Growing pains

Charlie considers his options. The toy basket is looking good.

It was inevitable.

I knew it would be a matter of time before Charlie chewed something again. The first incident was when he chewed the wood muntin/window pane divider in the front room. Unfortunately, I was not home when it occurred, so I lost the opportunity to positively reinforce the idea of eating a squeaky squirrel instead.

This time it was the edge of a rug by the front door. Honestly, not that big of a deal. But Matt was there when the destruction went down, and he swiftly delivered a stern, “NO!!!”

Being a sensitive border collie, Charlie acted like he was shot through the heart. Squeaky toys were presented as peace offerings. And soon enough, he was wiggling and snuggling like usual.

Up til now, we’ve been unbelievably lucky. Charlie loves his basket of toys. I fill it up, then he unpacks it one squeaker at a time. He’s only defluffed one toy, a squeaky giraffe, but we actually don’t have proof he did it. The alleged stuffing assault took place while Charlie and Lex shared a cabin at Camp Bow Wow. Lex has pleaded the Fifth.

BONUS FOOTAGE: Charlie bites a spider … or is it the other way around?

As of today, Matt and I still have all pairs of our shoes. And not one book has teeth marks in it. Believe me, I know that I have it good. I once owned a dog that ate my cellphone, completely deconstructed a couch and jumped through a window.

So chewing on the corner of a rug seems like small potatoes.

Still, I know it’s destructive behavior. He was bound to have some growing pains. We need to address it swiftly, in a positive manner. But Charlie is smart. With the right direction and reinforcement, he’ll continue to grow into a model canine.

In the meantime, I’ll be investigating dog obedience classes.

It couldn’t hurt.

Learning to love the crate … or not

Charlie and Lex snooze away after a day of play. (Photos by Matt)

Everyone has issues.

As for Charlie, our recently adopted border collie mix, he enjoyed making deposits on top of the guest bed or the laundry in the basement.

Seriously, this is not a big deal. I mean, he’s a puppy, almost five months old. Proper house training takes time, and patience. But this became a bigger issue when we visited the vet to treat Charlie’s worms. The vet tech strongly encouraged us to crate Charlie. At night, and even during the day. No more on the couch, and definitely no more sleeping with us.

I was crushed.

I could think of nothing better than waking up to puppy breath. Matt was more straight-forward about it. Charlie needed to learn he was not on par with us humans.


Matt firmly embraced his new role as Stern Daddy. And when Charlie kept pooping on the bed, Matt resurrected the crate. We had tried it for like a day when we first got Charlie, but he peed all over himself. He seemed less stressed outside of the crate. But now, Matt wanted to try it again. We went on a short trip to the store, and left Charlie in the crate. We came back to a completely drenched dog. We couldn’t tell if it was saliva or pee. We washed the crate pad, and left him alone a few hours later. When we returned, again, he was soaking wet.

That night, we played crate games. Matt and I took turns tossing squeaky toys into the crate, alternating with biscuits. Charlie seemed comfortable with it. He even went all the way in and curled up for a few minutes. But when it came time for bed, and the game included closing the crate gate, Charlie simply lost it.

He waited until I was almost asleep, then let it rip. A-WOW-ROW-ROWWWW!!!!!! WOOOOO! YIP! YIP!

I had read that I should let him howl. To not reward him by letting him out. I turned on my side, and tried to not think about the chaos downstairs. I started to drift off, then Charlie stepped it up a notch. I thought of my neighbors, and asked Matt if the downstairs windows were open. He couldn’t remember. I didn’t want anyone to call the cops.

I sighed. Heavily. And weighed my options. I walked downstairs.

Charlie howled until I opened the door. He was dripping wet. I pulled out the wet mat, then took Charlie outside. He immediately peed, so I started thinking he was wet from nervously drooling on himself. Matt and I decided to put a fresh blanket in the crate and bring it upstairs. We got Charlie back in, but he was not happy about it, and let us know all night.

Snuggle bunnies.

We woke up knowing we had to do something. After consulting multiple pet behavior websites, we hatched a plan. We drove to Costco, and bought three dog beds — a large one both dogs could use on the main floor, then two individual beds for upstairs. Then we went to Meijer and bought a baby gate. We put a dog bed on Matt’s side of the bed, and put the gate between the bed and the wall, providing Charlie a space that is about 3 feet by 5 feet.

It worked like magic.

Looking for reassurance, I went to the message boards (specifically my dog friends at Reddit) to get input. Mostly everyone encouraged us to stick with crate training, although some said if the current approach worked that was cool, too.

We tried the crate a few more times (usually when we made short trips away from the house) but the end result always was the same. Charlie would drool all over himself. I began to suspect a form of separation anxiety, and worried that continued exposure to the crate could cause harm.

So we continued with the confined space at night (baby gate, plus dog bed) and experimented with letting him roam free during the day. Even when we were gone. The first time we tried this, Matt and I were terrified. As we drove home, we imagined the destruction waiting for us.

But upon opening the front door, we were greeted with … nothing. Not a squeaky toy out of place. We chalked it up to beginner’s luck, then tried it again. And again. Always with the same result. Charlie didn’t even nibble on his chewy.

