Golden . . . Or not?

“Goldendoodles AKC Registered Parents w/Champion Bloodlines, Microchipped, Shots, Potty Trained, and Some Obedience Training, $500, Call, Will Send Pictures,” so reads the ad in the “Dog” section of the Post-Bulletin. I am intrigued. I have been reading the dog ads for several months off and on since our beloved Bella died four years ago. I am looking for just the right dog to fill that empty spot in our hearts while at the same time hoping to delay getting one until I retire in a couple of years.

Claire fluff ball

 I decided a long time ago that I do not want a puppy. A puppy is exhauting during that first year while he/she grows into a lovable tolerable dog. I also do not want a dog that sheds all over my house. That means whatever dog we get needs to have poodle or one of the other small non-shedding dogs mixed into its heritage. Our first two dogs while Erin was small were non-shedding. One was a mutt consisting of American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Toy Poodle. The second was a Bichon/Shih Tzu mixture. Then came Bella, a much begged for German Shepherd mix. Although the most lovable dog of the three, piles of hair covering all my furniture was the trademark.

The problem with my two criteria is that it is very difficult to find an older shelter dog where it is known that they have some Poodle mixed in. So this ad excites me and seems to offer a compromise. It says the puppies are “potty trained” and that they have “some obedience training.” To top off the positives as I see it, the price is right. Five hundred dollars for a golden doodle is cheap. I mull over the ad for a week before I call the number listed. And when I call, I find out that they are about five months old. They should be past the very early puppy stage as well.

“Can you come today?” questions the lady, “I have three people coming this morning to look at the females. There are four females and two males.”

I hesitate. I had not planned on making a fifty-mile trip on this Saturday. “How about if we come tomorrow afternoon?”

If I have done my math correctly, this information she has given me means there will be one female and two males left. I really do want a female. She also proceeds to tell me that this was their first time breeding dogs and they didn’t realize that having the puppies in the fall would result in not being able to get rid of them. There were eleven puppies originally and they were able to get rid of five in the fall, leaving six to winter over.

The following day, Sunday, Gordon and I make the trip to see our potential acquisition. We arrive early and the couple is waiting for us. The two males are locked up and they bring out the female. She is a beautiful puppy with a cream-colored curly coat of hair.

“She was the smallest one of the litter and always the shy one. She is really shy around new people,” the man informs us, “but she does well with us.” The puppy whom they are calling “Baby Girl” because they have not named her shrinks away from us and cowers behind the gentleman. He finally picks her up and strokes her sad droopy ears.

“Oh yes,” the lady adds, “and she piddles on the floor when a stranger comes, and she is excited.”

I am beginning to have serious doubts about taking this puppy. I have read that shy dogs often become aggressive. But we are here and I feel like we can’t just walk away.

“Can we bring her back if this doesn’t work out?” I question.

“Oh, yes. We would want you to do that.”

Shoving all the screaming doubts into the back of my head, we gather up the shaking puppy in our arms and deposit her into the kennel we have brought along in the back of the car. She is panting as fast as she can and shaking like a leaf. She is terrified. All the way home over the next hour, her rapid breathing generates torrents of water off her little pink tongue.

From the moment we arrive home, grave doubts crisscross through my mind about our decision. Clair, as we have decided to call her on the way home, refuses to get out of the kennel and then makes no effort to pee when taken outside on a leash. Snowflake, the cat, takes one look at this strange creature we have brought home, hisses with humped back at her, and whacks Claire with her paw. Clair tucks tail and scurries away in the other direction as fast as she can go. Oh, this is working out great. The puppy is now terrified of the cat and takes every opportunity to hide by the front door. By the time we head for bed, Claire has piddled pretty much everywhere on the carpeted floor upstairs but doesn’t even think about doing the same thing outdoors. Well, we were told she pees when she is frightened and being terrified of everything results in pee unbridled. So much for my expectation that this new dog has already been housetrained.

I get up a ½ hour early the next morning to take Claire outdoors. In spite of being in her kennel all night, she makes no effort to relieve herself outdoors and I can tell the kennel floor is wet. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Unable to get her to eat any breakfast or to follow me upstairs, I pick her up and carry her up with me. I set up a baby gate to keep her from running back downstairs to hide from the cat and so I can keep her in my sights. She huddles terrified by the gate while the cat nonchalantly addles by. I have no more started to wash up for the day then I hear a terrified yelp from the sitting area. I step out of the bathroom to see little brown rolls of poop tumbling out of the dog as she streaks down the hallway. This is not even half funny. I rush her outside, but of course, it is already too late. All that is left to do is clean up the mess.

