The dog days ...

The dog days ...

What are your best (or worst) dog-training moments? Email Julie Wurth at or tweet to her @jawurth.


When our first child was born, everyone warned us about the monumental lifestyle change ahead.

I remember the shock when we got home from the hospital and it hit me: “This is 24/7 — forever.” Somehow I hadn’t thought past the goal of getting through the delivery. I was terrified at the prospect of a tiny being totally dependent on me.

It all worked out, of course — the best decision we ever made. But what a life transition.

Recently, I’ve found myself looking back on those baby days with longing. But then I think, “Boy am I glad I’m not doing that at my age.”

Then we decided to get a puppy. For Christmas. In the middle of winter.Blog Photo

The shock to my system wasn’t quite as huge. But I was unprepared for the totality of the experience. It’s toddlerhood all over again.

I knew the puppy phase would be a challenge. Like a baby, Murphy pretty much eats, sleeps and poops. It’s just not very predictable. And unlike a baby, he chews everything in sight.

When we drove home with him the first time, he was so scared and quiet I worried he might not be playful.


The second night home I let him off the leash to see if that would encourage him to go potty. He’d been raised on a farm and was used to roaming free.

He tore across the yard and around the side of our house in a white blur of fur. My daughter intercepted him in the front yard and he bolted back toward me. I was just able to grab him as he flew by — and he promptly peed at my feet. Mission accomplished.

After that we stuck with the leash.

In the first week, he tried chewing on our recliner, couch, rocking chair, rugs and shoes — anything he could get his teeth on. But his favorite thing might just be tearing bits of wicker off of our side table. Or running crazed laps around the house at breakneck speed.

Our quiet nights at home have evaporated.

It’s my fault. My husband loves cats and campaigned long and hard for a feline addition to the family. I like them, too, and they’re much easier, especially when you’re out of town a lot.

But my daughter is allergic to cats, our kids were dying for a pet and we wanted them to have that experience. They’re already in middle school and high school, so we knew it was now or never.

We bought the dog before Christmas but waited to pick him up until Dec. 30 because we were out of town for several days.

I went to the pet store to buy a collar and leash to put in a box for the kids to open on Christmas morning. When I walked in the store I had this unsettled feeling. We haven’t had a pet for more than a decade, and I wasn’t sure what to get first. I ran into a very nice clerk who helped me pick out a crate (on sale) and gave me lots of advice.

In the Christmas box, along with the collar and leash, we included a picture of the dog and his list of instructions (via my husband), with items such as “I like to go on lots of walks” and “You can name me anything but Trump or ISIS.”

The kids were thrilled, but they, too, are a bit stunned at the work involved. It’s not so much dealing with the peeing and pooping, but trying to predict when that actually might occur. We are in a constant state of vigilance.

We follow the puppy around, waiting to snatch him outside if he starts to sniff or squat. Half of the downstairs is barricaded with gates.

We Google things like “how to make a dog pee on a leash” or “dog trainers Champaign-Urbana” (just to have a backup plan). We bought an outdoor play yard, hoping it might entice the dog to do his business off-leash (with some success). We are already calling fence companies for the first warm day of spring.

I also find myself discussing puppy issues with everyone — friends, family, people at church, even the president of the university. His advice: Don’t let the puppy train you.

You mean, like when I’m standing in the yard in the rain or 0-degree weather at 10 o’clock at night begging him to go?

Just like our baby days, many of our conversations revolve around bathroom issues. Did he eat much? How many times did he go out? Who’s got the 4 to 6 p.m. slot?

My daughter and I even attended a potty-training seminar at the pet store, along with a dozen desperate owners whose dogs haven’t mastered the art of puppy pads or going outside.

I’m now a regular customer, buying toys and pet-stain remover and peppering the staff with as many questions as they’ll answer before sidling away to help a saner pet owner.

“Didn’t I talk to you earlier about this?” my nice clerk said after the hour-long potty seminar.

On the plus side, our dog was already crate-trained and sleeps there (somewhat) willingly. A friend helped us install a dog run, which will be useful until we get a fence.

We’ve been able to avoid leaving the dog home alone for long stretches by staggering our hours and having the kids take charge after school. They’ve been great, taking over lots of the duties. (They want to make sure mom doesn’t melt down and take the dog back to the farm.)

And after a dozen indoor accidents — of both the bathroom and puking variety — I think we’ve finally broken the .500 mark in terms of outdoor success. I’m beginning to accept that accidents happen — and may for a while.

I have to admit he’s pretty cute. He’s latched on to me, of course, as the food provider (or he senses my anxiety and is determined to win me over).

We’ll see. Everyone keeps telling me things will get better.

Meanwhile, I’m open to any and all advice.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or

Photo: Our puppy, Murphy. Note the appropriate saying on the afghan behind him. That should have been a hint.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):People, Pets


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