“I want a dog,” I say to DC.
“We have a dog.”
“No. You have a dog.” DC rescued Peapod, a 9-year-old rat terrier mix, eight years ago, long before I came on the scene. She’s devoted to him. Me? I’m the other woman. “Who’s she?” You could see the question in her brown eyes when I started coming around.
“I want a dog that adores me,” I say.
“But life is so easy with Peapod,” he says. True, she’s turn-key. Perfectly house trained. Gets by on three good walks a day. Never chews on anything she shouldn’t. Doesn’t jump on people or furniture. Is friendly to all.
All that order just begs for disruption, doesn’t it?
And the dog search began. I scoured pet rescue sites every night, looking for our next family member. I had my eye out for a small, under 20-pound, male (to better get along with our female, who would have veto power), well-mannered, well out of puppyhood, house trained, friendly, healthy, and, as long as I was dreaming, fluffy and non-shedding.
I met and test drove several rescue dogs. One nipped me every time I picked her up, another growled when I sat next to him.
“Am I shallow?” I ask DC. “Or is it too much to ask for a friendly dog?”
“What kind of dog do you want?”
“Well…if a miniature labradoodle fell in my lap.…” I got to thinking. I call a local breeder. “Do you ever have a miniature labradoodle that someone needs to rehome?”
“Nobody rehomes their miniature labradoodle,” she said.
Sigh. I tell her about my unsuccessful dog hunt.
A pregnant pause follows, then she says, “I do have this one puppy….” And she tells me about a pup she can’t sell to customers on her wait list because his tail broke when his mom was delivering him. A vet had to dock it.
“I don’t care if he has a tail!”
“I thought you didn’t want a puppy,” DC said when I told him about the tail-less, thus unwanted pup.
“I know it’s work, but then we could raise the dog we want,” I say, ever the optimist.
The next day, I head straight for trouble. I meet the puppy in the breeder’s home, a brownish brindle colored six-week-old baby with green eyes, and a pure white patch over his heart. He melted against me like warm chocolate. We sniffed each other. It was love at first lick.
Three weeks later, Pippin moves in, a four-legged fluff ball so unbelievably disarming he can simultaneously overtake our hearts, dismantle our home, and leave us laughing. In the days since he came on scene like a hand grenade, DC and I have witnessed one eight-pound bundle of feisty, fun-loving, fur charmingly dismantle our once smooth, orderly, day-to-day life.
To get fast practical answers to immediate issues –chewing, whining, pottying in the wrong place — I download two books on puppy raising onto my reader. When I’m not wrestling my leather sandals or my cell phone out of Pippin’s mouth, or running behind him with a roll of paper towels and Nature’s Miracle, I read them.
For more insights, I call one of the authors, Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist. I drill him to find out what I can do now to raise a puppy I want to live with, and create a dog-friendly house that doesn’t look or smell like a kennel.
- Pick the right pup. We don’t always get to pick our relatives, but picking out your dog is as close as you’ll likely get. “We tend to pick dogs like mates,” said Dunbar, “for their coat, color, conformation and cuteness. More important is to pick a puppy who’s outgoing, and readily approaches everyone.” People often see a puppy that looks scared and shy, and say, “I want to bring home that one.” Fear and shyness can turn to low grade aggression, nipping and biting, a liability at home.
- Make him a social animal. The first three months of a puppy’s life are critical for determining whether he will be confident, friendly to strangers and outgoing, or shy and fearful, said Dunbar. Typically, puppies go to homes at eight weeks, after their first shots. Find out if the breeder, has actively socialized the pup. “The puppy should meet 100 new people in his first 12 weeks, including children and men, who handle, cradle, pet and examine the pup.” (Pippin has been busy.) “The fears and phobias found in older dogs develop toward things they weren’t exposed to as young puppies.”
- Teach the routine. Give the pup a few days to get used to the household, the nighttime, potty routine, playtime and crate routines. Then have lots of people over to play with and handle him.
- Educate, don’t punish. Punishment is ridiculous, said Dunbar. “If he pees inside, or chews the wrong thing, make it a learning experience. If you scream, your dog thinks you’re a nutcase and you encourage owner-absent misbehavior.” Try a neutral stern word, like “Hey, outside.” Or “Hey, get your chew.” Don’t just tell them what’s wrong; show them what’s right.
- Teach manners. Left to their own devices, pups will potty where they please, chew, dig, bark, and jump on people and furniture when they shouldn’t. All that can be fixed with good home training. “We can’t stop them from peeing, chewing or barking, but we can teach them where to go, what to chew, when to bark, and not to jump unless invited,” he said. The sooner they learn the rules, the happier everyone will be to have him at home.
I look at Peapod, so patient and well behaved, and appreciate, like kids of good parents, the work it takes to get there, and how very worthwhile the effort it is.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go and Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One, and coming in June What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want. You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.