We thought we had the house puppy-proofed. We tucked electrical cords behind bookshelves, cleared books and magazines and television remotes from the coffee table, moved the butter dish out of counter-surfing range, put the recycling bag up on a chair.
And then I did something stupid like walk around barefoot.
Angus loves shoes and he adores my Ugg boots, which he probably thinks are just gigantic fleece toys, but what really makes him happy are my bare toes. Weird, fetishy dog! When I am barefoot, which I now try never to be, he darts toward my feet and chomps. Not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to draw a yell, a scream, an EEEEK!
We had been taught in puppy class that when a puppy bites us (they can’t help it; they explore the world through their mouths, like babies — babies with very sharp teeth) we are to emit a high, squeaky EEEEK! and then whirl around and ignore the puppy for a full 15 seconds. The teacher demonstrated this, impressing upon us that 15 seconds is not 5 seconds, nor 10 seconds, but a good long time that will fill the puppy with dismay at being shunned and make him learn that bad behavior brings all the fun to a halt.
Ah, just another myth from those puppy teachers who all seem to have Perfect Predictable Dogs that always respond exactly the way they are supposed to.
In the first place, my voice does not go high and shrill. I cannot squeak. I have no falsetto. So I do the best I can, bellow an EEEEK! and then whirl around and ignore the puppy.
While I am ignoring him, Angus does one of the following:
1) Bites my toes again, or my hands, or the hem of my pants. (“Be a tree,” our teacher said. Even if he bites, “Stand still.” Endure the bites. Do not engage. Why? I forget why because I am weeping in pain.)
2) Laughs hysterically and runs off after Rosie, our 6-year-old Lab mix and his very best friend, forgetting that he ever bit me and no longer cares that I am ignoring him.
3) Wanders off completely unconcerned by my shunning and takes a quick piss in the hallway.
Puppies bite. They also scratch. They also grab your expensive new down coat and puncture the fabric with their needlelike teeth and then the fabric gets caught and they are unable to let go, no matter how much kibble you throw at them.
Although I have not yet used it on my toes, I carry around a spray bottle of Bitter Apple, which apparently tastes so foul that it makes Angus immediately turn away from whatever he is chewing. (Caveat: I once had a puppy who loved the taste.) (Other caveat: The flavor doesn’t last, and you have to keep re-spraying the same places.)
Puppies need to chew three kinds of things, our puppy teacher told us: stringy fabric they can pull (such as our kitchen throw rugs); hard things they can gnaw (our table legs); and soft, fleecy things they can disembowel (would that be my toes?).
So we give him tons of things to chew, and our house is a complete mess of shredded stuff and will be for months to come. Still, there are things that seem to keep him out of trouble: The brown paper at the end of a roll of wrapping paper; empty cereal boxes; knuckle bones from a pet store or butcher shop; rope tug toys; empty plastic water bottles stuffed into old tube socks (they crackle splendidly); split elk antlers, and puffy toys that end up as an explosion of cotton balls all over the living room floor.
Owning a puppy is great fun, but it is not for the neat, the house-proud — or the shoeless.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. She is not a dog expert, just a dog lover, chronicling the first months of her puppy’s development on this page.
Coming March 24: Don’t mess with pack hierarchy. Read previous installments at startribune.com/puppy.