Using the click and treat method of training I was able teach my basenji Sage, in one 20 minute session, how to enter a 21” x 11” x 13” collapsible space, turn around and lie quietly, and so can you. I suggest you begin by familiarizing yourself with the click and treat method of training. Once your ‘senji understands the click and treat concept you are ready to tackle the Sherpa (or any wannabe like) bag.
In a quiet room I set the bag on the ground, with the door open, and allowed Sage to acquaint herself. After a minute or two I showed Sage the yummy (and I do mean yummy!) treat in my hand and proceeded to put this hand through the opening of the bag to the back. Sage of course wanted said treat and proceeded in, head first. At this time she was clicked and treated. I did this a few more times before I upped the requirements needed for a treat: the whole body inside. Since I was not getting the desired behavior after several attempts, I decided to speed things up manually. I would lure her in with the food filled hand, give her a few minutes to go completely in on her own, and then proceed to gently stuff the rest of her in with my opposite hand if she didn’t. As soon as her whole body entered she was clicked and treated. After a few more times of this she eventually caught on and went in by herself. At the same time she offered the next required behavior of turning around which meant she was immediately clicked and treated and jackpot-ed. To jack pot a dog is to give them a ton of treats for one simple behavior. This is a good way of getting them to offer the behavior again. Sure enough Sage started to go in by herself and turn around. I now only needed the down, which was easy enough to get for as soon as she turned around she would stand, waiting for the click (and treat). All I had to do was tell her down at this time, keep her from exiting the bag and click her when she complied. By the end of the session Sage would enter, turnaround and lie down in the bag when told.
After another session on another day, I started to add a word command to the exercise, “bed”. I could eventually tell her “Sage, bed” and she would crawl inside and curl up. Only after she was doing all the required parts consistently did I begin to close the door on her. I immediately clicked and treated her being inside and would push treats through a small opening I left for that very purpose. I wanted her to have only positive connotations with the bag. To her the bag meant an unending supply of treats and she was more than happy to hang out inside of it. In the beginning I would not make her stay inside with the door closed any longer than a few seconds – I had to work up to a longer length of time. Eventually I would have her crawl inside and stay quiet for several hours under the drawer of my desk (to simulate being under a seat) while I worked at my computer. I would periodically unzip the door a crack and push a jackpot of treats to her.
This early training became invaluable when it came time to fly to BCOA Nationals. The ticket counter staff requested that Sage be put into her bag so that they could verify that she could indeed fit as well as turnaround and lie comfortably. At the same time I was telling her “Sage, bed” a pilot stopped to watch. The pilot was very impressed with her willingness to go in and made the comment that she had seen a number of animals being manhandled into such a small space to the point that she refused to allow some of them to fly. Therefore I suggest people to check a plastic airline crate along as a back up plan. After our demonstrations, I called Sage out of the bag, received my tickets and proceeded to walk her through the airport on a short leash. Her bag went through the x-ray machine and she and I went through the metal detector together. We then proceeded to the gate and she sat in my lap until boarding. If she wanted down I would make her get in her bag with the door open and have her lie quietly. A few minutes before boarding I would tell her “bed”, zip her closed and then carry her on by actually hugging the bag to my chest as opposed to letting it hang – I did not want to take the chance that she might fall through the bottom. When we changed planes I would carry her off the same way, let her out and walk her on a short leash to the next gate. There is no reason, in my opinion, for the animal to be in the bag any longer than necessary. She and I kept to our selves and were, for the most part left alone, except for the occasional flight personnel who gushed over her. Not one person told me I could not do it that way. We did this at the Tucson airport, the Houston airport and Washington National airport.
On an aside – Sage and her bag (a collapsible bag) did not fit under the seat very well during the mandatory times – take off and landing. Being collapsible I could have forced it under and she would have still been able to lie comfortably. But I chose instead to get an airline blanket and cover my knees (and her bag) during take off and landing so they could not see that she was between my legs and not really under the seat. Since it is quite cold on the floor of the plane, this maneuver had an added bonus. But shh, don’t tell anyone.