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Saturday, November 21, 2015

My dogs have to pee ...

... and I won't let them.

Now, before you threaten to call PETA* (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) under the assumption that I am actually refusing to let my dogs empty their bladders or withholding regular walks and outdoor play time, let me explain.

I know you should never begin a confession with a defensive argument as to why your sin is justified in the first place.  But let me just say this:  My dogs would stop to lift their legs on every single plant, hydrant, car tire, and (as in one rather unfortunate case) small child, if I let them. (No children or dogs were harmed in the making of that scene, and, sad fact, both rather enjoyed it, which actually turned out to be more disturbing than the pee incident itself.)

The thing is, for every twenty-seven and a half times Beckett and Gatsby lift their legs, between twenty-three and twenty-four of those are false alarms, where nothing comes out of them except some hyper-alpha-dog urge to mark territory that is not, and never will be theirs. It's a strange - often annoying - little power trip they take me on when I let them, and it makes the neighbors chuckle -- probably because their dogs are "one and done" urinators, so they've never known the pain of a pulled rotator cuff caused by a way-too-hard leash pull toward yet another perfect pee spot.  Another perfect pee spot, might I add, that ends up being nothing more than another perfect place to point out just how much authority I don't have.

So, in the interest of time management and of exercising a reasonable amount of leash control, I've developed a pretty adequate, usually-successful method of working through this; Basically, I just keep walking.  As Beckett's trainer continually reminds me when I email her to lament some new DogMom failure that I know will make her laugh as hard as it makes me cry, "You are the Master.  You set the pace. And you Must. Not. Deviate."

(Aside:If I am the Master in this scenario, then why am I always the one carrying little rainbow-colored bags of dog poop around, as if I just scored the worst Halloween handout ever? I am Master of neither of these guys. Sure, I'm legally and financially responsible for their health and well-being, but I just want to make sure we're using accurate language to describe what's really going on here. That's all.)

Anyway, according to this trainer, who is a brilliant dog-whisperer type right in my own backyard (her assumptions about me as Master notwithstanding, of course), I'll know when they actually have to pee, and they'll get used to my assertive approach.

"They'll learn to pee when they have to and walk when they have to and play when they're allowed to, because you must distinguish between play walks and potty walks."

And she's right. Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of allowing them to decide how our walks would go. The result: Two dogs who actually developed the ability to mime urination. They  got to the point of elevating their various leg-lifting poses and contortions to an art form akin to interpretative dance or performance yoga.  Which always makes me wonder why they can't seem to pee over or around  or at least to the side of their own leashes. Then again, why not pee on them ... if you can? 

And herein lies the struggle, because I'm nothing if not efficient.  And goal-driven. And determined to earn a big gold star from the universe no matter what I do.  In that regard, training my dogs to maintain a reasonable walking pace and pee a reasonable amount of times feels no different than writing my MFA thesis or applying for a million dollar grant or buying my first home alone.  It's all about this arbitrary points system of my own creation, and if I'm not careful, I risk turning my poor little guys into playing pieces in this crazy game of "Haskins vs.The Universe."

I realized all this yesterday, when I felt a tug on Gatsby's leash and looked behind me to see what he was doing.  I was ready to say "Leave it" or "Drop it" - still my constant refrain with him every time we leave the house - but instead, I saw my poor little Schnuggle hopping along behind me on three legs, his fourth raised to the side, peeing in mid-air as we marched down the road.  Beckett, as usual, seemed torn between his desire to have a full blown panic attack and his tendency to love what he thinks of as "favorite dog status" whenever Gatsby gets disciplined for misbehaving.  I was simultaneously horrified that I had forced my poor dogs to pee while walking, and impressed that Gatsby had accepted the challenge and was actually getting quite an impressive arc while maintaining his balance. Suddenly, I was that person who, in the interest of saving five seconds by not pulling into someone's driveway when dropping them off, contemplates asking "Would you mind just jumping out the door while I slow down the car a bit?"

They're both ridiculously pampered, these pooches of mine, but they're also tough, resourceful little buggers who figure stuff out and manage to get through life with what often look like smiles.  At least to me.  I guess it's possible they have gas.  In fact, given their combination of stomach problems and food hording issues, gas is the most likely cause of any and all canine facial expressions in this house.

Needless to say, this morning's walk was slower, and I was more attentive.  I took their cues, and made them take mine, too.  We stopped a reasonable amount of times to pee and a reasonable amount of times to smell things and lick things and greet other dogs, and then we moved on.  Sure, they tried to do the nonstop leg-lifting thing, but I urged them forward, and we actually made home earlier than usual.

It's pretty amazing what you notice when your dogs force you to slow down, pay attention, and respond in the moment.  

*Please call PETA's Animal Cruelty line, at 757-622-7382,  any time you witness or suspect that any animal is being abused or neglected.

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