The Experts Are Full of It (and the Puppy Is, too)

You might have noticed there have been no After Gadget blogs in a month, which — not coincidentally — is when I got my new puppy. That’s because things like, um, sleeping, thinking, not weeping with frustration, were hard to come by for a while.

I was sobbing on the phone to my therapist (with whom I’ve been speaking much more often lately) and to my grief support list, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” Some people were just an eensy bit judgmental about this.

Even more obnoxious are all the people who have been saying to Betsy and me, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to have a puppy? Isn’t it so much fun?” We just look at them with very, very tired eyes and mumble, “Yes, he’s adorable and sweet, but, um, it’s a lot of work.” The people who have survived raised puppies themselves tend to switch into sympathy mode.

Betsy and I each asked friends whose dogs are less than two years’ old, “How long did it take you to toilet train?” We hoped, on one hand, that they would say something like, “Six weeks,” because we’re entering week five now, so that would mean there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, we hoped they’d say, “Six months,” because this definitely would mean we are not failures because we are already at about 75 percent toilet trained.

However, what both people said was, “I don’t remember. I must have blocked that time out.” Practically verbatim.

Worse than this was when Betsy asked her employer (when our puppy had already had about 17 accidents in his first four days), how many their goldendoodle had during housebreaking.

“One,” she said. We both cried. I think they should have lied.

I tried to convince Betsy we were Not Failures. “We’ve gone 24 hours without an accident! We didn’t know what we were doing at first! We’re doing so much better now!”

I believed myself, too, until the next (inevitable) accident. About an hour later.

But despite sobbing, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” the first two weeks, to anyone who had ever showed me any kindness, I really do love him, as you can see in these two pictures of us bonding on his first day home:

Little bear - Barnum's first day.

Isn't he a snuggly little bear?

Barnum in Sharon's lap
Looking lovingly into each other’s eyes on his first day home.

Honestly, I promise, I don’t hate him. I just hate the pee and poo that appear on floors throughout the house, even when he has not been in that vicinity that we know of and he has either been in his crate or under supervision 99.96 percent of the time. (It’s that 0.04 percent that gets you.) It’s not even that I hate the pee or poo, because I’ve become rather resigned to that by now (even as the puddles/piles get bigger). It’s more the constant vigilance we’ve had to maintain for over five weeks.

This is primarily because I read — and forced Betsy to read — a book by a world-renowned dog behaviorist, veterinarian, and expert in puppy training who writes over and over how you can achieve “errorless housetraining and chew-toy training.” Errorless. His exact words. He also calls any accident “a potential disaster” and says that “you can start ruining a perfectly good puppy in one day.” So, no pressure.

The errorless chew-toy- and crate-training are to be achieved with Kongs and hollow bones stuffed with kibble and the occasional treat, such as freeze-dried liver, “the Ferrari of dog treats,” he says. No need to use anything other than kibble because puppies are “food-seeking missiles.”

Well, great idea, except if your new baby is so stressed by his life’s biggest upheaval that he refuses to eat in the beginning, and then has barely any interest in kibble, and doesn’t even LIKE freeze-dried liver, and has no idea how to get kibble out of a bone or Kong, even when there is nothing blocking the Kong, so that kibble just falls out if you breathe on it. It’s taken a month of clicker training to teach him how to get the biscuit balls and Kongs to give up their goodies by nudging them around. This has not made him, as the author promised, a “chewtoyaholic.” He would so much rather chew everything else — our flesh, our clothes, our furniture, his leash, ANY electrical cords — than his chew toys.

His favorite toy — thank God for it — is a bucket. Not a full-sized bucket. Ironically, it’s a big plastic tub, about half the size of a real bucket, that freeze-dried liver came in — for Gadget. Gadget, a dog who LOVED liver. A dog who, if you accidentally spilled a big pile of liver dust and bits on the floor next to his crate, would not have left it there for two days until you resigned yourself to vacuuming it up! Anyway, we punched holes in the bottom of this plastic bucket last year and used it as a planter. Barnum found it under the snow and fell in loooove. (Yes, his name is Barnum. I’ll have to write a second blog on how he got his name. Right now, there are more important things to focus on, obviously.) Because it was distracting him from his excretory duties, I brought it inside, and now we use it a lot as a toy.

