Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Does anyone want a dog?

In April 2007, four months before my relapse (who knew?) I got a puppy – an adorable chocolate lab. Our faithful golden retriever, Misty, had died at a good old age the winter before. I told the kids that I couldn’t think about getting another dog until spring.

Spring came, and I had gotten used to going dogless. Here’s what happened.

Kids: It’s spring. Where’s the dog?
Me: What dog?
Kids: You know, the dog you said you’d get. Plus, we want a puppy.

I’d lived through puppies and vowed never to do it again. So I called some shelters and went to visit one, in search of a nice two-year-old.

When a friend said she knew of a great breeder of labs in Vermont, something came over me. All of a sudden I was on the phone …getting a puppy.

Now almost a year and a half old, she is adorable, fun and cuddly. We named her Madison, but everyone calls her Maddie. Maddie has just one problem. She was house-broken, and then had a relapse.

My life has been enriched by dogs, but my experience with them has taken some odd turns. Before Misty, we had another puppy, a golden that we called Charlie. He had a split personality, adorable one minute, crazy the next. As a puppy, he’d snarl and nip. “That’s nasty,” our vet said when she saw him do it. He bit Ben and Joe, two of my three kids, but it was nothing serious. Still, he worried me, so we went to dog school and even had a trainer come to the house to school us in showing Charlie that we were the alpha dogs.

On the day he attacked me, he was almost full-grown. He had stolen a piece of banana bread from the counter, and I merely looked at him and said, more disappointed than angry, “Oh, Charlie.” He ran at me, snarling and growling, and sunk his teeth into my leg, then my stomach. I threw hot coffee on him and ran upstairs while he settled back on his bed.

The next day I talked to the vet, who said that if I wanted, she would put him down immediately. But our friends Jim and Jane Bloom insisted on taking him. Jim sent him to some doggie boot camp (I didn’t ask what they did) and he returned more subdued. Jim with his booming voice became the alpha dog, and Charlie lived with them to a good old age.

Misty entered shortly afterward, a well-behaved three-year-old. What happened with her wasn’t her fault. One rainy night shortly after I returned home from my first transplant, she got skunked. She ran through the house, yelping and stinking everything up. I was afraid that the fumes might somehow make me sick, what with my fragile immune system. I threw on a mask, went into my room, and called the nurses’ station on 6B at Brigham and Women’s, were I had received my transplant. Vytas, a nurse who was later to become a great friend -- and who over the years would answer many strange questions that I posed – answered the phone. No, he said, skunk stink could not make me sick.

Back to Maddie. She has started peeing and pooping on the kitchen floor, but only at night and in the early morning. We keep her in the kitchen and dining room at night, because given full run of the house, she raids the trash and chews up shoes. She’s been to puppy school and has actually calmed down in many ways. She’s good on the leash and knows her basic commands. She is gentle and sweet and gets along with everyone.

Advice from friends, the vet and the trainer goes every which way.
Some say: Put her back in the crate.
Others: Never put her back in the crate.

Some: Take her water away at night.
Others: Never take a dog’s water away.

Trainer: Don’t yell at her or stick her nose in it. Praise her when she’s good, but don’t raise your voice unless you catch her in the act.
Vet: Go ahead and scold her.

I have used Nature's Miracle, a stain and odor remover guaranteed or your money back. It is no miracle, and I don't really want my money back. I'd rather have a big box of scented candles or potpourri so that my kitchen would maybe stop smelling like a kennel.

I praise the dog so effusively when she does her business outside, you would think that she had laid a golden egg.

We solved the problem with #2 by feeding her just in the morning. But nothing has worked for #1. I should add that since I am not even 100 days post-transplant, it is not the greatest thing for me to be cleaning up dog mess. Sometimes the kids do it, but if they’re not around, it’s up to me.

The vet and trainer labeled the problem inappropriate urination. Somehow, that struck me as funny.

The vet suggested checking for a urinary tract infection. So there I was wearing a mask and gloves, walking the dog and sticking a Tupperware container under her to try to catch a bit of pee. (I was a failure. Our friend, Karen, tried and managed to get about a teaspoon.) No infection.

By the way we are not asking her to hold it in for very long.

The trainer said to take notes to see if there is a pattern. She doesn’t do it every morning, and when she does do it, it isn’t even after a long stretch. So, not much of a pattern.

The vet said maybe she has separation anxiety at night, and he suggested we let her sleep with the pack. So we got her a second dog bed and put it in my room. Twice I got up with her at 6:30 and praised her for waking me up. I took her out, and she did her business immediately. Then I left her on her downstairs bed and went up to sleep some more.

Yesterday when I came downstair, only a few hours later, she had peed near the window. So last night I figured that when I brought her down, I wouldn’t give her a drink. I put some chairs over the spot where she usually goes. She peed outside at 5:30 a.m. I tried to get her to take a nap in my room, but she wouldn't, so this morning at 6:30, I left her downstairs.

