2nd Thursday [3]: The Evolution of Doggery


Raisin on the trail a block from our house.

Punkin was a zig-zagger when we walked her. The grass was always greener on the other side of the sidewalk, from where she had just crossed and now wanted back again. It was just annoying enough to make me proclaim to Jennifer, “I will teach our next dog to ‘heel.'” Raisin had other ideas.

Unfortunately, this post is going to tell you what a horrible dog owner I am, although there are certainly many who are worse. At least I love my dog. There, I finally said it. The problem is, my dogs have become more and more spoiled over time.


Mike, Peppy, Bonnie, and me, circa 1976.

Bonnie and Peppy were my childhood dogs. Technically, Bonnie belonged to my grandparents, but she lived with us because they moved around so often. I seem to remember only walking them one at a time, unless I was walking one of them with my older brother Mike, or mom or dad, who would have the leash of the other. I remember they both knew and obeyed the command “heel,” which orders a dog to come to your side until you release it. I missed being able to use that command with Punkin, and I can’t imagine Raisin would even even hear the word in her big, floppy ears.

Bonnie ran away on a fourth of July, and Peppy was with us for several more years. She died when I was 16, and for ten years I didn’t have a dog at all, going away to college and then learning how to live on my own. When I met Jennifer in 1997, she had Punkin, who was by then just barely a year old. But I didn’t live with Punkin until Jen and I married in 2002, so it was by then a bit late to start training her to do much more than climb the steps of our split-level duplex. Raisin we adopted just three months after her birth, but, combined with other stressful events in our lives at the time, she exhausted us so much that we let her get away with a lot of things we shouldn’t have, while making an effort to teach her the very basic and most important commands. “Heel” was not among them.


Punkin as a puppy, more than a year before I first met her.

Raisin has been such a terror from the beginning that I think if she were human she would be diagnosed with ADHD. Our walks quickly became so uncontrollable that I decided to buy a retractable leash, a luxury neither Peppy nor Punkin ever had. I really bought it as a benefit to myself though, not Raisin, because she could zig and zag if she wanted to, go ahead or fall behind to sniff or pee, and I could generally maintain my pace and not stop as often as she wanted. It has actually helped train her in several ways, and she learned some things herself: The length of the leash when fully extended; to go around obstacles instead of letting them pass between she and I; to look back and make sure I am still there, if I have given her too much slack or am keeping up with her so she doesn’t reach the end of the leash. Other things I have taught her: “Sidewalk” will bring her back to the walkway if she strays into the street; “cross” will send her across the street if I want to go there. I am nearly convinced she knows “left” and “right,” as she will usually turn the direction I want her to go when we reach an intersection, although the truth is that she probably just recognizes either word as a command to turn, and then she has a 50/50 chance of getting it right. “This way” will correct her if she gets it wrong.  Jen has taught her to “wait,” if she is pulling too hard: She says the command, stops walking, and Raisin will stop and sit until told to move again (though she is not consistent with that or any other command). Raisin and Punkin both responded to “bye” if they were stalled behind and we wanted them to come along. Neither wanted us to leave them. That is partly why Punkin is still on our mantel.

I also recall walks with Peppy being generally confined to the neighborhoods immediately surrounding our house, partly due to my age at the time, I suppose. Punkin’s walks would be a little more exploratory at times and quite a bit longer, at least when Jen was not walking with us. Raisin’s, however, have been the longest, as she has so much energy to be released. We have walked as far as three miles round-trip, which may not sound very long but it is for me–I could physically handle more, but I have too much to do in life to take the time to walk much more than that. Also, in the spring and summer, my allergies may keep us closer to home.

There are other things Raisin enjoys that my previous pooches did not. We 20130105_193759have somehow trained her to use any piece of soft furniture she chooses as though it is her own, and because we don’t trim her nails often, she is wreaking havoc on the living room sofa and loveseat. She will climb into your lap while you are in the reclining chair, if you let her. She sleeps on our bed or my mother-in-law’s bed, if she has access to it. She even has her own human bed–the futon in the guest room–as well as two dog beds on the floors. She has as many cushioned places to sleep as your average cat!

Punkin was only allowed onto a couch or bed on special occasions, and was often reluctant to trust the invitation when she got it, unless there was a thunderstorm or something else was spooking her. Bonnie and Peppy were absolutely not allowed on the furniture, though my brother and I probably broke the rules once in a while.

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A nap on the loveseat for Punkin. Rare, but not uncharted territory.

