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.

Mending fences

What you need to know is that we told Lexie she may get a little brother.

It’s a delicate balance, not wanting to get her hopes up too high. But in all fairness, we had to tell her.

Since Lili died, she has gracefully matured into an elder dog, easily ruling the roost. She controls the couch, and easily snatches a mouthful of Pink’s wet cat food before I shoo her away. Lex trots into the yard when she wants, plopping down on the perfect swatch of grass to soak up the sun.

Lex waits for her little brother to arrive.

All of that will change if Scout joins the family.

Lex is OK with that. In fact, she’s sure of it.

Since Lex has it so together, that allows Matt and I to focus on prepping the house for tomorrow’s home visit. The biggest project we had to tackle was our fence. My neighbor to the west replaced my Wild West-style fence with a modern cyclone version a couple years ago. But my fence to the east is just terrible. The posts are wood, and completely rotted at the base. The chain link is all rusted, and the top is connected by rotted two-by-fours. Uuugh. Needless to say, the fence was swaying back and forth, and probably could be toppled by a rambunctious puppy.

Matt and I did our best to fix this last weekend by pounding in tall metal stakes, then hooking them to the fence. Believe it or not, it worked. It now runs straight, and I think could withstand jumping by a moderately excited dog.

Other things we need to do are obvious: clean the house, pick up the library and organize the spare bedroom. I even emptied the litter box last night, a task alone that surely should earn me a new puppy.

Also, we need to wash up the medium-sized crate. My large-sized crate already is clean and prepped, from when we thought we would have Ranger. But it seems way too big for a puppy. In all the hub-bub, I forgot to ask a couple important questions. Like how big is Scout? Is he crate-trained? Sheesh. I don’t even know if he’s housebroken. This whole thing is quite a mystery.

Last night, Matt looked me dead in the eye and asked what we would do if we didn’t like him. I told him there was no way that would happen. But worst case scenario, I guess we could ship him back on a round-trip car ride to Kentucky.

That thought made us sad. We agreed something terrible would have to happen for us to not take him. And chances are, even then we couldn’t be swayed.

We are ready to welcome Scout home.

Radio silence

Two weeks after walking away from Ranger, a Facebook alert told me he had been adopted. I didn’t have much time to contemplate this development, as Matt was eager to get my attention.

“Look, look,” he pleaded, trying to pry me away from Facebook. “Pleeeease look!”

I turned my head, and saw the sweetest dog staring back at me. Matt was holding up his computer, open to a black and white dog he found on Petfinder.com.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s the cutest dog, ever!!!” Matt told me.

I scooched in close so we could read the dog’s profile together. She had an unfortunate name, but her profile seemed to make up for that. It said she was “house trained, great with kids, cats and other dogs. Zero food aggression and very well mannered.” The organization advised against using a crate with her. Lexie was the same way when I brought her home; she hated to be confined. This new pup was a border collie/spaniel mix, although it almost looked like the mix more likely involved a corgi. Kinda goofy looking, but we liked that.

“Do you think she’ll be able to jump onto the bed? It says she’s only 24 pounds, so she’s small,” Matt asked.

We decided we would put an ottoman at the base of the bed, just in case. And the name. We had to do something about that. We decided upon Daisy. Yes. She would be our sweet Daisy girl.

Adopting her required submitting an application to a private rescue organization. This was a new experience for both of us, but we were eager to try something different after the humane society debacle with Ranger.

The application was thorough, and turned Matt off. Still, he plugged away, thinking about sweet Daisy.

The next morning, I called up her profile to swoon and think of all the things we would do once Daisy joined our family. I was shocked to see “Pending” next to her name. Butterflies exploded in my stomach. The organization must have fast-tracked her application! I called Matt, and he shared my excitement.

“You know, we’ll have to get her a sweater,” I said.

Two days later, Matt received an email from a woman at the rescue. She said she had contacted our veterinarian for a background check, and that the office had no record of Matt or Lexie. Well, that was because Lexie is under my name at the vet. Easy enough to fix, we sent the volunteer my name, along with a pic of Lexie from a recent camping trip. We were shameless about trying to sweeten the pot.

One day turned into two days, then three. Absolute radio silence. Out of desperation, I decided to give my investigative skills a try. The first place I turned? Facebook, of course. I found the rescue organization’s official page, and furiously began reading all the posts.

About 25 posts down, I found an entry by an apparent foster asking if a dog has five applications, do you call all five? She then mentioned Daisy by name, and said she would be at a meet-and-greet the next day.

Immediately, I sent the woman a Facebook message, asking if the pet store visit was a sure thing, that I was one of the applicants and would like to meet Daisy in person.

Radio silence.

When she later posted something else about Daisy without answering my note, anger began to brew in me. Two days went by. She posted a message about Daisy’s successful event. She posted about needing people to help her do home visits in Grand Blanc, Livonia and Downriver. But not Ferndale, where we live.

Daisy was slipping through our fingers.

Several days later, Matt sent the rescue contact a simple email inquiry: “Any updates?”

Again, nothing.

Two days later, Matt received two emails within moments of each other. The first one, from a volunteer we had not dealt with before, said Daisy was in the process of being adopted. She said the organization is shorthanded on volunteers, and urged us to get a home visit done to get approved for adoption. The second email, from the original volunteer, oddly spoke as if we still had a chance with Daisy. She said they were reviewing applications and evaluating which home would be a fit.

Within the hour, Daisy’s profile again was marked “Pending.”

That evening, we exchanged emails with the main volunteer, who now is eager for us to complete a home visit in hopes of better positioning us for an adoption. All this seems so much to go through to adopt a dog. Of course, I’m grateful they look out for the pups, but this process has left us somewhat battered and emotionally exhausted. And this is only dog number two.

Matt and I had just wasted almost two weeks waiting on communication that never came. Two weeks that we could have spent looking at other dogs. We needed to either change up our game, or take a break.

I appears we are back to the dating pool.


While cruising the rescue organization’s Facebook page to research this blog entry, I came across a post from Daisy’s foster mom. Apparently, while she was crated, Daisy managed to tear up the foster mom’s carpet and padding. She suggested that anxiety (never mentioned in the profile) was an ongoing issue for the dog, and wondered if a trainer or meds might help the new owners.

Ah, yeah. Dodged a bullet.