and reinforce kennel training.

A common question people ask when looking to adopt a homeless dog is, “How is she in a kennel?”

When I was looking for a dog to adopt, one of the main reasons I picked Ace was because he had been kennel trained since he was a puppy. I lived in an apartment and worked 10-hour shifts. It was very important to have a dog that could be left home alone and trusted. Adopting a dog that wasn’t kennel trained was not an option.

Unfortunately, many of the dogs in shelters and rescue programs are not kennel trained, and that’s why they end up abandoned in the first place.

Vixen is in the rescue program because her last owner said she had “separation anxiety.”

Dog separation anxiety is an overused term

For 90 percent of dogs that have issues with being alone, all the dog really needs is more exercise, some chew toys and a safe, comfortable place to stay like a small room or a crate.

I have been leaving Vixen alone in my laundry room for up to four hours with plenty of her own things to chew and a big dog bed to sleep on. I make sure she gets a good walk before I leave her. I turn the radio on and don’t make a big deal about leaving. I also leave Ace near her in his kennel so she knows she’s not alone. The dogs can see, hear and smell each other, but they can’t touch each other.

Vixen can be left home alone with Ace and as far as I know, she does not bark, cry, scratch at the door or chew anything she is not supposed to. 

Just to be sure, today I plan on taking her for a longer run this morning and then recording her when I leave to make sure she is not barking or scratching. I will also ask my neighbors if they ever hear anything. There’s nothing like introducing yourself with, “Hi, I’m Lindsay. I live next door. Do you ever hear my dog barking?”

I don’t know Vixen’s full story, but I’m guessing her last owner tried leaving her in a kennel but gave up when Vixen barked. She probably left her loose in the house without controlling the environment much and without walking her first. All Vixen really needs is a quick 20-minute walk twice a day. She is low energy and walks at a relaxed pace behind Ace and I.

Kennel training

I don’t know if something bad happened to Vixen in a kennel or if she is just scared of them because she was never properly introduced. Either way, when I put her in a kennel and leave, she pants, barks, cries and claws at the door. The behavior does not stop if I ignore it or scold her. Since I share walls with my neighbors, this is a big problem.

Instead of feeling sorry for Vixen, one of my projects is to slowly get her used to being in a kennel and being left alone. This is a good idea for any dog that doesn’t like to be crated, because there are always times when it’s handy to leave your dog in one. Vixen will have an easier time finding a home if she can stay in a kennel for short periods without barking and build from there.

She is more comfortable in a wire crate versus the plastic, enclosed version. I put a wire crate in my home office beside my desk. Whenever I am at my computer for an extended period of time, Vixen goes in the kennel next to me. She has no problem with this. She can see me and realizes I am not going anywhere. She does not make a sound or try to get out. She just looks at me and then curls up and falls asleep. I am able to move in and out of the room for short periods and she stays calm.

I also feed Vixen while she is in her crate and give her treats and things to chew so being in there is a positive experience.

The next step is to increase the time I am away from Vixen, always returning to give her praise and treats whenever she is quiet. With Vixen, it’s best to ignore her if she does start barking. She wags her tail and gets more excited when I yell because she is so happy I’m near her and paying attention to her. This is true with most dogs.

All Vixen needs is time and patience. She would do so much better in an actual house rather than a townhome setting where I live. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if she barked when left alone in a kennel if the neighbors couldn’t hear.

I can’t wait for Vixen to find her own home because she will make such a great dog for the right family. One thing she loves to do is sneak up onto the bed (which I don’t allow!). She also makes herself very comfortable on any dog bed, pillow or blanket she is offered and will stay there, content, for hours.

If you are interested in adopting Vixen, send me an email at Lindsay@thatmutt.com. 2/12/09 update: Vixen got adopted last month!

29 thoughts on “Kennel train your dog to prevent behavioral issues”

  1. I’ve met many dogs that feel safe and comfortable when they have a kennel. I have a kennel for Gus, but he is in NO WAY kennel trained. His size makes it quite difficult and the cats have taken it over as their new home. They really love it!

    Oh and yes, separation anxiety can definitely be attributed to boredom in many cases. The dog is home alone and curious…hmm…what can they get in to?

