When I got a ten-week-old puppy the Monday before Christmas four+ years ago, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I’d trained many a dog, but I did it within the context of my family, with my children at the ready to wear out the new pet.
This time I was living alone and six decades old. No one was with me to help do any of it. I was flying solo. The house-breaking was mostly done, the teaching a soft mouth was done, the bonding was done, but I couldn’t seem to wear out my new puppy, Pepper. I walked her, I played with her, I bought a Squishy Face toy that you get the dog to chase. It’s a pole with a cord with a squeak toy on the end. Pepper un-squeaked the Squishy Face toy in two days.
She came at me at breakfast, lunch and dinner, whenever I was seated. If I was reading the paper, she’d tear through it with her paws by pouncing on me. If I was standing up and working, she jumped on me. I tried spinning in a circle to get her off of me.
When she was about five months old and the puppy classes had ended, Pepper started biting at my clothes to get my attention. She ripped a few of my t-shirts. I have to say she was bigger than the last dog I’d trained fourteen years before (a Dachshund), and she was scaring me.
I called the rescue place where I’d gotten her. They had a policy to take back the dog if it didn’t work out. I was seriously considering it. All that work I’d done would be for naught, but the nipping had to stop. I didn’t want a dog that did that.
The operator transferred me to the dog training specialist. No sooner had I started explaining my sad saga when she interrupted me.
“How many times a day do you walk her?” she asked.
“I walk her every day,” I said.
“How many times?” she pressed.
“Uh, once,” I said.
“Once is not enough for a puppy,” she said. “You need to walk her at least twice.”
“Okay . . .” I said.
She wasn’t telling me how to give back the dog.
“And if you you’d like to meet with our trainer for a private lesson, we can arrange that. It’s $100 dollars for one hour.”
She still wasn’t telling me how to give back the dog.
“Okay . . .” I said. ‘I guess I could do that.”
“Great!” the voice said. “How about Thursday at 3:00?”
I hung up, realizing that the woman had just turned it around and put the blame on me. It was my fault the dog was acting out.
I drove to the animal rescue place at 3:00 on Thursday with Pepper firmly secured in the back seat. Once she had climbed on my lap while I was driving and actually got under the shoulder belt that was strapped across my body. I thought we were both going to die. It’s no way to drive with a 45 pound dog buckled in with you.
The trainer that cost $100 an hour was the same woman who had run the puppy manners class. She told me about her insane Jack Russell rescue dog (OMG, I just realized that I, too, now have a Jack Russel rescue dog- it must’ve been a subliminal thing) and how the dog would bother her day and night.
And now, drum roll please, here is the best tip she gave me in that private lesson, and you get to know it for free:
1. Buy a Kong (big red rubber toy, hollow in the middle).
2. Plug the small hole with a blob of string cheese.
3. Put kibble in the Kong up to the top.
4. Pour chicken broth over the kibble.
5. Close up the big hole with peanut butter.
6. Freeze the Kong in the freezer.
The trainer told me she makes a week’s worth of Kongs at a time.
When your dog is bothering you and you need some quiet time, give your dog the frozen Kong. Then enjoy the next 30 minutes as the dog does everything she can to get that frozen goodness inside — chewing sucking, smacking, but at least she’s not biting at you.
Yes, it takes planning. Yes, Kongs are pricey, so if you buy seven to make them a week ahead, that’s a lot of moo-la. Yes, it’s a messy thing to make, and you need a pan under them in the freezer, or you will also have messy freezer.
But here’s the good news. You don’t have to do it forever. Puppies are teething. That’s why they like to bite things. The Kong gives their teeth and gums some relief from the pain. Eventually Pepper got tired of them and started leaving them in the yard to thaw where they turned moldy. I took the hint and stopped making them for her.
The trainer spent almost two hours with me and Pepper, so it was well worth the money spent.
Those Kong treats saved me for those few months when I was ready to be done with my puppy. And now she’s a mostly lovely two year old dog. It’s the rescue dog with bad experiences and bad behaviors that drives me crazy.
A dog should be forever. They live to be 12 to 18 years old. Don’t get one if you’re not in it for the long haul. If you give them back, then they become the damaged rescue dog that some sucker will come along and adopt because they are so cute like Daisy, the Jack Russell.
She is a little weirdo, and it’s hard to undo that.