After her first hair trim

I have prior obligations in town for the morning, so I place her back in her kennel for a few hours. There has still been no elimination in the great outdoors, but the kennel is again wet when I come home. I am exasperated. It is time to go back to square one with the housetraining. Apparently, the only one housetrained was the caretaker. When I think back to the situation Claire came from, I realize why there might be a problem. The puppies were only allowed access to a very small kitchen area. The rest of the house was baby-gated off. Claire has no experience with carpet or roaming free. Each puppy had their own kennel in a mudroom area, but the outdoor area used for potty training was approximately a ten by ten area cordoned off by more child fencing. The bottom of the area was covered with outdoor grass matting. I am puzzled why one would choose to use something for training that seems an awful lot like carpet. I guess it does keep the feet clean. Clair has no experience on a leash and no real experience in an actual yard either. I trudge down to the basement and retrieve the smaller kennel we used for our first two dogs. It is much more cramped but gives her less room to use for relieving herself. I put the bigger one away temporarily until I can trust her.

I have also made a decision to “enroll” our new puppy in puppy daycare at a facility along my route to work. If someone had ever told me when I was growing up on the farm that someday I would use puppy daycare, I would have laughed their head off. How silly! But here I am doing the unthinkable. It will keep Claire from being locked up for over ten hours per day and force her to interact with other people and dogs. Maybe she will grow out of this frickin cowardly behavior.

But of course, now I have to get her to the daycare each morning on my way to work. I again get up a ½ hour early on my second day of being a new puppy owner. I have made a plan so that this morning ends differently than our first – or so I think. My plan is to take her out in my pajamas and then eat breakfast while she eats hers. That way I can keep an eye on her and get her outdoors if she shows signs of relieving herself. She loves the snow, so she is delighted with our early morning escapade into the dark front yard. But that is as far as it goes. Frustrated, I give up. I need to get ready for work. I set her water and food bowls right next to the table and dole out the specified amount of food. I prepare my own breakfast and sit down to eat. I think Claire will want to be next to me and will eat while I eat, but there is another problem. Snowflake sprawls in the middle of the kitchen floor as is her usual behavior. Claire, as a result, scurries into the entryway and hides by the door. Oh, this is working so well. Having a dog who is terrified of the cat is never going to work.

My stomach is curled into a tight knot and the tension is mounting. I am feeling overwhelmed by this uncharacteristically non-puppy like animal. I again carry Claire upstairs and put up the baby gate while I go about getting ready for work. She cowers by the gate and I ignore her for now.

“What’s this?” questions my husband as he walks into the living area to turn on the TV. There on the floor again are the brown rolls. “N..o..o..o..o..o!!!!”

“This is never going to work. I think we should just take her back,” I blurt out in defeat.

“Let’s just give her a couple of weeks and then decide,” Gordon encourages.

It’s time to get started to work since I have to make that extra stop to let the puppy off. Claire, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to fight the leash much and for that I am thankful. But she has no interest in crossing the threshold into the garage. That is terrifying. With some treats and a little encouragement, we finally get that accomplished but getting into the car is a definite hardstop. Finally, I pick her up and drop her into the front seat. She sits there trembling then tries to climb over onto me. I push her back to the passenger side. She continues to try to push her quaking body over to my side on the five-mile ride to town. She refuses to even consider my treats. I don’t even try to coax her out of the car and into the dog kennel. I simply pick her up and haul her into the building. Several large dogs bark loudly and crash into the door dividing the kennel from the reception area. This has the makings of more terrorizing rather than calming. I turn and walk out. I have had all the chaos I can handle for one morning. It is Gordon’s responsibility to pick her up.

Gordon reports later that she refused to come to him when he stopped to pick her up.

“She did just fine with all the other dogs,” is the report of the kennel attendant.

Gordon carries her out to his truck and deposits her on the passenger side. Claire instantly scrambles over the two-foot-high homemade center console towards the driver’s side scattering work papers in all directions.

“I don’t think this is working at all,” is his comment later that evening. “I think we should consider taking her back.”

