a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Confining Puppies

Friday, April 29, 2005

Confining Puppies

Well, thought I, now that I know a lot about crates and crate training, managing a new puppy will be easy, thought I.

Puppies are a lot of work.

They're fast and unpredictable, near as I can tell. One moment she's sniffing in one corner of the room, and I turn around to adjust a door or gate, and she's across the room, pouncing on an electric cord, just that fast. Puppies, even more than human babies, explore the world with their mouths. That means that everything from harmless items like blades of grass to doubtful things like small pebbles to harmful things like perhaps a mushroom that sprang up overnight can end up in their mouths in an instant. I'm constantly scoping the floor and ground around her, inside and out, for things that might be attractive to her and detrimental to her health.


On the first day, I started off with a small plastic crate that I thought would be plenty large enough for a "puppy". OK, yeah, maybe an 8-week-old puppy, but not a 12-week-old Border Collie puppy. Boost fit, but barely--had to stoop her head to sit up, and her legs didn't quite fit when she lay over on her side against one side of the crate. When trying to nap, she was constantly shifting and grumbling and lying with her feet in the air.

She was already familiar with crates from her breeder, because they went to a variety of agility trials with the puppies in crates in the car, and they slept in large crates at night. But she wasn't in love with the idea of running into her crate, nor doing it on command. So, for the first day, I lured her into the crate by tossing a goodie in ahead of her or simply picked her up and placed her in the crate. She didn't fight me, but it wasn't elegant.

I moved the crate from my office to the kitchen and back again all day, depending on where I was spending more time. And hauled it upstairs at night and downstairs in the morning. Sure, it's small, but I'm inherently lazy and that's a pain in the butt.

Jake in his trial crate (Dec '04)
After the first night, I realized that she wasn't going to sleep comfortably in that tiny crate, even if I could use it for short periods during the day until I could arrange a larger replacement. So the second night I set up Jake's trial crate in my bedroom for sleeping. This was risky, because it's a fabric crate and so is very vulnerable to dogs chewing and ripping, which seemed like a strong possibility if the puppy decided that she wanted to get out.

But it was a good size for her--roomy enough to stretch out and have space left over. For house-breaking, they suggest that there not be enough room in the crate for the dog to make a mess and then curl up away from it on the other end, but by this time I'd already established that she was pretty good about starting to fuss when she needed to go, and her breeder said that she had been sleeping through the night for a while. So far, this has worked well. Plus then I don't have to move the crate upstairs and downstairs night and morning.

On the fifth day, I borrowed a slightly larger crate from a friend nearby. Even this one was noticeably heavier and more awkward for moving around, so we voted to just leave it in my office and rely on other confinement methods in the kitchen area.

Drinking from the spill-resistant bowl.
Boost playing energetically with a toy in her x-pen for over half an hour
Boost fiercely kicking her toy and her bowl behind her—hence the plastic protection


Short for "exercise pen", these are the folding wire pens that one sees so often for confining puppies or dogs with room to move around. I bought a large one for Remington when I started doing agility because I couldn't imagine confining my boy to a crate. (Not to mention that a large x-pen was less expensive than a large-enough crate.) But what I discovered was that Rem would stand up all day, leaning against one side of the x-pen. He didn't start relaxing and lying down until I covered the sides of the pen to shut out more of the distractions & views of nearby dogs. And then mostly he lay down against one side of the crate and napped off and on all day. For this I was taking up 16 square feet of floor space and hauling a large heavy wire thing around!

When I got Jake and added him to the x-pen, 16 square feet were not enough for him and Rem to avoid having knock-down fights, so I had to buy a crate shortly thereafter for Jake. It was so much smaller, lighter, and more convenient, that I then bought Rem a crate and relegated the folded x-pen to the corner of the garage, whence it came only occasionally to keep dogs out from underfoot at crucial times in the yard.

Now--for a puppy--the "exercise" goes back into the x-pen. I wanted room for Boost to move around and play with toys, but still not have to watch her like a hawk. In my office, it was critical, because there are too many wires and papers and books and plants for her to get at, so confining her to the area with a gate wasn't the answer.

My office is carpeted. So, on the first day, I laid down a double layer of 4-mil (heavy) plastic sheeting covered with newspapers, both to protect the carpet from puppy accidents. Tossed in some toys, and that worked great--for about a day. Then she discovered that she could pick up the newspapers and shake them around and tear them to shreds. Then she discovered that she could get a grip on the plastic and start pulling it around, with considerable effort, but none-the-less it was an entertaining challenge.

After a couple of days, it was becoming clear that the paper was there only to absorb spills when she knocked over her waterbowl (even the spill-resistant one still slops) and as playtoys--scattered bits of newspaper were everywhere. And the plastic was there to protect my carpet--not from puppy accidents, but from puppy teeth! Once again, in an instant--after I discouraged her from tugging on the plastic, not really thinking about the fact that a tiny bit of carpeting was now visible within the x-pen boundaries--I turned away from her back to my computer, realized abruptly that the sound she was making was NOT of plastic or of newspaper, and turned around to find her pulling tufts of carpet out of the side of the carpeting.

Fortunately the damage is very mild and I think won't even be noticeable, but now I have a problem--can't have the puppy in the crate *all* the time, but what to do about the floor? I contemplated going out and buying a 4x4 piece of plywood to go under the crate. Thought about that for a few days; meanwhile, my decision for office control was to either have her in her crate--where she spent a lot of time over the last few days--or confined to a very small section of my office right next to my desk where I could keep an eye on her while she chewed rawhide. But that was very distracting for working conditions.

And everything had gotten to be very crowded in here.

This morning I rethunk the layout. Moved the rocking chair (the only other chair in here, which almost never gets used here any more--I used to try to destress in it periodically, but I've given up on that, too) up to the living room. Removed all the newspaper, as that was just horrible to look at and wasn't doing much. Relaid the plastic smoothly out along one side of the room (but not too close to the bookcases) and set the x-pen firmly down on it so that it was once again holding the edges smoothly with no wrinkles in the middle for easy grabbing.

It's very noisy with the puppy moving around on it, but it keeps those little pointy teeth away from my carpet.

So far this morning it has worked very well. Gave the puppy a pile of toys of various sizes, shapes, materials, and sounds, and she played very happily after breakfast for maybe half an hour, then has settled down for a nap. But I know that i'll have to keep an eye on her to see when she starts getting in the mood to pull at the plastic and then find something else to do with her for a while. ...And this could easily go on for months.

Later (I have to get to work now), I'll talk about leashes and gates and how I'm using them for confinement.

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