Monday, September 19, 2011

Dog ownership 101

-Be sure to spend your entire day with your dog. Leaving for work and only coming back at lunch is basically animal abuse. Even working from home next to the dog with breaks to play, etc., risks ignoring teachable moments and otherwise screwing your dog up for life. Don't have 24/7 to devote to this? Get a stuffed animal.

-Don't spoil your dog. Keep your dog in a crate for hours at a time, to prevent accidents, excessive barking, and more. This shows you're "pack leader." Feed your dog in the crate to make it a no-poop zone. Leave your dog alone frequently, so your dog can handle it when eventually something will come up that requires you to leave its side. You don't want your dog traumatized by separation anxiety every time you're gone for 30 seconds.

-Socialize your dog as much as you possibly can. Other dogs, cats, babies, the works.

-Keep your dog, whose series of vaccines will seemingly never be finished, and who apparently has a parasite (but has finished her meds for it!), from interacting with anyone. And be sure that each time you pet her, you follow that up by washing your hands with warm soapy water. Don't pet her too often, or you'll never eat/work yourself.

-Give your dog lots of toys to play with, to help keep her occupied during the occasional moments you must, for example, eat something yourself, or take a shower (see above).

-Toys, even ones designed explicitly for dogs, are too dangerous to be used unsupervised, like even if you're just in the shower, and thus are of no use in the owner's absence, and are at any rate a poor substitute for your attention. Even the most highly regarded toys are basically death traps for dogs. Beware!


In other words, I'm probably doing it all wrong. But Bisou is slowly wrapping her tiny, fluffy head around the notion of "outside potty," and that she's only allowed to bark to announce she sees our neighbor, not for the next half hour. And once we have the all-clear from the vet re: vaccines, etc., we will take her... somewhere. Here? She'd no doubt make friends. We'll see.

I experienced something of a post-puppy depression after picking up Bisou, which I was reassured at the time to see that some on the Internet have also experienced (including people who've had other dogs, which strikes me as bizarre, yet extra-reassuring), commentators likening it to postpartum depression, only to get shot down, not entirely unfairly, for YPIS:* there's on the one hand a real medical condition, on the other spoiled sorts - women goes the cliché - who purchased dogs as accessories and are stunned to learn that they have digestive tracts and personalities of their own. Don't get a dog if you don't want to put in the work and all that.

When in my case, no. I'd dog-sat before, and have always loved dogs, like, actual dogs, not just puppy photos online. My husband and I are both putting in the work and then some. We're reading. We're following that expert advice. And I have not even attempted to get Bisou - even though she is indeed a tiny and adorable dog - into a handbag.

The issue initially was that the first vet who checked her out post-breeder thought she might have a serious health problem that would necessitate worst-case-scenario bringing her back to the breeder before we'd bonded... but the specialist we had to take her to was a while after that, meaning limbo, meaning we'd already become attached even on the way to the first vet, meaning, ugh.

So there was that, which was 95% of it. But also, even though I wasn't surprised by any of it, the fact that I now must deal with gates and rambunctiousness (or, adorably but frustratingly, a pup curled up on my foot, although this she seems to be outgrowing already) every time I go into the kitchen has taken some getting used to. Things like opening a hot oven or putting a sharp knife into a dishwasher go from being mundane chores to potentially traumatic experiences. (As well as evidence in favor of a two-owner home, or at the very least a crate.)

Also frustrating: despite her overall good temper, lack of aggression, etc., the remaining issues we'd like to address with her - barking at distant strangers, and not quite understanding that when she's outside, that means it's go time - are improving, but to be totally fixed would require taking her out into the world, something that (see list above) we've told is imperative but also irresponsible until all vaccines are complete. How is she supposed to meet new people and dogs if we can't take her for a walk, let alone to obedience school? We carried her around and showed her children, pleased that she did not bark at them, but we can't yet full-on introduce her to anyone other than adults who've assured us they like and know dogs. And experts say, apparently, that if whatever imperfections are not addressed immediately, your dog will be screwed up for life. Hmm.

And I can't quite figure out which toys/practices are indeed necessary, and which are anthropomorphizing (washing and brushing are self-evidently important with a dog, especially a poodle, but opinions differ re: canine toothbrushing, the necessity of an infinite as opposed to varied but limited supply of toys). Obviously putting a bow on her is not necessary, while pee pads are key, but short of that...

Oh, and Bisou is almost completely uninterested in treats, but also kind of low on teeth at the moment, so maybe it's not the treats. Maybe these are the wrong treats? See! I'm doing it wrong!

I have dealt with objectively far more stressful and upsetting situations in my life, ones without a nice upside like, now here's a sweet little pet asleep by my side, but this has been quite the whirlwind. I have no interest in being a helicopter dog-owner, the Tiger Mom of miniature poodles. But with every book, article, and (gulp) podcast explaining in no uncertain terms that if you do err however slightly, your dog will become neurotic, impossible, and possibly vicious, no doubt violently ill or worse, I'm not making any promises on that front.

 *"Your privilege is showing," in WWPD-speak.


eamonnmcdonagh said...

