Culture

Summertime Is Puppy Time

(Stock photo: Pixabay)
The joys and woes of choosing and training a dog.

‘Have any big plans for the summer?” people sometimes ask by way of small talk. I reply literally: “Yes, housetraining a new puppy.”

Our newest family member is a twelve-week-old Labrador retriever mix – jet black from the top of his nose to the tip of his slightly odd long tail. When I phoned the local vet to make his first appointment, the receptionist asked his age (he was then eight weeks), his sex (a choice of just two when it comes to canines), and his breed. I replied, “He’s a mutt.” She corrected, “We say mixed.” She was kidding . . . I think.

We adopted this pup through Lonely Hearts Animal Rescue. I wish I could say that we did it entirely to save a dog who would otherwise possibly have been euthanized. But in truth, that was only part of the reason. Our last dog, Cali, a gorgeous, exuberantly loving golden retriever, broke our hearts when she died of cancer at age seven. Goldens are the number one victims of cancer in the dog world, and other pure breeds also suffer from a variety of ailments that mutts are far less prone to. The genetics are pretty straightforward. When you select for certain traits – beautiful coats, particular colors and sizes, head shape – you necessarily breed from a limited pool. You get the good traits, but also a higher concentration of bad ones (like susceptibility to disease).

He was black and tan like a Rottweiler, but with big floppy ears like a Labrador. Completely adorable. But when we met him, he seemed oddly aloof.

People worry that “you don’t know what you’re getting” when you adopt a rescue. That’s true, which is why, despite the midnight awakenings, razor-sharp teeth, and destructophilia, we elected to get a puppy. Breeding for temperament is very much a real thing (see the famous Russian experiment that selected for tameness in foxes), but we figure that dogs are dogs and that most bad behavior is the result of negative experiences. Also, we applied the Parker family temperament test to the puppy whose picture on Petfinder had first attracted our interest. He flunked.

He was black and tan like a Rottweiler, but with big floppy ears like a Labrador. Completely adorable. But when we met him, he seemed oddly aloof. Alone of those in his litter, he didn’t approach us head up and tail wagging when we entered the enclosure. When we took him outside and offered to play, he was passive and unresponsive. I speculated that he might just not be feeling well. But we had only these 30 minutes to decide, and he didn’t seem like a people-person (if you’ll forgive the expression). His brother, by contrast, was all wobbly fun. He cuddled in our laps and also kept a sharp eye on the comings and goings of the rescue lady. And so we chose the black one. My son drove while I cradled the skinny, warm package of fur on a towel in my lap. (The towel came in handy when he threw up. Experience!)

We’ve named all of our dogs after U.S. presidents. The first was Gipper. The second Teddy. The third Cali. And now our sleek black mutt whose fur looks and feels like velvet is Ike. I hereby promise (fantasize?) that if the junior senator from Nebraska is elected president, we will immediately adopt a female and name her Sassy.

Note that I described our summer as “housetraining.” When I was a kid, people of spoke of “housebreaking” a dog. The received wisdom was that when your puppy had an accident indoors, you thrust his nose in it, shouted “bad dog,” and rushed him outside. Some also recommended spanking him with a rolled-up newspaper. The new wisdom, dispensed by most trainers, is “positive training.” Our preferred guru, Ian Dunbar, recommends paying close attention to your puppy’s behavior, knowing the likely times of need (right after meals particularly), and rewarding your pet for every successful evacuation with praise and a treat.

Ike got the hang of it within about ten days, but he still has some accidents. Dunbar advises that if your pet continues to err, that you roll up a newspaper and whack yourself with it, since you obviously did something wrong. Like many dog people, Dunbar takes a dim view of humans. But who devised positive dog training anyway? Not a dolphin.

Ike can come, sit, stay, go down (sloppily), wait, give a high five, and let go (“off”). Okay, not consistently. But no matter what, he has already achieved the most important milestones – the overjoyed greeting when you’ve been gone for only a little while, and the way he rests his chin on your foot as he sleeps. You can have your lake or European vacation, my summer is complete.

(c) 2018 CREATORS.COM

IN THE NEWS: Russia Denounces U.S. Sanctions 

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
World

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
U.S.

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More