Ensure a smooth start to your vacation by properly introducing your pet to their travel carrier.
If the only time Mr. Boots sees a crate is before he’s swept out the door for a hospital visit or flight, he’s unlikely to think fondly of that crate next time it appears. The formal name for this learning process is known as classical conditioning, a term that perhaps evokes some vague idea involving slobbering dogs and a bell-ringing dude named Pavlov. But essentially, classical conditioning is all about creating associations, and it applies to virtually all animals (humans included).
The idea then, is to instil positive associations for our furry family members, so they feel great about their crate from the get-go. Here’s how.
Find the right travel carrier. You’ll want something just large enough for your dog or cat to stand up, lie down, and turn around in. The crate should be inviting, so include a blanket that she can settle down onto.
Present the crate well before your travel date (for multiple pets, each one should have their own carrier). Place the crate in a high-traffic area, such as your living room or kitchen so it’s not seen as solitary confinement. For cats, you may want to find a quieter environment depending on their temperament. Either way, the crate should not be seen as punishment. Putting it beside the couch in the living room while you’re bingeing on a Netflix, is one easy option.
Open the door, toss in a few treat s. Do this when your pet isn’t looking so they can discover these goodies on their own, as though the crate is a magical portal to awesome things. Let them explore as they please, without closing the door yet. If they’re ignoring the carrier, that’s okay. Just leave it out.
The next day, feed your pet their regular meal in their dish, but inside the crate. For those who are still hesitant, you can place their food right outside the crate door, before gradually inching it closer.
After a few meals in the crate, you may start to notice your pet waiting expectantly for their grub, near or even inside the crate (classical conditioning at work). Now you can begin to close the door, a few seconds at a time.
Add duration. Stuffing a toy (such as a Kong) with food will keep your pet occupied for some time. Start to leave them in the crate with the door closed for longer periods, beginning with a few minutes depending on how they’re doing. You can also leave the room briefly. Periodically, if your dog or cat is calm, open the door. However, don’t let them out if they begin pawing or vocalizing. Wait until they've settled down before opening the door.
By following these steps, you should have a pet that is calm, if not eager, next time you break out the crate.
As with any type of training, set your pet up for success with easy-to-achieve goals, gradually increasing the complexity. And remember, each step of the process should be a fun experience. If it’s not enjoyable for you, it won’t be for them.