This is a longer version of the story I tell people who wonder why we don’t have children. I am a short-tempered control freak, I tell them.
When Silas was a puppy, I read Ian Dunbar. I have a serious love/hate relationship with that man. After You Get Your Puppy made me crazy with its bizarre, perfectionist demands. I could talk about the coulda/woulda/shouldas of agreeing and disagreeing with Dunbar all day, but that’s for another time.
Like most puppy owners, the place Dunbar and I butted heads first was over house training. Dunbar tells you quite sternly that if the dog has an accident it is YOUR FAULT. Furthermore, every time you let the dog have an accident, the ultimate goal of reliable house training slips further and further away. A dog who pees in the house, Dunbar says, will do it forever.
I was home with Silas all day. I let him out constantly. I was so anxious, in fact, that Silas learned to fake-pee just so that he could get a cookie. Then I was afraid he had a bladder infection, since he was walking around the yard squatting and nothing was coming out.
After being on high alert all day, every day, when my husband came home I would gleefully turn Silas over to him. “Here! Make sure he doesn’t have an accident in the house!” And Silas did, every single day. My husband wasn’t as attuned to Silas’s little signals as I was, and there was dinner to get ready and stuff to do. Both of us assumed the other person was watching, etc. So, every day, sometime around 6:00, we had one accident. I could feel Ian Dunbar breathing down my neck about that one little puddle.
Until the day we had three accidents. My husband was out of town. For the first few days, we didn’t have any accidents at all. I felt a little smug. I knew it was all his fault. I guess I lost my vigilance a little after that, or Silas was trying a few last times just to make sure that I really, really meant he had to pee outside. So he went in front of the window, and I cleaned it up. Not long afterwards, he went in front of the fireplace, and I cleaned it up. Then he went in the kitchen. And I got really, really mad. To get to the kitchen he had to walk right past the door to go outside. It was the last straw. Oh, I was so mad. Completely, irrationally livid. I screamed at him, grabbed him up, and put him outside none too gently.
I left him outside for a long time, while I cleaned up his third mess in one day and cried.
With a very few exceptions, he never used the bathroom in the house again. I lost my temper at him a few times when he was little, but none of them stand out like the day when I threw all my principles out the window and screamed at my puppy for doing something he didn’t understand was wrong. And it worked. That’s what kills me, all this time later. It worked. I tell myself that the three-accidents-in-one-day was an extinction burst behavior, and that he would have been done after that anyway, but I can’t really, truly make myself believe it.