Crate-training is important for obvious reasons with a puppy. You want him to understand whether he’s at home, or in the truck heading down the road, that he has his place to be. Not only is this convenient for you as the pup’s owner, but it’s also a great way to keep him safe.
Teaching the kennel command to a youngster is easy enough, and at first should happen at home. But before you start, remember that the idea is to not only get the dog to understand what you’re telling him, but also to create a positive association with his crate.
I do this by placing some kibble inside the crate and then giving the kennel command and gesturing toward the crate. Any pup with an ounce of food drive is going to dive into the kennel to get to the calories. This starts the positive association, but I also like to take it a step further by feeding him in the kennel.
Keep in mind that these steps are best for young puppies, and eventually you’ll want to replace the treats with a praise-based reward. Also, remember that the kennel command is used to tell your dog to get into something, not just his crate. You might use this eventually to tell him to get into the backseat of your SUV or truck, and this command should not be confused with “place,” which tells him to get onto something.
Over time, you should see it click with your dog when you offer up the command that it’s time to get into something. When that happens, you’ll want to start incorporating a release command to let him know when he can get out. You don’t want a dog that barrels out of his crate, or leaps off of your tailgate every time he sees an opening.
You want a dog that understands that even though the door to his crate has been opened, he’s not to bust out of there until he hears his release command. This isn’t just good manners; it’s also a safety driven rule.
When you try to enforce this at first, your pup will try to come out as soon as the door opens. I just lightly bump their nose with the door until they back up, and then say my release command. As soon as I do, I open the door and let them out. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that they need to wait.
The good news about this step of the process is that you can work on it in your living room or the backyard. Simply kennel the dog, open the door, and see where his steadiness is at. If he stays in there while you can walk a few feet (or more) away, then your dog is getting it. If not, keep working.
Eventually, you should be able to work this in-house or yard drill and see that your dog will stay inside his crate until told otherwise. At this point, up the ante in the yard and toss a dummy that he can see. If he stays, you’re doing well. If he bolts, don’t worry. It’s part of the process and you need to take a step back and work on his crate manners. Over time, you should be able to run all kinds of distractions by him without worrying that he’ll leave his crate.
In-Field Kennel Commands
As you’ve been training your dog to understand when to get into—and out of—his travel crate, you’ve actually been pulling double-duty because the dog will have a jumpstart on how to behave in the field, which is important if you plan to use him for waterfowl field work.
When training for this, the same rules apply, but heed my advice here: Do not introduce your dog to a field blind the morning of a hunt. Introduce this well in advance of opening morning, and let him get used to the new thing he’ll be asked to enter and stay in.
If you try this when the excitement of a hunt is going on, he’ll break. A lot.
Instead, give it some backyard time and work through the intro, the dummies, and the whole process. As with all dog training, they just need to grow comfortable with new things and develop supreme confidence around whatever we are asking of them. This takes time, and an eye toward baby steps that start simple and eventually end up closely mimicking what they’ll experience during a hunt.
Adding in new, more exciting environments, duck calls, blank guns, decoys, etc. will all work to show your dog what it’s going to be like to hunt from a field blind, without the pressure (yet) of actually hunting. This might seem like overkill, but it’s not. You want your dog to understand what is expected of him throughout a hunt, and the best way to do that is through well-planned and controlled training drills.
When you do take your dog out hunting for the first time, keep in mind that if he can’t see the action, he’ll start creeping. Dogs figure out quickly that they can loophole the crate thing by keeping a toe-nail inside while the rest of their body is outside where the view is better. Give your dog the best chance to see the action, so that he doesn’t feel compelled to slither his way out of the blind while technically (sort of) staying obedient.
Whether your dog will ever hunt ducks and geese from a field blind or not, your dog should still understand the kennel command and when he is free to leave his crate. Throughout a bird dog’s life, both will be used hundreds of times, and if you establish this correctly from the puppy stage, you’ll both be better off at home and in the field.