It’s a long time since I’ve worked with dogs and I don’t know anything about poodles so I’m in no position to advise you but I will anyway. Unless the pampered pooches of Princeton are being cut down in droves by some kind of plague then I’d ignore the vet’s advice and get your new friend out of the house as much as possible and give her plenty of exercise. As well as knowing who’s in charges dogs need a mission in life – tearing around the park, chasing birds, whatever -, immunity comes from being exposed to the environment as well as from vaccines and a well-exercised dog is likely to be less trouble when at home in the house.

Phoebe said...


The dogs in Princeton, at least the bit of it I'm in, are less "pampered pooches" than rugged-looking big dogs, hearty, model-gorgeous Goldens in a yard, that sort of thing. I mean, I think they're happy in their doggy lives, but if there are lap dogs, they're kept inside and I have yet to meet any. You'd think with all the cutesy around, there'd be that, but no.

The next round of vaccines comes really soon, and unless the vet gives a compelling reason otherwise, adventure-time for Bisou. She does go out quite a bit, but not beyond the area around our apt. Which is still a good amount of space and nature, but she needs more room to roam, and needs to meet other dogs, for sure.

Anonymous said...

I understand your stress (from my experience of first-time motherhood), but believe me, you will do fine and so will Bisou. Dr. Spock wrote a book, but ultimately told moms to "trust their instincts." Same with puppies. I still want one "someday" but with three cats and a full-time job I must wait a bit. Bisou is very cute. JM

kei said...

How old is Bisou right now? I read that the "critical" period of socialization is between 3 and 14 weeks, but that this is a problem with the fact that the last round of vaccs usually come around 16 weeks. I think what made me decide to sign Mitsu up for obedience school at something like 12-13 weeks was that what I read also noted that more dogs die each year due to socialization problems rather than disease. Whether the statistic is true or not, that seemed to match up with my experience with dogs--no one ever asks about a dog's health, but always about their friendliness and disposition, and that's where problems arise, not with health. And given that I had read all this stuff about Shibas being socially awkward and worse, I wanted her to socialize as early as possible.

One thing that helped ease my mind was that if I did introduce her to a new environment, it was a place and with people and dogs I trusted. So I immediately introduced her to my parents' dog at their house, my friend Emily's dog at her house, and then later, the obedience class. If she met new people, it was at our house, and we'd let her go up to them and figure things out on her own. We didn't walk her very far beyond our block the first few weeks, so she didn't meet people or dogs outside often. Of course, you're in a relatively new environment as well, so it might be harder to find parallels. I think meeting new anything is good, so the children and adults thing is good.

As for toys, Mitsu's favorites are the standard Kong toy, Nylabones (though that love affair ended after teething), bones that are stuffed with some super artificial peanut butter concoction (which eventually disappears and can be replaced with something else, like carrots and not-weird peanut butter), a couple of random rubber and stuffed toys (she likes to unstuff), and a tennis ball. You've probably seen the toys that involve putting treats in them to keep them occupied "for hours," which might be worth checking out.

I think my comment is too long so it will continue below!

kei said...

I don't know about dental hygiene all that much and don't know if it can be a breed thing, but we have not brushed Mitsu's teeth once (and we've only bathed her once, a huge upside to the breed). We were told by many early on that we should poke around her mouth now and then to get her used to someone touching her teeth, but we never brushed them. Instead, we give her some chewy mint things that are supposed to clean her teeth. ( I have no idea if that's effective or not but she likes them. That line makes a bunch of other things that supposedly help keep dog teeth clean and is easier than brushing; I've only tried the chews so far.

Again, something you may have seen, but I also recommend Buddy Biscuit soft treats, which break off really easily and are pretty pungent. Mitsu was also a little uninterested in treats during obedience class, so the trainers recommended string cheese, and boiled turkey franks, I think it was. That gets messy, but for training, it was worth it. Pugent is good, but I see those "Pupperonis" or Cesar treats at Target and think, that must smell really delicious to a dog, but the stuff it's made with cannot be good for any living creature.

Anyway, my feeling is that if you are putting this much effort into Bisou, and as long as she stays mostly healthy (getting sick once in a while is normal and probably fine for immunity), I think you guys will all do well! There are certain things that can't be helped, but you'll figure out what you can and can't control (e.g., we have a slight barking issue with Mitsu--she just gives one big, high pitched bark that shakes something inside of you that you didn't know could be shaken so violently, and you might see when it's coming. That's when you might try to control it, saying "No, don't do it, I see what you're thinking!" but usually not). But the important thing is developing a healthy and hopefully mutual relationship (humans and Mitsu mostly have a mutual relationship, humans are slightly higher, but really, Mitsu is on her own crazy plane of existence). I think you'll enjoy seeing her personality develop over time, and she'll probably have fun figuring you guys out too.

Phoebe said...




Thanks big time, seriously! I really appreciate all of this.