Clearly Raisin has free-range of the whole house, where doors are open, except for a gate usually up in front of mom in-law’s room. Punkin had free range as well, but she was less of an advantage taker and had fewer destructive tendencies. Bonnie and Peppy were restricted to the rooms with hardwood floors–the kitchen and back family room–but they were allowed to lay on the carpet in the few feet of space between the kitchen door and the dining room sliding door, where they could look outside. Peppy was often invited into the carpeted front of the house when Mike or I were sick and couldn’t get to her ourselves. With Jen, Punkin slept in our bedroom, on her own bed. While Raisin has a bed in our room, she will usually be on our bed at our feet when we first lay down for sleep. But she will usually leave quickly after I am in bed, which I think is because A) my body temperature is too warm for her, B) I am a restless sleeper, and C) she doesn’t like the feel of my feet touching her under the covers. At least she doesn’t sleep on our faces!

My childhood pooches were also restricted to the back yard to do their outside duties, and for play time. They wore a path in the yard running back and forth across the back of the house, from the fence on one side to the fence on the other side, as people would walk by on the street out front. I don’t recall if they barked at people or just other dogs. I don’t, in fact, recall them barking much at all. Punkin was not a barker, unless we were playing or something got her really riled up. She and Raisin would have access to the front yard at our current house, especially when it was muddy in the back. But Punkin would go out front only in that circumstance, while Raisin, like me, likes to just sit out front and watch the world go by. She’ll sit on the driveway just enjoying the day, as I, myself, am often seen doing. Raisin will bark at anything though. Bird. Squirrel. Kids playing. Dogs walking. Cat. School bus. Mail truck. UPS truck. Maybe even a helicopter or plane, if its low enough.


The dirt path has long since grown over again, in the 20 years since Bonnie and Peppy left us.


Punkin in the back.


Raisin in the front.

One thing I thought we improved upon with Raisin is table scraps. Bonnie and Peppy rarely got them, although I might sneak them something I just didn’t feel like chewing myself, once in a while. Punkin got them all the time, to the extent that she had meals with us, and it was automatic that she would get the crusts off Jen’s sandwich bread. Raisin doesn’t get table scraps at all (unless Jen sneaks one here and there), but she is allowed to pick up anything small that hits the floor. But we have traded table scraps for something else: When she was a puppy, Raisin was so ill-behaved and hyper that we would give her a bone or other large treat to occupy her for a while while we ate our dinners in peace. By now, though, it has become a habit and an expectation, so we must give her something every single time we eat dinner. However, her treats have gradually gotten smaller and smaller, so that now they don’t cost us much at all.

I don’t remember taking Bonnie or Peppy on field trips often–to a destination instead of just for a walk–but I’m pretty sure we took them to a nearby park once in a while. There were no leash-free areas around us, though. But the two of them got their running and play time done in the back yard, because they had each other. Punkin and Raisin have not had a “friend” to play with at home, though not for the lack of Jen constantly lobbying me to get them one. We actually did have a second dog for a few days while we had Punkin, but she had had us all to herself for several years, and the new dog was quite the bully and misbehaved, so when it nipped Punkin’s ear one night and sent her screaming and running into our bedroom to hide, that was the end of dog #2 for us. With Raisin, I’m afraid another dog that could actually handle her would simply mean twice the hassles–Raisin would be a bad influence on an otherwise well-behaved playmate. I almost came home from the shelter with one of her siblings–God help me if I had done that!!

SSPX0882So Punkin and Raisin got frequent trips to a dog park about a half-mile away (not often enough for either of them). Punkin enjoyed being off-leash, but she was quite a “people” dog, and took little interest in the other four-leggers in the park. Raisin interacts a lot with other dogs, but I think she is currently too possessive to play nice and prefer to keep her away from there when it is busy. More often, we took Punkin to a couple of baseball fields (mentioned here) across the street from our last residence, because they were fenced in, unoccupied, and she wouldn’t think of doing her business there. Raisin may be going to the same fields for a while, though they are a little farther away now, and we won’t know until we get there if they are available or not.


Peppy and I, when I was new and she was newer.

Have I become a better dog owner over time, or worse? Unfortunately, I have to credit anything good that I did with Peppy and Bonnie to my parents. And Punkin was the sweetest dog I think I will ever have the pleasure to call my own. Frankly, we got the puppy Raisin before I was ready for another dog. Those two facts mean that Raisin was at a disadvantage from the start. But we have grown on each other, and will continue to do so even more, I am sure. I worry about her behavior around other dogs more than anything else, but aside from that I have few concerns. Her companionship means a lot, though she will never be a Peppy or a Punkin. It is unfair to her for me to compare.



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