Good kennel manners help the dogs show well to potential adopters.. Regardless of how well-behaved a dog is outside its kennel, dogs who jump, spin, bark, gate climb, or are very difficult to get in/out of their kennel have a much harder time getting adopted than dogs who are polite on approach and manageable entering/exiting. The kennel is where the majority of adopters see the dogs so we need to help them look their best in the space that’s serving as their temporary home.
Your initial approach to the kennel is both a training opportunity for the dog and your first opportunity to gain their trust. Your body language helps the dog understand right away that you are a friend, which is especially important for our fearful pups!
The rule is simple: only approach the kennel when the dog has “four on the floor”, whether standing, sitting, or laying) quietly. As you approach, if the dog isn’t doing one of those behaviors, stop and turn your back. Resume your approach as soon as the dog has resumed four paws on the floor, but continue only as long as the dog remains quiet.
Your body language as you approach matters too. First, check your posture, facial tension, and breathing. Are you stiff? Breathing tensely or rapidly? Soften your body and soften your face. You should appear confident but relaxed. If in doubt, take a deep breath and exhale, try yawning, and give your whole body a little wiggle to loosen up. As you approach, avoid constant, direct eye contact, something considered rude rude in the dog world.
Remember that “four on the floor” rule? It applies for every single step. Enter the kennel only if the dog is sitting (or standing calmly, depending how far along they are in learning kennel routine) quietly. On kennel doors that open inward, block the entrance with your body as you enter and close the door behind you. If the kennel door only opens outward (AAC kennels in 300-500 rows), close the dog into one side of the kennel and enter through the other, opening the guillotine with your hand after you have entered. You may also use a slip lead if needed to prevent any potential door darting or loose dog incidents or toss treats into the back of the kennel and enter as the dogs moves away from the door to eat them.
Expect four on the floor for leashing and harnessing too. The leash goes away anytime a dog gets jumpy or mouthy during the leashing process. As you put a dog’s equipment on, try to avoid looming over them or engaging in restraint or body posture that can be interpreted as threatening. This is especially important for fearful dogs, dogs unfamiliar with touch, or easily overstimulated dogs.
In the final stage of kennel routine, dogs should sit and wait until released to exit the kennel, even with the door open. As they learn, however, we can scaffold them. On the first run through, we may only ask that they stand politely as we open the door. Next time, we may ask for a sit before finally progressing to wait. To train this, we slice our exit routine into baby steps. First, we may just lift our hand to the door. If this is too much for the dog, we will take our hand down until they resume their position. We repeat this process as we move to the latch, opening the door just a bit, opening the door to exit, and releasing the dog with the word “free.”
Each step will get faster as dogs learn their kennel routine and what is expected of them. The goal is a dog who sits politely for approach, leashing/harnessing and exit, making your time together more enjoyable and leaving a great impression on adopters.