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Sweet puppy soon turns into warrior princess

Really, I haven’t been going after myself with razor blades, though my hands and arms might hint otherwise.

It’s all the fault of the warrior princess that entered my house about a month ago.

My wife and I have had two Labrador dogs for about 25 of the 26 years we’ve been married, each living over 12 years. Our first dog, a yellow, we picked out before we were married, and got her shortly afterward. She was bred from big, athletic stock. She was a handful, but I was young and loved my rambunctious dog. She was a wanderer as a puppy, though. Renting a house without a fence, I chained her to a huge log. Thought that would solve the problem, until I looked out the kitchen window to see my determined 6-month pup dragging that huge pine round across the street to visit the neighbors.

She was our baby, and I was a pretty fun dog owner, I suspect. As opposed to now, I was young, in my 20s and early 30s, and took her out running and hiking pretty often. I could hardly pick up my keys without her spinning with excitement. When we finally had to put her down at age 12, I was crushed — like all of us are when we have to put down dogs we love.

We went dogless for a few months, then some friends with a lab were going to have pups. We decided it was time again; we picked out the runt of the litter, a black female. She was about the sweetest lab you could imagine, and lived only to be at our side, preferably in the house. I was older, in my late 30s and 40s, and wasn’t the great playmate as I’d been to my first dog. She didn’t seem to mind. A spot on the floor, an occasional dog treat, a short outing into the sagebrush every now and then, she was happy — less so after our baby came about seven years ago, but still happy.

But on Labor Day weekend of 2012, we had to put her down. Twenty-four years, two great labs.

After several months of not having to sweep black dog hair off our floors, this past summer we got the itch again.

Our second lab wasn’t the healthiest of animals. She suffered allergies which took a lot of her energy away. Our idea this time was to seek out a breeder that did a lot of screening for such ailments. We found one, a breeder and trainer of champion hunting labs. We told him we mainly wanted a house dog, and he assured us that most of the dogs he sold were just that. We went out and saw the litter and were hooked. We picked out a dog and arranged to be back at the 7-week mark to pick her up.

When we returned, the breeder suggested that we might consider another dog. The one we picked, with a little white spot on a back toe, was showing tendencies of high intensity. In initial hunting training, the dog was ceaseless in its effort, while the other, which he suggested we consider, was more apt to stop and take a break, a sign she might be more apt to be happy hanging out in a backyard, being a mild-mannered, overgrown lap dog, more of a pleaser. My wife, whose decision it was, was torn. But, she decided to go with the breeder’s suggestion. White Toe stayed with the breeder and we took little miss mild-mannered.

Our first two labs each lasted 12 years. This one might not make 12 weeks.

We brought the sweet little puppy home, her on my lap the whole way. At one point she started nibbling at my hand. “Look,” I said. “She’s biting my finger. How cute.”

Shortly thereafter came the first of the blood-drawing tooth rubs. Then the second, then the third, until it now looks like I either boxed a rose bush or took up juggling Ginsu knives.

If you’ve ever had a big dog puppy, you know that you can almost watch them grow. We brought her home a few weeks back a little 10-pound, wobbly bundle of black fur. Now she’s 20 pounds, all legs and fast as lightning. As far as I can tell, her favorite pasttimes are trying to trip me as I walk, biting my pant legs (so far, three pant legs with tears), eating bark off trees, and hiding in the bedroom to chew on laundry. Oh yes, and trying to grab a quick bite of my hands, arms, ears, and on a few occasions, my face.

Maybe it’s me; maybe she wants an all-female household and is trying to drive me away. My wife isn’t dumb enough to get bit; so far the dog hasn’t broken skin on my 6-year-old.

But the dog keeps rubbing her teeth on my hands, arms, wrist, ears, whatever, and — much more routinely than I’d like — will draw blood. I’d get a little angry at the puppy and slap her in the snout, with a firm “No biting.” I kept doing that, for weeks, with little positive effect. Finally, I decided to do what everyone else does when they have a life crisis: I went to the almighty Google and searched “How to stop a puppy from biting?” The first thing I saw: Don’t slap your puppy on the face as it will think you are playing and will likely bite more ferociously.

Instead, it was suggested to use a rolled up newspaper and swat the dog, then move away yourself. Eliminating its plaything (you) will be the punishment. If that fails, maybe put some rocks in a can and shake it when the dog does the negative behavior. They apparently hate that noise.

The newspaper smacks kind of surprised her for a couple days, slowed the biting some. I think, though, that the fear has worn off. A couple times this past weekend, she’s put her front paws on the coffee table, grabbed the rolled up newspaper in her mouth, and took off down the hall with the plan of teaching that paper exactly who is boss.

We wanted a sweet pup that only wanted to curl up on the couch with us (yes, our white couches — how dog crazy are we?). So far, though, our little house lab is more of a warrior princess: tough and mean, fast and powerful, fearless, only wanting to literally bite the hand that feeds it.

I keep reminding myself that I’ve seen this movie before, recalling the sight of my first lab dragging that huge round of pine from neighbor to neighbor. They’re tenacious, those labs. Eventually, that puppy tenacity turns into protection and devotion. That’s why we love them so much. I’m sure we’ll get there with this pup, but it’s already been a long, bloody road. Am I going to have to shake a can of rocks for the next 10 years?

And I can’t help but wonder: if our little dog is the demure, quiet and unaggressive one, ol’ White Toe must be snagging geese out of the air midflight and chasing down bobcats by now.



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