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posted: 8/28/2011 12:01 AM

Owners need dog training as much as puppy does

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Q. My fiance and I have a 9-month-old puppy. He is housebroken but is chewing everything in sight, including expensive electronics, carpeting and work-related documents that would be very embarrassing to replace. "Yes, Client, the dog literally ate my homework."

We have spent lots of money fixing the dog's damage (while also trying to save for a wedding) and rearranging our house to deal with him. Most of this behavior is simply puppy stuff, but I would be lying if I said I walked him a mile every night.

I suppose we could give the dog more exercise, but it's tough, it really is. We both work full time, and frankly, I got amnesia about how hard raising a puppy is. And my fiance was ill-prepared (by me) for the normal puppy frustrations.

Fiance has had it up to "here." He doesn't want to be the bad guy in asking me to give the dog away. I don't want to be the bad guy in asking him to put up with the dog. Any suggestions? No judgment please; we've really tried our best.

A. Why is the puppy on the loose enough to chew things?

You may have tried your best, but you haven't tried the obvious. Crate training.

You need a puppy obedience class, badly, and your puppy does, too. And that's not just a har-har; your amnesia extends not just to the difficulty but also the basics of dog-rearing. "Most of this behavior" is boredom, not "puppy stuff." You need to tire him out, physically and mentally, and confine him humanely.

So: Tap local dogsters (at your vet's office, dog parks, doggy day cares and boarding facilities, etc.) for names of good puppy trainers/classes and dog-walkers. The money you blow on replacement electronics just gives Pac-Dog new things to chew in fits of boredom-related anxiety; investing in a trainer, a walker and a crate will keep you from having to replace your electronics. He won't always be a puppy; think of this as the high-maintenance push to the other side.

I realize you hoped for, "It's OK, bring Pac-Dog to the shelter so he can find a better home." But you're not getting that answer because: (1) Shelters are packed; (2) You haven't tried "everything" until you've tried crating and obedience (by the book; don't wing it); and (3) You made a commitment to this living creature, and you're his best chance.

Speaking of: If there are human puppies in your future, then please, both of you, make peace with the idea of being the bad guy sometimes. Your throw-up-your-hands dog-rearing is your problem, but that kind of child-rearing tends to become our problem, too.

Q. My husband lost his job and hasn't found anything yet. We have had to cancel some plans, aren't giving gifts on gift-giving occasions, and weren't able to contribute any cash to some group family things we'd previously committed to (family is paying our portion now). We've also gotten some unasked for but much appreciated help from parents in the way of groceries. We do have a small amount of savings we have not yet dipped into, for mortgage payments when my husband's unemployment payments run out.

I feel horribly guilty spending any money on anything. But now our computer broke and my husband needs it for job searching and cover letters. We could do that at the library, but it's so much easier on your own computer. We feel like our family members are going to raise their eyebrows if we buy a new one. Is it anyone's business that we use our savings to buy this item?

A. Your guilt is, like anger, a corrosive emotion -- if you let it sit there unaddressed. It's useful, though, if you regard it as a flag that says, "Pay attention to this."

Your money is ultimately your business, and your parents chose to give you milk money; you didn't hit them up. Yet you also know that there is an element of luxury to a new computer, coexisting with the necessity of having a computer, and that luxury consumption by charity recipients is, to benefactors, a sharp poke in the eye. You may have valid points in resisting the "charity" label and declaring that you didn't ask for anyone's help -- you are scraping by, after all, thanks to your fiscal discipline -- but valid points often aren't useful against emotion and perception.

So heed the guilt flag and cut the appearance of luxury out of the computer transaction. Your choices aren't limited to library (which will slow down your husband's response time, not good) or retail purchase; you can also ask your nearest-and-dearest network for a computer he can borrow. Many people hang on to old computers when they upgrade.

If no one comes through, then look into refurbished models with neither bells nor whistles -- nor apologies, because you and everyone whose opinion matters will know you went out of your way to avoid spending a dime.

• Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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