It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and Angus is in his crate. He’s had a very busy day so far — up at 5:30 a.m., two walks, a little “name game,” some corrections when he barked at a woman on a bench, some huge praise and treats when he didn’t bark at a jogger, a little tennis ball fetch, a little tug, a lot of romping with his big sister Rosie in the yard.
But now he is in his crate, and he is sleeping, and my husband and I can do whatever we like without those puppy fears — you know, fears that he’ll chew up an electrical cord or jump on the coffee table or suddenly mark in the living room. The puppy is in his crate, and we are free.
We did not always have this freedom with our dogs. Toby, as I’ve mentioned here before, was my first dog, and I knew nothing. I didn’t crate-train him because I thought crates were cruel, like jail, like being in the pound. Consequently, he roamed freely throughout my apartment, destroying my couch, eating my then-boyfriend’s favorite ball cap and, for several months, peeing regularly behind the easy chair in the living room.
My husband and I tried to crate-train Boscoe, our second dog, but back then we were not convinced of the need for a crate. We crated him until he was housebroken and then set him free. And with Boscoe it hardly mattered: He was the sweetest, mellowest, most obedient dog on the planet, and he didn’t need to be confined. He never did anything wrong.
This was the dog who, as a tiny puppy, squeezed under the backyard fence to freedom but instead of making a break for it only trotted around to the front of the house, sat down on the porch steps and waited for us to find him.
Our third dog, Riley, was terrified of everything, and that included being in a crate. We don’t know what happened in his first home, but it wasn’t good. While we did crate him for the first few months, he never got used to it. It was heartbreaking. I would drive home every day on my lunch break to let him out, and he was so happy to be in the yard. And then when lunch was over I’d have to physically wrangle him back into the crate — he’d actually spread his four legs as wide as possible to keep from fitting inside the crate door, and I’d peel them off, one by one, and stuff him in.
As I drove away I could hear his screams and howls. It killed me.
As soon as it was responsible to let Riley stay home unsupervised without being incarcerated, we took the crate apart and stored it away. He never used it again, although he did stake out little den areas — under the kitchen table, and under the dining room table.
I had heard people say that their dogs loved their crates and sometimes went inside of their own volition, and I have to tell you, I thought those people were lying to me.
And then we got Rosie. And now, Angus. And both of them have loved their crates from Day 1. And oh, what a wonder it is.
Both learned that when they went into their crates only good things would happen there — food and toys and treats. When I sing out, “Angus, go to bed!” he turns and races into his crate and I toss in a handful of kibble and he is happy. He stays in there without a peep.
And why not? It has a thick soft mat that he is systematically destroying, and the blue fleece frog blanket that he came to us with, and a small water dish, and a whole array of chew toys. All it needs is an electric teakettle and a reading light and I’d crawl in there, too.
Angus sleeps in the crate and eats in the crate and when we eat he’s in there, too, to prevent begging, and when we are not home he hangs out in that crate and sometimes he’s in there just because we all need a break.
And yes, sometimes he goes in of his own volition. It’s a miracle.
As I write this, Angus is curled up in his crate and Rosie is standing on the back of the couch, barking out the front window at the letter carrier. I have a solution for this:
“Rosie, go to bed!”
Laurie Hertzel is not a dog expert, just a dog lover. She is chronicling the first few months of her puppy’s development every few weeks on this page.
Coming May 5: Back to school! Read previous installments of the Puppy Chronicles at startribune.com/puppy