“Well, let’s give her a couple of weeks,” I reply. “She has only been with us a couple of days.” Gordon and I go back and forth over the course of the first week, continually switching roles in our emotions and convictions as to whether we should send her back.

By the third day, a small miracle does occur. Claire pees outside – always in the snow but outside. This could be a problem when the snow melts. And I have figured out that if I walk her down the drive before going back inside in the morning, she poops. And then Gordon starts to fall in love with her. I scour the internet looking for solutions to the cat terror issue.

“You need to take her upstairs with you in the evening and pen her up there with you,” I instruct Gordon, “She can’t just sit hiding by the front door.”

And then we hit on another solution. “Feed the dog high-desire treats while in the presence of the cat,” says one internet site. I guess it is worth a try except Claire doesn’t really care for her dog food as a treat. Not much entices her. Then we discover that people food, chicken, she is crazy over. This is a no-no (according to pet experts) but we are a couple of desperados. A couple of sessions of feeding chicken to a begging dog and cat just a few inches from each other starts an astonishing transformation. The fear is forgotten in the pursuit of the tasty morsels. Soon both cat and dog are tentatively sniffing each other and then running away. One day I hear a bark from Claire. She has gotten up the courage to bark at the cat instead of fleeing. A few more days and Claire is tormenting the cat trying to get her to run. At least, normal cat/dog behavior is appearing. Finally, the being on the lookout and running away to hide disappears. One problem solved.

The next problem we need to tackle is getting in and out of the car. We practice getting in and out with more treats. Still she shakes like a leaf and whines. I finally take her along for the three-hour ride to Ames to see Erin. She trembles most of the way down. But after a busy few hours playing with Erin’s big dogs, Claire keels over on the way home and sleeps. We have cured the overwhelming anxiety of riding in a car.

As the next weeks flow by, Claire becomes a mischievous puppy. She bounces around the house undaunted by the cat. She tears around the yard like a banshee chasing a stick. She eats every piece of garbage she finds. She jumps into the car for a ride without a second thought. What a total turnaround. She does still hit the house with her pee and poop once in a while. After all, she still is a puppy and only we are fully trained. But we both now say, “I think we’ll keep her.”

A Puppy Named Willow

WillowA tri-colored, 16-pound 10-week old collie puppy tries to get her feet organized to make it up our two front steps. I laugh at her. She has no steps at her own home and has no idea how to push up with her back feet to propel herself upward. Her presence at my house is in response to “Will you watch our puppy while we go to LARP this weekend?” from our daughter. What is a mother to say? I am always happy to help my daughter.

Since Bella died, I have been asked numerous times if we are going to get another dog. The answer is always “no, I am going to wait until my daughter gets one, has it trained, and then can’t keep it when she gets into the University of MN Veterinarian school. Then I will have a dog.” I have no desire to ever have a puppy again. “It is just like having a 2-year-old in the house,” I warn my offspring.

The puppy, named Willow, bounces around the dining/living area getting acquainted with, of all things, Snowflake, one of the cats. It puffs up like a marshmallow and hisses and swats from under the lamp end table. Willow is delighted and encouraged by this behavior. A moving toy to play with. After all, the cat has no front claws to do any real damage.PetsFamilyJan2013 093

Soon Willow collapses on the carpet for a nap. I decide to get some paperwork done while I don’t have to figure out where she is every five seconds. Her hour naptime is far too short for me and soon she is grabbing every piece of thread that hangs out, whether it be on the rug, the afghan, or the doll’s foot. My daughter had told me that she goes about two hours before needing to pee but I forgot to pay attention to the part about “being taken out after she wakes up from a nap.” It isn’t two hours yet so I am startled to realize the squatting puppy is peeing on my carpet. “No,” I holler, scoop her up, and rush out the door. Sigh. This is starting out well! Note to self – take her out RIGHT after she wakes up.

A well exercised puppy is a well behaved puppy is my mantra so in the mid-afternoon, we head out for a walk. I decide to use my retractable leash instead of the short 4-foot one that our children use. Willow is soon lagging off in the grass or the weeds on one side or the other of the driveway – stopping constantly to smell and inspect. Willow getting wrapped around a tree encourages me to tighten up on the length of freedom. Then she just lays down. “Come on, puppy.” I tug gently until she reluctantly gets up and swaggers after me. There is something intrinsically wrong with an old lady that can run faster than a puppy. Our walk does produce poop so the walk can be marked up as a success in the puppy sitting business – outdoors where it belongs.

