Dog House

Clover's dog houseI can get a little carried away.  So when I started thinking about designs for a dog house, I saw nothing strange about breaking out my architectural scale ruler and the graph paper.  A normal person, having drawn such an elaborate design, would have scratched it out, shaking his head slightly, muttering ‘This is for a dog, remember?’ and drawn the archetypal gable roof dog house.  Me?  I added stained glass windows, a green roof, and cherry wainscot.  Since this is not normal, I feel some explanation is in order.

Like you, when I hear the term’ dog house’ I imagine a shabby hovel for a neglected dog chained to nearby stake.  Being ‘in the dog house’ has become synonymous with punishment, most frequently used by husbands to describe their metaphorical abodes after marital transgressions.  Though for them, it is more likely the couch.  So making a dog house would seem to imply that I have a ‘bad dog,’ because everyone knows that in American culture, loved dogs do not sleep outside in dog houses.  In fact, one survey found that half of all dog owners now allow their dogs to sleep on their bed with them.  Half!  Though we have never allowed her on our bed, we certainly love Clover and consider her a member of the family.  So why now?

First, you have to understand that my dog is a coward.  When Josie began toddling around, Clover began getting nervous.  She is not the type of dog to lazily allow a hysterical toddler to pull on her ears.  Now that Josie is two, and can run and scream and throw things, this cowardly dog prefers to just remove herself from this combination of indoor terror by being outside.  Because it is winter and raining all the time, this means that she will go curl up under a bush somewhere in the yard.  This is kind of heartbreaking.  Even after Josie is down, it takes a lot of convincing to get her to come back inside.

I don’t think I can train my dog to be more relaxed or brave, so short of putting her on doggy Xanax, I can at least make her a refuge outside where she will be warm and dry.  Since I love my dog, and because I was a carpenter in my former life, a shoddily made doghouse just won’t do.  I also have a lot of scrap material in my garage, having squirreled away nice leftovers from job sites for years.  Most pieces are too few in number or too short to use on the scale of an actual house.  I figure if something’s been collecting cobwebs for four years now, I will probably never use it on my house.  This is how cherry wainscot ends up being used inside a dog house.

Still, I could have easily not insulated it, or added a green roof, or took my wife up on her offer to make stained glass sidelights.  But to this I say two things: 1)  I’m the one who has to look at this thing every day, and I prefer to look at beautiful things.  2)  Craftsmanship is integrity made tangible; therefore it is irrelevant that the recipient is a dog.  Lofty prose justifying abnormal behavior I know.  My wife thinks I just want some upscale lodging for when she catches me with my mistress.

Nice photo bomb Clover
Nice photo bomb Clover



Run Clover Run

Our dog Clover needs to run.  Too many leashed walks around the neighborhood, and she starts to get the crazy eyes.  I hate to run though.  Last year, in a desperate attempt to get some kind of aerobic exercise, I would leave the baby monitor in a hedge during Josie’s naps and run with Clover around the block over and over.  My block is on a hill with a “busy’ street on one side.  I made sure to run in a clockwise fashion, so as to look like a fit runner to passer-bys while I ran down this street, and coughed up my screaming lungs on the uphill, out-of-sight, side of my loop.  This worked, in the sense that I got a good workout, but only reminded me that I hate running.  So that ended pretty quickly, and with it Clover’s running as well.

Guilt sets in though (not over my lack of running silly, but of Clover’s), so after buying Josie’s bicycle trailer, one day last summer the three of us loaded up the car and headed to a nearby trailhead.    So it’s become a routine thing for us.  Biking four miles at a relatively modest pace does nothing for us biking humans (and nothing for Josie, who sucks down whole milk and goldfish crackers in the trailer), but Clover is getting in noticeably better shape.  The first time I took her, her tongue was dragging the ground a mile from parking lot, but now she looks barely winded. It’s not like we do this every day though.  I’d like to pat myself on my back for being a good dog owner, but before I can Cesar Milan whispers in my ear, qualifying his praise by reminding me how otherwise unsatisfying her nightly walks are.

