Lost in Suburbia: All the bells and whistles of puppyhood

Tracy Beckerman

Having a new puppy in the house is pretty much identical to having a new baby. He naps every couple of hours and when he wakes up he’s hungry. He doesn’t sleep through the night, he pees all over the place, puts everything in his mouth, and cries the minute he’s alone. The only difference is, I didn’t give birth to Monty, which makes it much easier to take care of him because I’m not exhausted, hormonal, or recovering from thirty six hours of labor.

This is not to say having a puppy is easy. Yes, he’s insanely cute, and the times when he cuddles and licks my face are pure joy. But training a pup to become a model citizen is a monumental task. Especially that housebreaking part. Not that I don’t love wiping up dog pee 15 times a day. It just makes it hard to get anything else done with all that wiping going on.

Having been down this wee-wee pad road with our last dog before, we decided to try a different tack this time around. I checked out all the different housetraining tools out there, but wasn’t sold on any one program. And then one day while I was visiting a friend’s house, I suddenly heard what sounded like Jingle Bells ringing.

“Isn’t it a little late for Santa’s sleigh?” I asked.

“That’s Buster,” she laughed, referring to her Labradoodle. “He’s telling me he has to go out.”

I followed her to the back door where we found Buster sitting patiently. Tied to the door handle was a rope with bells attached to it.

“Are you telling me Buster rang the bells to let you know he had to go out?”

She grinned triumphantly. “Yup.”

As if on cue, Buster lifted a paw and swatted the bells to make them chime.

I shook my head in wonder. “If you could train him to pick up your dry cleaning too, your life would be perfect.”

Although I loved the idea of Monty having a way to tell me when he needed to go out, I thought that bells hanging from the back door and ringing every time someone opened and closed the door would drive me crazy. So I did some more research and found another kind of bell that sat on the floor. It looked like a bell you would find on a hotel desk but with a dog paw-sized button on top to make it ring.

It looked perfect, so I bought one.

For a week we brought the dog to the bell every time we thought he had to go, and then helped him hit the bell with his paw before we took him outside.

“This is crazy,” said my husband one night as we went through the routine. “The dog is not going to make the association between hitting the bell and needing to go outside.”

“I don’t know,” I argued. “It worked for Pavlov!”

I also had my doubts that the puppy would get the point. But then one day, the dog walked over to the bell by himself, sat down, and studied it.

“Look,” I announced. “He’s doing it. He’s doing it!”

He contemplated the bell for another moment, and then lifted up his paw, and rang the bell.

Then he peed on the floor.

Tracy's new book, "Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir. How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself, and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs" is now available for PRE-ORDER! To reserve your copy, go to Amazon or any online bookseller.