When Lee retired four years ago as managing editor of the Daily News, we talked about adopting a puppy. Both of us would be at home full time, and we had loved and raised a golden retriever and an Old English sheepdog from puppyhood to the end of their lives. Lee was the alpha dog in their pack, and I was the indulgent enabler who responded to them as if they were lap cats. We thought about rescuing an older, medium-size dog who needed a stable home. We could help it adapt to our routines, take it on leisurely walks and enjoy its companionship. But we couldn’t fully know a grown dog’s behavioral history or what might set off an aggressive response. Our four grandchildren live four blocks down the street, and we absolutely weren’t willing to risk their safety, no matter how sociable the dog seemed. We decided instead to be thankful for the many good dogs who walk by our house with their people every day.
Several years ago, I saw a photo of a Bernedoodle puppy, who looked like an Ewok, the furry, teddy-bearish creature from the Star Wars universe. A real-life Bernedoodle is a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle, is bred solely for companionship and combines a poodle’s intelligence with the sweet nature, and occasional stubbornness, of a Bernese.
No drooling and very little shedding, too. A standard size Bernedoodle weighs 70 to 90 pounds, which made me think of Rags, our 80-pound sheepdog, his gentle spirit and loving heart. “There’s almost no chance that we could find a Bernedoodle puppy locally,” I said to Lee. “But if we ever do, and if we decide to adopt it, I’ll name it Duffy.” Lee gave me a long look.
In mid-January, I saw a newspaper ad and photo offering Bernedoodle puppies for sale, but the ad was gone before Lee and I could decide whether to call the owners for more information.
My birthday was coming up, and when the same ad reappeared last week, I persuaded Lee to make the phone call. We led with our hearts, instead of our common sense, and a few days later we drove to the owners’ farm near Coeur d’Alene. Their 30-pound puppy, 14 weeks old, with bright eyes, wavy black coat, and brown face and legs, was as adorable as his photo. Lee and I looked at each other.
I cradled the trembling puppy in my arms through the drive home, and during those 2½ hours, I could already feel the connection between us. My mind swirled. Basic behavioral commands: Come. Lie down. Sit. Stay. Leave it, each repeated consistently, in a big-dog voice. Early-morning and late-night bathroom training in our backyard, and all the hours in between. A fortune in cleaning supplies, and unending patience for the inevitable, daily messes. In his first few minutes exploring his new home, Duffy peed in multiple spots on the living room rug and the kitchen floor. “Happy birthday a month early, sweetheart,” Lee said and handed me a roll of paper towels.
Before Duffy joined our family, I normally started my day between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and went to bed after midnight. Now I wake up at 5:45, stumble to the patio door to let Duffy into the backyard, and then dress quickly before I bring him back inside for breakfast. We start walking through the neighborhood or running around the yard as soon as the sun rises.
During a recent walk, Duffy trotted happily beside me, wagging his tail, until he suddenly flattened himself onto the sidewalk, with all four paws splayed, and stared up at me. His message was clear: “I won’t stand up and you can’t make me. You’ll just have to pick me up and carry me home.” Each of our grandchildren was once a 30-pound toddler. Now I hoped that an enthusiastic voice, a clear incentive and the judicious use of an “I mean business here, kid,” tone, could work as well with Duffy as it did with preschoolers. I revved up my voice and said, “You’re such a good puppy, Duffy! So smart! (Stubborn, too.) Now home, Duffy. Let’s walk home!” He flicked his ears, bounded up from the sidewalk and raced down the street, around the corner and all the way to our backyard. When we were safely inside the gate, I unhooked his leash, hugged my deliriously joyous puppy and smiled as he sprinted across our fenced yard to pee on his favorite watering spot.
That night, though, Lee stood on our patio in frigid weather, waiting for 10 long and futile minutes, while Duffy zigzagged around the yard, slowing at random locations to sniff every blade of grass — but waited to pee inside, on his favorite rug. Earlier this week, his digestive system clearly signaled the effects of the recent upheaval in his life. Afterward, Lee and I spent an hour spot-cleaning and sanitizing that rug, and I stayed on my knees for another hour, washing the hardwood floor in our hallway and my office.
Duffy is affectionate, eager to please and sensitive to reprimands. I’m his alpha person, and I won’t let him become my lap cat. I’m practicing my own self-discipline, patience and confidence every day, to make sure my adorable puppy becomes a friendly, well-mannered and very good dog.
Craft Rozen can imagine how helpful Duffy will be in her garden. Email her at email@example.com.