What’s crazy, is my dog can get up off her pillow, where she sleeps all day, and run 22 mph, fueled by dog food, table scraps, and grass.  Usain Bolt, who holds the title as the world’s fastest person, ran 27.45 mph in 2009 during the Athletic Championships in Berlin.  This is astounding to me, given that I was on a bicycle and pedaling pretty darn hard.  Still, a greyhound can attain speeds of up to 45 mph, and while Clover is no greyhound, I think a few more months of sprinting along side my bike and she might be able to give Bolt a run for his money.

Clover is a very patient dog

This pretty much sums up the current relationship dynamic between my daughter and my dog.  Nothing real surprising.  Clover has the look of pitiful resignation that can only come from knowing that you are so low on the family totem poll, that a bumbling toddler who poops her pants sits on top of your head (figuratively, and literally sometimes, speaking.)  Josie, on the other hand, loves Clover, and treats her as such like one of her many inanimate stuffed animals.  Stuffed animals, however, have no feelings and so you don’t have to admonish toddlers to “be careful with Teddy’s eyes” or “Daffy doesn’t like to have his face grabbed like that.”  This is one of the sweeter moments.  Don’t let it fool you though.  The next photo in the sequence is one of Josie’s blurry legs delivering a barrage of kicks to Clover’s head.  Clover is a very patient dog and my job, going forward, will be to make Josie realize that not all doggies she will meet are going to be so tolerant.

Dogs aren’t Children

This my dog Clover.

We used to take pictures of her, videos even, and post them on YouTube.  For her first year with us, my iPhoto library was littered with cute little adorable puppy shots of her.  We bought her the super premium dog food called “Solid Gold,” which costs just slightly less than its namesake.  I even made her peanut butter treats from scratch to reward her for peeing in the yard.  When Clover started getting twitchy at night, running out in the yard when the fire started crackling in the winter, my wife and I would lie in bed at night psychoanalyzing her and theorizing what we could do.

Then we had a kid.

It was a bit of an adjustment for Clover.  Like any first born, her demotion on the familial totem pole was a bit of a shock.  For the first couple months, Clover was hedging her bets that this new little screaming addition to the family was anything more than a loud temporary visitor, who, if she could hold out, would eventually go back to the hospital.  Her hopes gave out eventually, and she now maintains a tolerant wariness toward Josephine.  However, this is changing lately toward general avoidance now that Josie is getting better at grabbing, throwing things and running.

Dogs can get a little lost in the shuffle when your family grows.  Heck, this blog is called Babies and Dogs, and how often do I write about Clover?  And how many times have I nearly forgotten Clover at friends’ houses after finishing the babyclothesdiaperssippycuptrainingpottysnacksmilkinthefridgeOmyGodhowcanone littlepersonhavesomuchcrap?scavenger hunt and getting Josie all buckled into her car seat?

Before having kids I remember my brother relating a story about his father-in-law accidentally leaving the family dog, Bishop, on Waldron Island (a remote island in the San Juans with no ferry service) for a few days before wondering where he was.  When he rushed back in his boat, there Bishop was on the beach, waiting expectantly.  And I remember being slightly horrified when I heard this story.  Now, this scenario seems completely understandable.

And therein lies the difference between dogs and children.  You can do that to a dog.  It’s not nice, sure, but they’ll be fine, they’ll forgive you and probably be really happy when you come back.  Dogs after all, are just training wheels for having children.  You can make mistakes like that with a dog and no one gets arrested.  So if you are childless and have a dog, and treat it like a child, and this makes you happy, more power to you.  But if you find yourself at a party surrounded by parents, who are bemoaning this or that about their kids, try really hard to avoid relating a story about your dog.  I know Fido is important to you, but he isn’t a child.  Instead try to chime in with a cute story about your nephew.

You don’t realize it yet, but the difference in the amount of time, mental and physical energy and money required to raise a child versus to take care of a dog is orders of magnitude greater.  I can best relate this with simple math.  When you got the puppy it took you about 3 months to potty train it.  Tough right? – a lot of little puddles.  It take on average 36 months to potty train a human – twelve times as long!  How about walking?  Dogs – pretty much immediately, children – around a year.  Obediently listening to you?  Dogs – a couple months, children – never.