  2. We love our kennels here! I don’t think we’d be able to manage our multiple dog household very well without them. Even our 4 1/2 mo. old puppy, Layla loves her kennel. She just runs right in at mealtimes and bedtimes and waits for us to catch up. LOL They are a wonderful tool for training.

    However, as you mentioned they can’t replace exercise and other training, they are just one of many useful tools to use in addition.

  3. My last two dogs have been kennel trained from the day I brought them home, and it wonderful. They love their kennel, and always know when it is time to go to bed! My Jack Russell Terrier knows every morning that when I pick up my purse, I am leaving for work and he is already in his crate waiting for his cookie. I would never not crate train a dog again

  4. You are doing such good things for Vixen. I love hearing how much care you are taking with her even though she isn’t going to be your dog in the end. Someone will appreciate the love and care you have shown her when they adopt her I’m sure!

    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating! If I ever do get a dog of my own – I will come back and reference your blog for tips on training my dog the right way!! I wish my neighbors would read your insightful posts! We have many near-by dogs who are left alone and bark ALL day!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your post and the comments! Biggie’s breeder trained them with the kennel since they were teeny pups, and it has been a lifesaver in many instances. It’s not a panacea by any stretch, but it does help.

    It is so key to have the crate be a positive experience from day 1 – nothing bad, only good, happens in the crate. Now Biggie goes in there to rest when he feels like it, and he is always fed in it (with a raw diet it makes cleanup much easier!). He will even choose the plastic unlined floor of the crate over a carpet or dog bed. (We tried putting crate pads in there but he actually moves them out of the way as if they are toys)

  6. You’re right. Separation anxiety is so commonly misdiagnosed. It irks me how much I see vets prescribing meds for separation anxiety when all the dog has is no training.

  7. Vixen is such a lucky dog to have someone so understanding to foster her. I hope she finds a forever home before your neighbors get too cranky. I got all my dogs as adults and have never used a crate, but I you make a great argument.

  8. I agree that separation anxiety is used far too lightly and, when it is accurate, it is all too often addressed with meds. When we adopted our golden retriever mix, she had been placed in two different homes and both times returned the next day because she cried at night when both homes locked her alone in their garage. 🙁 The people at the shelter told us she suffered from severe separation anxiety and gave us a prescription for xanax, telling us that she would never be calm or happy without it! We put the xanax in a drawer and haven’t ever had to give her a single one, thanks to crate training, exercise, and positive reinforcement.

  9. Kennel training is unbelievably important! I think that dog Marley (Marley and Me) would have had about 80% of his issues fixed by crate training. The rest seems to fall in place.

    Good luck with your foster.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    Saint Lover, I SO agree with you! When I read Marley And Me, all I was thinking was, get this dog a crate!

  11. Lindsay Stordahl

    Wow Kari, that is great that the golden retriever mix finally ended up with you. Imagine what her life would’ve been like otherwise. Poor dog. The problem is, a lot of vets realize most people aren’t willing to work with a dog, and sometimes the options are drugs, euthanasia or giving the dog up. Any suggestions for Vixen?

  12. With Maggie, we found her very favorite treat (the Ziggie chews that go in a Kong) and made sure the only time she got them was in her kennel. Also, although she had received no training from her previous home, it turned out that she LOVED learning and practicing her new skills, so we practiced the sit, down, and stay (or “wait”, in our case) commands in her kennel. We worked on the stay for longer times while we moved farther from her kennel each time. Eventually, we were able to leave the room with her in her kennel (and the door open), while she waited patiently for an extra-yummy treat. Her rewards for working in her kennel were also food and *calm* praise, as we are still trying to never associate excitement with the kennel.

  13. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks Kari. Vixen likes to practice stay and sit commands as well, so I will practice having her stay in the kennel for a few seconds at a time with the door open like you did. Then build on the time.

  14. I was Vixen’s old owner. I hated to give her up but it was for many reason. I read your blog and I was a little upset. Please do not make assumptions on the way I treated her. That was a very happy time in my life and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.

  15. Lindsay Stordahl

    Point taken, Ashley. I’m glad you still care about Vixen and think about her every day. She is a great dog.

