Diary of a Bumbling Puppy Mommy

Dec 21: Niko went to work with Stuart at Castle Mountain Ski Resort for the first time yesterday; he was patient with the throngs who wanted to pet him, and he stepped in front of Stu again to protect him – this time from a guy loaded up with ski equipment. When he came home, Niko nipped at my hand as I reached for him. Stu grabs a tooth or snout when Niko tries this with him; my singsong “No!” and tap under the pup’s chin is usually ignored. Frankly, when I see how adept Stu is at handling Niko, I feel ridiculously incompetent.

Last night I watched “60 Minutes” while Stu and Niko played in the puppy room. They’re in an exclusive club and I haven’t figured out the secret password.

Dec 22: Stuart is Niko’s new littermate. They sleep together and go out and pee together.

Dec 23: At the office, I’m working on inventory, and it occurs to me that a box of files weighs about the same as Niko. The creaking door sounds like a puppy crying.

Dec 24: As we eat dinner, Stuart gets up and leaves every two minutes to check on Niko. The pup has learned to “sit” when Stu directs him; it’s very impressive. I, on the other hand, am the immovable object, the ornery old dog who won’t get off her mat in front of the cozy fire. I’m being foolish and difficult even to myself. Maybe I’m just nervous about Christmas.

From my humble, know-nothing-about-dogs perspective, having a puppy is turning out to be more about changing me than anything else. In blissful ignorance, I thought a puppy would be fun, but his presence has turned every part of my home world on its ear, from straddling the baby gate to get to the basement laundry, to needing to watch the pup constantly in case he a) gets into something he shouldn’t, b) shows signs of wanting out, or c) is peeing on the floor. In a commencement speech, David Foster Wallace said we each believe that we’re the centre of the universe. I feel bumped from the centre of my universe by this little guy. I know it’s not his fault, that he’s just existing, but his existence requires Stu’s and my constant everything.

Christmas Day: I’m excited for Christmas Day. Stuart is finally off for one day.

Boxing Day: Niko was a dream puppy yesterday, with no interest in the presents or gift wrap; when he felt like interacting, he flopped down close to where we were and was sweet with everyone. He did throw-up while we ate Christmas dinner, but no one at the table was offended. Everyone said he looked like a stuffed toy, splayed out on the floor with his hind legs straight out behind him.

When he came in from not peeing moments ago, he was in his rambunctious mood, attacking his toys and my arms. I am bleeding in three places. When, as Stuart suggests, I give him an alternative to my arm to chew on, it only helps for a second. Should I not pet him when he’s so high-spirited?

It’s starting to get light out; it’s wonderful to watch the day begin. I feel hungry and my coffee’s cold, but Niko’s asleep and calm, and it’s a bit of bliss here with just the electric heater rumbling along. I don’t want to disturb the reverie. Niko just stood up, yawned, wobbly-walked about three feet and flopped down on the floor. I said, “Hi, Little,” because I thought he was awake, but he wasn’t.

Dec 27: Niko sniffed around the door, so I let him out and he high-tailed it across the yard, hunkered-down and had a poo. “Good boy!” I called out, and as he turned to start eating it, I ran over and grabbed the flash-freezing poo from the snow with a plastic bag. I turned, with poo in hand, and saw two other piles nearby. “Oh shit,” I muttered automatically, and then I laughed out loud.

My sister gave me the book, Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz for Christmas. I’m reading it like an owner’s manual, taking the approach that maybe I don’t know everything about Niko, but I can learn. It’s a relief to have a reference, rather than feeling like I should just know this stuff instinctively.  Horowitz, who teaches psychology, animal behaviour and canine cognition, stresses that a dog is not a human, and that anthropomorphizing dogs’ behaviour so we can understand them isn’t always accurate. Reading about such things as Niko’s exceptional sense of smell and that I’m not the first person to be thrilled with a dog’s eye contact, makes me feel like I am inching closer to understanding.

