Monday 28 January 2019

The Perfect Dog

“You don’t want a perfect dog,” said the trainer. But I do. I really do.

Alternate title: An Argument for Cloning

Ziggy, pointedly ignoring me.  Again.

Since the kids are all in school now and I am no longer the main person/influence/love in their lives, I have switched my focus to the dog. This is also possibly because I still have hope that I can mould him into a respectable member of society, whereas, with the kids, I’ve pretty much accepted that they are savages and there’s nothing I can do about it.
But the dog — maybe I can still make a difference.

Ziggy arrived into our home and our hearts when he was eleven weeks old. In his litter of seven, only one other puppy, a girl, looked like him: a scruffy little mop of brindle fur with big brown eyes and an unfortunate under-bite. He is ridiculously cute, as long as he is not a) wet or b) closely trimmed.

We chose him instead of her because everyone knows that male dogs calm down after they are fixed. Ziggy, however, seems to be the one exception in the world. Apparently, those things were just slowing him down.

He is a mixed breed, from a coworker’s litter; my kids say, he is half Schnauzer, half Yorkshire, half Chihuahua, and half Lhasa Apso. (I think they start fractions next year.)


Ziggy was embarrassingly small when we brought him home, and we affectionately referred to him as a rat on a string, and still do, even though he has tripled in size and now weighs in at a whopping ten pounds.

This is a 3-lb puppy.  HOW SMALL are that woman's hands???

He is now two years old, and still energetic to the point of being capable of exhausting me (!) and — this shouldn’t even be possible — my Very Energetic Children.

When we talked about getting a dog, my husband needed it to be hypo-allergenic. I needed it to be lazy and well-trained. I also needed at least one of the other four people in this family to pitch in and help with the dog, either actively (walking, training, brushing, feeding) or at least not counteractively.

Only one of those needs has been met. And it wasn’t mine.

In fairness, the name Ziggy does bring to mind a little zippy thing, so perhaps we should have named him Turtle or Coma, or something like that, but Ziggy he is, and wow, is he ever. And adding a puppy to a family of three-under-seven was a foolish move on my part, as everyone I know warned me.

It's far too late now.


Vive le Puppuccino!

When we moved to the UK shortly after his first birthday, we discovered that here, dogs are welcome on public transit and most cafes and pubs (and public health be damned, apparently).

We walked into a Starbucks, and were delighted to see dogs in the line, under the tables, on laps. The pub down the street is dog-friendly, and has two “inn dogs”, Gin and Fizzy. They live in the pub, and entertain the kids to no end, creating a lovely atmosphere for proper adult conversation while the children play somewhere else in the pub with strange dogs. It’s very civilized.

I immediately decided that my then-12-month-old bundle of energy would accompany me and my laptop to the coffee shop and the pub for “working lunches”. It would be perfect: Ziggy would get a little walk — an outing if you will — and then settle down respectably under the table while I sat, leisurely sipping tea and writing, as one does in coffee shops. Think of the fresh air! The creative element! The chai lattes!* (and yes, the puppuccinos.)

What I didn’t bargain on is that, not only are all English pub dogs of my acquaintance exceedingly well trained, they are also naturally calm.

Ziggy is neither.

Before we brought him home, I read so many books. I had helped train a larger dog when I was 20, and was sure that I had it all figured out. Once he was home with us, I kept reading the books, and subscribed to various “ethical dog training” YouTube channels. I signed him up for Puppy Kindergarten as soon as there was an opening, and despite his being the smallest pup in the room, Ziggy stood out for his confidence (kaff — small dog syndrome) and his inability to settle down or walk on a leash.

Our very first homework assignment was to “do nothing”. I was supposed to take him to a park bench, sit on it, and when he calmed down and sat on his own volition, I was supposed to reward him with a pat and maybe a treat. It’s been over two years, and although I have sat on many a park bench for extended stretches of time, he has still never done this.

When he was a bit older, I took him to a Basic Good Manners course, where he still wouldn’t settle down or focus, but did very well at short-attention-span tricks, as long as he really wanted to. Generally, if I was holding bacon- or lamb-based treats, he tended to probably listen, but otherwise, no.


