Q: I know humans are typically your subject, but this is a relationship question, so I hope you’ll consider answering it. I have a new puppy (an eight-pound terrier mutt). I eventually want her to sleep in bed with me. However, she’s not toilet-trained yet, so I “crate” her at night in the laundry room (in a small dog cage). She cries all night. It’s heartbreaking. Please help!—Sleepless in Dogtown
A: We call dogs “man’s best friend” and treat them just like our human best friends—if at 11pm you say to your BFF, “Wow, wouldja look at the time,” gently remove the beer from her hand, and usher her to her cage in your laundry room.
Crate training, recommended by vets, breeders, and the American Kennel Club, involves confining a dog to a “den”—a cage or gated-off area—with her bed and her favorite toys to dismember. However, the crate is not supposed to be used for punishment—as a sort of Doggy San Quentin—but, say, for times you can’t watch her to keep her from using the $3,000 leather couch as a chew toy or the antique Persian rug as an opulently colored hand-knotted toilet.
The problem you’re experiencing in crating your dog at night comes out of doggy-human coevolution. Anthrozoologist John W. S. Bradshaw explains that over generations, we humans bred dogs to be emotionally dependent on us. Not surprisingly, dogs miss their owners, sometimes desperately, when they are separated from them—and other dogs don’t seem to fill the emotional void. In one of Bradshaw’s studies—of 40 Labrador retrievers and border collies—“well over 50 percent of the Labs and almost half of the collies showed some kind of separation distress” when left alone.
Fortunately, puppies can be trained to understand that picking up your car keys isn’t human-ese for “Goodbye forever!” Bradshaw’s advice in Dog Sense: “Pick up keys, go to door, praise dog.” Next: Pick up keys. Go out door. Come right back in. Praise dog.Go out for increasingly longer intervals, and “go back a stage” if the dog shows anxiety.
And good news for you: You probably don’t have to spoon with your dog to keep her from feeling separation distress at night. My tiny Chinese crested now sleeps (uh, snores like a cirrhotic old wino) on my pillow, resting her tiny snout on my neck. However, back before she had her bathroom business under control, I went through the crying-at-night-in-the-crate thing (actually a gated alcove by my office).
I felt like the second coming of Cruella de Vil. Then I remembered something about dogs: they have a sense of smell on the level of superhero powers. Maybe my dog didn’t have to be in bed; maybe near bed would do. I snagged a big see-through plastic container (maybe four feet long and three feet high) that my neighbors were tossing out. At bedtime, I put it next to my bed and put my dog in it with her bed and a pee pad. She turned around three times, curled up and went to sleep—after giving me a look I’m pretty sure said, “Hey, next time you’re gonna throw me in ‘the hole,’ gimme some notice, and I’ll menace the mailman with a sharpened Nylabone.”
Q: I keep seeing men pushing dogs in baby strollers and carrying dogs as women do. What’s going on? An epidemic of sissified men? If I ever did this, I’d hope my family would have me committed.—Disturbed
A: Thankfully, the Centers for Disease Control lists no reports of an outbreak of Pomeranians poking their little heads out of man purses. However, you’re right; dog strollers are increasingly becoming a thing. As for why this is, think Field of Dreams: “If you build it”—and sell it at Petco, people will buy it so they won’t have to leave their old, tired and/or disabled doggy home alone.
As for what pushing a doggybuggy says about a man, anthropologists and zoologists would call this a “costly signal.” This is an extravagant or risky trait or behavior that comes with a substantial price—which suggests that the quality being displayed is for real. An example of this is conspicuous waste—signaling vast wealth by using $100 bills as birdcage liners. Accordingly, it takes a man with masculinity to burn to not fear putting off all those women who previously announced to their friends, “We want sensitive men!—though not, you know, ‘put their Shih Tzu in a baby stroller’ sensitive.”