I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

September 23, 2018 8:20 AM

Last night, I did something that I haven’t done in probably fifteen years; I babysat. The dogs. I guess, technically, it’s not babysitting when they’re your own furry kids, but it still felt like it. There was some place I would rather have been, but I couldn’t go, because Sammy can’t be left alone for over an hour without barking. Dennis got to go and I got stuck at home minding the kids. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I got a dog.

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Sammy, the problem child.

Although, I have to admit, a lot things came along with parenting my non-furry child, as well, that I didn’t expect. I guess that’s just part of being a parent regardless of the species you’re parenting.  Being there for whatever comes along, good or bad.

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The rewarding part of parenthood. Sammy, snuggled on my lap outside by the fire.

I am especially happy that I didn’t grumble at my kennel for the mix-up when Dennis and I traveled to Philadelphia the week before last, because they saved me this week. You can read about it here Bucking the Universe – Part 3. There is someplace important that Dennis and I need to be on Thursday. Instead of just picking up and going, which is what most 50-something empty-nesters do, I had to arrange for childcare. My kennel was the only option given the amount of time we needed to be gone.

I called them and explained the situation. Even though it was a last-minute arrangement, they agreed to take the dogs for the day. That was a relief, however it also means that our day needs to revolve around the time frame of the pick-up and drop-off times at the kennel. Because of our situation, the kennel was very nice and agreed to let me drop the dogs off at 7 am (normally, the drop off is 8, but there’s a three hour drive involved in our destination, so we needed to leave as early as possible.) An overnight wasn’t possible on Wednesday or Thursday at the kennel; I checked. So, we’ll do what every parent does. We’ll do what we have to do and make the best of it.

However, this means that we will drive six hours-ish and we’ll have about 3 1/2 hours at our destination. Not ideal, but it’s the best option I could come up with, other than me staying home again, which isn’t an option I’m willing to consider this time. I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t hit heavy traffic on the way home and miss our pick up time. I honestly don’t know what the kennel would do if that happened since they don’t have space for them to stay the night. I figure that the travel gods owe me one after the Philadelphia trip, so, hopefully, it’ll be okay.

We do need to come up with a long-term solution to this problem, however. Last time this happened, we put Sammy on 10 mg of Prozac for six weeks. It did solve the problem, we were able to leave for a day, have a pet sitter check in with him a couple of times, and he was fine. No barking. However, it took away his personality, too. There was no Sammy-spark. He didn’t play with toys and he slept most of the time. It was like he went from age 2 to age 15 overnight. That’s not a good long-term solution.

This time, we’re still trying Prozac, but the vet cut the dosage to 5 mg. We have noticed a marginal improvement in the barking when we’re gone, but only for about an hour to an hour and a half, max. He starts to get nervous at 1 hour and he starts pacing the house. When he does that, I know that barking isn’t far behind.

Other options we’ve considered:

1.  Enroll the dogs in doggy daycare. Probably won’t work since neither one gets along with other dogs. Charlie barks and  growls at other dogs, Sammy just barks. They would both get a ‘N’ for Needs Improvement in the Works and Plays well with Others category on their kindergarten report card.

2.  Hire a babysitter to stay with them. This one might have merit, although it sounds really dumb to have to hire a babysitter to stay with a dog. I have to think it would be a pretty sweet babysitting gig for a 14-year-old. The problem with this one goes back to the doggy day care problem. In addition to not getting along with other dogs, Sammy doesn’t like new people. And by new people I mean he barks his head off at anyone that comes into the house that isn’t Dennis or me or our pet sitter. It doesn’t matter how many times he’s seen them, he still barks non-stop. The barking duration will be shorter, say fifteen minutes, if he’s somewhat familiar with a person. Fifteen ear-splitting, brain piercing, teeth-grinding minutes. The pitch Sammy hits when he barks is just a tad higher than a smoke alarm’s shriek and he’s easily as loud. This is the best case scenario. If the person is a stranger, he’ll bark non-stop until they leave. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a sweet gig for a baby sitter.

To avoid the constant barking at the babysitter, I’d have to get Sammy to get comfortable with them before we left him alone. I’d have to have the babysitter over several times a week, in half hour stints until Sammy got to know them. Which would take a couple of months. That sounds like a lot to expect from a 14-year-old baby sitter. Not to mention we’d have to teenager-proof our house. Lock up the liquor and lock down all the smutty cable channels. (I was flipping through stations looking for something to watch last night and I was amazed at the amount of porn available for only $9.99 at the click of a button. Even the descriptions of the programs were R-rated!)