  16. Great post, Lindsay. I’ve never had luck with crate training but maybe I will try again.

    Vixen is such a beautiful dog and I can tell she will make someone a wonderful companion. The pits I’ve met have been some of the sweetest dogs ever.

    Ashley, I’m so sorry you had to give Vixen up – I know that must have been hard. She would not be the sweet and loving dog she obviously is if you had not treated her well. If you love your dog you have to do what you think is best for her, even if sometimes that means giving her up.

  17. I have a very high strung and vocal dog with separation anxiety. I’ve had the best luck with desensitization therapy, a lot like what you’re doing with Vixen. I leave for very short times and pop my head back in as soon as he stops barking. I do it a million times, slowly increasing the amount of time he can’t see me. I can spy on him through a window, and eventually he finally gets tired of standing watch at the door, figures I’m coming back anyway, and goes to lie down. At that point I can either come back inside to reward him for being calm or leave and I know he won’t bark. But I don’t give him any treats when I come back inside – I don’t want to give him another reason to get excited about my coming home.

    Along with leaving him with a tasty chew like a bully stick when I leave, desensitization has helped a lot. I also have another very calm dog, and I think that helps calm him down a bit, too.

  18. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks for the encouragement, Melissa. Lots of dogs would benefit if people learned to do exactly what you are doing. Just to give myself and others an idea, how long have you been working on this? It certainly does not happen over night, but over several weeks and months, depending on the dog.

  19. Great article. Exercise is key in so many behavior problems, and often overlooked. If the dog can’t get rid of his pent up energy, he or she will probably turn to releasing it in other ways which the owner doesn’t like. People who adopt a dog need to do their homework and take on the responsibility, whatever it takes, to make the dog well adjusted; this is especially true if adopting a dog that has been abused, abandoned or turned over to a shelter for any reason as they come with troubles from their past, but they can be worked through with patience. Thanks for helping spread the word.

  20. Lindsay Stordahl

    Hey Chris, thanks for your input. Many people aren’t prepared for this when they adopt a dog, especially a puppy or a dog from a shelter. That’s why so many dogs end up with “separation anxiety.” People do not properly exercise their new dogs or condition them to feel comfortable being left alone in a new environment.

  21. Hi Lindsay, I bought a 20 mth old female Cocker, last week, who was an outside dog. She escapes from the wire kennel when I leave and I’ve since made it impossible for her to get out with extra locks. I’ve been working with her like Melissa said leaving for short periods of time then increases the time I’m gone. How long do you think it will take to make her less anxious? Also, I am at work 9 hrs a day and would hope eventually be able to leave her out of the kennel. Would you share your thoughts? Thank you.

  22. Lindsay Stordahl

    It will probably take months for her anxiety to completely go away if you stay consistent with her. I wouldn’t try leaving her loose for at least 6 months, but maybe you could leave her in one bedroom or a small room like a laundry room after a few months. You just have to start small and build from there. As long as she does OK, you can keep giving her more freedom.

    I wouldn’t make a big deal when you leave. Just put her in there maybe 20 minutes before you leave for work and then leave the house without saying anything. A radio or TV playing should help some. I recommend recording her to see how long she actually barks and cries after you leave, as well.

    It’s important not to yell at her or scold her when she’s in the kennel. Try to make the kennel as positive as possible. Kong toys filled with peanut butter work great! You can stick them in the freezer for awhile so the peanut butter freezes and lasts longer.

    And take her for long walks before work every day.

    Good luck!

  23. This is a great post. My little Chihuahua Teddy is having separation anxiety issues my wife and I are trying to work through.

    I read another great post on dog separation anxiety yesterday on my.arfie.com – take a look my.arfie.com/profiles/blogs/the-first-10-minutes-coping

    I think working with a dog to train him through the process is key., Leave the house for a bit to test him, try a webcam to keep an eye from the neighbors house.

    Somethings got to work – until then I’m gonna keep on trying 🙂

  24. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks Taylor. I checked out that link. There’s some great advice there. They key is to slowly build up the time you are away, starting with just a few seconds.

    Good luck with your Chihuahua! Let me know how it goes!

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