When I came down, she had peed UNDER the table.

Bad dog!

People say that these naughty labs usually get the idea when they turn 2. In the meantime, that’s a lot of cleaning up.

The Dog Whisperer would say it’s our fault, not the dog’s, but I can’t figure out what we might be doing wrong.

Sometimes, in other areas of training, we give her mixed signals. (But which “parent” doesn’t ever give a young one mixed signals?) She likes to get up on the couch, and we usually make her get down. Sometimes, though, she looks so cute, all curled up in a ball, that we just leave her be.

The other night I stayed up late to talk to the kids. The dog was curled up on the couch, and I leaned over and lay my head on her back, her warmth and her breathing soothing me. I closed my eyes and almost fell asleep.

I guess I won’t give her away after all.


mieke said...

Oh Maddie! She doesn't know how good she has it! I'm not a dog person, but it just sounds like she's doing it because she's fenced off from you. Not that that should even be an issue, but I feel like she's the alpha and gets pissy (no pun intended) when she doesn't get what she wants...
Can you fence off part of the back yard and let her roam in the mornings? Maybe she needs more independence? I don't know anything, don't listen to me, I'm sorry you have a pee problem. I would just cry...

PJ said...

I was all set to adopt Maddie. We have an 11-year old bouvier who started urinating in the house about a year ago. After spending mucho dinero at the vet testing for all kinds of physical problems, we saw that there wasn't going to be an answer. There has been some improvement, but I have to be on top of him all day. With Maddie, some behavior modification is sure to work, but you have to take care of yourself now. Maddie will come around.

Susan C said...

Ahhh, the things we do for love. That puppy sounds like more work than an infant.

"Inappropriate urination" cracks me up too.

Unknown said...

My, my, my. I do mot remember the skunk but I do remember a patient that was absolutely funny, functional and just a bit neurotic. You would worry about every little thing that did not matter. We laughed. You did not know... But we took care of you and loved you. And love you now. And you are doing fabulously now... and looking it too!!!!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

When owners have trouble house breaking their dogs I find the biggest problem is inconsistancy. I know it's hard because we try multiple different things to see what is going to work but in the long run it may end up confusing the dog more.
The vet's idea of this may be separation anxiety is a possibility. Since she is waking you up when she's up stairs with you I would continue to allow her to stay upstairs. My next comment was that she should remain upstairs after you let her out in the morning but then I read that she wouldn't go back up there. So I guess if you don't want to use the crate all night I would put her in her crate after she goes out in the morning until you can let her out again. I also would remove water 2 hours prior to bed and keep it away until her second out in the morning.
She is a sweet dog. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

For a minute I thought you were serious about getting rid of Maddie! That was such a sad minute. Inappropriate urination definitely is funny, that's right up there with Connie's cat taking depression meds...

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about dogs but I have heard this idea about sleeping with the pack before. My son who is 14 recently visited his aunt and uncle on the west coast. They have a dog - Mookie - who my son loves, but only sees at most once a year and somethings not even that often. Apparently, Mookie ALWAYS sleeps at the foot of the parents bed at night, but not when my son is there. The dog thinks my son is "part of the pack" and sleeps with him on his annual visit... something he hasn't done for anyone else who visits. I think my son might be part dog!

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Anonymous said...

I just read your blog and couldn't help but wonder about your writing ability. The New York Times too? Is it a hobby or did you use this skill formally? Well done, in any case.

We have dogs in common. Currently, I have 3 8-10 pounds. (2 nine yr old siblings and a 3 yr old adopted last yr)

The latest addition has caused us similar problems to the what you're experiencing. She had been the pet of a dementia patient who was unable to care for herself never mind a dog. Phoebe, a silky terrier, was 2 when we took her and had never been given a water dish or food dish. She drank coffee and ate junk food with her owner. When she 1st came, she'd choke every time she ate, inhaling her food. Eventually, she calmed down and enjoyed it.

She had never been trained and ran the house with an iron fist biting anybody who was out of line according to her imagined rules of the house. She bit us too. I watched The Dog Whisperer who held a small dog on it's back until it stopped fighting, while biting him in the hands and on the arms. After that, the dog didn't have the courage to stand up to him. I tried it and it worked pretty much. Occasionally, she growls or threatens me but when I say "NO" she stops. She will, however, bite the groomer. Cutting her nails is a traumatic event.

She also peed all over the new rug in the basement. Interesting enough, the other 2 dogs are the ones who trained her. Although she was aggressive with us, she was submissive to them and fell into place at the bottom of the dog to-tom pole. She watched them and imitated what they did.

I'm also familiar with separation anxiety as she has a severe form.

You’re quite the athlete. I use to be but developed a lot of orthopedic problems and got quite fat. I now go the Boston Sports Club therapy pool to exercise with all the other broken people.

Thank you for sharing.