Dec 30: My alarm was set for six, but I heard Niko crying at five twenty-something and thought maybe he was outside and Stuart was in the shower. Stu and Niko were in the kitchen though; Stu was making Niko’s breakfast, and the pup was crying in anticipation, as I’d heard him do with his brothers and sisters.

Dec 31: I came into the puppy nursery to be with Niko at 5:30, and tried to doze off, but had a vision of being alone in a container and knowing that the only way to my loved ones was to swim up and up through water, hoping my breath would hold. Finally getting to the top of the water, I ran into a cover and couldn’t get through. I had to open my eyes and look at Facebook to distract myself.

Niko and I went for a short walk – should call it a “sniff” – around half the block.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve, and all I know is that time is flying, and that this house is going to get smaller and smaller as Niko gets bigger.

Jan 1: I slept in the puppy room for the first time last night, hanging my hand off the couch to remind Niko that he was not alone. Sometimes he licked at my hand and gently mouthed it; a warm, wet puppy mouth can be a miraculous, gentle place.

This Christmas my daughters came home, and they, as ignorant of puppies as their mother, did their best to help with Niko. I have a video of Madeline running back and forth in the snowy yard, all skinny legs and striped leggings, with Niko holding her fringed poncho in his clamped teeth.


It’s a new day, a new year, and it’s two weeks since we brought Niko home. It feels longer. Every hour, every day an upheaval, a stretch, something new to consider, a new way to do, to be. Davey and Jade watch Niko from high vantage points; they walk cautiously by, and come into the puppy room when Niko is outside. Stuart tells me it’s going to be tough for a while, that Niko will be a teenager, and it could be a year or two of challenges.

Later, I find myself with a sleeping cat obliterating the notebook on my lap desk, and a stuffed-toy puppy snoring softly on the floor. They are content and trusting. Who am I to question their judgment?







Niko is Home (and we have stars)

Dinner right way up abWe picked up Niko (“Tailspins Niko’s HeartinPocket”) on December 18; at 22 pounds, his weight had doubled from our visit three weeks earlier. In a blustering snow storm we placed him in his XXX-Large crate on a Hudson Bay blanket that was saturated with the smells of his siblings and momma. The blanket also contains tufts of fur from Stuart’s previous Bernese Mountain Dogs, Laszlo and Vildy.

I had the honour of sitting in the back seat beside the crate, very soon opening its door, as Niko cried and howled and searched for a way out. He stood on my legs, nosing and pawing the truck window, and then, before long, settled back in his crate to sleep, with his soft, freshly bathed baby chin on my hand.  When we stopped for food and gas, I felt protective of the little round dog, attaching his leash to his collar and leading him across snowy parking lots to pee. I was reminded of bringing my first daughter home from hospital, her father and I reluctant to stop for gas, wanting only to get her home safely.

The cats hissed at Niko when we arrived home. Jade leapt onto the top of the piano, and Davey disappeared; I found him later in the basement, sitting in the dark on his favourite mat.

Stuart slept on the couch in the puppy room, with Niko beside him on his dog bed. The first night, Niko thought his reflection was an intruder, and he puffed himself up and squared his shoulders, and, with little barks, stood guard over Stu, daring the puppy reflection to come closer. Stu was very proud.

Stu had to work the next day, so I was on puppy duty from 5:40 AM. I discovered that we have stars in the sky here in the dark of the morning. I awkwardly clomped around the snowy yard in my winter boots with Niko leaping and romping after me, and played “snow shovel chase,” where he followed the shovel and leapt in the air. I laughed out loud as Niko kept pushing his head in the snow and coming out with a face full.

This new puppy is causing me to look inward. I realize that I need to step up, take charge, and show him the ways of the world. A lot of the time I feel unqualified, but I know my behaviour can’t reveal that. Stuart says I need to sharply say “no” or “off” if Niko is misbehaving, and that it’s best to “yelp” in pain so he understands when he hurts me. I remind myself that I needed Dr. Spock’s help to raise my daughters; he’s been replaced by Cesar Milan, whose website tells me that I need to be “calmly assertive.” Still, when faced with this little dynamo, I often feel vulnerable, push-over-able and weak.

