Those of you who have been here before know we have recently acquired a dog.
He’s a very sweet dog, and very fun. He springs around like the little dog in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons and dances on his hind feet when he’s excited and as soft as a puff of cotton, and, when he’s doing the things that puppies do, like pee and poo in the house or whimper in their crates at night because they’d rather cuddle up with you on your nice warm down comforter, he brings out the impatient side of me I haven’t seen since my children were toddlers. It seems to be kind of mild rage that surges, just below the surface, when they — puppies, small children — refuse (!) to behave in a rational manner.
Such as: Dexter hates to get his feet wet. It’s November, in Michigan. This means, when we go out to the “potty place” he has to walk across a deck and out into the leaves, and it being November (and now December) in Michigan, it’s often raining or trying to snow, and the deck and leaves are therefore cold, and wet. So I coax him out the back door with the smell of bits of hot dog in my hand, and coax him across the deck with gentle tugs on the leash, and then he stands there, shivering on the leaves, looking at me pathetically over his shoulder, and not peeing. I try “calm/assertive” (Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer; CW: “Cesar’s Way“): “Dexter, go potty.” (I say this every time he goes potty. I try not to feel ridiculous. Like, Duh? Why else would we be standing out here shivering in the rain at 3:30 a.m.?) I try calm/very assertive: “Dexter, go POTTY.” I try beseeching: “Dexter, go potty, PLEASE?.” Then I try reason: “If you’d go potty we could go back in the house.”
It doesn’t work.
CW: Don’t use too many words. Words aren’t words to a dog, they’re just noises, so keep the commands simple: go potty, no, tsssst (bad), click/click with your tongue (good), etc.
He also doesn’t eat much. I measured out 3/4 c. of food yesterday morning, there’s still 5/8 c. in his bowl. We don’t give him that many treats. He had 2/32 of a hot dog this morning to get him across the deck (after he peed on the deck step), and a half of a Kong (the smallest size available) worth of peanut butter yesterday. This is not enough food. I put the bowl down 3 times a day for 15 minutes each time; I coax him over by shaking it, he eats three kibbles. He then sniffs the whole perimeter of the kitchen, while I try to decide if it’s benign-dog-investigating-the-terrain sniffing or a I-wonder-where-is-a-good-place-to-pee sniffing, which means I don’t get a single thing done when I’m home because I’m constantly craning my neck trying to keep him in sight. After 15 minutes I put his food up, and then spend the next 5 hours trying to keep him from eating the cat food.
CW: Stand in front of the cat food, make eye contact with the dog (the dog is 5″ high, btw) and say, in a calm/assertive way, “No.” You should only have to do this 3 times.
Maybe he means three times per half hour. Maybe the eye contact is important, and would work better if the dog weren’t 5″ high.
Dexter also doesn’t like to be left alone. If I leave the kitchen (where he is kept for now, until he can be trusted not to pee wherever the urge strikes him, which, as far as I can tell, might be NEVER), he stands at the door and whimpers. Of course, if I’m in the room with him he pays very little attention to my presence. The same thing happens outside. We have a pretty big yard, and a fair portion of the back of it was fenced by a previous owner, and he loves to run around on the deck and sniff the knothole that serves as the entrance to the chipmunk’s home*, and scoot acorns around with his nose, and jump through the leaves (wet or not; it doesn’t seem to matter if the leaves are wet unless he’s supposed to be peeing). But if I go inside, even for a minute, he gallops to the door and stands there and whimpers. Of course, if I come out, he runs off and completely ignores me, so I guess I’m supposed to just stand there with my hands in my pockets.
CW: A dog can be cured of his/her separation anxiety very easily. When he/she is distracted by play, walk around a corner or to another side of the fence. When he/she begins to display anxiety over your absence, step into view, say “Quiet,” and wait for him/her to calm down. Then walk away again. After doing this a few times, your dog will learn to relax, comfort themselves, and go about their play.
I tried this today. He was outside, running around through the puddles (it was okay, he didn’t need to pee), scooting acorns around with his nose, etc. I walked into the house so I could peep through the front windows to see if Only Daughter’s bus had come, and he ran to the sliding glass door and pawed at it with his paws and whimpered. I came into view, said “Quiet,” he stopped whimpering, etc. We did this twenty seven times over ten minutes. He would wander off for 20-30 seconds after he could see me. But then some little puppy voice in his head would say “Wait; Where is She? Is She Still There? What if She’s Left Me All Alone or Never Lets Me in the House Again?” (If only that voice would say, “This would be a lot less likely if I stopped shitting on the kitchen floor, chewing on the kitchen table legs, and whining at 3:00 a.m.” I can dream I guess.)
I want a level of rationality that I’m just not going to get. I know this.
Cesar claims that, if you are completely consistent in your housebreaking habits, it can happen in a few days. Cesar is lying. We try to take comfort that he (Dexter, not Cesar) now whimpers in his crate if he has peed in it (so we can clean it up for him, I presume), and that occasionally he paws at the sliding door to go out, and sometimes this means that he needs to go out to go potty. Sometimes he’s just trying to get us to let him outside to play, so now we somehow have to teach him the difference between pawing at the door to go outside to pee, vs. waiting for us to take him outside to play.
And the cat, Sophie, is pissed.
She’s a Siamese. I think she might have played the role of the one on the right.
I can imagine her complaints:
First of all, he just got here, and gets to go outside already.
If she wants to eat she has to climb over the wall of boots or shoes or towels we’ve created to keep Dexter out of her food.
And she looks at him with utter disdain. She thinks he’s a total cretin. “You pee and poop in your house? You don’t clean up after yourself? What’s the MATTER with you?”
I mean, think about it — you show a cat ONCE where the litter box is, and you never need to show him or her again.
This ought to at least get her some kind of elite status or something.
She does balance it out by her insistence on trying to climb the Christmas tree, so it’s not like she’s perfect or something. She just thinks she is.
Dexter just wants to play. That’s probably not helping.
Anyway, puppies are cute for the same reason babies are cute. It’s the single most important factor in their survival to adolescence. Not sure what kicks in then; investment of time, I guess.
And now a brief tribute to Husband. He didn’t really want a dog. They are a lot of work, and he likes for us to have freedom to come and go if things come up on weekends or road trips, etc. He also likes life to be as regular and calm and predictable as possible, and none of these things are true when you have a puppy in the house. But he conceded that if we really wanted a dog, he wasn’t going to stand in our way, and that he would be perfectly fine with taking care of the dog when I or Only Daughter were unavailable.
Every time the dog wakes us up at night, or pees in the kitchen, or whatever, Husband is calm and patient and just does what needs to be done. He also comforts and reassures me in the middle of the night when I am upset or worried that puppyhood is going to last forever and I’ve ruined our lives. He is the Best Husband Ever, although I sometimes wonder if maybe we would all be better off if, rather than comforting and humoring me, someone tempered my Pathological Optimism a little wee bit.
But maybe not.
In any case, as Husband says, we now have a dog. We will Make the Most of It.
*These chipmunks are, in his own words, Husband’s “Mortal Enemy.” They burrow around under trees and plants and weaken foundations. Every once in a while we’ll be talking in the kitchen, and he’ll look out the back door and get this pensive, distant look in his eye, and I imagine he is thinking some profound thought or discovering the cure for cancer or something, and then he suddenly, quietly leaves the house. I have learned that this signals a chipmunk sighting, and wait expectantly for the sound of the pellet gun (or whatever it is; what I know about guns is only exceeded by what I know about everything else) and either his victorious reappearance or a prolonged absence as he lurks in the shadows, waiting for the little rodent to reappear.