018It is time to head upstairs again when we get back which is where our family tends to hang out. Willow sits at the bottom of the stairs and watches me go up. “Rrrff, Rrrff, Rrrff” She looks pathetically up at me. “OK, it is time for you to learn to go up stairs. I am not going to carry you every time we go up and down.” I clip the leash back into her harness and gently tug. I give her a boost every time she puts her front feet up onto the next step. Soon, she has traversed the 14th step. Upstairs, she kills the toy pheasant, attacks Hubby’s toes that swing so temptingly, and chews on the chair. I can feel the stress level rising. It is impossible to get anything done when my head has to spin every 30 seconds. At one point, she starts gagging like she is going to throw up. I guess those strings of floss she found to chew on are not too palatable. I can’t run fast enough to get down the stairs and out the door in time so I guide her over to the plastic chair runner. That turns out to be a smart move. Another time, I notice that she has one of my soft ear plugs in her mouth. Where she found that I will never know. Around and around we go as she thinks this is a game. I will never be forgiven when she chokes on that expanding thing. Then she keels over for a nap. I think I need another one too.WillowSleeping2

During one of our trips out doors to go potty in the afternoon, I make a rather rash decision to take her out without a leash. She doesn’t seem like a puppy that would run away. I am right about that part but I soon discover that Willow has no interest in coming back in. She plunks down in the middle of the yard and gazes at me. Such a cute, innocent puppy. She cocks her head and looks at me when I call, clap my hands, whistle, and do a chicken dance but she does not move. When I approach her, she dashes just a few more feet away and sits down again. Finally, I capture the sly puppy and haul her back indoors. I think I have learned my lesson. There obviously is a reason why the kids leave the puppy run around with the leash still attached and dragging.

By 8:30 pm, my stress level has hit about an 8 out of 10. Maybe, one more walk will wear her out enough so that everyone’s night is restful. It is a beautiful evening as we set out around the pasture while the sun slides toward the horizon. Walking, however, is not what Willow is interested in doing. I half drag, half encourage her to stay on the path and keep up with me. She stops to chew on the bottom fence wire. Try that on the next one up and you will never do that again. Even a relaxing evening walk is not relaxing. And then, Willow sees a calf. She begins a terrified dance and streaks off in the other direction. Finally, she gets brave enough to turn and courageously bark at the enemy. She trembles all over and refuses to go past those aliens. Finally, I resort to picking her up, talk calmly to her, and hold her securely while we walk the rest of the way home. Her little head keeps whipping around to calculate at what moment we will be pulverized by the thundering hooves behind us.

072I am only too thankful that bedtime has arrived. I tuck Willow into her kennel for the night. Our kennel is the same as hers at home. Our daughter assured me that she is able to get through the night without going out to go potty. I am doubtful but hopeful. I have no more reached the top of the stairs than the high pitched howling/barking begins. I take my newspaper and seclude myself in the bedroom where I am hoping the sound cannot penetrate. Again, I am wrong. After twenty minutes, I am about to lose my mind. My earplugs are downstairs in the cupboard. Do I want to get up and go get them? And then, just like that, peaceful silence reigns. I finally fall into a fitful sleep.

A little after 6 a.m., I crawl out of bed and escort the excited puppy outdoors where she successfully empties her bladder. We walk around for a few more minutes as in the back of my mind, I am thinking she should soon need to poop again. When nothing happens, we traipse back into the house. I scoop breakfast into her bowl. She is busy eating. She looks so innocent and I need to get ready for church. I head back upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t think I have spent more than five minutes freshening up when I decide to check on Willow. I do not put my glasses on so my world is blurry. As I head down the stairs, I notice brown sticks all over the living room carpet. What in the world has she gotten into in five minutes? As I get closer, I am horrified to realize the brown sticks are poop rolls everywhere. How could such a small animal poop so much in such a short time? If in the declining memory of old age, I have forgotten why I never want a puppy, I have starkly been reminded.

When our daughter and son-in-law come to pick up the puppy later in the day, Willow jumps up and down with joy, then without a bit of difficulty, proudly shows off her stair climbing skills as she disappears out of sight to the upper level. Funny, she couldn’t do that an hour ago. So the weekend did have one success. Willow can now climb stairs all by herself.