Before Barnum arrived, I bought a bunch of organic, nontoxic, fair-trade dog toys for him — and he prefers to chew a plastic (and therefore, toxic) bucket. All I can say to that is, “Get your bucket!!! Where’s your bucket??? Git it gitit gitit!!!”

I have so much more sympathy now for parents who take their kids to McDonalds or plunk them in front of the TV.

The puppy-raising book also says that the first twelve weeks are the puppy’s socialization window, and after that, everything you do will be playing catch-up (and with rather poor results) so that you have to make sure your puppy meets 100 people in his first four weeks at home! And that the puppy should not leave your home, and all guests must remove their shoes, because they could track in a dog disease. (For the record, Barnum has met about 75 people so far, though they were not all people in our homes with their shoes off, and it was not all done by the moment of 12 weeks. Horrors!)

I was fool enough to believe all this bilge! So, you can imagine, what with the massive sleep debt, and the impossible expectations, there has been a lot of stress! Stress! Stress! AUGH!!!!

I’m able to type what you’ve read so far because I pleaded with Betsy Betsy offered to watch the puppy for the night, so I got 11 hours of sleep. The last time she puppy sat, I got 13 hours of sleep. This is because a new puppy is not only a great cure for sleep, but also for insomnia. I’m hoping this lasts. I’m hoping now for the rest of my life, whenever I want to go to sleep, all I have to do is become slightly horizontal, and I will instantaneously drop like a rock into slumberland. Yes, all the sleep disturbances caused by my many chronic illnesses that include insomnia, hallucinations, nightmares, early wakening, etc., as symptoms, might be cured just by puppy motherhood! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I have taken up the saying my friend Julie introduced me to in high school: When all else fails, lower your expectations. We have done a lot of lowering. Now, if the accident is near the door, we rejoice, because it seems to indicate he knows he should try to head in that direction when the urge hits. Or, if we catch him in the act and interrupt him, so that he does half the poo inside the house and half outside the house, we are thrilled that we were able to indicate that pooping in the house is not what we want (poor guy looks so confused as everyone in the vicinity converges on him and says, “OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE!”) and even better, that we are able to reward him for doing the second half of the poo outside. Isn’t that terrific?!?!

Another thing to feel good about is if I’m thinking, “I should take him out right now,” or asking someone to take him out (if I can’t), or if I am actually bringing him to the door, and we’re delayed because I have get to the door, grab the pull cord, then back up to open the door but very carefully so as not to roll over him (more about that another time), and when I turn to check that it’s safe for me to back up, he is peeing! So, I was correct that I did need to take him out right then; that counts for something, doesn’t it?

So, in the spirit of lowering my expectations, I have also decided to try to get blogs out when I can. If they are not beautifully written and poignant and error-free, well, neither is life, right? It is messy and dirty and full of mistakes, but we still have to find meaning in it and love it despite its faults. Hopefully you feel some of this love and forgiveness toward this blog, even with the long gaps and the mistakes and the lack of beautiful, deep, thoughtful writing, but most especially, because of the pee and the poo.

More about Barnum, his name, pictures, etc., the next time I have a full night of sleep (or two or three or eight).

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

P.S. Please, please, please do not post any housebreaking advice! We really do know all the theory and the things we should be doing. It’s just that sometimes life happens, and then you step in it.

21 Responses to “The Experts Are Full of It (and the Puppy Is, too)”

  1. 1 virtuavet April 1, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Barnum is super cute! Have you started calling him “Bucket” by mistake, yet?

