Lessons in Puppy Ownership: Puppyhood Bites

As I write this, our puppy is frantically circling the room, looking for something, anything she can gnaw on. Right now, she’s a chew junkie and I’m wishing Animal Planet had its own version of Intervention.

Turns out she’s teething.

This all started yesterday morning. After my morning shower, I caught Olive on the ottoman with a half chewed up envelope that was spotted with blood. I disposed of the envelope in a flurry, and panicked thinking why would she be bleeding?

Then, I found a solitary incisor, alone and pathetic, but surely the first of many to come.

I couldn’t have been more oblivious to the concept of teething. The more I researched it, I felt like a parent who’d never heard of puberty. I suffered three years with braces and I’ve lost many cold battles with dentists and orthodontists. I understand the misery of oral pain. Still, you didn’t see me ransacking my childhood home, eating up remote controls and yesterday’s mail.

Olive has taken our furniture hostage, threatening to chomp whenever the pain flares up. She has expressed she will pee wherever she pleases, and we’ll forgive her, because we know she’s in agony. Whenever she starts chewing on an armrest or a towel, we have to pop a toy in her mouth to relieve her urge. We’ve got socks, ropes and toys rotating in the freezer so we can help relieve her inflamed gums. What we have is a manic puppy for the next two months. Just as you or I would blurt out an expletive while suffering, she’ll bark and howl without warning.

For a puppy, this is rock bottom.

I miss a week ago, when our biggest concern was her bouts with gas. What I wouldn’t give to have her puppy farts back. Wait. Check that — they’re still here. Oh my God, are they here.

Now Olive’s laying on the loveseat next to me, splayed out like she spent the night awake on a chew bender. I hate to catch myself complaining because this is, in part, why we got a dog. We wanted something to take care of, something to raise — a project, a mission, a hobby.

At times — like when she farts — I think we should’ve joined a kickball league. Then she comes into the room, stares up and plops helplessly on her belly. Or, she falls fast asleep and starts kicking and growling through a dream. Or, on our walks, she’ll lead me home, making all of the right turns without my cue.

No matter how moody, stinky or destructive she gets, I know this is worth it. It may not smell like it, but I know it is.

Lessons in Puppy Ownership: All Praise is Do

Olive enjoys a moment with Eugene, the stuffed duck.

I’m not known for a sunny disposition. I don’t smile unless I’m happy, I don’t laugh unless I think something is funny and I only give praise when I mean it.

Then, we got a puppy.

In this week’s edition of Lessons in Puppy Ownership, you’ll find me genuinely pleased at the progress our puppy is making. We started exercising the crap out of her at night, so the overnight whining has subsided. She’s learned to smack a cowbell that hangs from our doorknob whenever she needs to go outside. She’s not just following on the leash — she’s leading, and she’s shown great ability at scaling seven-foot piles of snow.

Properly raising a puppy requires heavy, enthusiastic praise for the most menial of accomplishments:

The puppy pooped outside. You did it! You pooped in the yard! Good girl! Great poop! Excellent squatting! Way to push!

The puppy ate its food. Good girl! You chew that food! I’m so proud of you! You’re chewing and then swallowing and doing it over again! You’re so smart!

The puppy went into its kennel. Sweet Jesus, you’re a good dog! I could puke joy! You’re so good at knowing where you sleep at night even after sleeping there for just the past three weeks! Good girl!

Olive knows I’m a bit embarrassed about the enthusiastic praise bit and she uses it to humiliate me. On our walks, she’ll abruptly stop into a statue if there’s people nearby. She won’t budge until I start in with the compliments. It’s not the words, but the tone — she wants this baritone to speak in a soprano in what amounts to nonsense generally reserved for babies.

The problem is praise works. We’ve tried bribery via treats, but nothing’s more effective than a pat on the head and some bubbly prose. Our puppy is a proud member of the child confidence movement. She would be the clumsy tee ball player who after a season of whiffing and slowing up the game would still expect the most valuable player award.

