Courtesy, Marty Nemko
Source: Courtesy, Marty Nemko

My wife and I have had a wonderful experience with my previous dogs Gherkin and Cookie and an even better one with our current doggie, Einstein. 

In addition to being a beloved family member, Einstein is the receptionist in my career counseling practice.The front doormat is printed, “Beware: Dog can’t hold his licker.” Indeed, Einstein tries to kiss clients upon arrival—Try to find a human receptionist who will do that! After that, excited to see the client (or anyone,) Einstein races around the house, giving a whole new meaning to the term “lap dog.” He even has his own business card (See above,) including his mugshot and job titles: receptionist and co-counselor.

We’ve learned some useful things about choosing, training, and otherwise owning (caretaking?) a dog that may be simpler and more helpful than what some experts advise, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Selecting

PetFinders.com’s database enables you to find a well-suited doggie from among 200,000 in shelters, rescues, and pounds. And of course, by adopting such a dog rather than buying one from a breeder, you’re likely saving a life, getting a dog with hybrid vigor rather than one with the diseases of in-bred purebreds, not to mention saving a lot of money. Don't want to use PetFinder.com? Try a local pound or shelter or two.

How to pick? My wife and I are biased against pit bulls. A metaevaluation of peer reviewed studies finds that pit bulls cause more than half the surgeries caused by dog bites and are 2 ½ times as likely to bite in multiple anatomical locations—There's a saying, "Pit bulls won't let go"  Pit bulls have killed seven times as often as the next closest breed. Of course, there are nice pit bulls and, no doubt, some of their mauling is caused not by the dog’s genetics but by owners who make their dog vicious, but only pit bulls and perhaps Rottweilers have jaws that are deadly weapons. 

My wife and I are partial to poodle-terrier mixes. They’re long-lived, shed little, tend to be playful, kind, and smart, and we think they're cute.

But even breeds and mixes known for docility aren’t alike. When you approach a prospective pet, is the dog welcoming you rather than backing up with its tail down and even growling? If you lift a puppy with your hand under its belly, does it remain comfortable or try to bite you?

How old a dog should you adopt? Adopting a puppy allows you the joy of living with maximum cuteness, the growing-up process, and there’s no ill-training to undo. But puppies require lots of training and your enduring your stuff getting chewed. As a puppy, Einstein not only chewed my slipper but my electric toothbrush and  medication, requiring a trip to the vet. 

Training

We are moderate about training. We care only that Einstein is perfectly house-trained, and will sit, stay, come, and “leave it” on command. Why is “stay and come” so important? For example, if Einstein is in front of the house and suddenly sees a squirrel across the street and a car’s coming, I need to count on his staying.  “Leave it” is important in case, like many young dogs, he’s copraphagic—likes to eat poop. Also, Einstein, like many nice dogs, likes to say hello to canine and human passersby. Often that’s fine but when you’re in  a rush or the other owner doesn’t want to stop, “leave it” is a helpful command.

Regarding house-training. “crating” or otherwise restricting Einstein was a nightmare. He frantically, relentlessly wanted out. We’ve successfully house-trained our dogs as follows. We kept doggie treats in our pocket. We carefully watched for doggie’s waking or sniffing—a sign of impending excretion—and immediately carried him outside and patiently waited. If he peed or pooped, we immediately praised and petted him while giving him a treat. If we caught him soiling in the house, we’d yell, No!” and immediately carried him out. Of course, dogs vary but, using that method, Einstein, Cookie, and Gherkin were trained within a week.

Regarding “sit,” that’s a natural dog behavior. So I had treats at the ready and when Einstein happened to sit, I’d say,  “Sit’ and then “Good Einstein” and give him a treat. Soon, I could say “sit” and he’d sit, after which, of course, I’d give him a treat.

Regarding all commands, after a few months, we no longer needed to carry treats. A kind “Good Einstein” does the trick.

Regarding “stay,” I  put Einstein on a leash and stood two feet away. I firmly said “Stay.” If he stayed for even two seconds, I said, “Good Einstein,” petted him, and gave him a treat. If he moved, I firmly said, “No.” As he succeeded, I kept extending the amount of time toward 15 seconds. I also extended the distance, little by little, to 20 feet (Long leashes are available inexpensively:) Longer lengths or wait-times feel unnecessary and more reflective of an owner’s need for control than it being of practical value.

I used a similar process for “come.” With Einstein on a leash and me standing three feet away, I firmly said, “Come.” When he did, I of course, said, “Good Einstein," petted him, and gave him a treat. As he succeeded, I slowly extended the leash to 20 feet. After that, I repeated the process with him off-leash.

“Leave it” is easier. I simply carried treats when walking. When I wanted Einstein to ignore a dog, poop, or food scraps on the ground, I simply said, “leave it” and held a treat on the opposite side. A treat trumps all.

We don’t care if Einstein is on the furniture. Doggies love soft places and varying their location, so a dog bed or two isn’t enough. Also, we allow—no, we like—Einstein to sleep in bed with us. It’s comforting to us all.

Food and water

We use Orijen dry dog food, which while expensive, is highest-rated for quality ingredients. We don't give Einstein table scraps, let alone food from the table while we’re eating. Otherwise, he'd beg relentlessly, not to mention get fat. But to give him maximum pleasure from people food with minimal calories, when a plate or pot is empty, we give it to him to lick: our dishwasher’s pre-wash cycle.

Conventional advice is to feed a dog once or twice a day. The reasoning is that if his food is available all the time, he’ll overeat. We have not found that to be true with any of our dogs. After our dog learns that his food won’t be taken away, he doesn’t overeat. Indeed he eats just a few bites throughout the day. That seems much healthier than wolfing a ton once or twice a day.

Rather than a standard dog bowl, we use a self-feeding dispenser that holds a couple weeks of food and simply, using gravity, releases more when the main bowl is empty..

Our doggies are never overweight and have lived a long time. Einstein is 11, 22 pounds, and everyone is amazed that he still is energetic and in great shape, even for climbing long, steep hills.

We give Einstein fresh water every day using a traditional bowl. The self-watering bowls allow the water to attract bacteria.

Exercise

One of dog ownership’s many benefits is that it forces you to get exercise. While our home does have a doggie door to the backyard, I walk him a few times a day plus a daily vigorous hike so we both get our exercise. 

Dying

It is so painful to put your doggie down. They’re so innocent, so loving, and we’ve been together so long. We make the decision as we’d want for ourselves; If the increased longevity and quality of life is likely worth the treatment or surgery’s pain, side effects, and yes, money, we do it. If not, we have the vet gently put him out of his misery. Of course, the point at which one makes that decision is personal.

In Sum

We are busy people but have never resented the time it takes to care for a dog. On the contrary, our doggies have enriched our lives far in excess of the effort. We believe the tactics described in this article made that possible and hope they do for you.

The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.

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