The Joys of Puppy Training

Okay, this is a major digression from previous posts, but had to share it.

The first thing I want to say is that I’m NOT writing this to seek advice. It is not that I, arrogantly, know all the answers. However, I have read countless articles, watched YouTube videos, and practically everyone I meet on the street gives me puppy advice, whether I want it or not. I usually don’t want it. If all of this was not enough, my undergraduate degree (a long, long time ago) was in psychology. In those days, human psychology was under the powerful influence of people like Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. All we did for four years was train rats . . . which had no practical human application. But I came out of college knowing how to use reinforcement to train animals. The reason I’m writing is so that others, who have gone through this, know they are not alone.unexpected_postimage_0002_pootoes

As they say, I’m not new to this rodeo. I tried to count how many pups I’ve “trained.” It is at least seven, including four, which were Saint Bernards. I had one other saint but he came to me full grown from a shelter. His only fault was that (as a result of prior abuse and why he went to a shelter) he wanted to kill most strangers who came on our property and indeed tried a few times.

This puppy, Greta, fooled us at first. After a long car ride from her previous owner/breeder (not to mention a stop in Seattle), she slept the first night nine hours through.  But things suddenly went downhill fast and now stretches of two hours of sleep at night is a good night.

So, last night she comes into our bedroom with a burst of energy right when we wanted to go to sleep. We played for a while, but then I wanted her to calm down before I took her to our outside potty-place one more time, before tucking into her crate for the night (which means a couple of hours . . . I hoped). As brought her back in the house, she darted out of her crate, back in the bedroom to rough house some more. We weren’t in the mood as it was getting late and I quickly caught her and put her back inside her “den” and asked her to please go to sleep.

We have also raised five children. If you have raised children, you will remember the night time tug of war between the parents. “It’s your turn, I got up last.” “No, you didn’t, you slept right through when I got up 30 minutes ago.” The human baby thing was even more frustrating for me, as a dad, because their mom could stick a nipple in the noise hole and it would quieten. I had nothing but my pinky and as soon as they knew it was dry, they would typically bite down hard in protest and then the noise hole would open up to full throttle. But I digress.

Last night was a bad night and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because Greta knew that the following day was going to be an especially hard day at work for both Denise and me. No nights have been as glorious as the first night two weeks ago. The night became a hazy fog of in and out of deep sleep for me. The second time she cried and Denise elbowed me, coming (out of a dark dream about all of us being forced to speak Russian), I stumbled to the floor. In the dark, I quickly realized that during Greta’s short visit back into our bedroom, just before I put her in the crate, she managed to hide my slippers. I had placed them beside the bed for this purpose. She also pulled the sock off my right foot, which I remember, but went to bed with the single sock on the left foot. So I had to go outside without shoes.

So, I don my coat, which I also laid beside the bed just for this purpose. I open her crate and hooked her leash onto her harness and went out the door. This is north of Seattle and it is March, so of course it is raining. A cold, 38-degree rain.

Per the advice of the books, we have one place in the yard for her to do her business. I took her down the steps to that place. She, then, seemed totally uninterested in pooping or peeing. You can’t tell from the sound of water because it is pouring down, now penetrating my fuzzy jacket. Sometimes hard for me to tell when the little girl is peeing, because it looks the same as sitting. My previous saint, a boy, would cock his leg way up in the air to make it clear he was pissing.

But know, as she has done many times, she lays down on her back like she is sun bathing and then rolls over and finds an interesting stick to play with. She doesn’t even notice the pouring rain.

The books say toMia be patient. Give them time to do their business. So I wait, standing in the pouring, cold rain. When I keep saying “Greta, go potty,” I think at this point, with her limited human vocabulary, all she hears is “Greta blab blab blab.”

After about ten minutes, being totally soaked, I give up and we head back into the house.

With me walking through the muddy grass, one sock on one foot, I then realize that is not mud squishing up between my toes, it is watered-down puppy shit. With hours of rain, it has the consistency of peanut butter. Crunchy. The kind you buy at Whole Foods, that is natural and like runny oil.

I made my way to the outdoor water hose in the dark and spray off my foot. She doesn’t want to go inside but it is apparent that she has no interest in going potty.

Once inside the house, I put her back in her “den” and pulled off my water-logged sock and put it in the hamper. I climb back into bed. I smell puppy poop aroma coming up under the sheets. It only then dawns on me that I stepped in the crap with both feet and only washed off the bare foot. I got up and washed off the left foot.

By the time my head hits the pillow, she starts to whine again. Whine more. Then her high-pitched bark. I look at the digital clock and it is 2:30 AM. Surely, she isn’t up for the night. I figured that she is trying to con me. I can vaguely remember college when the rats trying to train us to give them food pellets at the same time we trying to train them to run a maze. They would climb up on the side of the box and smile at us.

So, I decided to ignore her. She can’t need to go potty because we were just outside and she was playing with a stick. Now, I figured she wanted to go back out in the rain to play with more sticks.

When the barking continues I finally figure that I must do something. So, I went out in the hall and open her kennel to reach in to get her. About the time I feel pasty stuff on her fur and my fingers, I get an overwhelming smell of puppy shit. It is all over my hands and her.  All the books claim that puppies never pee or poop in their dens (unless the kennel is too large, and she is rapidly growing into the largest portable kennel they make, so it is not too large.)

I washed her up. I have to take her kennel outside in the rain and use a hose to flush it out, and “flush” is the right term. I scrub off my hands with soap and water. I take her back to the potty place in the yard. She lays down and finds the same stupid stick to play with.  She does not pee or poop. She doesn’t need to as she just did . . . in her kennel.

Oh, the joys of puppy potty training. If they weren’t so damn cute and adorable, we would never go through this. Even puppy poop, as nasty as it smells, to us Saint owners, it is like the scent of a flower . . . okay a dead rotting flower. It is getting better, slowly, night after night. I hope that was my worse night.

If you think you have the gift of being a “puppy whisperer” and you can just say things in their ear once and they will be perfect, even using a human toilet and wiping their own butts with toilet paper afterward, please be quiet. The last time I watched a so-called dog whisperer on TV, I later read in the papers where he was arrested for beating the hell out of his dogs off camera.

Published by J. Michael Jones

J. Michael Jones is a writer and PA who lives in Anacortes, Washington. He is the father of five children, who are now grown and out discovering this wonderful world on their own. He has previously focused his writing on non-fiction including medical topics and issues of the philosophy of Christian thought. With the success of his last book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Michael is now moving into fiction with his first novel, The Waters of Bimini.

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