Here’s the thing: I can spend the rest of her puppyhood blushing whenever I’m in earshot of another human being so long as it means she’s a happy, healthy dog for the next decade or more. There was a night last week where her whining started at 1 a.m. and didn’t subside until 5 a.m. At one point, I grabbed my iPhone to read up on the Humane Society’s surrendering process.

Since then, she’s been great. I’m not saying this is a product of my high-pitched praise so much as her acclimating to her new home and owners. However, each day, as she picks up a new trick or shows she’s a little more down with the system, the praise gets easier.

What’s better? When I praise her, I mean it.

Lessons in Puppy Ownership: Crate Training is Grating

Olive was unimpressed with her grooming experience Monday at PetSmart. Her hair was straightened and she was given a bandana, leaving her feeling altogether violated.

We’ve decided to crate train our four-month old goldendoodle because we’d like to contain the pee-and-poop storm for the time being. Dogs are, after all, den-dwelling creatures, so the sooner we can get acclimated to a crate, the better.

Olive thinks otherwise. Olive thinks her kennel is Rikers Island. Olive thinks she’s being thrown in solitary confinement without proper cause. So, she, likes most puppies who are crate trained, whines until she collapses from exhaustion.

According to several videos on YouTube – which yes, has been a surprisingly regular source for puppy training advice – it’s important to ignore whining as a puppy gets used to being left alone in their crate. They whine because they miss their pack – in this case, Olive misses me and my girlfriend. If we respond to the whining, she’ll think it works. It’s like ignoring a fire alarm hoping the fire just goes out on its own.

Olive’s whining tests my psyche in ways I never knew possible. Last night, I broke out in hives. On her second night in the crate, I nearly went Jack Torrance in The Shining. It goes against my every last instinct to ignore something that’s in distress. Each night, as she whines herself to a coma, I think, “Shit. The zombies are here.”

To her credit, Olive’s whine game is top notch. When barking doesn’t work, she’ll start to channel other animal sounds – a cat, a llama, a goat, a rooster, a zebra, an ostrich. She crows. She yodels. She howls. She whimpers. She yells. She coos. At times, she sounds like she can breathe fire. At other times, she sounds like she’s about to combust.

These are the joys of owning a puppy. For every puddle of pee we have to clean up, just when we think she’s out to sabotage our apartment lease by way of rancid urine, she’ll do something worthy of our forgiveness. She understands when the leash is on that we’re going for a walk, and where she once would play dead and drag along the frozen sidewalks, she now walks at our side. She knows tug of war now. She’ll roll onto her back and let you pet her stomach.

She’s learning. As dog years go, these must just be the terrible twos.

Last night, I wanted nothing more than to sit on a heating pad while eating pretzels with peanut butter and jelly and watching the Vikings-Giants game. Olive wanted to play. She also wanted to sniff every odd corner of our apartment, looking for fallen food or treats, ultimately settling for dust bunnies and crumbs, forcing me to yank debris out of her mouth every three minutes. I’m always concerned she’s looking for a shoe to poop in or a dark-colored shirt to pee on so that one of these mornings we’re left with a little surprise.

She’s a surly little bastard, and she’s curious about her strange new home, her strange new owners and her strange new crate. I’m fine with that. I just wish she would be a little quieter about it.


Lessons in Puppy Ownership: Yeah, They Whine – A Lot

Beth, Olive and I pose for our — I guess — first family Christmas photo.

My dog would rather I wasn’t blogging right now. Each time she hears me tapping at the keyboard, she pokes her head between my legs and starts to whine. It’s all about her, obviously.

And so is this post. Beth and I have owned a goldendoodle puppy now for less than a week, but she’s already come to know us as:

  • The people who pick up her poop with a grocery bag.
  • The people who use soft, high-pitched voices to say, “Good girl, Olive! Good potty!”
  • The people who lay awake, rigidly, desperately trying to maintain sanity as she whines and barks when we put her in her crate at night.
  • The people who give her food and water, but never enough of it.
  • The people who put her on a string and pull her around the block.

