It is tempting to pretend nothing unexpected or unfortunate ever occurs with my dogs. I proclaim now, with no little modesty or humility, this is not the actual fact: if I have any expertise, or at least some small familiarity, with the care, feeding, and training of dogs, it has led me to understand unexpected (even disastrous) events do occur, and the proficiency of the caregiver should be measured not in our imaginary ability to avoid them altogether, but by how we address these events when they inevitably occur.
Taking satisfaction in the misfortune of others is a shameful, if ubiquitous, vice. I am chagrined to admit I find a regrettable relief in the discovery of dog professionals whose canine companions do not behave perfectly. I have no less positive an opinion of the people involved – I just feel less embarrassed by my own pets’ shortcomings. I used to cringe when my bullmastiff Iggy behaved poorly in public, but now I laugh, and use it as an illustration of behavior issues we need to modify. I invite you, dear readers, to revel in my tale of embarrassment, and use it as an antidote to whatever face-palming disaster befalls you thanks to your misbehaving dog.
Iggy was four years old when I adopted him, and had lived with two different families. Immediately before I took him home, he spent ten days at the Everett Animal Shelter, and then a day at the Northwest Organization for Animal Help. It was not surprising that Iggy came with a full complement of special personality traits, and the ones that did not involve the risk of injury or lawsuits I endured with joviality bordering on broadminded parental charity. I set very high standards for Iggy’s behavior and training, but I let his personality be. I let Iggy be Iggy.
Iggy doesn’t poop in his own yard. He has lived with us two years, now, and has pooped in our yard only twice, both times when he was sick. He poops twice a day, under normal circumstances, once in the morning and once at night, at least a few blocks from his own house. Iggy was not so regular when we first brought him home. Skinny, stressed out, and finicky, he didn’t eat enough, and didn’t like to eat at regular times. I fed him high quality food, made a game out of meal times, and put him on a strict schedule. I also added a tablespoon of pumpkin to each of his meals, which helps him poop at regular times (and also causes his farts to smell a little like Thanksgiving, albeit a disgusting dog poop-tinged version of Thanksgiving).
Iggy has powerful dreams. He yaps in his sleep, and sometimes his legs move like he is running. On occasion he growls or makes sounds like a child crying. My vet was concerned he might be having seizures, but after seeing him do it (Iggy sleeps at the vet’s office when giving blood), the vet agreed it is just dreams, albeit very active ones. Sometimes when the dreams are really extreme, I wake him, but usually I let him dream, reasoning that he has things to work out in his subconscious.
It had been raining for days, and I had been working long hours. It seemed like every night when I got home to walk Iggy it was pouring rain, and Iggy despises the rain only slightly less than he despises pooping in his own yard. I am the Human, and I am in charge, of course, so I walk him anyway, whether he likes it or not. But Iggy doesn’t poop in the rain. That is another one of his things. It rains here all the time, and Iggy does this pretty often. He has a good poop in the morning, then refuses to poop in the rain on our walk, then refuses to poop in his own yard, and so he holds it all night until morning when he we walk again. Bullmastiffs are usually counted among the giant-sized breeds, and their bodily functions are correspondingly giant-sized. Iggy gets very high quality food, which is relatively low volume, but he is a huge dog, and with the added bulk of the pumpkin, and waiting all night after skipping his evening poop, his morning absolution can be so big it requires two bags to collect completely.
One evening, after a walk in the rain during which Iggy did not bless the world with a night-soil deposit, I was working at my desk in the bedroom. Iggy came in to check on me. He sat, shook my hand with his paw and accepted a scratch behind his ears. Then, at my invitation, he hopped onto the bed to wait until I was done doing my work. He quickly fell asleep, which I could tell by his enthusiastic snoring. After a few minutes, he began dreaming. First came the yipping, then his legs moved a bit, and then some light growling. I smiled to myself and continued my work. After a few minutes, I heard him stir; when I looked over at him, he was looking back at me with an expression that suggested confusion mixed with embarrassment. He got up, shook himself, and jumped off the bed. Then I smelled it: dog poop mixed with Thanksgiving, and not in the normal, nearly lethal dose of flatulence that was his wont. Iggy had pooped in my bed while sound asleep. I didn’t yell, didn’t curse, just looked at the steaming train of slightly pumpkin-colored poop (as he had been lying on his side, it was not piled up like the normal result of a crouching dog – this was more like a poop snake) and asked him, “What the hell?”
Iggy did his best impression of the Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, offering up a doggy version of a shrug that seemed to say, “What? Me Worry?” and then left the room, his embarrassment passed in classic canine-timeline fashion. After cleaning up and changing the sheets, I went and found the Iggster sleeping noisily in the living room, not at all impacted by the odd occurrence of a few minutes past. The next day we visited the veterinarian, just to confirm what I already knew: The Poop Incident of 2010 was not an indicator of any physical health issue.
Poop happens, and I take some small satisfaction that Iggy’s only accident with us occurred while he was asleep, and not responsible for his actions. This was not some kind of active rebellion, just a sub-conscious reaction to… what? I do not know. I still try to get him to poop in the rain, and still try to get him to get him to poop in his own yard, and am still flummoxed by his intestinal and attitudinal fortitude. Iggy is Iggy, and I love him when he is perfect, so I love him when he poops in my bed.