Tag Archives: puppy

Walking with Benny

Benny Salad Houdini has earned a new title:  Ambassador for Rescue Dogs.

This is an unanticipated consequence of his “house” training, which really means going out of Opening shot copythe house – a lot.  Small puppy bladders and immature muscle control mean small intervals between walks.  And for us, walking means meeting lots of people.  We live in a lovely waterfront city in sunny Florida where the sidewalks tend to be busy with friendly folks feeling good about both the weather and the surrounding beauty.  I hear an astounding number of admiring “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.

I knew that Benny was cute when we adopted him,greenbag

but I never imagined that his button face and fuzzy blonde body would actually exert some kind of uncanny gravitational pull over gushing humans. baseballcap

Knees drop to the pavement and hands drift downward through the air as Benny approaches;Redjacket

people want to touch him as though he’s some sort of talisman for happiness – which he is, of course!blonde

But all this exuberant adoration has its challenges.  We’re trying to train Benny to sit to be petted,  not to chew fingers or jump on people or deliver wet slurpy kisses without an explicit invitationStroller– but these suddenly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wiggling, wagging, licking paroxysm of puppyness.  ChewToyI am constantly redirecting, refocusing, trying to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely personable puppy.

The open-armed adoration also opened the door for Benny’s ambassadorship, a role I had not anticipated for him.  As admirers pet and coo, they almost unfailingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?”  I almost unfailingly answer, “He’s a rescue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” Adorable Benny This is greeted with amazement by an astonishing majority of people, who can’t conceive of such a dog being found anywhere but at a breeder’s.  That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s otherwise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a rescue group or shelter, where an estimated 25% of all dogs are purebreds.  I explain that you can put your name on waiting lists at many shelters and get a call when the breed you are looking for comes in, or apply for adoption through rescue groups around the country, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com.  I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a couple to a rescue group when he couldn’t immediately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!

with other dogs1But back to Ambassador Benny.  His work inspires and delights me.  He motivates people almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own rescue dog. He educates people who will almost certainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of puppyhood to change the world one dog at a time.  I’m imagining a movement where volunteers walk adoptable puppies and adorable dogs  through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.

walked out and conked outAs I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk.  An excited little “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while.  I don’t know what’s happening in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dreaming big dreams for him and all his kindred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home – and we actually need breeders because there are no more dogs in shelters hoping to make it out alive.

Thank you, Ambassador Benny Salad Houdini, for helping to draw that day closer, one step at a time. ambassador

Puppy Love

“Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it…” 

Hal David knew what he was talking about when he wrote those lyrics – even though he had not met either Wee Willie Winky or Benny Salad Houdini.

Willie, our beloved Shih Tzu rescued from a puppy mill runner, died* Wee Willie Winkyunexpectedly at the age of 4 ½.  Losing this happy, active, loving companion caused heartbreak that all devoted pet parents understand.  The outpouring of sympathy indicated just how many of those there are, and while it comforted, it didn’t stop the tears for my husband and me.  That was a job for Benny.job

Tom was determined that our next dog be a male Shih Tzu like Willie, preferably a puppy.  I started searching via our local shelters and rescue groups – no luck.  I chased a couple of leads on petfinder.com – no luck. I filled out applications with rescue organizations – luck!  One group specializing in Shih Tzus and small dogs had a litter of not one but five male puppies ready for adoption (their pregnant mother had been turned over by a backyard breeder). We snuggled and played with all of the squirmy adorable ten week olds and then picked “Puppy #3” because he was especially little and seemed quite laid back. cutness

Our tears pretty much stopped almost immediately – and idyllic as it might sound, it was not because of love at first sight. It’s because there is no time for tears! My grieving husband was naturally ready to give this tiny blonde bundle of lovability almost anything he wanted, but Benny is an extremely smart and equally willful little guy, given to the bossiness that is frequently found in Shih Tzus. So Mom (that’s me) had to start showing tough love with both of her boys – no small dog syndrome in my family, please! (Small dogs can take over a house – position themselves as the pack leader – because we cave into their cuteness and fulfill their desires and demands without making them earn it.)

leashSo here in the midst of intensive training, I am massively Mommy proud that at the age of 13 weeks, Benny understands “sit,” “come,” and “make a good decision,” and actually follows those instructions much of the time.  He accepts a leash and the city streets with equal aplomb. He knows “do your business” and responds admirably – although getting him out to the grass is a new adventure in house sittraining for me.  I’ve never done it from a condo before.  Sometimes it feels like we live in the elevator, riding down and up, up and down.  Thankfully, my husband handles most of the middle-of-the-night excursions (probably because he doesn’t want my naked face and bed head to scare anyone).

Baby Benny earned his big boy name of Benny Salad Houdini because he loved his fresh veggie dinners from the first, and can’t get grassenough of the greenery outside either.  He munches grass and leaves as though he were a deer rather than a dog.  He covets the free roaming ways of a deer as well. He easily escaped every barrier we tried for his confinement room: netting, higher netting, dog gate.  Finally we had to simply shut the door. We’re still working on the separation anxiety; Benny spent his first ten weeks in a foster home brimming with dogs and humans.  Being alone for even a moment is a brand new experience.

But Benny knows how to amuse himself.  He is a champion chewer of everything within mouthing distance:  rugs, curtains, pant legs, bedding.  That means relentless redirection.  Anyone eavesdropping toyon me these days would think that, “Chew toys!” is my favorite phrase.  And that tossing them is my favorite exercise.  Our floors look like FAO Schwarz for canines.

And then there are the cats.  Lucy, who was Willie’s best buddy, stepped right up as second mother to Benny.    This formerly feral eaterystarving kitten always eats her entire breakfast right away and then begs for more.  But she started saving half of it so that she could teach Benny how to find the supposedly secret entrance to the cat feeding quarters and help himself to her bowl.  Undoing that (frankly charming) act of generosity and maternal instinct has taken some creativity.  Lucy is also teaching Benny to play in a way that’s lucyteachacceptable to cats, which involves a lot of wrestling but a little less nipping than he might like.

Fred took great delight in trying to teach “Chase Me,” at a running speed that Benny could keep up with.  That meant I had followto play blocker between them in order to teach both that chasing cats is not an acceptable game – even if the cat thinks so.  Nowadays they usually walk together rather than run. Usually.

Frisco is still keeping his distance, in classic Frisco style.  He’ll come around.

Raising a puppy properly is like swimming the Florida Strait (I imagine; I haven’t actually done that). It takes intensive, consistent training, patience, persistence, and some sleep deprivation.  It can be anywhere from challenging to tiresome to irritating  to repeat yourself a dozen times to get the result you want once, but well worth it. Here’s a real time example.

This is what Benny is doing, next to my chair, as I write this. bennywrit

This is what Lucy is doing, just above him on my lap.lucywrite

This is what Fred is doing, just above her on my desk.fredwr

This is what Frisco is doing, just off to the side. fredwri

You’ll notice that Benny is thoroughly relaxed and making no effort to upend the established social order. I’m not kidding us, though. Once the writing is done and everyone’s back to bouncing around, he’ll give doggy dominance another whirl.  But we’ll keep working at it, because a dog who knows his place is a happy, secure dog.  And after only three weeks, Benny knows his place: firmly in our hearts.hearts

*We are awaiting final necropsy results on Willie, but it appears that the cause of death was a heart irregularity.