D EAR OLD TRAINER: Enjoyed reading your column in the Sun-Star about the Samoyed and cold weather. Max, my 10-year-old male Chesapeake retriever, refuses to sleep in his doghouse. He sleeps out under some large redwoods and ignores the rain. Should I try to encourage him to use the doghouse?
Dear Ken: It is good idea to entice Max – or any dog – to use his doghouse so he knows it’s there if he needs it. Some breeds, like that Samoyed in Wyoming, are warm and cozy sleeping in a snow bank. Max stretches out under a tree and sleeps in the rain. And some dogs don’t use a doghouse because they don’t know what it is.
Look at it from the dog’s viewpoint. He sees a new something-or-other in the yard, but has no idea what it is. He doesn’t automatically think, “Hey, look at that. A house designed by humans for a dog to live in. Since they went to all that trouble I will move right in.”
All dogs like doghouses, but may not know it until they go in one. When they do, it satisfies an urge buried in their DNA for a cave where they can retreat and watch the world go by without anyone seeing them.
Your job is to show Max what it is and how to use it.
The first step is to make sure it is comfortable. Every dog prefers to sleep on a soft bed. Put down a inch of newspaper (insulation), then add soft mats that will not absorb water. The blue ones used in exercise classes are perfect. Add six inches of straw on top of that. Replace the straw once a month.
Make sure it is the right size. Too big or too small and a dog will refuse to use it. It has to be big enough for him to stretch out, but small enough his body can heat it.
Location is important. Place the doghouse close to the area where you come and go and where Max can keep track of what is going on in the big house.
Do anything you can think of to get him to try the house. Place something with your scent on it and something of his inside the house. Place his daily meal just inside the house. As you put the food down say, “in your house.” Love on him when he sticks his head inside to eat.
Praise him and love on him, and repeat the command every time you see him inside and every time you feed him.
He will eventually go in on command, but that doesn’t mean he will sleep inside. If he rejects it, stay patient and keep working with him. He may think he doesn’t want or need a doghouse, but he will learn to enjoy it in extreme weather and that’s really all you want him to do.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.