Owners of dogs are a designer breed. We love our dogs beyond reason and beyond description. We brave fierce weather to make sure they get exercise. Yesterday, in the blizzard, I walked each puppy separately trying my best to convince them to use the outdoor facilities, while they did their best to convince me it was futile. I have three: Licorice, an 11 year old. 10 pound black Havanese with a pure white belly; Shugar, a cream-colored 9 year old 11 pound Toy Poodle, and Corduroy, a black and white Shishon wiht a massive underbite. Corduroy is not yet 2 years old and weighs in as the biggest of all three dogs at 14 pounds.
In New York City, we set up doggy play dates in Central Park. Our animal children meet with dog friends and chase balls and collect sticks and tussle in the grass, liberated from leashes. From 7am to 9am, on Saturdays and Sundays and most weekdays, the Park is filled with cliques of dog lovers sharing coffee and chatting. At 9am, leashes on, we all trudge home for breakfast, and in the case of my dogs, a nap.
Owners of small dogs differ from owners of big dogs. We claim to choose small dogs because they fit nicely into our diminutive apartments. But in truth I chose my three because they can be carried and toted like a child’s toy and when they sleep, they define the word adorable. I sleep with them in bed, despite knowing where their paws have been and french kiss them, despite knowing where their tongues have been.
But, the dirty little secret in the world of the ultra cute, uber desirable, perfectly sized, petite furball puppies that patrol the sidewalks of the upper east side of Manhattan is that they are largely untrainable.
They don’t just pee and poop where we walk and park, they pee and poop in the house, every house. I should know, I have three of them and last month, I babysat a fourth. When that cutie pie, lifted his leg to aim his pee to hit the leg of the bed and the rug all the while staring me down, I knew the gig was up. “We all do it.” His stare told me. “We are untrainable.”
Sometimes, they use the carpet as a wee wee pad when they are frightened, like during Hurricane Sandy, or too cold, like Blizzard Jonas and sometimes when they are mad, for instance when we pull out the suitcases to pack for a trip which they sense does not include them. Sometimes they pee and poop on the carpets minutes after returning from a long walk, seemingly just because they can.
I love them, I adore them, I sacrifice my time and my comfort to care for them, and they drive me crazy. I can handle of lot of odd behavior in my family members and my animals, but peeing and pooping inside the house on furniture and rugs makes me cringe.
For years, I beat myself up. It was definitely my fault. I just couldn’t train a dog. I am too weak, too lazy, too willing to take the easy way out.
In the beginning, I hired one trainer after another. The highly-recommended trainers often showed up for the interviews with their own perfectly-trained animals who stared at them with caricature-like devotion and heeded their every command.
The first trainer arrived with Esther, a full-sized German shepherd. I was alarmed when I answered the door to see a large man about 50+ years old and his equally large dog standing on my doorstep grinning at me. Esther, the trainer assured me, was his assistant in the training. I think she achieved more than he did To this day, Licorice wags her tail when she sees a German Shepherd. Esther would corrall Licorice and assert her dominance gently by pushing Licorice with her nose and asserting her alpha status. Esther was perfectly trained. She listened to every command with perfect obedience. If I could achieve even a small dose of Esther’s behavior, It would be well worth the money.
Licorice somehow learned to adopt Esther’s sense of Alpha without any of Esther’s willingness to please.
When Shugar joined Licorice two years later, I decided to revisit the idea of having my dogs trained. Licorice was insanely territorial and she barked like mad whenever anyone had the audacity to call the house or ring the doorbell. I didn’t want the baby poodle Shugar to learn all of Licorice’s bad habits. Later, when Corduroy joined our family, one of my kids decided I was the problem and she trained the new canine. He at least learned not to bark.
When Shugar came, I found a new trainer. This trainer was an educated, attractive young woman in her mid-twenties. For $100 an hour, three times a week, she promised me two trained dogs. A woman was what I needed, I reasoned. The other two trainers were men. That’s why my dogs resisted all efforts to teach them to hold their pee and poop until they were outside the front door, and barked at delivery men like they were class A felons. I convinced myself that this trainer would succeed where others failed.