    -Doc Truli

  2. 2 Susie Collins April 1, 2010 at 5:14 am

    I feel for you so much, Sharon. Unfortunately, I can relate. I have been living in poop and vomit hell for about six months with a sick cat. One must be very careful where one steps. The disruption to life and the stress level cannot be overemphasized. I really do love her and she’s getting full-on TLC during this illness (many all-nighters), but that feeling of wanting to strangle her sometimes gets a tight grip on me. Hang in there, girlfriend, this too shall pass for both of us. xoxo

  3. 3 Amy and Angel Thunder April 1, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Oh, Sharon I have missed you so much and have been thinking about you and concerned.

    I feel for you and know exactly what you mean, coming downstairs in clean warm sox then wham….a piddle puddle and wet soxs (my experience).

    Thunder loved water bottles and jugs. He would ammuse himself by getting the cap off the bottles, not swallowing it but also not crushing the bottle, we would play spin the bottle with him. He also liked to chase the big water bottles around the house, actually he would push them and chase them, this was to cute. So I can see why Barnum likes his bucket.

    Ahh bitting, Thunder used both my forarms as chew toys, it was more like he was trying to challenge me for my position in the pack but I did not let him win, eventually he gave up. Another thought, Barnum could be teething and because our arms are soft and squishy it may relieve any discomfort he is having.

    Potty training time, it all depends. Megan took me about 4 months after I got her at 9 months. Thunder, because he road in the Truck from Iowa to PA got the idea that he needed to let us know when he had to go out. Yes we had accidents only because when we got home we would forget to let him out right away and being the living room rug resembles grass, there you go. The poop wasn’t to difficult, the pee was only because his bladder was so small. Once Barnum gets some size on him he will be able to hold it longer.

    Loosing Puppy Teeth – When he starts loosing his baby teeth be prepared for all training to go down the toilet during this time. Thunder did not retain anything and had forgotten all the rest, yes we did have some accidents. But once he lost them it seemed like a light switch went on and everything cam back.

    Sleep deprived yes, Thunder would wake me up at 3:00 am every morning for about 3-4 weeks then after that he started to sleep through the night without having to go out. Of course first thing in the morning I had to take him out asap, he let me know this.

    That is great that you are starting to make some progress with him. Looking forward to more posts and any future emails :-).

  4. 4 Rebecca April 1, 2010 at 7:29 am

    YEY! I was getting worried about you! I tried to E you a few days back, & last nite posted on the Angels board, to see how you were. Im glad to hear you are living thru it! & … that I can hear some HUMOR in your post! Its exhausting … puppy-roo-roo-hood. But SO very worth it!

    If you have a second to check out the board, I beleive a new baby is coming to join our family … courtesy of my Mom, from Heaven! She is 4.5 mnths old, 1/2 Rottie, 1/2 Shepard, was rescued with 15 minutes to go b4 she was gassed at a high kill GA shelter!

    Give that fluffy beauty a smooch from all of us! xo R~

  5. 5 Abigail Astor April 1, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Hi Sharon,

    I am sorry it is so stressful but he is absolutely adorable. I have faith that you will toilet train Barnum.

    Good luck and I will be thinking about you.


  6. 6 Margaret April 1, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Ohhhh do I ever empathize with the housebreaking. Salt was not a puppy when I got her (she was nine, a rescue), but she had been raised in such squalor that she honestly did not know where she was supposed to “go,” nor how to get my attention.

    I especially empathize with how exhausting it is to be hyper-vigilant all the time. (Out of the crate for 15 seconds, and …. HEY WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN??)

    Also, she is not at all food-driven.

    Anyway, in the spirit of “lowering expectations,” I think Salt and I (after 18 months) are STILL in some phase of potty training. She still receives excited praise for potty-ing outdoors, and if she happens to alert me to the fact that she wants to go out (as opposed to assuming I will divine her needs psychically), she gets EXTRAVAGANT praise.

    Also, any night she does not get out of bed to “go,” again expecting me to psychically divine her intentions and wake up and follow her to the door is a good night.

    Barnum is ADORABLE! I’m so glad y’all are bonding. Love from me & Salty.