This is advice forged in experience, because I too once just had a dog, and thought that anything I watched on the Dog Whisperer was also perfectly acceptable to be included in any unsolicited parenting advice I felt would be helpful to my friends with kids.  I cringe with horror as I remember questioning my friend Ali on why she was rewarding her toddler with hugs for negative behavior like crying after running into a coffee table.  Later when she was in the throws of potty training, perhaps I should have told her that she should keep a few peanut butter treats at the ready in her pocket when he pee-peed in the lawn.

Josie’s Furry Older Sister

Josie is officially smarter than our dog Clover now.  Just look – she’s using a stick to push sand around!  Tool use!  Next she’ll be starting fires, flaking spear points, and ordering an electric nose hair removal system off of SkyMall.  Still, there are a few things along the way that Clover has taught Josie.

We start the day with Sarah going to work.  Clover has always had some pretty serious separation anxiety, and though she has gotten better about Sarah leaving for work, it’s still a different story if I leave her tied up outside a store.  Inside I will hear her all the way at the back of the store, while I listen to fellow shoppers in the aisles make comments like, “Oh that poor dog, she sounds like she’s being beaten.”  Same goes for Josie.  When I leave her tied up outside a store – no, no, just kidding.  But when Sarah starts putting things in her backpack and tries to put her bike helmet on with one hand, I will stealthily approach  to take Josephine out of her other arm.  When Josie realizes what’s about to happen, she will proceed to cry, bat me away with one arm like I’m a strange man with a lollipop, while clinging like a marmoset to her mother’s chest with her other hand.  I am the eagle swooping down to steal her away in this analogy.  Clover, now a year older, will just watch as her heart silently breaks, and I find myself guiltily wishing that someday, Josie’s reaction will be as quiet.  Or at least, a little less violent toward me.

Next is morning snack and invariably, peanut butter in one form or another will be on the menu for both of them.  Sarah often leaves Clover dog toys filled with peanut butter throughout the house and tells her to “Find it!” before she leaves to lessen Clover’s separation anxiety.  So while Josie is still crying, Clover is sniffing around the house looking for them.  I’ll put Josie in her chair, and spread some peanut butter on some bread, and watch the tears dry up.  Both treat peanut butter as a main dish, not really a condiment, and Josie will remove as much peanut butter as she can from the bread before, maybe, giving the bread a try.  I’m fine with this.  Both Sarah and I don’t really eat meat, so we were relieved when Josie didn’t balloon up into an anaphylactic nightmare after eating this vegetarian protein option.

I’m actually embarrassedd to admit this, but Josie actually had her first peanut butter from one of Clover’s Kong toys.  One morning after she left for work, I noticed that Clover was giving Josie a sidelong jealous look, and as I followed her gaze I found Josie holding the red Kong, hands and face slathered with peanut butter.  “Well, I guess today we find out if Josie has a peanut allergy,”  I thought to myself, trying to remember if we still had an epi-pen in the camping supplies first aid kit.  And she doesn’t, and now her favorite thing to eat is peanut butter quinoa balls.

Josie and Clover both have a tendency toward disorder and destruction.  They both leave the house messier at the end of the day, but they have their own niches.  Clover specializes in tearing up empty ice cream cartons (which we give her), strewing dog toys about, and producing armies of fur bunnies, which multiply as quickly as their namesake.  Josie focuses more on hiding common household items, like measuring cups, in the washing machine or bathtub, and dropping food on the floor.  Clover helps with clean up the latter, and I have a feeling that in a few years, these two will conspire to make whole plates of brussels sprouts, peas, and broccoli disappear.

Clover doesn’t normally guard her food – thankfully she’s good about that, but I can’t help but look at these photos and think that she looks like a dog guarding her food bowl.

But the most endearing trait has to be the way Josie uses Clover as a watchdog for Sarah’s return from work.  If we are out in the yard, and Sarah comes biking up the hill on her way home from work, Clover will perk her ears up, watch as still as a statue when Sarah comes into view, and the bolt over to the gate like she’s fired out of a canon.  Since Josie is usually bent over somewhere in the yard, poking some tiny rock, flower or bug, she won’t notice Sarah biking up the road beyond the hedge.  But she will notice Clover tear by her, bound f or the gate, and she’ll look up at me with wide eyes and say, “Mama!”