Licorice and Shugar thought she was wonderful. They ran to the door to greet her. They are embracing the training, I thought.
Christina’s pockets (Not her real name, because I have blocked her real name from memory) bulged with everything from cut-up bites of frankfurter to bite-sized bits of dog appropriate beef and lamb jerky snacks. During training, the dogs kept constant eye contact and heeded Christina’s every dolce-voiced suggestion. Sit, come, stay, down, walk, busy-busy, hurry-hurry . . . Their performances were perfect.
As Christina prepared to leave each week, she would caution me severely. “Keep the training up. Dogs learn in context. They perform for me and now they have to do it for you. You have to spend the time to train them. You have to make them do it for you.”
She would say these words while waiting for the elevator to emerge on the 14th floor Park Avenue apartment landing that I shared with only one family, a dog-less family. I worried that they hated me and my dogs with their endless barking. I was shamed inside my house and outside by their relentless bad behavior.
“Just because they behave for me, doesn’t mean they will behave for you,” she repeated. Her pockets now emptied of treats were bulging with cash as she stepped into the brown wood-paneled, brown carpeted elegant elevator with the leather benchette that I sit on when no one else is in the elevator.
I finally knew it was a waste of time when I had the first of two epiphanies. One day after she left, I shut the door and faced my perfectly trained dogs. My tiny pups stared up at me with the type of disdain that only my mother-in-law can quite muster.
“Come,” I commanded. They sat and stared at me. I inched a little closer to them.
“Come” I repeated perhaps more firmly.
The third time, I offered a bribe. “Come” I said brandishing the frankfurters.
They turned their heads and completely ignored me.
They were full.
This was my first epiphany. My dogs would engage in performance art as long as they were hungry. But once fully-satiated, the gig was up. They weren’t trainable because they were sociopathic.
My second is that large furry dogs bear no resemblance to my small designer animals. Large dogs are working animals whose DNA fills them with a work ethic and a willingness to please. Dogs in Alaska pull sleds laden with people through mounds of snow and ice. Dogs in the military sniff out bombs and rescue soldiers. Dogs in mountainous avalanche territory dig out buried hikers and skiers before they die of suffocation.
Small designer animals have one job – be cute. Their DNA is not encoded with a work ethic or a willingness to please, it’s encoded with cuteness that borders on total narcisssism. There are some exceptions. Some small dogs train for months to be therapy dogs. But not my dogs. My dogs need therapy, not to mention a full-time cook for food intolerances, dog walkers for their walks, and people around at all times because they get sad when they are alone and when they are sad they chew up my family’s shoes, walls and furniture.
it was no accident that the perfectly trained dogs each trainer brought to their interviews were large dogs. Along with my three children who show various resistance to punishment and bribery, I could now add my two dogs. My kids and my dogs had all mastered the art of shaping the lives they want to lead.
I got the message. If I wanted to hire a trainer to stuff my dogs full of treats that was fine with them, but I should give up the allusion that they would behave towards me the same way they behaved for the trainers. After all, that was an hour three times a week, this was our lives. By age 4, after three trainers and years of training, my dogs were fat and completely untrained.
I no longer spend money on trainers or rugs. Recently, after cleaning my gorgeous, expensive silk threaded rugs multiple times, I threw them out – the rugs not the dogs. Most of my floors are bare but my kids have carpet squares which can be replaced individually. At $25 each, it’s a compromise we can all live with and the kids don’t have to walk barefoot on cold wood floors.
Gorgeous rugs are a luxury I can live without, my dogs are a necessity.
At least my three kids are potty trained.
All of my kids and Corduroy have food allergies. I cook and bake specific foods for everyone
Recipe for Hypo-Allergenic Dog Food for Corduroy
Boil Two Duck Breasts in inch of water until cooked. Remove meat and discard fat and skin.
Baked two sweet potatoes and steam half pound string beans.
Make cup of white rice – Easier for dogs to digest than brown rice.
Roughly puree Duck with rice, string beans and sweet potatoes.
Serve room temperature, never hot.
*You get to decide what Miserable means