Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So You're Thinking about Getting a Puppy...

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Lori, who TODAY welcomed Ester, their foster seeing-eye puppy! I'm so excited for her. She will be an amazing puppy mom and I'm sure knows way more about raising puppies than I do after reading the 100 page seeing-eye dog manual.)

Saturday was the seven week anniversary of Maisie joining our family. I thought I would wait at least six weeks to make a full report on her arrival and its impact on the Greenhouse, as that seems to be the minimum time for me to begin to adjust to new circumstances. Babies, resolutions, tragedies, and now a new puppy: I seem to settle into the first phase of the new normal after that first month and a half (unless it's a move, and then I think I must always plan to give myself three years to feel normal. Ha. But also not ha.)

Ahhh, the joys of a new puppy: their sweet little faces, their little licking tongues, their scampering, prancing, and soft soft fur. Could there be anything so loveable? They're like sweet little animated stuffed animals, pawing their way into your hearts.

People all say, "Oh, puppies are so much work, like a new baby."

And to this, I say, "Yes." And also, "No." Because while my new babies certainly kept me up at night and took constant supervision, my new babies did not have piranha-sharp teeth, or knives for nails. And also my new babies didn't chase down a five year old to gnaw at his hands or pull his hair with their teeth. And also, my babies wore diapers. 

Puppies do not wear diapers.

Oh, and really, puppies should wear diapers.

So here's the good news: Six weeks has passed and life is truly finding a happier place.

But here's the bad news: Those six weeks might have really felt like six looooong months.

So I thought I'd do another Public Service Announcement to let you know what to do if your family starts to beg you for a puppy and you start to feel your resolve to say no wavering:

Run. And practice saying no.

UNLESS you are really willing to open your heart and home (and by default, your carpets) to a little peeing and pooping vampire with a gorgeous face and a loving heart: in that case, say yes and learn from me.

#1 Buy yourself this book before you even get your puppy: My Smart Puppy

Is it really that important? Yes. Yes it is. I did much reading on how to train dogs when we Natalia joined our family almost seventeen years ago. I was so grateful for all the advice I read. And My Smart Puppy is better than all of them. It provides clear, simple and great advice, and is very very specific about how to address hard puppy behavior. Bonus: It comes with a DVD. We waited three weeks before I bought it, thinking I remembered how to train a puppy. Ummm...no. I needed help.

#2 Buy the gallon sized refill bottle of Nature's Miracle, along with the normal spray bottle. And also the Costco package of paper towels.

Nature's Miracle is a miracle. No, really. It is. I love it. I rely on it. It is a great friend to the puppy-loving household. Because here's the truth: your puppy is going to pee in your house. I hate to tell you this. I do. But it's likely that your puppy will probably pee in your house a lot. A LOT. And that is even if you are crate training, even if you're doing the umbilical cord thing with the leash, even if you're always watching for cues. And then she'll start understanding how to let you know she needs to go outside. That's great. And then she'll be more reliable, which is nice. But just when you think your cute puppy has got the whole housetraining figured out, she'll get riled up by your son, run around and then pee under your dining room table and you'll be grateful you can refill your spray bottle again. (I hear that the 1.5 gallon sized bottle with the special nozzle isn't a great idea. It leaks or something. So stick with the basics.)

My process: lay down paper towels, then many layers of newspaper, then another paper towel, then a rag. Then jump up and down on the pile of papers. Then spray the living daylights out of the whole area. I mean SOAK the carpet so the Nature's Miracle goes down into the fibers. Let it sit for a while (even overnight if you're busy), and then if you want you can blot up the Nature's Miracle if you want. I don't usually. And it works, darn it. Hooray.

(Last night we found another wonderful use for NM: taking care of the mess when your child has a bloody nose and runs for the bathroom, leaving a trail behind. It's great stuff, people.)

#3 About housetraining: Get a bell for your back door. 

My friend Michele told me about this one, and it's pretty slick. We attached a string of bells to the back doors both upstairs and downstairs. Before we took Maisie out, we say "Outside", take her paw and have her hit the bell. Then out we'd go. Within two days, she was hitting it herself to go out. When she hits it, we immediately take her out, even if we think she doesn't need to go. If she is faking so that she gets some outside time, we pick her up and put her in her kennel. If she isn't faking, she gets lots of praise.

#4 Keep this phrase running around in your head: "You must be confused."