I know that you don’t think I know

This is my dog Clover.  She’s neurotic.

I don’t mean that she’s unusual – all dogs are neurotic about something.  My brother’s dog can stare at a wall for hours, expending an incredible amount of concentration, as long as there are (or have been in the last few hours) shadow or lights on the wall.  My aunt once had a dog that would go into a frenzy anytime it walked past a manhole cover, and another that would bark at venetian blinds.  Dogs are crazy.  For Clover, its night time.

Basically, once we turn off the light, Clover becomes pretty anxious.  If we leave the dog door open, she will immediately go outside for awhile, and once she becomes cold, she’ll poke her nose over and over at the magnetic flap and whine for what feels like forever from the vantage point of my warm bed.  If I get fed up and go to the ‘people door’ and try to call her inside, she will run away from me into the yard.

So we lock the dog door now before we turn out the lights, and that seems to help.  Sometimes I think it’s a separation anxiety thing, since I know she hates being separated from us, and for awhile she really did want to sleep on our bed, but we draw the line there.  She even used to come next to my side of the bed at ungodly hours in the morning and whine softly.  This was when I was getting up in the middle of the night to feed and change Josie, so it wasn’t so welcome.  Separation anxiety doesn’t explain why she would run outside though and not come inside.

Lately though, she’s been better.  And I do know why – though she doesn’t know that I know why.  One night, a few months back, as Sarah and I lay in the bed theorizing why Clover is the way she is, we heard the distinctive sound of someone jumping up onto the couch.  There are only two of- limits places in the house: the bed and the couch.  We agreed to ‘let’ her sleep there, if it made her feel better, and indeed it seems to.

So now when Josephine wakes up at 4:00am needing a diaper change, like she did last night, I walk past the couch and pretend I don’t see an alert little black furball watching to see if I see her in the darkness.  If I don’t acknowledge the transgression, I don’t lose any face as her pack leader, and she sleeps better.

Only when I realized this last point, did it occur to me that this same scenario likely played out when I was a teenager sneaking out of the house.  Like me, my Dad has bat-like hearing, and sleeps very lightly.  I always patted myself on my back when I finally tiptoed out the door and ever so slowly clicked the front door’s lockset back into place.  Being the good kid he raised, he probably realized I wouldn’t go get into trouble.  As I crept down the stairs outside his room, invariably forgetting the order of which ones squeaked, he probably woke up, listened, and let me go.  If he had caught me, he’d have to lay down some serious late-night law, while acknowledging his rules’ waning power over me.  But if he let me go, he knew that I would greet him in the morning ostensibly as my pack leader for at least a little while longer before I headed off to college.

I, on the other hand, had a girl, and I know what motivates boys to sneak out of their parents houses most of the time, so you better believe that I will be reciting Josie’s full name in my most scratchy and intimidating Dad voice if I ever catch her on the stairs at 2 am.  Worse, if she ever has the gall to invite a boy over, I’ll be using the same line on her as I have to now when I know Clover sees me seeing her:

“Hey!  You – off the couch!”


Name:  Clover
Almost 2 years
Place of birth:
Elwha reservation
Brothers and Sisters:
Nine others, she was the runt.
Mutt – maybe German shepherd, lab, retriever…
Black, tan, white undercoat that shows up on EVERYTHING.
Sit, stay, come, find it, go to your bed, bang!-play dead, shake, get your ball, get up there, where’s the deer?
Best friends:  Spritzer, Timber, Papa, Roja, Abbey
Favorite activities: 
Playing fetch with her blue squeaky ball, tearing the stuffing out of stuffed animals from Goodwill, running on the beach, eating fish heads, sleeping on her dog bed, watching deer, chasing squirrels, being chased by and wrestling with other dogs, whatever she’s dreaming about when she twitches and howls.
Going over 35 mph in the car, the crackling fireplace, being left tied up outside a store (especially Henery’s Hardware, where she gets treats), water deep enough to touch her belly, loud sudden noises, her harness, baths, brooms
Favorite treat:
Average number of times she pokes the dog door with her nose before coming inside: