Sunday, May 04, 2008

Getting puppy schooled

Ever since we adopted a puppy a couple of weeks ago, the typical conversation around our house goes something like this: “You are so smart. Yes you are! You must be the smartest dog in the whole wide – dude, stop eating mulch. No! Drop it!!”

The reader(s) of this column will have to forgive my recent fixation on puppies, but I’ve found that when you have one in your house, taking time to think about anything else usually results in the need to think about where you left the carpet cleaner. An inside tip for investors: whoever makes Brawny paper towels is having a very good quarter.

After watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a dog can be trained in about ten seconds, requiring the handler to simply stand up straight, give a couple of tugs on the leash and make a “ch” sound whenever the dog acts up. In the worst cases, when a dog is trying desperately to make Alpo out of the handler’s calves, a couple of finger snaps may also be needed to turn Cujo into Lassie.

Since we’d vigilantly prepared for puppy ownership by watching a Dog Whisperer marathon, my wife Kara and I were excited to try out this magical technique on our own dog.

“Ch,” I said to our puppy Memphis as she pulled on the leash like a Clydesdale.

“Ch, ch, ch,” I repeated, tugging on the leash as if I’d mistaken our dog for a lawnmower that wouldn’t start. Memphis lunged forward, pouncing on her favorite prey – an acorn – and devouring it.

“Let me try,” Kara said, taking the leash. The last I saw of them, Memphis was doing a wheelie down the street, her back legs churning as she held her front legs aloft like a T-Rex, dragging Kara along and testing the tensile strength of the nylon leash between them. It might be easier just to teach the dog to walk upright. Until we find a technique that works off camera, though, it seems we’ll be doing a good bit more dog yelling than dog whispering.

During our first weekend of puppy parenthood, Kara and I each lost about three pounds and twenty hours of sleep. We’ve been trying to crate train Memphis, which requires constant vigilance and many backyard trips during the wee(-wee) hours. As a consequence, I’ve learned that deploying the hood on a sweatshirt that has been donned backwards greatly complicates frantic nocturnal navigation through the house.

Throughout this process, I’ve seen one piece of advice on several dog training web sites that has been most useful. It describes the important role that a rolled-up newspaper plays in training a puppy: “Bring the dog over to the destroyed object (or mess), then take the rolled-up newspaper and hit yourself over the head as you repeat the phrase, ‘I FORGOT TO WATCH MY DOG, I FORGOT TO WATCH MY DOG!’”

After two weeks of puppy ownership and countless instances of swatting ourselves over the head, Kara and I have often wondered how much harder a human baby could possibly be. Sure, babies can’t entertain themselves for fifteen minutes using nothing but regurgitated acorns, but that’s why DVD players were invented. Parents of human children may disagree, but the bottom line is that you never see an adult standing in the backyard beside a baby at three in the morning, shining a flashlight in its face and sighing as the baby chomps at moths.

In any event, things do seem to be getting easier as we all learn to communicate with each other. Just this morning, I learned that destroying a sandal is a dog’s way of saying: “I needed a chew toy ten minutes ago.”

You can lock Mike Todd up for the night at


  1. ROFL!!!!*Wiping tears of laughter off my face

    Mike, Mike, Mike...... you are too funny! I can totally relate to this post. When we got our cute little tiny puppy, Chloe (who is now almost 6) WE decided to crate train her as well. WE didn't get up at 2am to take the dog out and WE didn't clean up the occasianal mistake on the floor... I did. But now Gary takes all the credit for Chloe and her good behavior. Crate training really is the way to go. I know it seems like the endless housetraining will never end but it will. I just had to keep reminding myslef that if the puppy wasnt sleeping or playing, it was looking for a spot to pee or poop. I love the part about hitting yourself with a rolled up newspaper. Too funny!

    Oh and housetraining a puppy is very similar to potty training a kid. hee hee

  2. Sheri -- Thanks so much! It's really nice to hear from someone who survived this. We had a pretty good streak going (five days) 'til this evening. Seriously, this has to be good practice. The good thing about having a puppy instead of a kid is that you don't have to worry about cussing in front of it, which is coming in really handy.

  3. Oh, Mikey, I never worried about cussing in front of my kids either. As a result, I have raised two world-class champion cursers.

    And a wiener dog who pees on the floor and then says to me... "What? You didn't want me to go there? You never SAID I couldn't go there... can I have some food? No? Ok, let's take a nap..."

  4. Miss Ann -- As long as your kids are housebroken, that's the important thing.