Solo parenting is hard

Ian left for Hangout Fest with some friends on Thursday morning and won’t be back until Monday night, so I’m solo-parenting* this crazy dog and let me tell you—this shit ain’t easy. I’m used to doing the morning and day routines, but usually Ian is home in the evenings and will entertain her for a bit to give me a break. But for five days, it’s just me. And the cats are no help, the little bastards.

My plan was to take Stella out to the park today and then walk around the North Shore (and make a stop at the dog bakery over there), but it’s cold and has been raining since 9 a.m. so we’re stuck indoors. I did take her for a mile walk this morning—in the rain, mind you—and I hope it quits raining later so I can get her evening walk in, too. I can definitely tell a difference in her attention span when she hasn’t gotten her walks in.

She has a million toys, but she’s a puppy so keeping her attention isn’t exactly easy. Even when I’m engaging her with toys or little training sessions, she loses focus very easily and it wears on me—especially at night when I’m tired and just want to chill out for a bit.

Ian and I decided back when we adopted her to go ahead and have our backyard fenced in, since the fence that was here when we moved in was purely decoration. Our yard has a slope to it and the fence is vinyl, so there were a ton of gaps where the bottom of the fence didn’t meet the ground due to the slope. It’s less than six months old, but it has no value as a fence. Besides the giant gaps (two of them I could have crawled under), it wasn’t closed at the driveway so she could have just walked right out. And since we live off a fairly busy road, we decided we didn’t want to take any chances. After getting a few estimates, we hired a company to build us a wood fence that will be flush with the ground and have a gate at the driveway. I’m losing the ability to pull my car up partly into the backyard, but I’m glad to trade that for being able to exercise Stella off-leash.

Old fence

Seriously, look at those gaps.

Unfortunately all the rain lately put the fence company behind schedule, so they didn’t get started until yesterday. It took all day to get the old fence taken down and set the posts for the new fence that’s going up. The posts have to set in the concrete, so they’ll be back Monday to finish up. Originally I thought it would have been nice to have the fence for this weekend, but it’s all muddy and gross outside so I probably wouldn’t have had Stella out there much anyway.

I was impressed with the guys’ care in taking down the old fence, though. I told them we were going to be selling it on Craigslist, so they saved every single screw that came out of it for me. I also told them not to worry about the posts since those were concreted in and I knew it would be a pain in the ass to deal with them, but they actually took great care in removing all of them—they even knocked the concrete off the bottoms instead of just shaving the post off at the ground. Hopefully they are just as careful with the new fence they put in Monday. We might end up with the best-looking fence on the block.

*Obviously this isn’t the same as being a real single parent, but give me a break here. I’m exhausted.

More adventures in puppy obedience class

Last night was the fourth class in our six-class obedience program, and Stella did so-so. I’d give her a B for the first part of class and a C for the second half, but I think she just gets bored. An hour seems like a long time to expect a puppy to pay attention when there are all these other puppies that she could be playing with instead! And treats left all over the floor. And weird and intriguing smells.

She still lacks more focus than most of the other dogs in class, but I was able to get her to sit and lay down on cue so that was cool. Last night a boxer took the prize for worst dog in class, as he literally would do nothing but lay on the ground and bite his leash. I felt bad for his parents; the woman was mortified and obviously exasperated, and eventually the teacher asked the husband to come up to the circle and try to help but this dog was just over it all. The teacher even applied bitter apple spray to his leash and that didn’t really make a difference. He just lay there on the ground rubbing his face on the floor and eating his leash. Eventually he got his act together and would sit/lie down when asked away from the group, but he really didn’t participate much in any of the activities.

As unruly as Stella can be and as much focus as she lacks, I want to kind of pat us both on the back for not collectively losing our shit—in public or in our house—like this boxer and his parents did last night. They were yelling at him as quietly as they could without making a (bigger) scene across the entire building, yanking on his leash and grabbing at his face. I mean, I get it. Dogs can be really freaking stubborn and annoying. I will holler after Stella when I catch her going to grab some cat poop and I have yelled at her a time or two when she has chased Gordo (ok, and I might have yelled “Get your fucking leash on!” the other day after a particularly challenging morning where all she wanted to do was jump at my face). But I have never spent several minutes in her face screaming at her, and I definitely have never yanked on her leash or grabbed at her as a punishment.

Sitting there watching this scene, I remembered how my dad used to yank and hit our border collie, Mollie, and it made me really sad. I started petting Stella’s ears and telling her she was a good dog, and who knows, maybe she sensed my discomfort because she started paying better attention to me and sitting/laying much more quickly when told. It was probably just the treats I was giving her, but I’d like to think she realized for a minute that we were in this together. I’m lucky to have a dog who doesn’t completely lose her shit during training exercises, and she’s lucky to have an owner who doesn’t teeter on the edge of abuse when she doesn’t do what I ask of her.

One month

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As of yesterday, we’ve had Stella in our family for one month. It really is amazing how much can change in a month’s time.

We’re falling more and more into a routine that’s working for all of us, and we’re finally starting to see some payoff for all of the training we’ve been doing. Stella is getting really good at “sit” and “down” (for a while she was confusing the two), and I learned the other day that she understands “drop it,” too, and will do it sometimes even when we’re outside—where she’s super-easily distracted.

She’s started sleeping through the night more, but she is still having some accidents in the house when she’s been out playing. The Sunday before last she was great about scratching at the door when she had to go out, but then she peed on the floor twice within a couple hours. I’ve been told this is just a symptom of “puppy bladder,” though, and she should grow out of it eventually.

On the advice of our trainer, last week I bought her a small prong collar and the Gentle Leader to aid in our leash training. The prong collar did nothing for her—she saw a squirrel or a car or just decided she wanted to pull me down the block and it was like she was just wearing a regular old collar. I guess she’s so fluffy she couldn’t feel it poking into her skin.

She absolutely hated the Gentle Leader the first couple of times I put it on her—well, when Ian and I put it on her, since it’s a two-person job. One has to hold her still and the other has to get it connected around her nose and head. I didn’t think we’d even make it down the block with that thing on—she head-banged her way down the block, only stopping to paw at her nose to get it off.

We’ve been using it now for almost a week, and while she still hates it she doesn’t fight me quite as hard. She’ll paw at it the first block or so, but then she kind of just gives up and starts walking like a normal, not insane dog. I am training her to walk on my left side so there’s a lot of me pushing her to the side with my left leg, and every time she starts pulling forward I’ll stop and say “No pull.” After about three or four blocks she seems to get tired enough to stop pulling, and we get a couple more blocks of good walking in before she sees another dog or person and takes off again. Another plus of this collar is that since I have control of her nose it’s really easy to stop her from eating things on the ground that she shouldn’t—cigarette butts, chicken bones, food containers with random foods left in them, other dogs’ poop… yeah, some of our neighbors aren’t the tidiest bunch.

Anyway, I was really skeptical of using the Gentle Leader because of her strength and stubbornness, and after the first day I thought it’d never work. But I’m glad we’ve stuck with it, because this morning she had a really good walk. There was still a lot of “no pull” and “get back on your side” talk, but she is getting better. And I think having to behave wears her out more than going wild on her own, because whenever we get back to the house she is ready for an ice cube and a nap.

The real test will be seeing if she can wear this thing during obedience class tonight. I have a feeling she’ll have peeled it off her face within the first five minutes, but we’ll see what happens.