This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ takes a look at the important decision made to ‘crate train’ Dudley from a young age. For those of you outside the loop, crate training is not something undertaken by amateur rugby teams in order to ensure their members can adequately cope with a ‘24 pack’ at the ‘end of season’ BBQ.
Given some twenty years had passed since I last shared a home with a puppy, I was not exactly up to speed with the process either. Having righted that wrong with an improving tome or two on the subject, it transpired that the old notion of shoving your pint-sized pup straight into a bed from day one was no longer ‘de rigueur’ and had been replaced by a phenomena known as ‘crating.’ As we had friends willing to provide free loan of such an item, my wife and I were only too keen to embrace this correcting tool with open arms.
And so it was that some of my first memories of young Dudley were him being enticed by me into the aforementioned metal structure, that is, with the help of a liberal scattering of dog biscuits for encouragement. A reverse Hansel and Gretel if you will. Crating your pup is a wonderful way to get them used to an immediate environment, whilst engendering a sense of security as is offered when the door is closed. I very much doubt the likes of Al Capone or Charles Manson viewed the practice with such charity, but then they were in for a much longer stretch of ‘bird’ than your average family pooch.
To his credit, Dudley took to his incarceration pretty well. Besides the lure of copious treats casually tossed in, we began feeding him his meals inside with the door shut firm, a security arrangement he was completely oblivious to until long after the food bowl had been pillaged. In fact, being behind the steel latticework of his crate was starting to look so appealing that I was considering moving in myself. Complete with various squeaky toys, Vet Bed blankets and anything else he had managed to salvage from the garden and drag in, it was fair to say life for young Dud was looking rosy.
Of course, it is easy to look back nostalgically and not see the flaws. Our battle to crate train the hygienically challenged reprobate wasn’t especially long or arduous, but it was a battle of sorts nonetheless. First and foremost, it was a psychological one, fought inside our own minds. Could we just ignore his pitiful whimpering on those first days as he struggled to get used to new surroundings? Which one of us would crack first and let him out? The general idea is to build the puppy’s crate tolerance up to 20 minutes – beyond which point you hopefully have cracked it – and at times, it was hard. We also took the decision not to lock him in over night or for any prolonged periods of time, the logic being that dogs don’t crap where they sleep out of choice. The same probably cannot be said for those rugby players mentioned earlier after their post-season bash.
Clear signs soon came through to show that Dudley was happy enough with his liberty restricting billet. I recall one occasion very early on, when he had only been with us a matter of days. Pottering in the kitchen, I suddenly realised that everything had gone quiet, too quiet. Observing the unwritten rule that a silent child – human or animal – is a mischievous child, I stuck my head into his bedroom to inspect the probable damage, only to find the little mite had taken himself off to bed for a snooze and was tucked up contentedly in the cage. Peace in our time I thought, and doubtless a peace set to last no longer than Neville Chamberlain’s. Short-lived though the silence was, it was proof enough that our hastily acquired understanding of crate training was working. Beyond the home too, the crate proved its worth and was used to good effect in the back of the car. Safely tethered, happy and relaxed in the boot of a moving vehicle, we could have bolted Dudley’s cage to the side of an Apollo shuttle and he’d still have been snoring like an old man when it left Cape Canaveral.
So despite my usual hesitance to embrace something new, the use of a crate to get your puppy well trained and relaxed is a wonderful idea and one that I recommend. Sure, there will be a few weeks of whimpering from the pooch as it struggles with its new surroundings, but then you’ll get that wherever it sleeps.
Besides, if you make sure you have a stout padlock and a fridge full of cold beer to hand, the inside of a dog cage looks like a pretty good bolt-hole in times of matrimonial strife, with or without your canine for company.