I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in noticing that some vaccines come after crucial socialization time. Bisou's now four months old, so at her next vet appt, my plan is basically to explain that our main concern at this point is her socialization, and to verify that there isn't something truly dangerous out there preventing that. Part of the issue is also, as you noted, that we just moved. I have friends with dogs, including a couple with a new dachshund puppy (!!!), but had to decline a suggested dog-play-date because these friends live in New York and I... don't. There are dogs around, including like a dozen tiny gray terriers with a taste for barking that seem like great friends for Bisou, but their owners are presumably very important scientists and the like, not, say, close friends or family. My concern at this point really is the timing - making sure we're not spreading a probably-gone-but-we'll-know-soon parasite to other dogs, or exposing her to rabies/distemper, but not missing whichever window of socialization she needs by too much. She had met some people and lots of dogs prior to joining us, but much more is obviously needed!

One more question... did you crate-train? Bisou now spends nearly all her time running around in the (large, luckily) gated kitchen, but doesn't yet run around the rest of the apt. She does seem much calmer crated even if I've "gone" for something seemingly minor like taking a shower, but it just seems so sad! According to the Internet, dogs come to like their crates. Bisou has come to not hate hers (we now put her food in it, which seems to help, and have shown her that we don't respond to separation-anxiety barking), but is not joyfully following a treat into it, the way she allegedly should.

We're also (and I promise, this is it for now) not sure what to do when re: a bed. We'd lined the crate with a soft towel at first, having been instructed not to give her a bed until she's housebroken, but she seemed not to be interested in that, and if anything seems to like the crate more without it. She's now, like as of two days ago, housebroken-ish, but not 100%. I'd assumed getting a dog meant getting it a bed to curl up in, but that, like everything else, apparently must wait...

As for the rest... We've got a kong and nylabones for her, as well as plush toys she finds a way to make the site of her now-rare accidents, and thus forever cycling through the wash. I will look into these treats and dental toys - she seems to really like a dental nylabone... And we got some Whole Foods hot dogs, which are either for us, for Bisou, or both. I made the mistake of making a "sushi dinner" at home the other night, when obviously multi-step meals aren't the way to go right now.

kei said...

I think the socialization issue will resolve soon enough, especially if you have obedience class on the radar for the near future. Hopefully your vet is understanding and doesn't corner you into thinking you're doing something you shouldn't be, because it's a legit concern and I think it's up to you to make decisions, not them!

We did crate train Mitsu, and we still put her in the crate but only when we're out of the house. She kind of came to us crate trained, which I'm not sure is normal among breeders (but grateful for!). We lure her in with a Kong with peanut butter in it. Does Bisou show interest in any of the following, which could be really helpful: peanut butter, cream cheese, cheese (Mitsu likes gruyere, lol), butter, fish/fish oil (sushi material?)? I've read that you can spread these things or treats on the back of the crate somewhere so that the crate becomes a sort of awesome place in their eyes. We used to put towels in the crate, but she'd pee on them so we took them out. I think you can go either way, it's not cruel to not have anything in there, even though it looks bare.

Generally, I think crate training is a good idea. It helps with developing bladder control, calming down, and as you tweeted, allowing you to do work if you work from home! But I think it's normal if a dog doesn't care for their crate, especially when it's obvious that there's a better option--like hanging out with humans in sight. The Akita I grew up with barely tolerated her crate, and after she was housebroken and all of that, we let her free. Since Mitsu doesn't seem to dislike her crate, and we cannot keep any segment of the house clean enough to let her roam while we're out, we still crate her up when we're gone (she's almost a year old). You might phase out the crate earlier if Bisou doesn't like it.

We got a bed for Mitsu before she came home, and she plopped right into it when we first got her. But then she started to destroy her bed (I think she thought of them as a giant stuffed toy), and there were also times later on when she'd pee on it. These are those plush beds at PetSmart and so on--maybe they're confusing. We got her a supposedly indestructible bed from Dr. Forster-Smith, but she chewed that up the day she got it, and it was too poufy. Again, confusion. After some time of having nothing and being housebroken, I gave her an old comforter that I folded up that could easily be washed if necessary. More recently, I got these Japanese pillows you sit on (square, really flat), and she sleeps on that and attacks them very rarely. I guess this is to say that the bed is not necessarily a fixed thing, that there can be issues and you just have to be ready to experiment and see what works best. You could try it soon, as she's almost housebroken, and just see what happens.

If you want to add more to your puppy literature, here is the place we went to for obedience class, which provides some helpful articles: We worked with Wendy personally and in the class.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions, even though I can only really tell you what happened with Mitsu and not really give much advice beyond that :D

Phoebe said...


This is all so, so helpful! Thanks so much! And if it were not for that dissertation, I'd be combing through that website more thoroughly right now - it looks great.

The almost-housebroken comes and goes, so we may wait on the bed. A soft folded-up sheet, a towel, a large soft stuffed toy, these items she kind of sees as something soft to lie on, kind of sees as prey, and inevitably, even as accidents become fewer, they happen on whatever nice, soft object she's recently been presented with. It's a process.

I kind of think the crate will only ever be for necessity (when we're out, for the reason you mention - it being impossible to have zilch on the floor, in particular because if the floor is bare, she finds the wall itself quite interesting; and now, for housebreaking), but that it won't become her "den" as an adult dog. We cover it with a sheet to make it look like a den, but that sheet must seem like a really exciting toy to pull at!