  7. 7 Lisa Gray April 1, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Hi Sharon — love this post!!! It so reminds me of the day I came upon Kelly sitting on the floor with Lucy, head in hands, literally crying, about a week after we got Lucy. I came into the room and said, “What’s wrong??” She replied, “What have we done???”

    We laugh about that now. But at the time, she wasn’t sure she could handle having her.

    That was nine years ago.

  8. 8 Doris Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 9:59 am

    “I told you so” is not one of those sayings you want to hear. But as your Mom, and the mother of 3, I am so reminded of all the baby books and child rearing books I read before you all were born.—And I even worked for a few years in mental health clinics advising people how to raise happy, well-behaved children. Before I became a mother!! I knew all the theory, you see.

    Well, this know-it-all found out that it would have been better not to read anything. Theories are for the ivory tower only, not for real life.

    And yes, I don’t remember much about the first few months of your brother’s lives. They were 16 months apart and one set of diapers (we washed cloth ones in those days) never dried before the next ones were ready for the washer.

    When you were born, your pre-school brothers were peeing and pooing in the right places. I had lowered my expectations and your toilet training was a breeze. Besides, it took place in a warm climate where you wore next to nothing and there were tile floors–easy to wipe up. And kids don’t poo as often as puppies.

    So, I do commiserate, and I understand. But when you quoted to me from all your books, remember, I said, you’ll find out it’s all different when it actually happens. I told you so.

  9. 9 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    LOL! I used to have two cats, and I remember very well walking to the bathroom at night and suddenly feeling something squelch between my toes. I would leap in the air in surprise, but before I landed, I always knew it was either a hairball or cat yak. Of course, they always went to the only two surfaces in the apt that weren’t tile or hardwood — the rag rug outside my bedroom door or the antique oriental runner in the living room. We took up the rag rugs before Barnum arrived, but if there’s a bathmat, a towel, or a sweater on the floor, he feels these are excellent places to relieve himself. I don’t know what people with car do! As an MCSer, of course, no carpet — thank goodness!
    P.S. Thank you for speaking publicly about the urge to strangle. When I’m at the end of my rope (such as last night, when he was attacking my arm and leaving lovely purple bruises), I say, “OK, that’s it! It’ dog burgers tonight!” I know someone who says, “That’s it! Back to the pound!” Sometimes, you just gotta vent!

  10. 10 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks, Amy!
    Yes, progress! No accidents yesterday or today, so far! Yesterday, my nine-year-old niece was visiting and she noticed Barnum had wandered toward the door and said, “I think he needs to go out.”
    We rushed him out and he did a two-for-one! It’s nice to have a fresh, young brain around the house!

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Thank you, Rebecca. Don’t worry about me. I’m having my ups and downs, but I’m surviving.
    And congratulations! I’m so glad you’re getting another dog. Will this be a change from “an all Lab” house? Although, of course you’re doing rescue again/still, which is wonderful. Yay! Is this a “Dixie dog”?
    Speaking of Labs — in future posts, how I’m coping with a dog who is NOT food-obsessed! (“But he’s a DOG. How can he NOT be food motivated??”)
    I’ve been on no-mail on the Angels list because I haven’t been able to keep up with my email at ALL. Some day, when I don’t have to be vigilant every single moment (except when Barnum is sleeping, and I can therefore use that time to eat, take pills, do important calls and emails, have infusions, etc.), I will rejoin the rest of the world!

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    This really gave me a giggle. YES, about the expectations that we will psychically divine their needs! This is really how we have been doing it. Lots of guesswork, because if you know he’ll need to go “five to ten minutes after drinking,” well — that could be five, six, seven, eight, nine or ten minutes! We could take him out at minute five, he does nothing, we bring him in, and on the way to the crate, there it is!
    He drinks, and we look at our watches. It used to be he’d have to go out 5 mins after, then 7, then 10, now we are up to between 15 and 20 mins., but any suspicious behavior such as wandering, sniffing, remotely showing an interest in a door, and we have to bookit out to the yard.
    I have actually gotten to the point now where I often know, somehow, that he has to go out, but I’m hard-pressed to say exactly why. Probably some combination of awareness of passage of time and subtle behavioral clues I can’t name. But, after all, we have been expecting dogs to read our (to us) invisible cues as to what we want, so maybe this is canine revenge?
    So glad Salty has YOU.