3. Build them their own space apart from the house, so when Sammy barks, the cats aren’t affected. Poor Charlie would still have to deal with it, though. This idea is actually new; a friend suggested it Dennis last night. It is doable since we have a lot of room in our now-clean, 3-car garage. That empty space was meant for the pool, which probably isn’t happening now, and even if it does, it’ll go in rec room not the basement.

Dennis could build a wall and parse off a smaller room in the garage where we could insulate and put carpeting down. We can heat and air condition it through a free-standing heater that’s safe to run all the time (we have them in the bedroom because it always seems to be too hot or too cold on the second floor). We could bring up the old love seat from the rec room and put it by the window. They could look out the window and sleep on it (assuming Sammy ever calms down enough to sleep). I’m not sure this would work in the dead of winter because I think the floors would still be too cold, but it’s definitely an idea that has merit. I am concerned about Charlie being stuck with the barking, but he is anyway in the house, so I don’t know that it matters that much. I would leave Charlie in the house, and put Sammy in the his doggy-den, but Charlie barks non-stop without Sammy.

4. Put the dogs in the rec room so there’s more distance between the barking and the cats. We’ve tried this and both dogs bark non-stop in the rec room. Charlie is louder than Sammy, so the barking is still pretty loud even on the second floor.

5. Do nothing, let Sammy bark; it’s not like it’s a life or death situation. This is the one option I cannot do. Frankie, one of our cats (and Dennis would say my favorite animal although, like any mother, I say I love all my animals equally) gets very stressed with the barking. Even if we didn’t have cameras in the house to monitor what the dogs do when they’re alone, I would know if Sammy barked a lot just by how Frankie acts when we get home. He’s reluctant to come down stairs and when he does, he slinks around and is clearly nervous. This passes in a few hours if Sammy has been barking a short time. The one time we let Sammy bark for 5 hours when we were gone, it took Frankie days to recover and I was afraid he never would. I was so happy when he got back to normal. (Okay, maybe there is a teeny bit of favoritism, but don’t tell the others.)

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Frankie, my buddy.

6. Hope he grows out of it. The is the last-ditch resort, but it is possible. Sammy is still young, and like raising kids, some challenges just have to run their course.

7. Train him not to bark when we are home, so I could give the command to be quiet through the camera’s when we’re gone (they have two-way microphones). Sounds great in theory, but like many child-rearing philosophies, it’s not so easy to put into practice. I’ve tried saying “no” firmly, but I don’t even think he hears me over his own barking and having me scream “No” at the top of my lungs combined with Sammy’s barking, isn’t something the cats or Dennis want to experience.

I’ve tried threatening to put him outside if he doesn’t stop. This wouldn’t help when we’re not home, but it would help when people come over. I even followed through on my threat, because, you know you have to follow through if you want the kid to know you mean business. All that putting him outside did was to get the neighbor’s 3 dogs to join into the barking. While this whole “doggie grapevine” thing is cute in Disney movies, it’s as annoying as hell in reality.

I admit it, I’ve even tried bribery. There are gadgets which allow you to talk to your pets and dispense treats remotely. I gave him a chew toy filled with cheese to distract him. It didn’t. I tried throwing down his doggie treats. He ignored them. I fed him some deli meat which he stopped barking long enough to choke down, about 2 seconds, before he started barking again.

There’re shock collars, which I won’t do. No corporeal punishment in our house. There’s a citronella collar that our vet recommended that spritzes citronella every time he barks. The theory is dogs don’t like the smell of the citronella so they don’t bark. I would consider this option except for one thing. I have two dogs and both dogs bark. Sometimes Charlie barks first, when Sammy is quiet. This means Sammy will be spritzed with Citronella regardless of whether he barks or Charlie barks. Sounds like a pretty fun game for Charlie, but I don’t think I can do that to Sammy.

I was researching this problem online last night and several sites suggested that we trade-off dog watching services with friends who have dogs. We keep their dogs for a weekend and they keep ours a different weekend. I can just imagine asking a friend to take my yappy, unfriendly dogs; one who needs a special diet and eye drops once a day and the other who needs Metamucil and a pill everyday. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that they both both piddle around a new house to mark their territory? Charlie will claim the leg of the couch then Sammy will claim the leg of the couch and the footstool, then Charlie claims the leg of the couch, the footstool and the end table and so on. Remember that memory game where each person adds an item to a list and the first person who forgets an item loses? My dogs would rock at that game.