Watching him sleep, with his chin on his catcher’s-mitt paw with its baby-pink pads, I realize that, though he is dependent upon me, he is already in charge. I listen to his breathing, and the little “mm-hmm” sounds, and think of us romping in the snowy yard, he with the finger of my glove stretched out a foot long, his happy face sprinkled with snow. How is it possible to feel so powerless when I am over fifty, and he is a mere nine weeks? He nips, he pulls, he tries to eat my photo envelopes and the foamy grout around the fireplace bricks. He squeezes himself under anything he can, eats a pound of ground up “ultimate chicken” in one inhalation, and lets out mini hoons and squeaking yawns. Yet, even as a miniature, he is noble and proud, prancing with his head high and white-tipped tail wagging. I feel the greatness, the lineage, the breeding of him. I know that I am in the presence of no ordinary canine. And I, but a run-of-the-mill human, am having trouble not feeling dwarfed by his magnificence.

I cried on the phone with Stu yesterday, overwhelmed by all I didn’t know about the puppy. The song, “There’s a Stranger in my House” was on repeat in my head, as I trailed along after Niko, hoping he wouldn’t attack or damage something I treasure. It’s like he speaks a different language and is from another planet. I am the old dog trying to learn new tricks and it’s painful.

But then, when I was washing dishes, Niko came into the kitchen, flopped down on the rug beside me, and put his chin on my foot. And later, not knowing what to do next, I sat at the piano and picked away at Scotland the Brave, missing my Dad; moments later, Niko appeared, unafraid of the new, strange sounds, and he sat under the piano, resting his chin on my foot on the sustaining pedal.

He moves me to tears, this little one… sometimes of frustration, but often of joy. He is so genuine – delighted by snow, desperate when he hears his meals being prepared, and eager to be close to me, getting up and flopping down nearby, wherever I go. I look in his brown eyes and see mischief – and wisdom – and the promise of more spectacular starry mornings.






Countdown to New Puppy

This is the last Saturday when I will not have a dog in my life. My husband Stuart and I are picking up our nine-week-old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy on December 18. We know we are getting a boy, but we don’t know which of the four boys in the litter will be ours. Stuart has experienced the joy of three male Berners before, and, though he still tears-up at the very mention of them, he is ready – and excited – to have one of these gentle, loyal, extra-large souls in his world again.

I am nervous. I have never had a dog before, aside from an unfortunate little cocker spaniel named Tammy who spent what seemed like a day-and-a-half with my family when I was little. All I remember is runny diarrhea on the dining room linoleum and her leash attached to the clothesline.

With our new pup, it will be entirely different. He is the child that Stuart and I will never have together. I have two grown daughters from a previous marriage, but Stu and I, in our early fifties, are beyond the years of having baby humans. So we are embarking on life with a baby dog, who will not be a baby for long. The pups weighed 11 pounds at six weeks when we visited and took the above photo.

How will Davey and Jade, our eight-year-old, set-in-their-ways cats react to a puppy in our small home? Who will terrorize whom? What of the fact that Christmas Day is one week after we bring the puppy home? Will he chew on the tree and presents? Certainly most of the seven Berner pups (four boys, three girls) were eager to nibble on everything they could reach on me: my ears, the buttons on my shirt, the stones in my rings, the toes in my socks…

I was less nervous bringing home my first baby girl from the hospital than I am right now. I felt an instinct for caring for her, and knew that when I put her in her crib, she would stay there. Stu’s last Bernese Mountain Dog, Vildy, (“der Vildemann,” who died from cancer five years ago), was extremely well trained; all 130 pounds of him trembled and drooled as he watched me eat peanut butter toast, but he didn’t make one move toward it until Stuart held out his own piece and gave Vildy permission to eat it. (It was gone, I swear, in two slurping bites.) I worry that I won’t be consistent in ensuring our pup’s good behaviour; I was, after all, (and continue to be), the “easy” parent.

I will keep you posted on our progress. Please wish me luck, and include any words of advice for a soon-to-be-puppy-mother who is more used to children and cats.

  • Julie