Crate That Puppy

I am not much of an animal person.

It’s not personal. I don’t have any opinions about whether or not you want your dog to sleep on your pillow or if you are that person who goes through the Starbucks drive-thru and orders a puppichino for the critter riding shotgun beside you (I am not making this up. It is a real thing, and it is free. It is a cup of whipped cream, theoretically for your dog, though I have always wondered how they confirm that I am not just mooching free whipped cream, sticking it to the Man in the sweetest way possible). If you want to buy matching Halloween costumes for you and your schnauzer, I’ll hold the door for you. I may slowly back away the other direction after I do, but you aren’t likely to notice once you see that Dorothy and Toto get-up displayed on aisle 2.

So all things considered, we were perhaps not obvious candidates for dog rescue. Yet, whether it was brainwashing by Disney (stupid Old Yeller) or perceived farm upbringing norms, we reached a point several year back when it seemed like our Boy Quail in particular ought to have a dog, and I began poking around shelters for just the right furry companion.

No, this was not noble. I just thought it would be cheaper. The first dog we got on a trial basis… how weird to have a refundable dog, but in the end they probably should have kept my card on file or held a child as a collateral, because the little old Australian Shepherd, Penny, spent a whopping 24 hours in our care before she bolted, never to be seen again (despite the Beloved spending all day searching).

The second dog I found has a distinctly unusual and unfortunate heritage. He is a pug retriever (I will now pause while you shake off your grimace, because no matter which breed was the mother, she was not living her best life) who, when I met him, was called Conway. Who names a dog after a hairdryer? We renamed him Luther, for he had a seriousness about him that befit a monk turned instigator of the Reformation. He was rescued out of a Texas hurricane and one of the first things that became apparent about him was that he had been well trained by someone. To this day, I am entirely certain that he can do way more than I know how to access. If I had the proper phrase or cue, he could probably do my taxes and sing Puccini, but alas, instead we gave him the job of Head of Ranch Security (any Hank the Cowdog fans out there?) and there, he has largely thrived.

I say largely because I cannot claim to have done everything right as a dog owner, not by a long shot (see above if you are still confused about why), and there have been certain foibles along the way that probably could have been avoided had I heeded my sister the Superchick’s advice and crate trained him right off the bat. I was a cheapskate. I didn’t buy in, and would live to regret it.

Superchick has trained a golden retriever puppy. Behold: that is what street cred looks like.

It was all fine when we lived on the orchard, and he would take off running after my husband’s truck everyday and generally keep eyes on all the happenings (read: contents of employees’ lunches) on the farm. It wasn’t until we moved to a job that required us to live in town that our lack of training came back to haunt us. Living in a duplex, with virtually no yard to frolic about in, brought poor Luther down to the depths of city dog life, and it cannot be said that the transition was a graceful one. We thought it seemed fun to all of a sudden have a dog to put on a leash and take for walks, like normal pet owners, but he seemed to be under the impression that the leash was just us instructing him to be more thorough in taking dominion of the whole neighborhood. I packed one little plastic bag for his deposits. He proceeded to drop impolite gifts every 2.5 feet.

And now we have a conundrum. It is winter, the off season in a small, resort town on a lake in Eastern Washington and the streets are nearly empty, so you can’t even throw dirty looks at other dog walkers and pretend that it was their dog making like Alexander the Great all across the sidewalk, not us but them who didn’t bring sufficient luggage for the job. And, as I have established in previous posts, we were a conspicuous lot. It was on this first fateful dog walk that we had someone holler from their porch that we looked like quail scurrying down the road, which is to say, the people were absolutely watching this dark plot line unfold (into a rather literal plot line, as it happens). So what do you do? Do you try and shuffle it off into the road, at least? Do you have your quail cover the deposits with dry leaves and hope for a gust of wind? Do you pretend he isn’t your dog?

It really doesn’t matter what I did. The point is, we never did it again. Not all dogs need to be walked.

But during that time, it also became painfully obvious that by skipping the crate training, I had crippled my dog’s ability to behave like a normal dog and go calm down in his box from time to time. Did you know that’s what the crate does? If they are trained on using the crate, it doesn’t feel like punishment to them, it feels like safety and security. But Luther, poor untrained slob that he was, viewed it as a crypt that we were locking him into every time we left for church. The first Sunday, we came back to him, full on hangdog mode, sitting in a pile of his own vomit, with his collar hanging quite decidedly not around his neck, hooked on the latch of the crate. The little stinker tried to pull a full-on Houdini and wiggle through the CLOSED gate, got his collar stuck, and apparently thrashed about so much that he made himself vomit profusely.

None of us were sorry to move back out onto an orchard.

Which brings us to our feelings.

In our house, there are sometimes phrases that pop up from various quail at various times, things like: I don’t feel pretty. I feel stressed. I just don’t feel right. Sometimes they pop up in my heart, too. And perhaps because of these vivid memories of failed dog trainings, I have told my quail (and myself) that your emotions are like puppies — good, fun, tremendous gifts, but only when they are under control. Even good feelings out of control can make you unbearably disobedient, and can break fellowship in the blink of an eye (ever been greeted at the door by an enthusiastic puppy, only to be told by the master of the house not to worry — “he’s just happy to see you”?).

Sometimes, your feelings need to be crated.

Because maybe you don’t feel pretty today. Obey God anyway.

Maybe you feel worried, or overwhelmed. Sing praises anyway.

Maybe you feel that if the weight of your own failure to succeed at your self-imposed standards gets any heavier on your heart, that overworked organ will break beneath the load. Trust God anyway.

Your feelings are not bad anymore than adorable puppies are bad. They are gracious and kind gifts from God. But just because a gift is good doesn’t mean you should let it relieve itself all over your sidewalk. Crate training takes time… but it is worth it. Press in fully on Jesus, as the One who is Lord over every scamp of feeling that you have, and rest fully on His grace. Only in Him can your feelings find perfect safety. Only in Him can you experience the joy of living well-trained by His love and care.

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