By Rhett Kermicle
You’ve probably often heard that it’s a good idea to “crate train” your hunting dog. A dog that accepts his crate or travel kennel as a pleasant place is much easier to manage when you’re on a trip. If you don’t have your dog in an outdoor run, a crate can also provide a safe place to keep your dog when you’re away from home for a few hours. This is a better option than leaving him loose in the house or garage where, as most people find out the hard way, a dog will figure out a way to get into trouble if you’re not there to watch him.
Training your dog that his crate is a pleasant place has benefits that go far beyond your convenience, however. The simple command, “kennel,” has a hunting application as well. That’s because training a dog to go away from you and toward an object in the field is just as important as teaching him to come when called. For example, pointing dogs should have no reservations about getting out and away from their owner in the field. For retriever owners, the simple process of teaching a dog to go away and into a crate is a great first step in teaching the concept of blind retrieves.
Teaching a dog to enter his kennel starts early. Every time you put your pup in his crate, praise him and give him a treat. It won’t take long for him to think of his crate as a good place to be. The next step is to get him to run into his kennel from a distance. Start with the dog on a check cord and stand 3 to 4 feet away from the kennel. Lead him in with the check cord and reward him.
After a couple sessions of this, you can add an electronic collar to the process. Without giving a command, apply the lowest stimulation you know your dog can feel and lead him into the kennel with the check cord. It’s very important to use a collar with ultra-low, easily adjustable correction levels. I prefer the SportDOG Brand® e-collars because they allow this. You are not supposed to be punishing the dog. Instead low-level stimulation becomes his cue to head to his crate. As soon as his front feet are in the kennel, turn off the stimulation. Repeat the process over several days, gradually moving back to 25 feet. If you’ve progressed out to that distance gradually, the dog should be happily running into his kennel, which he now sees as a safe zone.
Finally, you can add the command, “Kennel,” to the process. But the word isn’t really what’s important here. What matters is that you have taught your dog to go away from you on command and that the dog doesn’t think of you as the safe zone. In the field, your dog will quickly come to associate “Back” or “Hunt ‘em up” or whatever other commands you want to use as his cue to go away from you.
An additional point to remember during this phase of your dog’s training is to continue working on other commands your dog already knows at the same time. You want to keep your dog “balanced,” responding to all commands equally well. You don’t want your dog to go away every time you use an e-collar because there will be times when you need him to come back to you on cue as well.
As with all dog-training programs, teaching your dog to go away is a step that builds upon previous exercises. I’ve been archiving information to take you through the training process.