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.