Dear Tabby...

Kids beg for puppy, then don't help with care

Dear Tabby,

The kids are back in school and Maisy, the puppy our kids begged us to adopt this summer, is having trouble adjusting to time alone. So far she's eaten a shoe and a video game controller and she's been knocking over the trash can. When the kids come home from school, they let her out but they don't play with her enough and I think she's lonely. How do people with full-time jobs raise puppies?

Regret Impulse Adopting

Dear Regret,

Ah, the puppy and the kids who promised to take care of her but don't. Classic! Happens with kittens too - I can tell you that from personal experience. Although I dare say, we cats generally deal with it a bit better than dogs.

I'll let you in on a little secret: Raising a puppy is hard work whether or not you have a full-time job. But don't worry. All you really need is a plan. A plan and some cat-like cunning.

Plan A. Help out or face the consequences

Situation: The kids don't want to walk Maisy. Response: Say, "Ok, you guys put the groceries away and chop vegetables for dinner while I walk the dog. Oh, and if you don't do that, then we'll have to eat leftovers - you know, that casserole from last night that you hated?" Then you enjoy a nice evening stroll with your faithful companion.

Situation: Maisy is practically bouncing off the walls, but the kids don't feel like playing with her. Response: Say, "Ok, I'll play with Maisy out back, but that means you guys will have to do your own laundry so you have something to wear tomorrow." If you come in after a stress-busting session of zoomy dog and your kids haven't done what you asked, then their laundry won't get done and they'll have to wear something totally uncool the next day.

The kids can choose: They can walk and play with Maisy - which is supposed to be fun, right? - or they can take over some of the household chores that you would normally do. Yes, you'll have to deal with some whining over that Casserole á la Yuck. But isn't this the kind of life lesson you wanted them to learn when you agreed to adopt that little bundle of canine energy?

You might think that giving Maisy away would punish the kids for not stepping up. That would punish Maisy - and you, what with the guilt you'll feel - but the effect on your kids will probably be temporary at best. They'll have managed to get out of the responsibility of owning a dog just by refusing to do the work. As a cat, I have to respect that - I mean, have you ever seen a feline work? But you humans with your silly work ethic (now there's an oxymoron!) might worry your kids will learn that quitting is easier ... am I right?

Plan B. Take your pup with you

This strategy should work even if your kids aren't old enough to do laundry without causing an unnatural (and very soapy) disaster: Include your pup in some of your daily activities. Can you bring her with you to your daughter's soccer game? Maybe work on her obedience skills while you're watching. Can she go with you when you take your son to the park? It may take time, but she will learn to just chill while he swings, especially if you give her lots of praise (and the treats you remembered to put in your pocket) when she lies down quietly. Soon you'll start thinking of more and more ways to include her when you're out and about in those precious few hours when you're not at work (or commuting) or asleep. You might even find a way to take her to work with you, especially if your job involves a lot of time driving or working outdoors.

Plan C. Exercise for body and mind

The key to a well-behaved pup is to be sure she gets enough exercise that she'll sleep while you're away. This may mean getting up early for a run or a long walk, hiring a midday dog walker, or even finding a doggie daycare. Use food puzzle toys to stimulate her mind - put her breakfast in a treat-dispensing toy just as you head out the door in the morning and she'll busy herself with that rather than deconstructing your shoes. Crating Maisy while she's home alone - or just confining her to a single puppy-proof room?can help keep her (and your belongings) safe while you're away during the day. Just keep her time crated to a psychologically healthy minimum - don't let the crate become her 10-hours-a-day cell. Don't know how to crate train a dog? Ask the shelter! Finally, remember that any dog would benefit from an obedience class (call the shelter for a list of local trainers).

Tabby Cat van Purrin is ready to pounce on your pet behavior problems! If you need help, contact the shelter's humane educator (and my translator), Didi Culp (dculp@frederickcountymd.gov, 301-600-1735).