What great relief.

Now that Charlie recently taught himself to use the dog door, and apparently is housebroken (through positive reinforcement, he’s finally pooping outside), we get to move on to the next commands.

Did I mention he already knows how to sit?

Breaking through to the other side

Big news to report: Charlie taught himself how to use the dog door.

Of course, all of this is my fault. I had let him outside, and was selfishly trying to get some computer time in. Maybe 15 minutes went by, and I heard a rustling at the back door. By the time I walked through the kitchen, I got to the landing just in time to see Charlie shoot through the doggie door. Like a rocket.

A tad disoriented, he wiggle-walked up to me, and shot a look. You know the one. The one that says, “Lady, that deserves a biscuit.”

He was right. A biscuit was discharged, immediately.

You see, this was quite a rite of passage in our household. I never had a dog door, until my dad offered to install one at my house. He had watched a Martha Stewart episode about it, and it looked easy enough to do. He enlisted the help of granddad, and they installed it in an afternoon.

This one act of kindness by dad and granddad revolutionized my life. And that of my two pups, back then.

At the time, I worked at The Detroit News. My commute was only 15 or 20 minutes, but the work hours could go long. Once Lexie and my late pup Lili mastered the door, everything was different. I could work late. I could go out for a bite to eat after work. And I didn’t have to worry about coming home to a guilt-ridden dog, and a gift in the hallway.

Lexie seemed to benefit the most. She flourished in this new-found sense of freedom. She quickly adapted to the idea that she could go into the yard whenever she wanted. To this day, she’ll often get up in the middle of the night, and wander out back for a while.

So, Charlie learned how to come in using the dog door. Learning how to exit took more work. He would stare at the door, and poke at it with his nose, making the plastic door sway to and fro. But he seemed nervous about actually jumping through.

Armed with a pocket full of puppy biscuits, I walked outside, an closed the door behind me. Then I pointed my iPhone toward the doggie door and waited. I saw Charlie’s nose poke out a couple times. The nothing. I called out his name, then Lex ran out.

“Charlieeeeeeee!” I did my best to lure him through the rectangle in the door. Finally he popped out, and he jumped up on me, looking for his treat. Well deserved!

Our hope and fear: Did we work with Charlie enough to adequately housebreak him? He was just barely starting to sit by the back door this morning when he broke on through to the other side.

Learning this skill so young clearly is a blessing and a curse. We’re happy that he can let himself out. But the question is, will he go once he’s out there? He’s been known to play in the yard for a good hour, then come inside to poop on the laundry pile. I’m guessing we’ll have to follow him outside and praise each time he lifts his leg. And we’ll need to vigilantly scan the guest bedroom and basement for special deposits.

After a sweep of the basement, it’s clear we have trouble brewing.

NEXT: Learning to love the crate.

First bath, well earned

Getting him into the bathtub was easy. Keeping him there was another story.

First bath. Squeaky clean.

Once he was wet, Scout orchestrated a couple greased-pig-style escapes. Matt thought ahead and closed the bathroom door so he couldn’t get far. After placing him in the tub one more time, he froze as the warm water hit his small body. Scout’s legs stuck firm in cowboy pose, and his muzzle never left the tub’s ledge. His eyes gazed off to a far away place, and he didn’t seem to notice to ruckus on the other side of the door.

Lex avoids eye contact after doing a cannonball off the side of a pontoon boat.

Did we mention that Lexie got her bath first? And after drying her off, we opened the door and she never looked back. We didn’t hear much of the chaos until a loud crash from the front room, followed by frenzied paw steps up and down the stairs going to our bedroom.

I focused on the task at hand, giving Scout his first bath. Considering we have had him for a little more than 24 hours, the lil fella totally trusts us. After washing Scout, I handed Matt the towel to dry him off and opened the door to see what Lex was up to. I found her on the couch, cradling a hurt paw. There was blood on the couch, and somehow she had managed to clear off the entire coffee table onto the floor … including a full cup of coffee (obviously Matt’s, because I would never leave a cup of coffee to languish).

It was shocking Lex had such an energy burst, especially after spending the day at our friends’ house. Josh and Holly live on a lake, and have a gentle giant of a dog, a Newfoundland named Byron.

Lexie and Scout play in a lake.

Actually, Lex had more bizarre behavior at the lake house. When we were loading up to go on our friends’ pontoon boat, Lexie jumped through a tiny hole above a metal door, right into the lake. Specifically, right into a pool of muck. She landed with a big splash, disappeared under the muck, then resurfaced and promptly went ashore. A couple hours later she dove head first into the muck again, this time from the dock as we were exiting the boat. I guess you gotta know Lex to understand this is not normal for our prim-and-proper princess. She’s all about protocol.

I fear these may be symptoms of the early-onset dementia our vet recently diagnosed Lexie with. I’m not sure. But her behavior isn’t sitting well with me.

For now, I’ll just think it has more to do with Scout, and the youthful energy he’s brought to our family.

Could it be this puppy has put a little pep in her step?

Gosh. I sure hope so.