at home: Woof! Bring­ing a puppy home is work

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Marni Jame­son, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post Make him a so­cial an­i­mal. Syn­di­cated columnist Marni Jame­son’s web­site is marni­jame­

“I want a dog,” I say to DC. “We have a dog.” “No. You have a dog.” DC res­cued Pea­pod, a 9-yearold 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 turnkey. 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, a third had only three work­ing legs.

“Am I shal­low?” I ask DC. “Or is it too much to ask for a friendly dog with four legs?”

“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 deeply dis­counted 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 undo 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. 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.

Pip­pin the puppy at 11 weeks.

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