Thursday, April 30, 2009



So, Achilles has been a part of our family for over four years now. And we love him, we really do. But he has his issues. As you may know, we adopted him from a rescue shelter in Gainesville in September of 2004. He had been abandoned in a crate on their doorstep. As a result, he has some separation anxiety issues. Over time, we've been learning the best strategy for leaving Achilles at home and coming back to everything in one piece. And it has been quite the progression. Let me share it with you...

This is the first we ever saw of our little Achilles.
This was the picture of him on the shelter website, when he was still going by the name of "Tyson."
Look how dark his face is! He's a little more gray now.

We knew from the beginning that we would crate him when we had to leave him home alone. My dad's dog, Lucy, was crated as a puppy and it was wonderful. She learned to love her crate and would sleep in there even when we were home. It was her "bed." I had visions of Achilles doing the same. Not so.

We started off with a plastic dog crate, like the one to the right. We wanted to crate Achilles at night as well as when we were gone, at least at first, because we didn't want him sleeping in bed with us, and also didn't want him getting into trouble while we slept. Well, that plan didn't exactly pan out. He HOWLED all night. At first we thought it was just the first night, and he would get used to it. But it continued, night after night. We tried everything, including draping a blanket over the crate to make it darker so maybe he would sleep. We thought that worked because he quieted down for a bit. However we soon realized that he was quiet because he had pulled the blanket in through the little slats in the crate and was shredding it. So, Lesson #1: Do not put anything on or near the crate.

Also, Achilles now sleeps in the bed with us, so you see who won THAT battle. Score one for the dog.

We also soon realized that when we left, Achilles was able to scoot the crate around the room to get near things to pull in to shred. So we started having to anchor him behind chairs, etc., so he couldn't move. So, Lesson #2: Immobilize the crate. However, we soon realized that he was also starting to chew through the plastic of the crate itself. Hence, Lesson #3: The crate must be metal.

So, on to a metal crate. I stole an old crate of Lucy's. It was way bigger than he really needed, but we figured he'd be fine with extra room to move around. Well, with this crate, he was able to BEND THE BARS so that he could stick his head through. We started noticing this when we'd come home and his collar would be off and outside the crate, while he was still inside. Not only that, but these extra-wide openings for his head enabled him to better reach anything that might have been near the crate, such as vertical blinds, which would be pulled down and shredded. Lesson #4: The bars on the crate must be close enough together that he cannot bend them to squeeze his head through.

Also, Achilles licks the bars like crazy for whatever reason when we leave. Before long, he was licking rusty metal bars. So, Lesson #5: The bars must be plastic-coated so as to minimize rust.

We found a crate that fit our modified specifications, and had it effectively wedged in a corner, so we thought we were good.

Achilles modeling the perfect crate

Then we realized that when Achilles licks the bars, he also slobbers all over everything. Which seeps down underneath the crate, and is soaked up by any fallen food. Which gets gross. And buggy. And the floor is nasty. So, Lesson #6: There must be some sort of plastic mat underneath the crate for easy cleaning. We use plastic car mats.

Also, with nothing in reach to shred, Achilles turned on his own belongings. We were placing bowls of food and water in there with him so he could have everything he needed while crated. But, he was flipping the bowls over and chewing them up. So, Lesson #7: The food and water dishes must be metal and attached to the crate itself. We now have one of those water bottles like you put in a gerbil cage, and a metal food bowl that attaches to the bars of the crate.

At long last, we thought we had it all figured out. We had our crate with metal, coated, closely-spaced bars, securely placed on plastic car mats which both protected the floor and prevented him from scooting the crate around the room. Plus he had his attached food and water containers. FINALLY! We outsmarted him on all counts.

You may be thinking, "That's an awful lot of work. Why not just try leaving him out?" Well, we did. And it was ugly. You may also be thinking, "But Achilles is such a sweet, small dog! How much damage can he really do?" And the answer is: A LOT. The worst was in Gainesville, when we left him alone and uncrated for about an hour and a half. We came home and he had DUG THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR. Seriously, a giant hole in our front door. Had there not been a metal plate on the front of the door, he would have dug straight through to the great outdoors.

That's what he does - he digs. Below is a picture of another time Achilles was left unattended. This time was while I was visiting Eric in New York when he worked here for the summer. Our roommate Jeff was left in charge of Achilles, and he thought Achilles would be fine if he just shut him in my room instead of crating him. Instead, Achilles dug. He dug RIGHT THROUGH THE CARPET. See that line behind him? That's his handy work. That was not a seam in the carpet. That was solid carpet. The debris around him is carpet shreddings. Not good, Achilles.

Achilles is all, "What's up?" And I'm all, "Bad Dog!"

So, we thought we finally outsmarted him and figured out the best way to crate him. All was going well...until last week. I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday, and left Achilles crated as usual. Then I came trash all over the house, and Achilles hanging out on my bed. WHAT?! I figured I must not have closed the crate properly. The next day I left again, and all was normal. But now, twice over the weekend and again yesterday, I came home to find Achilles just hanging out. HE HAS FIGURED OUT HOW TO OPEN THE CRATE! Each time, the door was just hanging open as if someone had come in and opened it for him. Apparently, Lesson #8: This dog cannot be contained!

So I have to figure out how to handle this one. On the one hand, I don't mind if he lets himself out. By my estimations, his destructive period is when we first leave and he panics. Now, he is still crated while in panic mode, and then it seems by the time he is able to let himself out he has calmed down and just goes about his business. That's great! I would love for him to be free while we're gone, so this seems perfect. BUT I'm afraid that eventually he'll get so good at setting himself free, that he'll be out of that crate before I get out the door, and then he'll be in panic mode, and we'll have more holes in doors.

So what do I do? What is the next step? Do I really have to padlock my dog in his crate? He's like Houdini - he can figure his way out of anything. I even googled Houdini and found this video of one of his escapes, and this is a lot like what I picture Achilles doing: just convulsing around like a madman until he finally escapes.

I'm afraid that if I put a lock on the crate, I may be back here next year telling you he figured out how to use a key and unlock himself. I mean, really. What kind of dog IS this? How is it possible that after four and a half years, we are still trying to figure out the best way to crate this dog?

Of course, maybe if this continues, I'll be able to sell tickets for the Amazingly Intelligent Escaping Houdini Dog. At least that would pay for repairs to carpet and doors.

But really, even though he keeps us on our toes, we love this little guy. What's not to love about this face?

Four years after joining our family, his face may be a little whiter, he's still as cute as ever.

He's just too smart for his own good.


Joy said...

OMG...I have been laughing histerically at this story. I have an escape artist/digger/intelligent/destructive/90 lb dog: Parker. We call him El Diablo or #@*&% from time to time. He is not allowed to have any blankets in his crate. My best advice: LOTS of exercise right before you leave. Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh my word! I thought our dog, Shely has issues. NOT! Nothing compared to Achilles. And of course, you do have to love 'em!
Aunt Rachel

Mrs.Jason (Kathy from the Knot) said...

I enjoyed the story!! What a personality Achilles has - his name seems fitting!!

Dad said...

Hmmm....better get him that straight jacket before you bring him here to Fla again!

ps...go Achilles :o)