How Can I Teach My Little Dog to Like His Carrier?
Q. I have a new puppy, a small breed that will fit in a carrier bag. How can I train him to like going in his carrier?
A. By making it pleasant and rewarding even while making it clear that it’s not optional. Little dogs are allowed to have their own way far too often, on account of their off-the-charts adorability. But more than a few of these darling puppies grow up to be little tyrants, and that can lead to many problems. Since the popularity of "purse dogs” took off, more than a few little dogs have been allowed to grow up thinking it’s OK to snap when they’re not happy.
Reward-based methods work well, as does setting a fair framework for good behavior. Little dogs need manners just like big dogs do, and that means learning to accept restraint and confinement.
While there are those who think crates and carriers are cruel, there are real benefits to using these training tools appropriately (and not overusing them, of course). These benefits make being comfortable in a crate or carrier one of the most important things you can teach your dog.
Start by getting your puppy used to seeing and being around the carrier, until it’s just another piece of furniture on the floor. Play, praise and treat your puppy for being around it and in it, both with the door open and, briefly, with the doors closed. Pair a word with the act of entering the carrier — “carrier,” “in” and “load up” are some options — and then reward when the puppy goes in. When he makes the connection, double up on the treats and praise until he always thinks going in on cue is the best thing in the world. Work up to longer periods with the flap closed, then get your puppy used to the sensation of the carrier being lifted and moved around.
He should catch on soon enough, and once he does, don’t let him ignore you when you ask him to enter the carrier. Be patient and consistent, and always, always reward for the behavior you want. My daughter, Vetstreet dog trainer Mikkel Becker, has some additional pointers for crate training fearful dogs.
And as always, if you run into training or behavior problems, talk to your dog's veterinarian.