Sunday, August 28, 2005

Too pupped to pop

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Adopting a new puppy is a rewarding, frustrating, educational, exhausting and fulfilling experience, in that order. It's not something to be undertaken lightly -- puppies need constant care and attention to grow into healthy, happy dogs, as opposed to vicious, bloodthirsty killing machines with no regard for your life or even their own. It's literally just a few Snausages' difference.

I know. My wife and I just this week welcomed a pup into our home. We used to have another dog, Sable, an adorable mutt who died in June at nearly 15. It left a hollow spot in my chest that I tried in vain to spackle over with nougat. So after a while, we adopted another dog, a five-month-old pup named Myrna. She's half Labrador retriever, half border collie and half German shepherd. Her folks were swingers.

We got Myrna online through a service that rescues dogs from the South and brings them up north. Down there, many shelters keep dogs for only three days before they're destroyed. They meet their awful fate by being forced into endless Civil War battle re-enactments, or else are shipped to West Virginia and die of shame.

It is taking Myrna some getting used to, living away from the South. She seems to miss the banjo music, for one thing, and the wind a-sighin' through the magnolia blossoms. It's also difficult for her to understand our commands unless we're chewing a sprig of hay. Instead of "sit," we have to say "seeeit." She doesn't understand "no," so we tell her, "G'oan -- git!" And she ignores anything unless it's immediately followed by a nonsensical folksy metaphor:

"Myrna! Want to go for a walk? It'll be more fun than a hobo rasslin' a pillowcase fulla peach pits."

"Off the couch, Myrna. Excuse me -- off'n. Or I'll be mad as a catfish with a xylophone."

"Dad-blame it, Myrna, you pooped in the house! Your bowels must be looser'n tube socks on a rooster."

But little by little, we're understanding her and she's understanding us. So I feel qualified, after these few days, to share some of my tidbits of puppy-rearing wisdom with you.

The key to raising your puppy to be a decent, upstanding member of the Democratic Party is being able to think like a puppy. Perform your market research. Analyze your demographic. Get into its quote-unquote "groove."

I know as a human, for example, that my puppy should go to the bathroom outdoors. But let's examine this from the puppy's point of view. Wouldn't it be more fun to crap in Daddy's shoe? Plus, more challenging and all, given the concentration and aim required?

Thus, we've established what the puppy is thinking. Now you can explain to it, calmly, that going outdoors is a more cost-effective solution, given the high cost of replacing shoes versus the low cost of dog poop fertilizing the grass. Puppies are extremely logical, particularly when it comes to economics. The puppy may then suggest that you compromise, bringing the shoe outdoors so it can crap in it out there.

Many owners find this to be the easiest solution, but others demand a zero-tolerance policy on shoe-crapping. Be aware that if you have more than one puppy, they can override your veto on this issue.

I've discovered that puppies also like to chew things. Pretty much any form of matter will do, but they go crazy for anything expensive or difficult to replace. My own Myrna finds that Pottery Barn endtables have a mild flavor perfect for breakfast, and would've pulled the roof apart if she hadn't already chewed the legs off the ladder.

Again, if you think like a puppy, you can minimize the damage. Start by removing anything in your home that could be tempting for a puppy to chew -- this includes tables, chairs, rugs, TVs, household appliances, lamps, curtains, bedsheets, sofas, pillows, clothes, decorative wood moldings, cabinets, refrigerators, washers and/or dryers, toilets, furnaces, electrical wires, floors and walls.

If you catch your puppy chewing anything inappropriate that's left, never make the cruel mistake of hitting the poor pup on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. This only makes puppies resent The Media. Instead, give the dog something positive to chew, such as a thick porterhouse steak cooked rare, or, better still, a cow.

It's important to give your puppy a decent name, one that reflects its personality. Years ago, in Kennedy Park, I met a dog named Hitler. I'm going to go ahead and say that's not a good idea unless your dog is interested in the organized slaughter of millions of people, and then you should probably have him neutered right away.

Above all, the best thing you can do for a puppy is give it lots of affection and training. If you love it and care for it well enough, then the barking and whining and biting and chewing and destroying and howling and pooping and yanking and tinking and jumping and clawing and drooling will find their way into your heart for life.

Lastly, remember that unlike other pets -- such as those blithering morons of the animal kingdom, goldfish -- puppies are quite intelligent. Too intelligent, actually. This is why you must, at all times, communicate with puppies in baby talk. Rub their bellies and pitch your voice high and call them "woodgitty woo-woo kins." Otherwise, the puppies will pick up enough English to get by, and that's pretty much it for the human race.

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