After a disastrous start to our Great Puppy Search of 2015, we ended up with a miracle. A beautiful 12 week old male black lab named Capone from an amazing breeder. Her name is Sue, and she more than made up for the horrendous first breeder experience. Sue loves her dogs, and treats them with nothing but care and respect. She’s also one of the most knowledgeable people I’d encountered. She answered every question thoughtfully and cried after we left with Capone. She was genuinely glad he went to a good family, but sad to see him go. She gave me a huge packet with tons of important information, including which commands she used, just to make things easier for us. Capone was off to a great start. Now it was up to us not to screw things up. Ugh.
As soon as we got home, we had questions. I relied on my friend Patti, who has the equivalent of a PhD in Labrador Retriever training and behavior. Patti got her dog from Sue as well, and Patti and her dog Clancy are an outstanding search and rescue team. My goals with Capone were not so lofty. First, I wanted to keep him alive. Secondly, I didn’t want him to poop in the house.
Maybe those goals were a bit lofty as well.
We started off rocky, when the last part of the ride home became stressful. Accusations were thrown, “Mom. You have to tell me when you turn. He’s sliding all over the place.” And, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Mom? This doesn’t seem safe.”
We made it home. Safely. And Capone began exploring his new environment. We rushed around what we thought was an already puppy proofed area and puppy proofed some more. Friends came to visit and Capone charmed their socks off. Then came the moment of truth. Bedtime. Capone sat in his kennel, but looked at us accusingly. And the barking started.
“What do we do?” asked my youngest son.
“We’re going to be calmly assertive,” I answered. We’d been watching way too much of "The Dog Whisperer."
“We need Cesar Milan,” whispered my son as the intensity of the barking and whining increased.
“We’ve got Sue.”
I sent out an urgent FB message, which Sue graciously answered immediately, asking her how to get Capone to sleep in his kennel. She said to use the command word “No” when he barked, and then to say “Lie down.”
I looked right into Capone’s eyes, used my most calmly assertive voice, and said, “No. Lie down.”
He gave a half-hearted bark, and I said it again. “No. Lie down.” And it worked. Like a charm. He went to sleep within minutes.
“You’re the Alpha,” said my youngest, not without a touch of envy.
“We all knew that,” I replied.
Capone has been with us for around 30 hours now. He discovered the Cave of Wonders (our shoe closet), the Magical Dispenser of Liquid Joy (our water cooler), and he learned to stay away from my favorite slippers. He made friends at PetSmart, stayed in his kennel for a few brief interludes and barely barked at all. He also ate or attempted to eat the following:
1. The head of a squeaky toy frog
2. Part of a soccer ball
3. A pair black men’s dress shoes
4. My new boots
5. Rabbit poo
6. A pine cone
7. Several rocks
8. Twigs in varying sizes
9. What I suspect was deer poo
10. A plastic twisty tie
11. A card with a photo of Patti’s dog on it
12. The newest edition of my oldest son’s favorite magazine.
13. A cardboard box
14. A new pair of tennis shoes
17. The coffee table
18. A book
19. A coat
20. A penny
21. His new leash
We are still working on the “drop” command. That has become a bit of a priority for us. We found out online that if you blow on their face when you say “drop” (in a calmly assertive voice), they will do it. Eventually.
He managed to remove every single tag that existed on just about every item in our house. It was obviously his new job, and he took it very seriously. He also took his other job seriously – being a professional stalker. He spread the love, giving each of us a turn to be stalked, and he wasn't even sneaky about it. I think I tripped over him twenty seven times today, but I may have lost count.
To all of you who said it wouldn’t be easy – you were absolutely right. I’m exhausted. My youngest is exhausted. My middle son escaped to the science center today, so he can’t share our war stories.
“Do you remember when Capone almost ate the coffee table?”
We shook our heads in disbelief, but none of it bothered Capone. He wagged his tail, put his head on my knee, stared at me with his big, brown eyes, and all was forgiven.
As long as he stays away from my boots.