This is a gem from My Smart Puppy. If you find yourself upset with the dog for not making it outside on time, or nipping at your hand yet again, or tearing up another sock, just force yourself to shake your head and say, "Oh, you must be confused." Somehow, this phrase has the ability to take me from angry to a lot more loving. I'm practicing it on my kids, too, and it sometimes even has the same effect.

#5 Keep the puppy with you all the time she is not in her kennel.

ALL the time. Not most of the time. ALL the time. That way you can watch for cues and drop everything to take the puppy outside and not be surprised later when you find out what she's been up to when you took that 2 minute break in the bathroom. I just hooked her leash to a kitchen chair or table leg, or a doorknob, or my belt loop.

Which leads to #6...

#6 Please kennel train your puppy from the very first night. You will be grateful.

You need to be able to take a break from your puppy, so get her used to the kennel. You will have some LOOOONG nights. The first night Maisie was here, I ended up sleeping on the floor in front of the kennel with my hand poking through the door so she would stop whining.

That wasn't my favorite night.

But the next night I slept in my bed with the door turned towards me and she only whined three or four times.

And the next night was even better.

Except I didn't think about this little piece of advice:

#7 Maybe don't get your puppy right before winter hits.

Or you'll be outside 4 or 5 times with a puppy with diarrhea in the middle of the night with sleet falling on your head while you wait for your puppy to go to the bathroom where you've designated, but where she doesn't think she wants to.

Which leads to #8...

#8 Don't feed your puppy treats. Use her food as her treat.

Turns out some treats lead to diarrhea in little puppies. Who knew?

Well, now I know. And so do you. I just wouldn't want you to learn it the way I did...on another LOOOONG night.

And amazingly, kibble works great as a training treat. Maisie thinks it's way more awesome to get food from my hand than from her bowl.

#9 If your puppy hates the kennel, use a food-stuffed Kong as a bribe.

Trick I never knew with Natalia but I wished I had: stick kibble in the Kong, then seal it with peanut butter. You can give it to the puppy like that or put it in the freezer to make it trickier to access the food. I only give her the Kong in her kennel when I'm leaving for a while. She loves it and runs right to the kennel.

#10 Take care of nipping quickly.

When your puppy nips, say "NO BITE" firmly (but not angrily. Remember: "You must be confused.") and take her immediately to her kennel. Leave her there for a brief timeout, then take her out, train her, and give her immediate praise for good behavior. After two days of this kind of training, Maisie's out-of-control nipping dropped by way more than half. She's doing so well now that she gets a timeout only once a day or so.

#11 Make your kids start helping (and picking up poop) from Day 1

Self-explanatory, really. My kids rotate days of responsibility. They complain. The first few weeks, one cried every time it was her responsibility. But they don't complain as much any more. And if they don't pick up the mess when they're supposed to, they have to pay a fine.

In short, training (thank you, My Smart Puppy) and consistency have allowed us to survive the puppy days with our little Maisie. And seven weeks later this is what we have:

A puppy who tolerates being dragged everywhere by everyone and even tolerates being forced to practice the piano.

A puppy who knows Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Shake, Speak, Dance, and Jump (she knew all of these commands at 12 weeks. I was blown away. It was seriously fun to watch her pick things up so quickly.)

A puppy who runs full speed to my children as they come home from school with a wagging tail and a leap into their arms.

A puppy who eats socks (OK, so we haven't fixed all our problems.)

A puppy who loves to play tag with us around and around and around the house.

A puppy who is starting to learn to run with me.

A puppy who is totally chill with taking a bath or a shower and getting the hair trimmed out of her eyes.

A seriously happy puppy who is rapidly becoming a beloved member of the family.

It took some work and tears and frustration to get here, but I can honestly say I adore the little ragamuffin. She makes life more complicated (I just started exercising again...that was way too long of a break) but I really do believe that most things of worth come with a price. And the price we've paid for our sweet Maisie is now feeling worth it. I wouldn't have said so that first month. I was having MAJOR dog-owner remorse. We all did at different times. But now that we've done a lot of the work, I love having a little buddy around. And it will just get better.


Made in Canada said...

I am happily sitting in bed at 10:45am, laughing at your post, remembering Kitty as a baby. I don't feel guilty about neglecting all of the things on my to-do list. Why, you might ask? Because I have the best 30-lb labradoodle lap warmer curled up on top of me, and the world is right.

Danielle said...

I am reading this post because I remembered seeing it a few months ago. We went to see our neighbor's adorable puppies yesterday, and I need some resolve to not give into Sarah's tears. Thank you!