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A Puppy! So Cute and Oh, So Confounding!

When a dog joins her household, this writer's life becomes unglued

By Jill Smolowe

“Okay, we’re going upstairs to my office. But you have to stay on the couch. Do you hear me? I want to make this work, I really do. But know that if you chew on the rug, you’re going back in your crate.” Period. End of discussion.

Willow  |  Credit: Courtesy of Jill Smolowe

I swear, I’m turning into a crazy person, one who holds out hope she can reason with a 6-month-old puppy named Willow.

At moments since she joined my household two months ago, I’ve been convinced this adorable little Cavalier is the she-devil. A renegade who refuses to get with the housebreaking regimen. A monster who refuses to understand that eating whatever she wants from the ground is making her sick. (Three rounds of diarrhea, to date. Not fun.)

“I don’t think I can take anymore of this!” I rant.

“She’s a puppy being a puppy,” my husband counters calmly.

Who's Training Who?

This dog is driving me nuts. She requires full attention every minute of her waking hours if she’s not going to have yet another accident. One sage vet assistant suggested I keep her on a leash at all times that she’s out of her crate so I’ll know if she’s about to do her business. Great idea, I thought — until I discovered that she’d rounded the back of my desk chair and was happily shredding my rug.

Thus, today, we have arrived at the “on the couch” edict. There, I can see her from my desk chair. There, I can beam warning looks her way.

Sure, sure, I could put her in the crate, though that’s taken some training — of me. The first two times we put her in, she streaked out of that cage like a fugitive on the run, igniting overwhelming guilt in me. After that, she settled in and took to liking her crate. I’m still trying to do the same and not regard the cage as canine lock-up.

This dog? She's a 24/7 job who's not only proving hard to train — she's proving I'm hard to train.

My husband has no problem sticking her in that blasted crate. Bob also has no problem having Willow sit on his lap for hours on end. Or standing outside for 20 minutes at a clip, waiting for her to do her business. Or putting her back in her crate when he can’t devote himself to a vigilant watch of her every move (and I mean every move).

Willow, in other words, has trained him very well.

'I Mean It, Willow'

Maybe that’s not a total surprise given that this is Bob’s first dog — ever.

At 70, he finds everything about this puppy charming. And, truth to tell, I’m charmed by how he deals with her. Because ours is a second marriage for both of us and our three grown kids are, as yet, dandling little hope of grandchildren, this may be the closest I’ll come to seeing what a great parent Bob must have been when his kids were small. I’m also delighted by all the walks Willow takes him on. I’ve never seen Bob get so much exercise.


I, on the other hand, grew up with dogs, and more recently had an obedient Cavalier, who for 14 years made the couch in my office her throne. I don’t remember housebreaking being such an ordeal with Misty. She got the hang of “Outside!” quickly. She slept in a dog bed that required no walls or locked doors. She followed me everywhere, but only wanted to be my shadow, not the constant focus of my attention.

This dog? She’s a 24/7 job who’s not only proving hard to train — she’s proving I’m hard to train.

After resisting the idea of a crate for weeks, I capitulated. But the very sight of her confined behind wire bars still rankles. So, I take her out. Play ball with her. (She’s a little Brandi Chastain with that ball — to my mind, evidence that she is a wily canine prodigy.) Each time we play, I realize anew how adorable she is. Then, yeah, I cave.

“Okay, you can come up to my office. But no funny business. I mean it, Willow.”

She and I go eyeball to eyeball and I beam my “no funny business” message into her eyes. Then, she chews up the couch or the bookshelves or whatever else she can get her now-adult teeth on, and I despair.


“I’m an idiot,” I groan, as I return to her crate.

She Knows Just What Buttons to Press

What was I thinking getting a puppy at this point in my life?

People say that having a puppy is like having a baby. Really? Do babies pee and poop all over your house? Do they chew on your furniture? Do they scoot out of reach so quickly that you can’t get your hands on them in time to forestall the next accident? I think not.

I also don’t buy that this is a puppy being a puppy.

This is a shrewd animal with a deep capacity for Machiavellian calculation. I’m convinced she knows she shouldn’t be doing her business in the house, so she’s staked out a few choice points on the wood floors, just out of reach. When we fence them off — Hah! We showed her! — she shifts her target a few feet to land on the harder-to-clean rugs — Hah! She showed us!

At such moments, I see her for the little she-devil she really is.

Albeit, a heartachingly cute one.

At the vet’s office, one of the assistants calls her “Beanie Baby.” Another swears that, though she has two large dogs, she would take Willow in a heartbeat. Everybody oohs and ahs.

Except me.

I see a manipulatrix who knows just what buttons to press. Like when she gets on the couch with me. Scales my body as if it were a climbing pole. Nestles her head against mine and gently sticks her tongue in my ear. Gazes at me with those doleful eyes. Communicates that I’m the most important thing in her life. Washes my hand with her tongue. Sighs her contentment.

Even as I vow, so help me, that she’s out of here if we have to deal with another bout of diarrhea, she slays my heart for another day. Or at least until the next accident, which at this point I’m convinced is no accident at all.

“You are on probation,” I tell her sternly. “You have to stay on the couch, where I can see you. Do you hear me? Mess this up one more time and you’ll never be allowed back into my office. I’ll put you in your crate.” Period. End of discussion.

“Do you hear me, Willow? I’m serious.”

She wags her tail approvingly. She’s got me right where she wants me.

Photograph of Jill Smolowe
Jill Smolowe is the author of "Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief." To learn more about her book and her grief and divorce coaching, visit Read More
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