Olive is a sweet, slight dog. She doesn’t clumsily run around the house, scratching up our wood floors. Her accidents have been few and far between, usually a matter of us missing signs she needs to go out or a result of her afternoon freak-out session after Beth’s put her in the crate. She’s getting good at tricks like “sit” and “fetch.” Most impressively, she hasn’t pooped indoors — yet.

But nighttime. That’s when things get dicey. We chose to crate train Olive because we knew there would be hours out of the day we wouldn’t be home, and she needed a place she felt was hers. She’s ever-so-slowly taking to domestic life, but not without a fight. A loud one, at that.

As living arrangements go, ours are not ideal for raising a whiny puppy. We’ve been putting her to bed at 10 p.m., knowing she’ll throw a fit before collapsing in exhaustion. The hard part is knowing above us lives a first-year law student and a first-year graduate student who are quickly coming up on finals. We lay in bed, ignoring the whines as we’re supposed to, but both picturing the neighbors above plotting to help Olive escape.

Maybe now wasn’t the best time to get a puppy.

But when would it ever be the “right” time to get a puppy? We’re always going to be employed or we’re always going to have vacations scheduled or money issues or unforeseen life obstacles. Throughout this process, we’ve shot down any doubt by reasoning dumber people have owned happy dogs.

At least I hope that’s the case.

Meet Olive

We picked our new puppy Olive on Saturday. She’s a three-and-a-half month-old goldendoodle with a little grey on her chest and some red in her hind paws. She loves to cuddle, she never really barks and she’s shown great ability in pissing on carpeted areas.

And I lied. She barks. But only when we kennel her. God bless the neighbors above for putting up with her whining. It’s high-pitched and seems to ricochet off every wall of our apartment. Housebreaking is no joke.

I’m pressed for time this morning. Comcast Internet access was down throughout the Twin Cities last night, leaving me to wait until this morning to finish up some work. Trust me – there’s more puppy stories to come.

The Final 48: Enjoying the Last Days Before Dog Ownership

Again, another stock image of a goldendoodle. We're not getting this one. But, hopefully you can see why we're doing this.

In just over 48 hours, life will never be the same. Not for the next decade or so, anyway.

My girlfriend and I are going to pick up our goldendoodle from Peever, S.D. on Saturday. Meanwhile, the planner I am, I’ve been thinking through every last preparation necessary before we bring this dog into our home — dog-proofing, if you will. I’m up at night thinking about cords and expensive rugs and where to put shoes and how to quit leaving all of my clothes on the bedroom floor. I realize I’m going to miss something. Probably a lot of things.

We found ourselves at O’Donovan’s Sunday night, sitting around a table with two other couples who happened to be dog owners. We heard stories about cuddling, new tricks and adorable behaviors. We were stories about pee, poop and vomit. We talked grooming, food and expensive visits to the veterinarian. There we were, listening like young parents-to-be, warned over and over that our lives were about to change, but assured that it’s worth it.

I can’t wait.

One of my co-workers, whose Boston terrier recently took a tumble down some stairs and needed a $3,500 surgery to repair a broken leg, just the other day asked, plainly, why now? Why do you want a dog?

I told him I was ready to invest in something that would give back; something a little more engaging than new shoes or a new Apple product. I wanted something that required work and dedication — like a hobby — but also, something that relied on me, and something I could care for.

There’s no way around the fact this dog is going to change our lifestyle. The next few days, I really want to savor the things one can have or do when one doesn’t own a dog. The problem is I don’t know what those things are. I realize travel becomes a seriously complex equation with a dog in the mix. And I realize there’s going to be expenses along the way that I could never imagine. Uninterrupted sleep? Does that become a thing of the past?

Whatever. We’re ready for it. Ready as anyone can be, anyway. Last night, I spent two hours watching goldendoodle videos on YouTube. So, yeah.  All I know is whenever I imagine our dog-to-be, I hear this song:

(Note: Clearly, as evidenced by the past few weeks on The Miller Times, I’m excited to write about the pitfalls and payoffs of dog ownership. I imagine Olive/Cooper — we haven’t decided a gender yet — will take on a starring role here, so forgive me in advance.)