If you’ve ever been a pet owner then you know first-hand the debate over who’s training whom rages eternal. People like to believe that we train our pets to conform to our will. When I lived in Colorado I lived with a dog and there was no confusion. The question was moot. Case in point, here’s the story of the first day I left him alone in the apartment while I went to work.

Banjo was an Australian Cattle Dog/Australian Sheppard mix. When I adopted him he was a bit less than a year old. His shape was more Sheppard than cattle dog, as was his longish coat. He was predominantly black with a silver tint on the legs, a white belly and some gorgeous merle mixed in that silver in the legs. He was without question the smartest dog that ever owned me.

I was an officer in the Army stationed at Ft. Carson, Co with an off post apartment. The first Monday I had to leave him I awoke at 5am for physical training. I walked Banjo, got dressed for training coaxed him into his crate and headed out the door. It should be noted that over the course of that previous weekend, I had crated him a few times and even locked him in there for an hour or so at a time without incident. But then again, during those training sessions, I never left the apartment.

Banjo’s crate was one of those collapsible dog crates, much like this one:



The major difference being, Banjo’s did not have a side door. But as you can see in this photo the bottom, sides and top of this crate are all held together by metal bands. The front and back walls are banded at the bottom to the base of the crate allowing them to fold up and down. When extended up they front and back walls latch to the top of the crate with simple flexible metal hooks, two on each end. I had the crate tucked into a corner in my apartment so the left and back walls of the crate were flush to two interior walls of my dining room.

I walked out the door at 5:20 am confident that I had everything under control, even though I could hear my very unhappy dog howling in his crate. I got back from my workout around 6:30. As I approached the apartment I noted that everything was quiet. “Good sign,” I thought.

I opened the door to find Banjo sitting on the couch taking great pride in his morning workout of destroying both couch throw pillows! With a beard of pillow stuffing hanging off his snout and the twinkle in his eye he looked like a canine Santa Claus. I looked to the crate. The front wall was collapsed inward. That joker was so determined to escape that he was willing to pull the wall down on top of his own head and then wiggle out from under it!

I scolded him for the pillows, fed him, walked him and got prepared for my day ahead. The entire time I was wondering how to keep him contained. Then I had a bit of inspiration. I went to my car and got a bungee cord.

I reset the crate and wrapped the bungee cord around the seam where the front edge of the top and top edge of the front wall met. “I’ve got you now, Banjo.” I finished getting ready for my work day, crated the dog and locked the apartment behind me. The entire time I was driving to post I was congratulating myself on my superior intellect.

At lunch I headed back to walk Banjo. As I crossed the apartment complex I looked up to the floor to ceiling window of my second story apartment. Sure enough, Banjo was staring out and grinning down at me. I hustled up the stairs, entered the apartment and looked to find I had left him an escape route. He was once again so determined to be free that he pulled down the unsecured back wall of the crate and then wiggled out between the crate and the dining room wall!

While I was gone he at least took the initiative and fed himself. He apparently extracted the pot in which I had cooked tomato sauce for pasta the night before from the kitchen sink. He then hauled it to the middle of the living room floor and licked it clean in the morning sun. Mind you, Banjo wasn’t tall enough to reach into the sink standing on two legs, so given his size he had to have gotten up on the counter to get to that pot!

So by mid-day the score is Banjo 2: Paul (the college-educated human) 0! I got a second bungee cord from the car and secured the back of the crate. I’d lost two battles, but I was sure now that I had won the war.

At the end of the work day I returned home again. Once again, there was Banjo standing in the window looking down at me with his doggie grin. To this day I’m not sure if the look on his face was smug pride or disappointment as he stared down on me.

Inside the apartment I found the heel of what had been a new loaf of bread just 5 hours ago and the shredded scraps of less than half the plastic bag that had held it. Mind you, when I left that bread had been on top of the full-sized refrigerator.

Examining the crate my error became apparent. I failed to account for the teeth.  The clever bastard had gnawed through the elastic bungee and again pulled the front wall down on top of himself.

After a walk, some Frisbee fetch, dinner and some time to mull things over I bent the metal hooks from the severed bungee around the seams of the crate with pliers. I finally got one step ahead of him too and just cut the hooks off the bungee on the back of the crate and repeated the process with those hooks.

The last thing I did that day was call Erin who was at that time my fiancée. I told her, “I don’t know if I can keep this dog.  He’s smarter than I am.” For Banjo’s part, I’m pretty sure he slept a sound sleep that night satisfied that while his new human might be a touch slow, he was at least generous with his food leaving it easily accessible throughout the day, loving, and ultimately trainable.