by Gary Koehler
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a dog trainer was accompanied by an exclamation point.
"Get a crate!" George Daniels told me one midwinter morning many years ago while I was visiting his upland game hunting club. My German shorthair pup had been wreaking havoc in our house, chewing on shoes and socks and just about anything else he could latch onto. Nick was also somewhat slow to learn that toilet duties were best done outside.
"Some people think they're being mean to their dog when they put it in a crate," Daniels said. "But the truth is just the opposite. If you crate train a dog the right way, it's going to want to go in there. The crate becomes its home, not a cage."
A week later, I invested a hundred dollars in a wire crate. Within days there were no more indoor messes to clean up. Nick was happy. I was happy. And my wife was happier yet.
Daniels advised me to introduce the crate slowly. Lesson number one was to make the crate desirable to the dog, and not to shove him in there as punishment. "You want to make it a place the dog wants to go, not a place that the dog associates with you hollering at him," Daniels said. "It shouldn't be a prison."
The next step was to put a blanket in the bottom of the crate. The door was never shut behind him when Nick ventured inside on his own. On occasion, we'd leave a treat or two in the crate.
It was not long before Nick started going into his crate for a nap. And because dogs seldom mess up where they sleep or eat, he instinctively did not soil the inside. We started latching the door, but never kept him inside the crate for more than a couple of hours, except at bedtime.
Once Nick became accustomed to this sleeping arrangement, it was easy to introduce the "kennel" command. I would open the door, give the verbal cue, and reward him with a small biscuit when he entered. Dogs like to follow directions when they know there's going to be something in it for them. The kennel command could later be used to instruct Nick to enter vehicles, boats, and duck blinds.
When the family went out for the evening, or a day at the ballpark, Nick was placed in his crate with a small bowl of water that clipped to the side. The door was locked. This ensured he would not chew on electric cords, my daughters' toys, or anything else that might harm him.
When we had a houseful of people, Nick was sequestered in his crate, often much to his relief. He didn't have to put up with the noise, foot traffic, and chaos common to large gatherings of family and friends. And we did not have to worry about him pestering anyone.
While the wire crate provided Nick unrestricted viewing, which he liked, and was efficient in its purpose, it was also bulky and relatively heavy. So just prior to Nick's first hunting season, I purchased a molded plastic crate that fit in the back of our vehicle. This kept him safe—and off my lap—while we were on the road.
Plastic crates provide the same protection and are the canine carriers of choice for air travel. They are also somewhat lighter in weight and leakproof if water is spilled or the dog has an accident.
When shopping for a crate, look for one that will comfortably accommodate your dog—when full grown—while he's lying down on his side. Anything less and the dog will feel cramped, and that's not a good thing.
"A crate," Daniels reminded me, "should be a place your dog can go for peace and privacy. Dogs like to get away, too, sometimes. That crate becomes its special place."
These days, my Chessie is seldom kenneled when I am at home. The only exception is when people stop by (so she doesn't bother anyone). She is, however, always in her crate when we travel. She's protected from serious injury, and I don't have to worry about her getting into anything. She's made many road trips since she was 10 weeks old, so she never makes a sound while inside.
Kennel training—done right—will make life easier. And much safer and more enjoyable for your dog.
Dogs are considered live cargo and most are shipped in an airplane's cargo hold. Purchase an airline-approved crate if you plan to travel with your retriever.