  13. 13 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe that was nine years ago, Lisa! I remember when you got Lucy!
    I so totally, totally get it. Betsy and I had a moment like that (I was Kelly, she was you). I said, “I think we’ve made a terrible mistake.” I don’t think that anymore (at the moment – har), but now there will be two years of trying not to stress about whether or not we can accomplish everything we need to for him to become a good, safe, reliable, model-citizen service dog. And then there are things I can’t control, like health issues, etc.
    I had these moments with Gadget and Jersey, too, where I was so exhausted and clueless and DONE — and I didn’t have nearly as much help as I do now — where I thought, “I can’t do this.”

  14. 14 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Well, cognitive impairment comes to my aid, because I don’t remember that/those conversation(s). (But I believe you that they happened.)
    Sheesh, a person writes a public blog and then along comes her mother telling her readership about my scantily-clad childhood of peeing on tile floors! Ah well. As the book says, “Everybody Poops.”

  15. 15 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    P.S. I have found that the people who have been the most sympathetic/empathetic are mothers (of human children). The sleeplessness and the inability to think and the euphoria of leaving him in somebody else’s care for even an hour or two seem to be very familiar to moms!

  16. 16 Brigitte Mang April 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Hi Sharon, I’m laughing and crying at the same time while reading your post. We got Ozzy at seven weeks old, as his mum refused to feed her pups as often as she should have. (Imagine 10 pup all with needles for teeth chewing with your nipples) When we picked up Ozzy we got a small bag of puppy food and some instructions. I had already picked up some things suitable for pups and some training pads for the trip. We thought that we would be at home in 2 days and then have about a week to get him used to the potty pads and all that good stuff. Well the best laid plans ….etc. Ozzy came down with diarrhea right after his first feeding in the truck. (We have carpets everywhere) We stopped every 2 hours to put Ozzy out, and believe me this is quite a feat when your vehicle is longer than some people’s homes. At the end of the first 24 hours, my husband (noble englishman to the core) noted that Vodka wasn’t this much trouble. We also have 2 shoe sized dogs with us… much older and truck wise, and they wanted attention too. I found that the pads were great when he was in a hurry and I couldn’t get him out of the truck fast enough. We didn’t end up at home after the 2 days and after some paniced calls to our vet, we decided to change his food. I need to get the puppy food easily and the stuff he was on kept going through him. Bless Purina Puppy Chow, made in Canada and the US… easy to take across the border, and available at most truck stops when you run out as the beast eats more everyday. I knew that we had made it about 3 weeks out… as I’m driving and the english gentleman is sleeping in the bunk with the littles, Ozzy needs to go out NOW. I cann’t stop now, so of course, a couple of minutes later, the smell was just terrible. I found a place to stop a couple of miles later, and he was asleep on the passenger’s side of the truck and he had left me a gift right in the middle of the training mat. Its a road that all of us with babies go through, but once it’s over, we seem to forget just how hard it was while we were in the middle of it. I think that its nature that makes us forget alot, if we didn’t we wouldn’t willingly go though it more than once. Ozzy is going to be 7 months old on April 8, and now we’re past the teething, and he’s now learning to listen to instructions. (sometimes it’s hard) but we’re starting to see the great dog he will become. The english gentleman adds, if he makes it to a year!!! (Joking, honest)
    Bouviers are really smart as you know, so they are harder to train than some of the submissive breeds. But we wouldn’t have any other large breed, as we love him to bits. Take heart, it’ll get better, Barnum will never be Gadget, but he will with time carve a place in your heart too, just as Ozzy did to us. Have a great Easter, Bri

  17. 17 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    LOL. No, but I have called him “Bucket Head,” and a few other things. (Lately, Im calling him “the Shark,” or “Jaws…”).

