Summertime Is Puppy Time

 

“Have any big plans for the summer?” people sometimes ask by way of small talk. I reply literally: “Yes, housetraining a new puppy.”

Our newest family member is a 12-week-old Labrador Retriever mix – jet black from the top of his nose to the tip of his slightly odd long tail. When I phoned the local vet to make his first appointment, the receptionist asked his age (he was then 8 weeks), his sex (a choice of just two when it comes to canines), and his breed. I replied, “He’s a mutt.” She corrected, “We say mixed.” She was kidding . . . I think.

We adopted this pup through Lonely Hearts Animal Rescue. I wish I could say that we did it entirely to save a dog who would otherwise possibly have been euthanized. But in truth that was only part of the reason. Our last dog, Cali, a gorgeous, exuberantly loving Golden Retriever, broke our hearts when she died of cancer at age 7. Goldens are the number one victims of cancer in the dog world, and other pure breeds also suffer from a variety of ailments that mutts are far less prone to. The genetics are pretty straightforward. When you select for certain traits – beautiful coats, particular colors and sizes, head shape – you necessarily breed from a limited pool. You get the good traits but also a higher concentration of bad ones (like susceptibility to disease).

People worry that “you don’t know what you’re getting” when you adopt a rescue. That’s true, which is why, despite the midnight awakenings, razor sharp teeth, and destructophilia, we elected to get a puppy. Breeding for temperament is very much a real thing (see the famous Russian experiment that selected for tameness in foxes), but we figure that dogs are dogs and that most bad behavior is the result of negative experiences. Also, we applied the Parker family temperament test to the puppy whose picture on Petfinder had first attracted our interest. He flunked.

He was black and tan like a Rottweiler, but with big floppy ears like a Labrador. Completely adorable. But when we met him, he seemed oddly aloof. Alone of those in his litter, he didn’t approach us head up and tail wagging when we entered the enclosure. When we took him outside and offered to play, he was passive and unresponsive. I speculated that he might just not be feeling well. But we had only these 30 minutes to decide, and he didn’t seem like a people person (if you’ll forgive the expression). His brother, by contrast, was all wobbly fun. He cuddled in our laps, and also kept a sharp eye on the comings and goings of the rescue lady. And so we chose the black one. My son drove while I cradled the skinny, warm package of fur on a towel in my lap. (The towel came in handy when he threw up. Experience!)

We’ve named all of our dogs after U.S. presidents. The first was Gipper. The second Teddy. The third Cali. And now our sleek black mutt whose fur looks and feels like velvet is Ike. I hereby promise (fantasize?) that if the junior senator from Nebraska is elected president we will immediately adopt a female and name her Sassy.

Note that I described our summer as “housetraining.” When I was a kid, people of spoke of “housebreaking” a dog. The received wisdom was that when your puppy had an accident indoors, you thrust his nose in it, shouted “bad dog,” and rushed him outside. Some also recommended spanking him with a rolled-up newspaper. The new wisdom, dispensed by most trainers, is “positive training.” Our preferred guru, Ian Dunbar, recommends paying close attention to your puppy’s behavior, knowing the likely times of need (right after meals particularly), and rewarding your pet for every successful evacuation with praise and a treat.

Ike got the hang of it within about 10 days, but he still has some accidents. Dunbar advises that if your pet continues to err, that you roll up a newspaper and whack yourself with it, since you obviously did something wrong. Like many dog people, Dunbar takes a dim view of humans. But who devised positive dog training anyway? Not a dolphin.

Ike can come, sit, stay, go down (sloppily), wait, give a high five, and let go (“off”). Ok, not consistently. But no matter what, he has already achieved the most important milestones – the overjoyed greeting when you’ve been gone for only a little while, and the way he rests his chin on your foot as he sleeps. You can have your lake or European vacation, my summer is complete.

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There are 10 comments.

  1. Member

    What a little sport and love the name. Mutts are the best – sounds like you found the perfect one!

    • #1
    • August 9, 2018 at 1:36 pm
    • 3 likes
  2. Member

    You’re a wise one for dedicating a summer to get Ike acclimated to your household. Lucky fella, I’m sure.

    House-training is the worst. I’ve come to feel that it’s a matter of the dog falling enough in love with his or her people/person to not want to upset them unduly. They only start having problems again when they’re old enough to start forgetting things.

    Here’s Zoe. I house-trained her in a week by not letting her out of my sight and taking her out a lot. She’s my wonder dog. And I too am happy just to be at home.

    • #2
    • August 9, 2018 at 1:49 pm
    • 3 likes
  3. Member

    I love the name. What a sweet dog. There’s much fun ahead for you.

    • #3
    • August 9, 2018 at 2:39 pm
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    Lovely column, Mona. Congrats on the dog. I hope he is with you a long time.

