"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crate Training

We're five minutes late as we pull into the circular drive lined with happily barking dogs. We're late because Alice agreed to let us come three hours earlier than her suggested time and we didn't want to push our luck. So we stalled to make sure we weren't early. And now we're late and barely containing ourselves. I'm not sure the car has come to a complete stop before I'm out my door and walking toward Alice's door. 

The doorbell plays a loud and strange song that makes us take a small step back, unsettled. Then we hear Alice's cheerful voice greeting us as she invites us in through the opaque plastic covering the screen door.

I'm aware of her, try to be polite and look at her, try to register her words about a too small collar and the shiny ribbon she's holding onto it so Toby looks like a Christmas present.

All I really see though is Toby.  His sweet peach face lights up and says,"There you are. I've been waiting for you!" His sturdy self is tucked in the crook of Alice's elbow, front legs draped over her arm, back legs hanging loosely, the in between all round softness. His still conical puppy tail beats an enthusiastic greeting that only intensifies as she hands him into my eager arms.


That first day only gets more perfect as it develops. He's mellow, affectionate, playful. He loves his toys. He doesn't have one accident - perhaps because he gets taken outside every time he stands up - but no accident is no accident. Asleep he's a vision of unbearable cuteness and innocence. Awake he's fun and joy romping on four stubby legs.

We're thrilled when he goes in and out of his crate. We ooh and aah whenever he lies down in his crate. We congratulate ourselves that our dog already loves this artificial den that all the books and Alice say is an essential part of his training and happiness. This is the place he'll sleep and travel in. This is the place he'll go to for peace and quiet. This is the place that his canine brain recognizes as safe and secure.

As responsible dog owners we are committed to crate training Toby and we're counting our blessings that we got a dog who seems so happy to be in his crate.

Until we close the door.

The first day, we were so startled - actually frightened - by the sound that came out of him on the other side of that closed door we opened it again right away. Surely this was an anomaly. He just needed more time to adjust to us. Maybe he just wasn't tired enough.

Bedtime is worse, not better. The pitiful crying and whimpering that we've prepared ourselves for never happens. Our sweet boy becomes Linda Blair in The Exorcist. He is the Hounds of Hell - a pack of legions, not just one. He is the terrible screaming of multitudes of tortured souls in hell.

For relentless hours.  For every time we "practice" during the days that follow. For night after endless night.

Our gratitude at getting such a compliant dog is replaced with gratitude that we have no close neighbors who might call 911 and report screams of terror. Our open-hearted optimism is replaced with grim determination. Our wide-eyed well-informed wonder is replaced with gritty-eyed sleep-deprived uncertainty. 

The books say he'll adjust in a few days, a week at the most. Alice's literature says human babies take months and we should buck up. It could be worse. Toby seems not to have received any of that information.

On the ninth day we call Alice for help. We're reassured that this is a test of wills. We can't give in. We should get earplugs.

We haven't done anything wrong. But all of her suggestions are about doing more of the right things. If I weren't so tired I might ponder the power of that idea and appreciate its beauty.

 Instead of pondering, we do. Everything she suggested. As quickly as we can.

 We spend the day making Toby's crate a doggy version of Disneyland. Treats are hidden in the folds of the towel. All of his toys are tossed in. We tuck as much of ourselves as we can into the crate with him and are as excited as it's possible to be. Our voices are high and hysterically happy and enticing. 

He responds just the way we hoped. He spends long periods of time inside the crate searching for goodies, nuzzling toys, resting. He goes in and out regularly throughout the day. He loves this new game with the enthusiasm that he loves everything. Full tilt, nothing withheld.

Until bedtime. 

Roaring. Shrieking. Howling. The silent spaces may be slightly longer than previous nights. Or maybe it's just the earplugs and wishful thinking.

Day ten. More doggy Disneyland. More determined holding firm. A trip to the store for better ear plugs. 

I think that perhaps Toby is not the one being trained here.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

"Bedtime is worse, not better. The pitiful crying and whimpering that we've prepared ourselves for never happens. Our sweet boy becomes Linda Blair in The Exorcist. He is the Hounds of Hell - a pack of legions, not just one. He is the terrible screaming of multitudes of tortured souls in hell."

I'm sorry, this made me laugh. Hell is not funny. But it kinda is. Hope things are better every night! Hang on! There HAS to be hope around the corner, right?

Anonymous said...

Toby is such a beautiful puppy. I just want to pick him up and cuddle him. What a sweetie!
When David and I were first married, we crate trained our new puppy, Dewey. He did the exact same thing your puppy is doing now, it went on for 2-3 weeks. I thought I was going to loose my mind from being so sleep deprived. I tried so many tricks, I even resorted to shaking a can of pennies, to startle him (I stood where he could not see me), this shut him up for about 30 seconds, back to the screaming. I am sad to say we gave in, and Dewey slept in our room, until the day he died. He loved his crate, would go in there when we left for work or even on his own to hang out, but never at night. He just wanted to be with us at night, period.
I wish you luck, and I am sure you will have better luck. I feel your pain, as far as lack of sleep. I understand the feeling about being happy the neighbors can't hear. All in all, it will work itself out, some how. Toby will quickly adjust and be grow even deeper in your heart.

I am very happy for you both!!


riversgrace said...

Good thing he is SUCH a cutie! Sending thoughts of sleep, peaceful sleep your way. What a lovely new family member.

Nancy said...

My mom was a breeder and her dogs LOVED their crates. I was not around for the breaking in period, however, and I'm such a sucker I would have caved by now. You must, at this point, be soooo close! Hang in there and I'm sure it will pay off.

Deb Cushman said...

I'm sorry, but I confess I chuckled also at your description of the "Hounds of Hell." I know that's bad, but I couldn't help myself.

You know there is a simple solution, don't you? You are both teachers -- just teach Toby to read! Then you can hide the literature on crate training in the folds of his blanket and all will be well! (Good thing you had Winter Break to break yourselves in!)

I'm here if you need a friend to talk to. (Freckles doesn't make a sound -- except to grunt at the Swiffer Duster!)

Jess said...

Hmm, maybe this is why I'm a cat person. But, I am sure that like everyone has said it will all paid off and you will have yourself a well-trained little puppy. He surely is cute. You'll get through this part.

Mark Lyons said...

After having the pleasure of Toby's company for three days, I really got a chuckle out of your description of the sounds that his little lungs can make...your words were not an exaggeration!! Remember that you really can't hear him all that well from the upstairs bedroom...just a thought.

I can't wait to see the little (or maybe not so little) guy again. And you. Keep telling his story, and yours.

Lots of love!

kario said...

Aww, you poor thing! We got ours at one year old and I gave up after three nights. Now we have an agreement - he pretends to sleep downstairs until I'm in my bed and the lights are out and then he 'sneaks' upstairs (not too stealthy, the 85lb. pup) and sleeps outside my bedroom door.

Best of luck whatever you decide to do. Can't wait to meet him.

Blair said...

Hang in there! Crate training is the ONLY way to go - don't cave in. You'll be so happy when Toby is older and happily walks into the crate at ALL times of the day.
He sound adorable - please post photos! What a perfect Christmas present -what a lucky dog!