Thursday, March 12, 2015

House Training

We were always a one-dog family until September, 2013, when our sweet Schnauzer, Jessie, died of kidney failure. She was such an easy dog. Jessie was not a chewer, so the boys' action figures, soccer balls, and sneakers were safe around her. She was fastidious. Her coarse hair did not shed, and she was most proud when she had just returned from the groomer. She was completely house-trained by the time she was 12 weeks old. In addition to her easygoing nature, Jessie was a listener. She listened to all our problems and was content to cuddle on the couch. When we lost her, we each felt the loss deeply. Our house seemed empty. Without a joyful reunion at the end of each school day, coming home had lost its appeal.

We struggled through that Fall; missing her was painful. When Christmas rolled around, it became unbearable. Jessie loved Christmas. She had always helped decorate by stretching out on the tree skirt and watching, in her wise and patient way, as we placed the ornaments. We even had an ornament that looked just like her.
After that somber holiday, although we questioned whether or not we were ready (would we ever be?), we decided to welcome a new puppy into our home. Perhaps by making room for another dog, we would be reminded of all the things we loved about living with a puppy instead of focusing on our loss. The boys had grown up with a canine companion; and I was convinced that our home would never be the same again without a dog to love.
Jersey moved in on the last day of December. She, like Jessie, was a Schnauzer; but similarities between Jersey and Jessie ended there. Jessie had spoiled us; and we had forgotten how much time and patience a new puppy required.
Since her arrival, Jersey has been a tiny, fuzzy, wrecking ball. Although she does not shed, everyday is a bad hair day. For several months, to my distress, she could not decide if she wanted her unclipped ears to stand or flop. She looked like a little gremlin. Occasionally, she wore one ear up and the other down. Despite her long ears, which finally flopped, she is not a listener; instead, she does a great deal of talking. Jersey is a bossy dog. For months, she was afraid to jump on the couch; so she made futile leaps and yelped until one of us lifted her up to join us. Then, she would promptly drop a toy from the couch to the floor and bark until one of us retrieved it for her. She, clearly, had a different view of fetching.

Jersey came to live with us during one of the coldest winters our state had experienced in years. Record low temperatures, many days below zero, became the norm. Jersey quickly rejected the idea of house training. We purchased a set of jingly bells, affixed to a ribbon, and attached them to the front door knob. Each time we took Jersey out to relieve herself, we were supposed to gently nudge her nose or paw against the bells. In this way, Jersey would learn to alert us when she needed to go outside. Jersey hated that idea. She refused to go near the bells, even when I smeared one with peanut butter. Jersey did not want to go out into the cold. We dressed her in a comfy coat and headed out. After several moments in the cold, with Jersey refusing to go to the bathroom, we headed back inside. Once we hit the warmth of the foyer, Jersey did her business. We cleaned it up and tried the whole process again and again and again. Months later, I had nearly given up.
"Why is she standing on the hearth, throwing such a fit?" my husband asked one evening while we were trying to watch a television show despite Jersey, who was barking hysterically at the fireplace.
"How should I know?" I said. I got up from my spot on the couch and tried to distract Jersey with a toy. Her high-pitched barking continued.
"Maybe she needs to go outside," my husband suggested.
It was worth a try. I put on my coat, attached her leash to her collar, and the two of us headed out the front door. As soon as we reached the front yard, Jersey used the bathroom. I was amazed. The two of us had a jumping, yelping, spinning-in-circles celebration in full view of curious neighbors. After months of bucking the system, Jersey had created her own house training method; and once her people caught on, accidents in the house were no longer an issue. My son worries, though, when we leave the note for the dog sitter, "Barking at fireplace means she needs to go outside," that Jersey will be judged.
"They're going to think she's crazy," he said.
Jersey has been part of our family now for nearly 15 months. We still struggle with understanding some of her quirks. She will only play fetch her way; and she is usually proud, instead of ashamed, when she's managed to chew up a roll of toilet tissue or shred the sports section of the paper before we've had a chance to read it.

In addition to teaching us to fetch and enlightening us on a new method of house training, Jersey has taught us a valuable lesson about the capacity of the human heart to heal and love again. Although we will always have a place in our hearts for our wise, patient Jessie; our hearts have grown large enough to include curious, enthusiastic Jersey. Thanks to our little bossy pup, coming home at the end of a long day, is once again, a time of celebration.


  1. Dogs certainly have their own personalities! We lost our dog several years ago, then my daughter brought her dog along when she lived with us while in graduate school. After she moved out we missed the dog just about as much as we missed her! So in Feb. of 2014 we adopted Cyrus who has been a joy, but very different from our other dogs. Thanks for sharing!

  2. OH, you gave me the shivers here! I love all that you have to say about Jersey and her own special way of being, and how you bring it back together at the end. What a cutie!!