  18. 18 Willo April 10, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Oh boy do I remember the wee-wee pads, the accidents, the carpet cleaners we went through.. but luckily for us Rajani did not like soiling her home (and at that early age her home was mostly my room). It took about a month until no daily accidents and then a few further months of an accident here and there — don’t despair you’re doing great! It’s just like having a baby, we have to be up every 2-4 hours with the pups as their bladder strength grows. When we don’t get enough sleep, it’s a lot like postpartum.. we get depressed and the craziest thoughts can go through our heads! I know you couldn’t possibly hate the puppy with the look you two share in that 2nd picture. There’s just lots to do, and we don’t feel well danget.

    I found the “my smart puppy” book by brian and sarah (forget last names) to help me the most, not only with training techniques but just understanding what was going on with Rajani at certain ages as she grew. I used the connecting up her peeing with me saying, “hurry, hurry!” just as they suggested on the hour-long dvd that comes with the book — Rajani caught on to it very fast. I was so happy to see that I didn’t need a crate, I really didn’t want to do crate training. And it does take a number of months to learn any pup’s inner routine through observation.

    She’ll be 20 months old in 3 days, and just lately we’ve been seeing the adult responses come out instead of the playful puppy.

    It’s really peculiar that we both (and many others I know) have had to put up a “please don’t tell me what I need to do!” kind of message on blog posts about our SDITs or just puppies in general. I hope my trip down memory lane didn’t come across as such to you!

    That’s too funny about the bucket. Too. Funny. 😀

    I feel your pain, I really do. Good thing they’re not human babies.. 2 years of housebreaking there! LOL

    So glad to see pictures and get an update of how it’s going. I hope you get some sleep soon!


  19. 19 Beverly April 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    How I feel for you. I am going through training another service dog after the death of my Last SDIT. I have a 6 week old lab mix puppy and boy is she a spit fire handful. I can say I am very motivated to drag my cranky bum out of bed every morning now. She has to pee and poo every 2 hours and If not I hear the whining from you know where. She sleeps in a crate by our bed and boy does she ROO ROO. She sings if you don’t take her out right away. I once said I missed having a newborn. I TAKE IT BACK!!

    I love reading your blog and am able to find the comfort after Tank’s death and have learned how to cope with it. Sofie is a light at the end of a deep dark tunnel for me and I thank you for your courage to blog about how you feel and what you are going through.

    Beverly and Sofie

  20. 20 Rebecca April 19, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Hey Shar! Im reminded of breaking my foot in 4 places in Oct 08 & bringing Maji home FIVE days later. I was on crutches. You know those midnite, 2am, 4am & 6am outside potty breaks out of the crate? I navigated them by putting Maji (all 18# of fatness) in a backpack, strapping it on, gettng my crutches, hobbling out to the yard, getting backpack off, puppy out, hoping he would pee/poo & not go too far away from me (yard is fenced though) & then putting him in backpack, getting it on, hobbling into house, getting back pack off, getting him out, getting him into crate on 1 foot … I cried. a LOT. lol now that boy is a wonderful part of my heart!

    & yes, Mhina has come into our lives. She is 7 months (i was told 4!), a rescue, Rottie/Shepard. Im NOT saying its been EZ for me. I now know all about the desperate feelings you had to have Gadget back, not some foreign, naughty puppy who was NOT YOUR BOY. I cried the 1st 2 days, continually, b/c i missed Kibo & Sana SO intensely, & i wanted THEM, & NOT her. Then i felt horribly guilty. She was a stray, she was almost gassed in GA, she deserved to be loved. But its now been 7 days today – & its still not easy. Although she is mostly potty trained, she is NOT my totally loviny easy-going Labs. I have posted a few on the Angels board – AND i have called a trainer STAT! lol Pic are on teh board as well. Would love you to stop by & take a peek. xo R~

  21. 21 Rebecca April 19, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Ps- your Mom cracked me up! I can see where you get your sense of humor!

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