You’ve probably heard that old nugget “having a dog is really good training for having a baby”. Having now had both, I think I would have to agree. I’m not sure whether there are benefits to having human babies before dog babies, or vice versa, but I can tell you about the interesting time we’ve been having here at chez Smith since the two pups arrived, approximately 13 and a half years after our first baby came on the scene. There are definite parallels. And really, the only correct response is to laugh yourself stupid.
Saffy and Darcy are all of nine weeks old which, according to the internet, makes them toddlers. Bed-wetting, teething, vomiting, nappy-soiling toddlers who fight over their toys and put their faces and arms right into their food bowls. They don’t listen to commands, they only occasionally respond when called, they get cranky if you take their toys away, and they want to go and play outside even if it is quite obviously blowing a gale out there.
They make a mess of their beds, twisting and turning all night so that all the bedding ends up pushed down one end of the cot and they fall asleep with two legs hanging out the end.
Just when you think they’ve finished doing a wee, they toddle off to the other side of the room and do another one.
And their poohs, though small, are fairly pungent. Like little beef stock cubes.
We had a one-on-one training session with a puppy trainer on Saturday morning. So I guess it was a one-on-four, because the trainer, Trish Mitchell, trained our whole family at once. And let’s be clear… puppy training at nine weeks is just as much about teaching a puppy where to poop as it is teaching the owners how to teach the puppy where to poop.
Trish spent a very generous two and a bit hours with us, calmly and firmly repeating the message that we need to be calm and firm with the puppies. She was up against it, that’s for sure. For example:
“Now, Ella, when you want to call her to you, you must use a firm voice, say her name clearly, and be positive and definite about what you are doing. OK?”
“OK, now you give it a try.”
“Daaarrrceeeee…. Daaaaarrrrceeeee…. come here Daaaarrrcccceeeee…..”
One of the other things Trish kept reminding us of was the need to be calm all the time because the puppies can pick up on the energy you are putting out. So if you’re really annoyed because your eleven year old has just completely ignored the very clear directions she has just been given, you might need to remove yourself from the immediate vicinity so as not to confuse the pup.
The first few times Saffy squatted in the middle of the dining room floor and proceeded to relieve herself, Madeleine watched in fascination. She was literally paralysed with shock, and it took a few moments for her to regain her composure enough that she could do what she had been instructed to do in these situations: take the puppy immediately to the Puppy Potty Patch and keep her there for a few minutes so she could make the connection in her mind between pee and the potty. Then get the bucket of wipes, paper towel, scented nappy bags and odor-neutralising spray (vinegar) and clean it up, calmly and without emotion. Madeleine? Madeleine? Take her over to the Potty Patch. Go on, pick her up and… no, leave the paper for after, just go to the Potty Patch… go straight there, darling, don’t take the scenic route through the kitchen… just go… there you go, thank you. Good girl!
So the next few months (which, we have to keep reminding ourselves, equates to long, drawn-out YEARS in human terms) will be all about cleaning up pooh that didn’t quite make it onto the Potty Patch and trying to stay calm. We’ve been here before, PJ and me. We’ve cleaned up after small animals that don’t yet no how to control their bowels. We can DO this, goddammit. We just have to remember to keep doing what Trish told us to do – be calm, be persistent, be assertive. The difficulty now is that we have to be calm, persistent and assertive in dealing with a couple of little puppies as well as with our own two children, and there’s only so much gin in the house, you know?