Small white lab puppy standing in fall leaves looking up at camera

Training El Diablo

I’ve known a few friends who put a lot of thought into getting a pet. They research breeds to the point of becoming experts, citing life expectancy and typical health issues at the drop of a hat. They investigate the lineage of prospective pups with a thoroughness that I’d expect one to interrogate a surrogate mother for their child. They spend days, even weeks thinking of names.

I, on the other hand, rolled into a pet-store two years ago during an adoption event and walked out with a scrawny, pee-covered little Westie-poo that I wasn’t aware I even had to name.

“We need a name for the adoption papers,” the volunteer told me as the puppy squirmed in my arms, alerting me that bio action that might soon take place on my jacket.

“You can’t just put ‘TBD’?”



Dead stares. So I walked around for five minutes, texting friends and family for their votes on some hasty options and came back with “Ollie.”

Soon after I got him home, a better name came to me: El Diablo.

My first mistake was thinking I could pad-train him. He much preferred the wooden floors for his business. Not that he didn’t like the pads; he just thought those were for chewing.

When he peed, it was without warning. There was none of the telltale sniffing friends had told me to watch for. No, he could be walking at full trot, and a stream would suddenly appear behind him. I walked around with paper towels in my pockets. I’d finish cleaning up one puddle, leave for five minutes to take the trash out, and there would be another puddle, usually waiting at the door so I could immediately step into it.

I tried crate-training because friends had told me that dogs will hold it in a confined space. Not El Diablo. He would immediately pee in his crate. And then lay down in it.

I decided my friends knew very little about dogs.

That first weekend was rough, but on Monday, I went to work. He was too young and didn’t have all the shots needed for doggie daycare, so I had to leave him at home, confined to the bathroom.

That was, in a word, stupid. I came home that first night and opened the bathroom door not to a cute, waiting puppy, but to the six inches of shit smeared across the floor. For the next two hours, I was scrubbing the grout between the tiles.

The following day, I left the door open and blocked the exit with a collapsed box. After the previous night, I had, of course, ordered a proper gate but was waiting for it to arrive.

I came home that night to find he had chewed through the cardboard and pooped enough for four full-size dogs across the rest of my floor.

It was not getting easier.

When I had decided to get El Diablo, it was with a not much stronger reason than that I had dogs as a child. I always thought I’d have one as an adult, and as I was well into adulthood, I finally asked, what was I waiting for?

I lived in a building that allowed pets and was no longer travelling so frequently for work. I had run out of excuses, but not anxiety. I was afraid it might not work out. I could never drop a dog off at a shelter, so I needed a back-up plan.

I came home that first night and opened the bathroom door not to a cute, waiting puppy, but to the six inches of shit smeared across the floor.

Earlier that year, my parents’ last dog had passed, and they had recently started talking about getting another. With that consideration, I saw a chance for me to test out having one of my own. If it proved too challenging, plan B was to take him (or her) home with me at Christmas as a gift.

After four weeks of getting nowhere with the housetraining, that became plan A.

At my parents’ house in Pittsburgh, he performed much as he always did — constantly and everywhere. The only difference was I now had to scrub their carpeting afterward.

My father told me no less than three times how he’d housetrained their dog in less than three days.

“You have to reward him for good behavior,” he told me.

“Yeah, well, I need to observe it first, don’t I?

My dog was obviously not a star student. That, or I was the worst teacher.

This was just day one, though, and I was beginning to fear that even they might not want him.

But that night, after he ran around and jumped on everyone else in the room as we watched TV, eventually he came back to my feet, curled up against them, and went to sleep. He may not have learned much yet, but he understood who I was.

I decided maybe I shouldn’t give up so easily.

With each day spent at my parents’, he got a little better with the housetraining, mainly because I was there to actually teach him. I was still on the fence about leaving El Diablo when my flight back to New York was cancelled, which gave me a couple of more days with him. I passed much of that the time working on commands with him. He learned to sit, stay, lay down, and offer his paws. He was actually pretty easy to train. I just had to actually train him.

Ollie came back to New York with me, where he has settled in nicely. It wasn’t overnight, but over time he has become a great dog. I’ve learned some good things will come if you just give them a little time.

I no longer refer to him as El Diablo. Given what he responds best to when calling him, though, maybe I should have named him “Treat.”

(Photo: Stocksy)

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