Today's pondering revolves around Ruby's kennel. Of course kennels themselves invite The Great Crate Debate and in my own experience I have encountered those who use them religiously and those who believe them to be horrible dog-jails, and everything in between. I admit to being in the latter camp for some time. We never had them growing up, and my first dogs of my own, Freya and Lasya, never spent any time in crates - I never saw the need. Enter my first foster dog, Bjorn. Bjorn was a very sweet, very destructive young male elkhound who I dubbed Bjorngenstern the Destroyer. During his months with me he mauled the telephone and remote, shredded throw pillows and comforters and tore curtains down with their rods. To preserve my sanity and furnishings, I borrowed an extremely large crate from a friend, where Bjorn stayed when I wasn't home to supervise him. I also utilized a crate for my next foster dog, a little black stray Chihuahua named Vlad, mainly to make sure that he was kept safe from my much bigger dogs.
When I adopted Ruby at nine months of age, I had no idea what to expect in regard to her house-training and manners. She came from out-of-state with no background information, and lived in a foster home for one week before I brought her home. Although it became readily apparent that she was not house-trained at all, she picked it up remarkably quickly and began asking to go outside. She was accident-free within one week. I still didn't know what she may or may not get into when left to her own devices, and wanted to err on the side of caution and set her up for success by not leaving her in larger areas of the house for long periods of time unsupervised until I could work up to it gradually. She had slept in a crate at her foster home, and I began experimenting with leaving her in it for a few hours at a time. She immediately curled up and did not make a peep once inside, but she did not enjoy going in the crate and still does not go in of her own accord when I am home like some dogs will. Being a bright girl she wised up to the treat-tossing method after a couple days. Because I was still getting to know her, and needed a safe place for her to be while I was at work, I skipped some steps in the process and a few times had to actually catch her and coax her in to the crate. Loving chase as she does, she thought it was a fun game to lead me merrily around the house when she knew it was time for me to leave. At some point, though, something clicked, and after leaving her leash on a few times after her morning walk and leading her over while saying "go to your den," then rewarding her with a hunk of bison jerky, I decided one morning to unhook her leash and say "go to your den." She happily trotted from the kitchen to the living room where her kennel is nestled between the sofa and bookcase and sat down awaiting her jerky, and continued to do so from that day forward.
Even though she adjusted well to the crate, I knew I did not want her to have to stay in it for an entire work day, even with her mid-day break with me or the dog-walker, but I needed a way to keep her away from the windows where she could practice barking at dogs and people, and also a way to insure that my elderly kitty could retain at least part of the house as her puppy-free sanctuary. I know that Jack Russel Terriers are built on springs, so I bought an extra-tall dog gate which I installed between my living room and kitchen. I started leaving her for incrementally longer periods in the kitchen area, where she could see out to the privacy-fenced patio and relax in her over-sized dog bed which used to belong to my elkhound, Freya. Ruby knows when she sees me with my purse that I'll be gone for a while, but I assure her that I'll always come back. I tell her "Bye sweetheart, I'll see you later," and leave her with stuffed Kongs and her own CD's playing. Her weekday routine now is mornings in her crate, a walk or visit (due to her reactivity I no longer have others walk her) around lunchtime and afternoons in the kitchen. She seems very comfortable in "her room" - I often find her curled up in her bed by the back door even when I'm home, and has started returning there in the mornings after she eats breakfast while I am getting ready for work, which brings me to the musing part of this Monday. My question is this: do I need to continue using the crate?
The simple answer is "no." Ruby has proven herself reliably house-trained and despite her high energy and penchant for stealing socks and turning them to Swiss cheese, she is not at all destructive when left on her own. I've even tested her by leaving old shoes within her reach. Nothing has ever been out of place - she prefers an audience for her antics and interpretive art. She seems content in the kitchen and chooses to spend her time there even when I am around, something I can't say for the crate. My main hesitation in eliminating the crate from her mornings is just that: I don't want to lose it as part of her routine. I now know how valuable the crate can be as a tool for travel, injury, or introducing new pets. I want her to maintain a comfort level with spending time in her kennel, but I admit to feeling guilty about confining her there when she doesn't really need to be. I'm considering only having her "go to her den" twice a week or so, on the days that the dog visiting service comes.
What do the rest of you think? What is your routine with your dog when you are away from the house? Do you think that mixing up Ruby's routine will keep the crate in our toolbox while allowing her the freedom in the house that she's earned, or that we could skip it entirely and pack it away unless it is needed in the future?
|Crashed in her big bed after a bath|