July 25, 2009

My Puppy, My Kitten, My Sanity

April 2008

We have two new members of the household. Vipper, our Engish Springer Spaniel puppy, has been with us for six weeks now, and last night little bitty kitty Palooka joined the family. In preparation for Palooka's arrival, I read up on how to introduce them, and found that the expert consensus was to confine the newcomer to a room of his own and let them smell each other under the door, then slowly increase contact time, keeping a close eye on how they react. As soon as I saw (and fell in love with) Palooka, I knew the meeting between puppy and kitty would happen later rather than sooner. Palooka is so tiny I can cradle him in my hands. Vipper, in comparison, is huge. King Kong vs. Shrimpzilla. Vipp will be a fifty-pound dog one day. Only last week, at four months old, the vet weighed him at a (spastic, willful) seventeen pounds.

Vipper's breed is very social, so one day I expect him and Palooka to be the best of chums. Right now, however, Vipper's social tendencies are a major hindrance. He absolutely hates to be alone. He loves his crate, as long as the only time we put him in it is at bedtime when he can sleep in the knowledge that I'm within arms-reach. Every other attempt to crate him for even a few measly minutes results in an anxiety-induced mess, to be euphemistic. This has created undue tension between him and me. I'm the alpha dog, but in this he has the upper hand - I either take him with me wherever I go, or I get an unpleasant surprise when I return. My solution was to get him potty-trained lightning fast. He's much happier alone if he is unconfined, with free access to sneak onto the Forbidden Sofa or chew up Daddy's flip-flops.

I know this because a few days ago I aimed the video camera at his kitchen enclosure and told him pointedly, "Be right back," which I'm trying to teach him is code for "I will return, I promise. Please don't make me regret returning."

I left, and upon arriving home, I was greeted by a happy wiggle puppy with Daddy's flip-flop in his mouth. I reviewed the video to see how he'd escaped. Although he chose a path of egress outside the camera's view, the moment the door shut behind me, I could hear the whining. It increased in intensity for two minutes as sounds of a violent struggle ensued, then all noise ceased. The video continued to tape an empty enclosure, but the physical evidence was clear: he'd climbed on top of his crate and skittered onto the kitchen island, knocking over a vase and apparently attempting to open a package of Pupperoni treats while he was up there (I guess the zip-lock technology was too much for him).

So yesterday, after two weeks of only having accidents involving his piddling in excitement or submission, I arbitrarily decided he was ready to graduate out of the kitchen. I say arbitrarily because I think I did it less because he was actually ready and more because I was projecting onto him my desperate need for him to be ready. So I took down the blockade to his section of the kitchen (the sides to my son's old crib) and gave him free access to the downstairs. Less than 24 hours later, he lost the privilege.

You see, Vipper's second endearing quirk is that he's a big chicken. Other than the embarrassment of a big dog who will run from a Chihuahua, this is not a problem in and of itself. The problem involves the necessity for him to "hold it" longer than his little puppy innards can manage. The last several potty runs of the evening are usually a waste of time. It's dark out there, and the sounds of the neighborhood (dogs barking, grass bending in the breeze) scare him silly. He doesn't heed my endless stream of entreaties (why do you eat the head off every dandelion you see?, must you stop and bury your nose in every patch of smut?, are you hiding a rock in your mouth again?) to "make potty!" Instead, he spends an inordinate amount of time suspended at the end of a taught leash with front paws scrabbling off the ground, body determinedly pointed at the beacon of light shining from the back door. Last night he refused to go, which meant that by this morning he'd stocked up on his most effective weapon - poop. His poop is like Kryptonite to me. I can be in a perfectly good mood until I see a steaming pile of insult, and then I get weak with fury.

Most experts will tell you that even if you catch your dog in the act, it won't help to yell and force him to smell his mess. I think that's a bunch of...eh-hem. How's he supposed to know if you don't tell him? When Vipper makes potty outside he gets enthusiastic kudos, and he was quick to pick up on cause and effect (sit, treat, sit, treat). So when he trotted around the corner into the front entranceway and dropped a triple on my shiny wood floor, I pointed out his mistake so he would have no doubt. Then I reconstructed the kitchen barrier lickety-split.

Even the barrier is no guarantee, though. The experts say that a dog doesn't like to potty in his enclosed area, thus the effectiveness of the crate (exception: Vipper). Our problem is that Vipper whines when he needs to potty. He also whines when he wants to get out of the kitchen and socialize, which is whenever he isn't unconscious. I wish I could distinguish between the two whines, but to be honest, he knows more English than I do Dog. So I take him out...a LOT. Because you never know if he's a loaded cannon or he just wants to chew on Daddy's flip-flop.

Which brings me to Palooka, our Ragdoll kitten. I so wanted to make his first day with us a wonderful one. Instead, he spent a good portion of it alone in the laundry room because Vipper used the Kryptonite on me and was particularly alert all day. Usually we can count on some relief in the form of puppy naps. My son and I took him for a long walk to tire him out (using the Halti, an invention of pure genius that stops Vipp's third endearing quirk, pulling on the leash). Once he was snoring in the kitchen, we locked ourselves in my bedroom with (hands down) the cutest, fuzziest, bounciest, purringest kitten in the history of kittens. Now, for those who've read my other blogs and gotten to know my son, you are aware that while his energy is unflagging, his interest can be hard to keep. Palooka had that boy following him around the room with a wad of feathers on a stick for hours. The giggling was non-stop, unlike the giggles Vipper gets whenever he knocks my son to the ground - those giggles quickly change to cries.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that a year from now I'll have a well-mannered dog whose best friend is a floppy cat. Getting there will be an adventure. (Be right back.)

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