“Needs-Therapy” Dog

After about 18 months of having a dog that spun around all the time and wouldn’t let me accomplish anything in my home office or Starbucks “office”, and always pulled on his leash and wouldn’t come back at the off-leash parks, and barked at me from under the chair at pubs and cafes, I hired a trainer, one-on-one, to fix my dog. She had the same philosophy as the books and classes we’d already taken, and I’d seen her in action with him.

She was amazing. As a person, she was super knowledgeable, had a presence that Ziggy was mesmerized by, and was just so freaking cool. AND she used to be a dolphin trainer! I tried to work “can I be your friend?” into our training session, but couldn’t find a way to do it naturally.

She gave me some drills to do with him that would help with sit/stay and loose-leash walking, and told me that because of his four-terrier mix, he would be immature longer than other dogs, very smart, and very stubborn.


She also said, “You don’t want a perfect dog. Perfect dogs are boring.”

Yes, well. I can give you a list of what kind of not-boring dog I don’t want:

  • one who marks on everything: furniture, curtains, every post and bush, and people;
  • one who pulls so much on his own leash that he cuts off his air supply and makes horrible choking noises;
  • one who will not come back if off-leash, meaning that I have to chase him. With his small size, he is extremely quick and turns on a dime, and it’s really embarrassing to run around after him, especially because I usually fall down;
  • one who barks at me from under the table at a coffee shop, so I have to leave before we are asked to leave (again);
  • one who will deliberately turn his back on me and ignore me;
  • one who looks at me with a perplexed expression when I ask him to sit, even after two years of training in such a way that I am sure he is saying, “Sit? What is ‘sit’? This word you are using… I honestly have never heard that word before. Are you sure this is the word you are meaning to use?”

Coincidentally enough, Ziggy is all those things (though his endearing peeing-on-people phase stopped when we cut off his… erm...euphemisms). He isn’t as bad as the legendary Marley, but probably only because he is small, and thus his potential for destruction is limited to the things he can reach.

He is not lazy, nor boring, and I really, really wish he were. I wanted a dog that could be designated a Therapy Dog, so I could bring him to the office. Now that I know my dog, I know that he is more of an Anxiety Dog, one that makes people more nervous than when he walked in. I consider myself his Therapy Human, even though I’m on the twitchy end of the continuum myself. The only time that he is relaxing is when he acts as “Dr. Ziggy” a calming presence who instinctively licks away tears (which, despite his doggy breath is an oddly comforting behaviour) and cuddles with you when you’re sick.

At every other time, he circles and looks around anxiously.

In an effort to find a way to calm him, I purchased oral and topical herbal treatments that are supposed to be calming, but they have no noticeable effect other than making him smell like a wet (still excited/won’t-calm-down) dog who also has a slight lavender scent and verbena doggy breath.


FutureDogZiggy (2.0)

Strangers stop us in the street to comment on his cuteness and personality, and to ask about his mix, which the kids always helpfully provide. Due to his looks and behaviour, most think that he’s still only four months old, and I try not to disillusion them, because that would mean admitting that he is very poorly trained, and it’s probably my fault.

Would I trade him in, though? What if he could have a different personality behind those sweet eyes and crooked underbite? If he looked the same, but his essential spirit, his Zigginess was gone, would I still love him? My son asked if we could clone him, so we’d never have to be without him. I told him that we probably technically could, but that he wouldn’t be our Ziggy anymore, he would just look like him.

Pet Sematary aside, on most days, I dream about that clone.

The first weekend with Ziggy, when I still Thought Things Would Be Different. 
Note the size of the puppy compared to the 6-year-old's hands.  There were obviously shenanigans afoot.

But, for now...

Ziggy doesn’t walk but struts, and when he runs, he bounces like a bunny, ears flopping around, joy emanating from every square inch. When he’s (finally) relaxing in the back seat of the car, which somehow relaxes the kids, I sometimes turn around and ask, “Isn’t it amazing that we somehow ended up with the Best Dog in the World?”

Karen (Power) Hough is a writer and blogger with an Honours BSc. in Human Kinetics and would get a lot more done (and spend a lot more time in cafes) if her Office Dog were calmer. Her part-time “superhero job” has been as a fitness instructor for over 20 years. She currently lives in London with her husband, three energetic kids and a codependent dog, and bores/impresses them all with stories about how she used to be a nutritionist, personal trainer and national-level fitness competitor.

This article was originally published on  If you liked it, feel free to go there and give it a clap or two? (No pressure!)

* but evidently, not the London Fogs 

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