Training the pet owners

Kevin Cowherd

February 17, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

As if there were not already enough reasons to lie in bed all day chain-smoking Camels and staring listlessly at the ceiling, we recently brought a new dog into our home.

The dog is a 3-month-old Shih Tzu puppy. This is pronounced SHEED-zoo, by the way. I can't tell you how many rubes pronounce it . . . well, let's just say it's a more earthy pronunciation, after which these hayseeds will throw their heads back and howl with knee-slapping laughter.

"Stop it, Elmer," you want to say. "You're killing me."

Initially, what we were looking for was a small pet who doesn't bark a lot or chew up the house or eat much or run up huge vet bills.

Someone told me such pets do exist, only they're called fish, which we already have.

A cat was out of the question, of course. Cats are evil little creatures who live for nothing more than to claw the drapes and scratch out the corneas of unsuspecting school children and senior citizens, and I was not about to have something like that on my conscience.

Then one day we went to see a Shih Tzu breeder. And there were these five little balls of fur and they were just about the cutest things you've ever seen.

The kids fell in love with the puppies right away. Now imagine three children staring up at you with these big brown eyes and saying: "Daddy . . . can we take one home? Oh pleeze, oh pleeze, oh pleeze!"

Well. You'd have to be Joseph Mengele to say no. So we bought the dog and named him Pudgie, which is kind of a wimpy name. Then again, Pudgie's kind of a wimpy dog.

Oh, he's cuddly and smart as a whip and affectionate. But, look, if somebody breaks into the house at 3 in the morning, Pudgie's the type of dog who would meet the burglars and signal with his paws: "Psst. The money's over here."

Then once the burglars had the whole family bound and gagged, Pudgie would be following the crooks around and wagging his tail, as if to say: "Look, I never liked those other people in the first place."

The first thing we did after bringing Pudgie home was have a family conference, during which I gave the standard, long-winded speech about how the dog was Everyone's Responsibility and how We All Had To Chip In with the feeding, walking, cleaning up, etc.

The speech was so boring that I nearly fell asleep myself, pausing several times to rest my head on the coffee table.

When it was over, the two oldest kids managed to look up from a Bugs Bunny cartoon long enough to assure me they would take care of the dog.

"No problem, man," was how the 10-year-old put it.

This was of great comfort at 6 the next morning, when I found myself walking the dog while everyone else in the house slept.

And it was a source of inspiration at 6:20 when I fed the dog. And at 6:45 when I cleaned up after the dog. And at 8:20 when I cleaned up after him again and at noon when I fed and walked him again.

Early that afternoon, I called another family meeting. This one was short and sweet. Basically I said that unless somebody started helping me with this dog pronto, Pudgie would soon find himself in my car, fishtailing down the road at 75 mph to the local pound, where God knows what kind of twisted, deranged monster would adopt him.

Incidentally, I said, in some parts of the world, people actually eat puppies.

This seemed to have the desired effect, as the two older kids looked up briefly from their Nintendo and sighed: "OK, OK . . . we'll help."

One thing we've discovered is that everyone seems to have a different theory on housebreaking.

One so-called dog expert said: "If you see him make a mess, rub his nose in it and yell 'NO! NO!'"

So I wrote down on a piece of paper: Rub nose in it, yell no, no.

Then a second person said: "Never rub his nose in it. It makes them neurotic."

So I wrote: Don't rub nose in it -- dog will develop psychological problems.

Then a third person said: "Maybe you should think about paper-training him."

By now, I was starting to get a sharp pain in the middle of my forehead, as well as the urge to backhand the next person who approached with dog-rearing advice.

Eventually we settled on rubbing his nose in it and yelling "NO! NO!" despite the risk of permanent emotional damage.

Don't write and tell me I'm doing it all wrong. Because I don't care.

If the dog ends up seeing a shrink, that's the way it goes.

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