Tag Archives: puppy training

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.