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No Cage for Gracie

People in the know, dog people and pros, tell me I should train Gracie to a Crate, also known as a Kennel, or a Dog House. No pussy-footing now, it is a small wire cage with a locked door. Like a prison. Oh yes, I've heard the six reasons why it is crucial to training success, including the (frequent rationalization) that "dogs like it." (Happy slaves?) No doubt many dogs acclimate, and some will grow to seek it out as a refuge, a den. Maybe your dog liked it when you first locked him in, or maybe she barked a little and settled down. That hasn't been our experience. Buster wasn't like that at all, and we gave up the crate in favor of the garage early on. Yes, he tore up his futon and cried for loneliness, but we all survived it.

Gracie is a 7 mo old, 50 lb adolescent dog who has spent more than half her life in cages. No doubt people tried to break her to a crate, and failed, at the cost of great frustration and suffering to all concerned. I'm not about to go thru that again.

That first night, we gave her the laundry room; but her immediate and incessant barking and howling caused us to move fast to set up the garage for her. Of course that wasn't going to work either. She'd been sleeping in a bed with humans and another dog, and felt abandoned. So we all settled down and slept in the living room for several nights, Gracie quite peaceful on her blanket in front of the fire. Now she sleeps there whether we are there or not, and can sleep on the bedroom floor if she chooses. Doesn't jump on beds or sofas. Progress!

Yes, going crateless has made training more complicated, especially at first, when we had no routines or set schedules. But I'm for maximum autonomy and free choice for Gracie, as I would be with a human family member, consistent with her safety, feeling of security, and our convenience. We do set boundaries, quite clearly, and after some practice, she honors them. What a blessing! Would that human children were so plastic and obedient.

From the beginning, we gave Gracie access to as much of the house as possible, closing off the bedrooms, etc. (I know, not recommended.) By now, two weeks on, she has sniffed out every corner, most more than once.

Sniffing is her most basic learning tool; and she has learned there isn't much of interest in some areas, like the bathroom. Yes, there was-- and is-- confusion about potty-training, and some functions and uses of different spaces, but, with constant vigilance and guidance, she mostly uses them appropriately (e.g., ball play downstairs, quiet play upstairs).

My strategy is to let her sniff as she wants when we are out-- in the car or field. (I can afford the time to wait, and can enjoy the environment.) My boundary is that she can't pursue every scent like a dogged hound, and can't taste everything she smells.

Her obsession with human hands is not affection, nor "trying to get attention" like the dumb vet said, nor "just puppy play"-- tho people in her life have clearly indulged and encouraged it (including the clueless vet) . She's looking at your hands to learn what you are doing and about to do. That's why I accompany voice commands with hand signals. She's sniffing and licking your hands because they are full of nice smells and the promise of treats.

Gracie is learning, we are learning, to communicate thru our eyes, and learn by listening. When she is pulling the leash out in nature or on the street, I jerk it and say "wait." I want it to be like a railroad crossing: Stop. Look. Listen. And of course she is naturally endowed with the latter two, so I'm not asking anything she isn't well suited for.

When she looks me in the face, I have her attention. Otherwise, probably not, and yelling louder isn't likely to help. I learned from Gaia, and especially with Buster, that, when she turns her head away, especially with alarm (fight/flight) or at the scent pf prey, I cease to exist for most purposes. Without her attention, any trainer is dead in the water, with little to work with.

She's naturally attentive to me except when fear or the prey instinct kick in, and she bolts or barks uncontrollably. My survival strategy is to nudge her more, when the occasion permits, toward civilized life (as defined by OUR life style and its requirements) and away from her wolf instincts. I try to de-fuse likely situation before the instinct takes full control of her, and, thru repetition, de-sensitize her, for example to car/condo travel, which right now is not reliably pleasant.

Practice, practice, practice. I'm very lucky, I must acknowlege, to be able to devote FT to Gracie's socialization. I can't imagine cramming it into a few hours after a day's work, as many people are obliged to do, after leaving the dog alone or with sitters/walkers all day. Under many common circumstances that owners face, the crate might be the only viable answer. But no crate for Gracie.


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