The Cleverness of Puppies and Toddlers Should Never Be Underestimated

Kevin and GlennaGinger has recently become more adventurous. I used to be able to open the door to let her out and be assured that she would not wander more than 20 feet away from me. As September waned, she grew bolder and even started to leave the confines of our small property. Lately, she has become so brave as to worry me that she might run out into the street after a dog or cat. Her sneakiness in trying to outwit me so that she can escape is both entertaining and exasperating. Although we occasionally venture out without a leash, I usually keep her close now.

This transformation into a daring pup reminds me of my daughter’s audacious behavior as a tot. Glenna was sassy, physically able, and mischievous in her determination to best me at every opportunity. She would wait until I was distracted for a few seconds and then race for the nearest door; street; or dangerous, large, and moving object. And she was fast too. When we were home, I had to keep an eye on her almost every second unless she was parked in front of a video. Even then, I had to check on her frequently to make sure she wasn’t getting into trouble, but, at least, I could accomplish a few chores. Or so I foolishly believed.

On one weekday afternoon, she and her brother were relaxing while watching a favorite film. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I took the garbage out to the garage and grabbed something else I needed in there. When I reentered the room, I noticed her shirt on the floor in front of the couch. The conversation that ensued evolved something like this:

“Why is your new shirt on the floor?” I asked.

“I threw it there,” my three-year-old replied.

“Why did you throw it there?”

“Because I took it off.”

“Why did you take it off?”

“I don’t like it anymore.”

“Why don’t you like it anymore?”

“Because it isn’t pretty now.”

“Why do you think that it’s not pretty now?”

“Because it has a hole in it.”

“How did a hole get in your new shirt?”

“I cut it.”

“Why would you cut a hole in your shirt?”

“I had scissors.”

“So you cut a hole in your shirt, took it off, and then, threw it on the ground.”

With irritation, she said, “I don’t like it anymore. I want to watch the video.”

Serves me right for leaving the room for 120 seconds and paying full price for a fancy Gymboree® shirt for a three-year-old.

Rending her shirt was a relatively mild offense compared to her attempts to publically demonstrate my maternal incompetence. On one particularly eventful afternoon, I decided to take my then three-year-old son, Kevin, and 18-month-old Glenna shopping with me. That decision wasn’t too unusual except that on this occasion, I wanted to journey to the local department store and battle with the other women over clearance racks.

A few days earlier, I had purchased a wrist lead for my daughter. (Okay, I’ll admit it; I bought a leash for my kid.) She was so impish that I finally faced my vexing predicament head on, and procured a tool that I had previously scorned all others for owning. For the first 10 minutes or so in the store, it worked great. While she indignantly tried to remove the offending constraint (this alone kept her busy), I held it and her brother’s hand as we walked toward the much-anticipated sale.

The area was a beehive of activity. The racks were extremely tightly packed together, one virtually on top of the other. All were crammed with hundreds of articles of marked-down apparel. About thirty women swarmed the environs; each with her arms loaded down with goods. A few eyed my tethered child and threw disdainful looks my way. Excited by the prospect of finally purchasing myself some clothing after a virtual three-year hiatus, I didn’t care what they thought.

All was going swimmingly as I approached the third round garment rack of my search. My son timidly commented on my choices, and my daughter was marvelously cooperative and quiet. For a few brief moments, I was in paradise.

My heavenly sojourn was not to be long-lasting, however. Without warning, wailing emerged from around my feet. With great stealth and amazing agility for one so young, my toddler had managed to tangle herself around the base of the rack. To my surprise, she was so intertwined in the framework that she could barely move. Kevin proffered advice while I searched for a way to disentangle her. The only solution was to unstrap her wrist. In a nanosecond, the frustration and fear evaporated from Glenna’s face, she laughed (“sucker”), and took off, weaving her way through the maze of clothing, racks, and legs.

Trapped and unable to pursue her, I knelt down next to my son and said, “I give you permission to find your sister, knock her down, and sit on her.”

“Really?” he asked, disbelief screwing up his perfect, little boy features.

“Really,” I said.

He vanished as I struggled to my feet. For about a minute, I hunted for my wayward child from my vantage point; I then heard her angry cry coming from the other side of room, just outside the sale area. Dropping my would-be purchases, I ran over to find a triumphant Kevin sitting on top of a flattened and very irked Glenna. “I did it!” he exclaimed.

My child was found, and my mortification was complete. Imagining the clucking all around me and barely looking up, I bid a hasty retreat.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and Puppy Toddlerhood

After a couple of weeks of job applications, interviews, infections, allergic reactions, and schlepping children off to a college and an internship, I finally have time to post on my blog. It seemed every minute was accounted for by all of the above and taking care of Ginger. Despite her now reaching the ripe old age of 4 months, she is still very needy. In many ways, more so than before. Until recently, she was constantly at my feet. Now, she is a little braver and wanders off in the yard or the house, requiring me to go after her to make sure she hasn’t decided to bother a skunk, chew a hole in my comforter, or wipe her behind across the kitchen floor. (That surface has become her favorite place for after-constitutional cleansing.)

Having a puppy this age reminds me of raising a toddler. The puppy is completely dependent on me. I feed the puppy. I bathe the puppy. I calm the puppy. I play with the puppy. I discipline the puppy. I clean up after the puppy. I try to make up for lost time while the puppy is napping. The difference between now and when I first brought Ginger home is that she is so much more mobile and has so little judgment. Sound familiar, you parents out there?

Of course, there are certain socially, morally, and legally acceptable differences between caring for my puppy versus parenting a toddler. For obvious reasons, the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts will not investigate me if I:

1. Put Ginger in a crate for two to three hours and leave the house. She cries at first, I walk away, and despite feeling a tad guilty, I am pretty sure that every other puppy owner is doing the same thing.

2. Spray my puppy with a hose if she gets really dirty outside before bringing her back in. She seems to enjoy these impromptu showers, actually. I assure you I wasn’t in the habit of doing this with my children although I will admit to being tempted on several occasions.

3. Encourage my dog to rub her rearend on the grass/walk so that she doesn’t do so on my floors. (What joy is in my heart when I discover such a smudge under my clean socks in the morning.)

4. Growl at my puppy. Lately, I have begun barking and growling at my dog. No, I haven’t suffered a psychotic split or finally revealed my secret alien self to my confused family. It’s just that sometimes the only action that works to break her manic moods is to bark and growl. If I say, “No,” to her, she often just barks right back at me and continues to bite my feet. 

5. Walk her around the neighborhood on a leash. Ginger demonstrates little talent for walking on leash. My husband and I can be seen on occasion pulling her along the street trying to get her to walk cooperatively. She must look quite pathetic while we are doing it. I must confess to having used a wrist lead with my rambunctious daughter on two occasions. She completely outwitted me and escaped, but that is a story for another post.

When my children were toddlers and riding in their car seats in the back, I wouldn’t even step out of the car to cross the sidewalk and return the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile video to the library dropbox. Partly, this irrational fear arose from the fact that the Taunton Police Station was about 40 yards away across the parking lot. I imagined that I might be characterized as an unfit mother if an officer saw me walk the 6 feet to the dropbox without my children in tow.  Partly, I was truly worried about leaving them in the car, if only for 10 seconds. My husband thought I was being quite neurotic; I wasn’t so convinced.

So, I have a question for all of you dog owners out there. How long does toddlerhood last in a dog? For example, when will I be able to leave her for 15 minutes to take a shower or walk around the block and not find my cell phone charger chewed to bits?