Still Just a Dog in a Crate
I tried to open my eyes but they were welded shut with clotted blood. I tried to sit up but my body completely ignored my will and refused to budge. I felt a brief rush of relief as I drew another breath, knowing that I had made it through the night. I could feel the familar leather of my couch beneath me but I could not remember settling down for the night. My senses retuned slowly and piecemeal, first my sense of smell, then other tactile sensations. I was in tremendous pain. Everything was incredibly stiff. I felt overwhelmingly tired. And I couldn’t get anything larger than a toe to move.
The dog remained in her crate, quietly waiting to see what the rest of her life would be like. I remained in the cage my body had locked itself in for a good few minutes. I demanded that my fingers and toes move to try to recruit larger muscles into contracting and they gradually started to respond in tremors. Before long I could bend one of my arms. It didn’t feel great, but I could feel it moving. I ran into a pretty significant wall trying to get much of the rest of my body to move and I spent at least a few more minutes trying to do so. But I had to get up. I reached above my head and grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled myself up off the couch in an awkward and pain inducing roll to a seated position.
Doggos need walkies and so I must go. My body screamed as a chorus of parts when I put weight painfully on my feet and lumbered toward her crate. After her first night in her new crate in her new home, the dog was ready to be allowed out. She immediately ran into the corner of the room and relieved herself on the floor. The moment I opened the front door she threw herself down the front steps nearly dragging me down to the sidewalk. I struggled to keep up. I struggled to hold on to her leash as she pulled me along. I struggled to breathe. My knees buckled as I struggled to the couch, falling to my knees as I did my best not to pass out. This was the first couple hours of day two.
At this point, half hugging the couch, half on the floor, I didn’t know it yet, but the honeymoon period was almost over. The dog was about to reassert herself with all of her traumatic reactions and raw animal instinct honed fighting to survive abuse and the lonesome wilderness. I briefly slept in this position thinking about how unmanagable the dog already was. I slowly cranked myself to my feet when I realized that my already bruised knees would be destroyed if I stayed in this position. I wanted to crawl into bed, but with my brother gone to work, that left the dog and I alone in the house. I brought her back to her crate and like the night before, I asked her to get in. She stood in front of the entrance and froze.
I couldn’t have been sure, but I thought I saw fear flash across her face. I was completely out of energy and I simply could not stand there any longer. I asked her to get in again and pointed into the crate with my eyes. The dog took a hesistant step into the crate, then finally entered. Something happened when I shut the door behind her, something triggered in her. She started shoving her snout into the crate door, biting at the steel grate and shaking it. I commanded her to stop and looked her in the eyes until she stopped biting the door and settled down. I would soon discover her PTSD-like reaction to being confined in crates or tied up to anything and it came roaring back from our one day honeymoon with a vengence.
Maggie would shake, cry, and howl in her crate for twenty minutes after being locked in if she wasn’t allowed to attack the door with her paws and mouth. She started resisting being put in, jumping, flipping, clawing not to be placed in the crate. I tried a number of training techniques to alter her feelings about the crate – serving her food in the crate, giving her special treats in the crate, putting her in the crate for a few minutes and letting her out of it, but at the end of each day, she had to go back into the crate and her survival mode kicked right back in. Running. Fighting. Freaking out and crying. I felt that there wasn’t anything else I could do. I was not much more than her jailer.
I still could not trust her to roam the house while I was asleep. She had already escaped once by unlocking and opening the French doors to the sun room, where she opened the pinch latch sliding windows, popped out the window screen, escaped to the back yard, then hopped the 4 foot fence. From time to time she would rip her body out of her “escape-proof” harness and take off for a couple hours. She had even hunted down a local 4-point buck that was five times her size. Things had gotten so bad that I had to pick her up and shove her into her crate at night, then just deal with her freaking out for half an hour.
After a month of trying all sorts of training methods, one night I finally realized that the crate and her PTSD had to be broken. I had a foot in my grave and I had given this wild, tortured dog one last chance. If I didn’t wake up in the morning, she would have no future. If she was to master her emotions, she would have to have the will to face her fear and I would train her. It was a battle of wills and I would make her face my iron to hone her own strength. I told her it was time to go to bed and ordered her to enter the crate. She became confused when I didn’t shove her in like I had the past few weeks and she tried to leave. But by God there was nowhere she would go but into that crate and she was going to be the one to do it.
When she tried to leave, I told her to get into the crate and I stood behind her. Defiant at first, after an hour her fear broke through and she started to shake and whimper. “No, Maggie, bed time, get in your crate.” Her breathing became rapid and shallow. She refused. I stood my ground. After a full two hours, she tentatively stuck a single paw into the crate. I could hardly believe it as I ached from sitting on the hardwood floor, but I took it with both hands as I shoveled the rest of her into the crate and closed the door. She made the decision to put a paw in. It was something I could work with.
Over the next month, we would repeat the same exercise every night, but I would demand more of a conscious decision by her to enter her crate. She plateaued for a while at two paws and would stand there half in her crate for literally an hour. One night I tried putting her third paw into her crate manually. Sometimes she’d step that paw back out. She had stopped trying to leave and stopped outwardly expressing fear. Her brows were furrowed in intense concentration. There was a battle I was not aware of that was happening within. One night I didn’t have to put her third paw in – she did it herself. She still needed a little help getting her fourth paw in, but she had nearly completely stopped trying to bite her way out.
From time to time she still had episodes and would explode standing around the crate or being closed in one. They became further and further apart. Eventually she would put herself entirely into the crate. There would still be some resistance – a delay in getting in, guilting the jailer, sometimes an outright attempt to escape to another part of the house followed by a stern command. But I spent dozens of hours on my knees and never relented. She learned not to relent either as she battled her demons. The night finally came where I told her it was time to go to bed and she just walked in and laid down.
That was the night I took the door off her crate.