Here I am again, fifth night in a row, standing outside at 2 a.m. in my flannel pajamas, bedroom slippers and Mad Bomber hat, waiting for a dog to pee.
No, I’m not crazy. I just got a puppy. Which might mean I’m crazy, given that it is winter in Minnesota and Angus is not yet housebroken.
In theory, it’s pretty simple to housebreak a puppy.
You buy a crate, and you put the pup inside. When he clamors to get out, you carry him into the yard and wait until he does his business, and then you praise him like mad, give him a treat, and let him back in the house to play. After he plays, after he eats, you put him outside again, and once the magic happens you put him back in his crate.
The thing is, there’s theory, and there’s reality, and while it’s good to know the theory, it’s important to be ready for the reality.
Sometimes when I put Angus outside, he pees and then I put him in the house and he pees again. What then? (Answer: Scrub the carpet and spray it with white vinegar or a commercial product to remove the odor so he won’t be attracted to that spot again. If he insists in peeing on the same spot over and over, start feeding him there. Dogs will not pee where they eat or sleep.)
Sometimes I put Angus out and he simply won’t pee. What then? (Answer: I wouldn’t pee outside either at 11 below. Even if it’s technically playtime, put him back in his crate and try again in a few minutes.)
What do I do at night? (Answer: Get up a lot.)
At night, we haul the bulky crate up the stairs, bump-bump-bump, and put it in the bedroom. He sleeps there until, oh, about midnight or 1 a.m., and then he starts chirping. If we ignore the chirps, he moves into yapping. And if we ignore the yapping, suddenly we will hear full-fledged howls and screeches that gain in both mournfulness and intensity.
I throw back the covers and feel for my slippers and open the crate and (this is important) carry the puppy downstairs — because if I just let him out and expect him to follow, he might instead pee on the floor.
I struggle into my coat and unlock the back door, with its balky, tight lock, all while holding a squirming fat puppy in the crook of one arm, and then open the door and — Gosh dang almighty that midnight air is brisk!
The stars are bright and the moon is huge and I glance at the tree where an owl was perched on Christmas Day, just to make sure it isn’t waiting there to carry off my dog, and then I go out and stand in the snow. I have never been so happy to see another creature pee.
And then, at 2:30 or 3 or 3:30 a.m., or whenever he cries, I do this again. And again, perhaps, at 5:15 a.m. By now I have lost the ability to tell time, stumbling through the dark and cold with eyes only half-open.
When we adopted Angus the last week of December he was seven weeks old. We had a good two months of housebreaking ahead of us. Hello, January. Hello, February.
But there is an upside to puppy training in winter: The dog has fewer distractions. Sure, there’s the occasional stray twig or dry leaf, but mostly there is just endless icy white, and that wind, and that refrigerated air, and when he is done with his midnight pee he races back up the stairs, ready to get back to his warm bed.
Him and me both.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. She is chronicling her puppy’s development every few weeks on this page.
Coming Feb. 24: Angus goes to school.