Who’s in Charge?

Ann and I are “crate training” WynnSome, our new puppy. It may seem selfish, but we want an occasional break from having to watch Wynn’s every move (think gnawed table legs, peed-on rugs, chased cats) and to get some essential things done (such as taking a shower, enjoying a cup of coffee, or posting Facebook photos of our “oh-so-cute” puppy).

There are scads of on-line sites that are more than happy to tell you how to do this “training.” I figured that the American Kennel Club’s How to Crate Train Your Dog in Nine Easy Steps would be a reliable guide. While the Kennel Club’s suggestions may look good on paper, in practice not only are they not really “steps,” they are not “easy.” However, I did find that Step 9 – “Be Patient” – was somewhat useful, even if a bit depressing:

Step 9 Be Patient: Prepare yourself for at least six months of training. There will be ups and downs since dogs aren’t linear learners, but success will come. “Even when it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall, as long as you stay calm and consistent in your methodology, your dog will eventually look for the reward and you’ll have the opportunity to reward them.” (emphasis mine)

To “stay calm and consistent” in the face of high-decibel, neighborhood-jarring yelping from the crate is a definite challenge, calling for what I would consider to be callousness and a lack of compassion. Although I am working on my stoic inner self, I have a long way to go.

Wynn’s neighborhood-jarring yelp (turn up your volume for the full effect)

Not only do I feel sorry for Wynn when she is yelping, I keep having these fears that a Sonoma County Animal Control Officer will appear at my front door and I will have to convince him or her that we’re not really torturing Wynn – despite what our neighbors may have reported. We just are calmly and consistently crate training our puppy, whom we love like our own child.

Thinking about loving our puppy like our own child reminds me of our “crib training” experiences with Sara, our first born. It’s amazing at how dealing with Wynn in her crate is so much like it was getting Sara to sleep. In those days we didn’t have access to the unlimited amounts of advice from the internet. We pretty much relied on the advice of family or friends who had children.

Popular 1970’s baby car seat/carrier.

Our gold standard of baby training at the time was a couple we knew from grad school who brought their baby to a party we hosted. She was in one of those baby carrier/car seats that were so popular in the 1970s. They just plunked her down on our kitchen counter and joined in. She didn’t fuss or cry and before long was sound asleep with the music blaring and everyone drinking margaritas. Our friends told us that they never fretted much about their baby getting to sleep – she had become accustomed to hubbub at bed time and would fall sleep practically anywhere.

So, not much later, when Sara arrived on the scene, we pledged to treat her sleep time casually and go about our business when we put her in her crib. We figured that if we did this from day one she surely would get accustomed to the activity around her and would doze off naturally. Turns out that was wishful thinking.

Much like our current situation with Wynn, we soon were desperate to get Sara to sleep so we could have our own life for brief interludes. Our “hubbub” strategy quickly went out the window. Getting her to sleep, which became essential to our mental well-being, tended to be a battle of wills. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent holding her on my shoulder and walking circles in her room with that bouncing/swaying rhythm that parents seem to instinctively know, trying to get her to fall asleep.

But falling asleep in on my shoulder wasn’t the end of it. The scariest part was getting her in her crib without waking her. It seemed that every time I would gingerly lay her down her eyes would snap open. Then it took patting her back to gradually get her eyes to close again. The problem was that every time I would stop patting she would look to see if I was still there and if not, would start fussing.

The victor in the Battle of the Crib (Abbreviated version)

I vividly recall the evening that it truly dawned on me that I had lost the battle of the crib. It was when I found myself trying to get Sara to sleep by patting her on the back, slowly sinking to the floor, and then low-crawling out of the room so she wouldn’t see me. Rather than “training” Sara to sleep in her crib, I was reduced to a cowardly retreat to avoid the dreaded lifted head. Clearly, I was not in charge.

Presently, it remains to be seen who wins the battle of the crate. So far Wynn seems to have the upper hand (paw?), but as Yogi Berra famously put it, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” Stay tuned.÷

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