Puppy Amnesia. Things I knew, forgot, and remember – Part 2

Rebecca Brame

October 2, 2022

In Part 2 of Puppy Amnesia, Things I knew, forgot and remember I delve into crate training and riding in a car with a puppy who didn’t want to do either.

Just because it is happening now does not mean it will forever.

Vida was born with strong feelings about confinement. Meaning she hated it. She hated it loudly. She flat out refused to be crated. In her mind the car was a huge moving crate and she’d have none of it.  Although similar and cut from the same cloth—the car and the crate obstacles had to be treated separately. 

The Car

I dreaded driving anywhere with Vida. The loud yodel-yelping and scrambling of legs that I could hear and feel but not look at since I was driving was anxiety producing to say the least.  It didn’t matter if anyone else was in the car—if she couldnt be on top of me, she was shrieking and doing anything to get to me. I drive a lot, and I couldn’t leave Vida at home yet—at this point the crate was worse than the car and I hadn’t figured out how to leave her safely. I tried different things. The crate in the car wasn’t an option—I tried a soft carrier crate, but she was not fooled and panicked. I tethered her in the front seat, which I don’t recommend, but I was sleep deprived and desperate. I could keep half an eye on her and an eye and half an eye on the road and thought It  would be better for her to be closer to me, that I’d build some distance in as we went. Vida in the front seat was even worse- the yelping was somehow louder, and I needed my non steering hand to hold her in the front seat since she was now adding choking herself to her list of car theatrics and was also able to reach me to scratch with those flailing legs. 

Just when I thought this would never change and was about to invest in ear plugs and install a plexiglass divider between the front seats of the car,  I had a life situation that jumped ahead in line before my dog training needs. My daughter urgently needed a ‘clear the air/ get out of the house’ drive. I had to bring Vida along and was concerned she’d be gasoline on the mood fire. I needed the passenger seat for a human so I put Vida in the back seat, and both the seat belt and the behavior clicked into place. Vida rode quietly. I don’t know if she sensed the mood urgency in the car that day or if her brain told her you must completely freak out for 33 car rides and then on the 34th it will be out of your system. What I suspect happened was my idea to keep Vida close to me to ease her frustration backfired. I was just close enough to be frustrating—and she was just close enough to frustrate me too. Adding space is always a good first guess- things are easier to see in retrospect. I had a hand to the forehead “of course” moment—things are rarely as clear in the middle of things. These days Vida comes to most places with me—I worry I’ll forget she is in the car since she is so quiet. The car relaxes her. If she’s overwhelmed and bouncing off the walls I’ll take her for a drive to settle her, much like I did when my kids were babies and wouldn’t sleep. 

The end result in the backseat of the car – a beautiful sight

The Crate

The crate was met with even more horror than the car was. My professional reaction was “oh no she will never ever go into a crate what am I going to do?”  First I panicked. Then I decided the solution was to not leave her alone. The car was the lesser evil. I knew this wasn’t a permanent solution; while I took her everywhere with me, I started work on a two-part plan to be able to leave Vida at home. Step 1, when Vida was asleep on her dog bed I put a 6 foot tall ex-pen around her in a circle giving her as much room as I could.

Vida in the Ex-pen- An intermediate crating step

When she woke up—before she could start yelling, I’d toss a toy/treat/ bone into the pen, and then open the pen to create a wide opening so she could choose to stay or leave. Step 2, all meals were fed in the crate, with the door open and as little fanfare from me as possible. Inevitably life created a situation and I had no choice but to leave Vida home alone. Vida wasn’t ready for the crate yet. I dragged out the ex-pen, gave her a Kong (which she didn’t get the point of and ignored—I think it was more for me than her at that point), asked my mother who lives nearby if she’d check on Vida around the halfway point of me being away, and left. I got a text from my mother about an hour late:- a picture of VIda asleep on the couch captioned “I can’t believe you gave up and left her out”. 

The next day the scene was recreated. I put Vida in the ex-pen, came home and she was out. I was dumbfounded by this puppy’s Houdini skills. One evening, I was on the couch with Vida, winding down from the day, when Pancho walked in the room and opened the ex-pen with ease to investigate the Kong left by the food- toy-amateur puppy. Mystery solved:  Pancho was freeing Vida.  Armed with my new information, I latched the ex pen at the top AND the bottom. That seemed to work.

This is how it goes, right? You focus on one part of the problem which diminishes your attention to the remaining parts of the problem—obvious things can be overlooked. I spent so much time wondering how Vida was getting out I forgot to consider who might have been getting in. I have learned this lesson more than once, and I teach this lesson, but in the forest where all I could see was trees I forgot. Giving dogs space is a game changer; giving ourselves space can also be.

Once I was able to keep Vida in the ex-pen—or rather Pancho out of the ex-pen—I used the ex-pen when I showered, when I had online training appointments, and when I left the house. Once Vida had that system down pretty well, I transferred the bed that was in the ex-pen into her crate and shut the door. Success. Most of the time. We are still negotiating the contract’s fine print, but the good news is we have a reliable contract in place. 

Vida cautiously investigating her crate. Pancho supervising