    • #4
    • August 9, 2018 at 6:52 pm
    • 1 like
  5. Reagan

    My Assistant Natalie rescued a black and white Retriever Cocker Spaniel mix over the Memorial Day Weekend named Magpie. Maggie was only six weeks old when she came into our lives, weighing some 9 pounds. She is now almost 4 months old and weighs 22 pounds. Maggie comes to the office every day and brightens up the lives of people going through a divorce with her eager licking and affection.

    I have practiced family law in my stocking feet for years. I now must hide my shoes lest Maggie prance away with them.

    Natalie is very patient with Maggie; me, not so much. A couple of days ago, when Maggie didn’t want to go to the park, I tried to drag her only to have her collar/harness come off. This was a major disaster. I couldn’t figure out how to get her harness back on, and Maggie thought that it was great fun. I was not going to move without her being secured, even though I was blocking a driveway. Finally I scouped her up to go to the park, holding her tight. Maggie thought that it was great fun for Uncle Gary to be holding her down, and she wiggled as I tried to get her harness on. I called Natalie in a panic, and then another friend asking her to help me. When she couldn’t come, I finally decided that I would rather clean up the poop in the office than take the chance of Maggie getting loose. I scouped Maggie up again and brought her to the office, until I was rescued some 20 minutes later.

    • #5
    • August 9, 2018 at 10:36 pm
    • 1 like
  6. Member

    We’ve had /have a total of 6 dogs – 4 purebreds:

    • Bandit the Brittany Spaniel – the ultimate Go dog. Would run forever
    • three Deerhounds (Willow, Leaps and Belle (who is still with us)) Deerhounds are the ultimate “leaner dog”. If you stand with them, they will lean against you and they are tall enough that your hand is in a perfect place to scratch their ears. They are also tall enough to grab food off the table or counter if you don’t train them early.

    and two shelter dogs:

    • Mosby – We were told he looked like a Deerhound. Totally untrue as we found when we got the deerhounds. But his heart did give out one night chasing deer.
    • Scruffy – the wonder dog. He was part terrier – and a terror to squirrels, groundhogs and rats around the farm. One time, the deerhounds caught a groundhog, but didn’t know what to do with it. Scruffy ran in and dispatched it in one chomp. He then walked away, his job having been done

    The shelter dogs had the brains and the purebreds had the looks.

    We are at the point where we are not sure how much longer we will be able to keep up our old house with its dog friendly large yard, but it is hard to imagine not having some sort of dog in our life. Once you have had a deerhound though, it is hard to imagine having any another breed.

    • #6
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:38 am
    • Like
  7. Inactive

    I want one! I was hoping for Christmas, but if this is puppy season, we may need to wait til next summer…

    • #7
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:56 am
    • Like
  8. Thatcher

    Mona,

    I hate to admit that I judge people by the dogs that they have but I do. First, on my list of dog deplorables is the very small dog. Where I live women tend to put the dog in their oversized purse (I’m not kidding) and go to the supermarket with the dog. I’m standing there in the checkout line with my 5 items while her giant load of goodies is being tallied up and two little eyes and a panting tongue are facing me out the back of the purse. Next, on my list of dog deplorables is the super breed streamlined dog. Often the woman is as thin as the dog and they bear a certain resemblance to each other.

    Finally, there are the good people like you. They have a full sized dog whose lineage is mixed. These are the happy people and the dogs always look happy too. The dog is pulling them along for the morning or afternoon walk and sniffing everything and everyone in sight.

    The world is full of mysteries that are far far beyond me so I don’t even ask.

    Regard,

    Jim

    • #8
    • August 10, 2018 at 10:34 am
    • 1 like
  9. Reagan

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Mona,

    I hate to admit that I judge people by the dogs that they have but I do. First, on my list of dog deplorables is the very small dog. Where I live women tend to put the dog in their oversized purse (I’m not kidding) and go to the supermarket with the dog. I’m standing there in the checkout line with my 5 items while her giant load of goodies is being tallied up and two little eyes and a panting tongue are facing me out the back of the purse. Next, on my list of dog deplorables is the super breed streamlined dog. Often the woman is as thin as the dog and they bear a certain resemblance to each other.

    Finally, there are the good people like you. They have a full sized dog whose lineage is mixed. These are the happy people and the dogs always look happy too. The dog is pulling them along for the morning or afternoon walk and sniffing everything and everyone in sight.

    The world is full of mysteries that are far far beyond me so I don’t even ask.

    Regard,

    Jim

    Walmart is dog friendly, and we shop there. (Safeway is not.)

    • #9
    • August 10, 2018 at 11:37 am
    • Like
  10. Inactive

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    I hate to admit that I judge people by the dogs that they have but I do. First, on my list of dog deplorables is the very small dog. Where I live women tend to put the dog in their oversized purse (I’m not kidding) and go to the supermarket with the dog.

    I am with you on this, and I totally love my daughter, but she’s going to be one of those people…

    /shudder/

    • #10
    • August 10, 2018 at 3:38 pm
    • Like