I smelled the stench before I saw her, sort of like a landfill on a 92-degree day.
A mottled gray and once-white shaggy blur ran down the hall into my arms, and I was in love, no matter what my nose told me.
This cuter-than-a-teddy-bear puppy had darted into my boyfriend’s office when he opened the door to go home that evening. He volunteered to take her because “my girlfriend knows something about dogs” and drove her straight to my apartment.
Besides being filthy, the pup was thin and had no collar, tags, or any other visible identification, so I kept her. As a young professional with my first “real” job and apartment, I was thrilled to have my first pet on my own. Her tousled appearance earned her the name "Mopsy."
My family always had dogs and other pets—cats, gerbils, fish, a pony, and even ducks. We spent most of my childhood in a rural area where creatures ran loose, and my mother took charge of the feeding and care. I trained—tricks and dramatic acts such as balancing on a stool—that earned ribbons at the county fair, but I had a lot to learn about owning a dog.
When I was asked to write about “What It Means to Me to Be a Responsible Dog Owner,” I thought I would tell about when I was not one.
The morning after Mopsy arrived, I left her loose in my apartment when I went to work. I returned to chewed blinds, soiled carpet, and lots of excited barking and kissing. Her creative interior design continued daily. When a coworker suggested a crate, I was horrified. Heaven forbid, little Mopsy had already been through enough suffering, surviving on the streets; she was never going in a cage.
And crate-free included trips in the car. Mopsy loved to ride—always loose—and bounding from front to back seat. When left in the car while I made a quick run into the store, she played a strategic game of terrorizing shoppers by hiding in the floorboard. When they opened their car doors, she appeared, slamming the windshield, in a barking crazed frenzy. Nothing made her happier than shrieks of alarm from the fleeing victims. When bored, she practiced her guerilla attacks in the picture window of my apartment to see how the neighbors reacted to her various tactics.
Despite her feisty personality, Mopsy was adorable and often compared to then canine star of film and television Benji. She demanded attention and got it.
Housebreaking was a struggle, since I had no real plan or schedule for her. But trick training was a dream. She learned everything I taught her, from “shake” to “play dead.” What I did not teach was manners—nor did I take her to a class to learn skills, such as walking on a leash, not jumping on people, and controlling barking.
When my boyfriend and I got married one year later and I moved, my security deposit stayed.
Not long after we married, Dale and I pursued a dream to get a show dog that I could train and compete with in shows. We chose a Bearded Collie after seeing one glide across the television screen on the Westminster Kennel Club coverage and believing that it looked just like a big Mopsy.
We found a great breeder who mentored us and gave me a major wake-up call on the right way to train a puppy. Dale and I and our families absolutely adored Mopsy. But without a more forgiving owner, she could have ended up back on the street or in a shelter, due to her destructiveness.
What I learned the hard way is that being a responsible dog owner means:
- Crate-training your puppy. Crates are not cages. Dogs are denning animals and enjoy a private space that they can call their own. Crates keep dogs safe and out of trouble, and your house safe. They also are the best way to housebreak your puppy, as dogs do not like to soil their bedrooms, and so the crate is a great place is great place to put pup when you cannot supervise him. Crates are also the safest place to put your dogs when they ride in vehicles, to restrain them in case of an accident, and to keep them from getting underfoot and distracting you
- Puppy-proofing your home. Anything your puppy should not pick up and/or chew should be put away or moved out of reach of the pup. Get down on your dog’s level to see what she can see—and remove anything forbidden. Limit her access to the entire house, and always supervise your pup. When you can’t supervise, your puppy should be in a crate or other restricted, puppy-proofed area.
- Identification and keeping your dogs leashed/fenced. We never knew where Mopsy came from or how she ended up as a stray. Either her mother was a stray that had puppies that were never cared for—or she had a home with someone who did not keep her leashed or in a fenced yard. Or if they did accidentally lose her, they did not have a collar, tags, microchip, or tattoo, so she could be returned. It is irresponsible to allow your dogs to run loose, and dangerous for them. Keep your dogs fenced and leashed—and permanently identify your dogs.
- Training. All dogs need positive training. Training makes dogs better members of your household and neighborhood. From the moment your dog joins your family, he needs consistent training in housebreaking and manners, for example walking on a leash, not barking inappropriately, and not jumping on visitors. He also needs to learn basic obedience, such as sit, down, come, and stay. Take your dog to a class. You might like it so much, that you keep training and try some fun dog sports.
Mopsy lived a long happy life, dying of natural causes around the age of 15. Lucky for her, she ran through the right door and found the right family. Today, I am a certified dog trainer, and, as manager of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, I talk to a lot of new dog owners who truly believe crates are cages. So, I tell them about Mopsy and me. I am usually able to convince people to give crates a try. Most of the time, they thank me.