Trading off dog watching services probably isn’t in our future. I’m just hoping that one of these other solutions works so I’m not stuck home, babysitting the dog for the next fifteen years or so.

Much like becoming a parent for the first time, I had no idea what I was in for when I got a dog.

9:27 AM

What Not to Do to Your Dog in Public

Saturday, June 9, 2018 1:26 pm

For the first time this year, Dennis and I took Sammy to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning.

One of the reasons I wanted to get a dog, almost 2 years ago now, was so that I could have an animal I could hang out with outside of the house. Someone who could ride with me in the car to get a hamburger or ice cream. Go to a farmer’s markets and outdoor flea markets on occasion.

I love my cats dearly, but they’re not all that enthused about jumping in the van and going for a ride. And I’ve tried walking them on leashes. They were very adept at crouching on the ground with their claws embedded into the earth, but as far actually moving with the leash on, not so much.

I was surprised, and dismayed when we took Sammy to his first farmer’s market a year ago. He hated it. He cowered at all the people. He barked at all the dogs and wouldn’t let anyone, human or animal, get near him. When we tried to take him through a drive through for a hamburger, he barked and growled at anyone who happened to pass within six feet of our car.

Not what I expected.

Dennis enrolled Sammy into a socialization class at our local HAWS last summer. Sammy learned how to let other dogs approach him and Dennis learned how to help him feel safe when other dogs and people were around. Today Dennis put all that training to the test and then some.

Being the first time he’s been in public since last fall, Sammy was a little more on edge at the farmer’s market than normal. He has to get used to it again, but he was still doing well. Sammy prefers to walk with Dennis when we’re there. I think it’s because he did the HAWS training with him. Or maybe it’s because Dennis prefers to walk with Sammy when we’re there.

You see, Sammy is a magnet for attention. As we walk him down the aisle people literally stop and comment to each other and us about what an adorable dog he is. Several people called him the “laughing dog today”. I swear Dennis walks a little taller with an uncharacteristic perky spring in his step when he’s walking Sammy at the farmer’s market. (I’m the one bringing up the rear of the group juggling all the bags.)

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Sammy is wearing his smile here.

Today, though, Dennis took Sammy’s socialization exercises one step further than ever before. Probably further than anyone at HAWS ever expected one of their doggie-graduates to have to endure.

A family came up to ask and asked if Sammy was a Pekingese. I said he was not, he was part Pomeranian, part Shih-Tzu. The husband replied that they had a Pomeranian at home that they loved.

To my shock (and embarrassment), Dennis scooped up Sammy, flipped him on his back and showed this family how when you turn Sammy upside down his ears flip-up and he looks just like a Pom. The dog who, last year at this time, was so freaked out he couldn’t go in public was now being tipped on his back so strangers could admire his ears.

The family was a bit taken back and didn’t know what to say, although, they did comment that Sammy didn’t look all that thrilled about the whole thing. I wonder if HAWS has a class to socialize humans on the things not to make your dog endure while in public?

Sammy handled the situation like a champ. I was proud of him. We tried to reward him for literally having exposed his vulnerable underbelly to strangers with hot, homemade donuts but he wasn’t interested. Dennis, however, was.

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Sammy ignoring his piece of donut

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Fresh, hot donuts. Yum!

I’ve heard some people go to the farmer’s market to get fresh vegetables. We go for fresh made donuts.

Sometimes I do buy vegetables, too. But it’s usually to make things like Beef Stroganoff and strawberry rhubarb crumble.  I resisted buying the fresh dill for Swedish meatballs. And in a small nod to health, I bought a head of lettuce.

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Since the donut treat was a bust, I wanted to make sure Sammy had something he really enjoyed to attach to our outing. I suspect he still only tolerates going to the farmer’s market, even when he isn’t flipped on his back, so we needed another place to stop.

The answer was easy: Five Guys Burgers. Sammy’s favorite place to go.  He even knows the name. Say Five Guys at home and he gets all excited and runs to the door.

Come to think of it, so does Dennis.

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Watching for Dennis to bring the goodies

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Waiting for the next bite

2:24 pm