Puppies are a joy. They're adorable and their paws smell like Fritos™ and they give you puppy kisses and they're adorable. They love you unconditionally, it seems. They're so excited to see you when you wake up in the morning.
But one thing people don't post about on Instagram or show romantically in movies is how puppies poop — a lot. Their puppy food has a ton of fiber because puppies like to eat that stuff and it's good for them. Trust me, I'm a puppy expert.
They poop in the day. They poop at night. Sometimes, they poop when you're not looking or when you think they've pooped all they can possibly poop and there's no way there is anymore solid mass inside that tiny little puppy body left to excrete in any shape or form — but still, poop.
My puppy in particular is really going for it in the poop department. He might set the world record for, "Puppy who inexplicably lived the longest after everything he eats goes through him like a garbage disposal."
As humans, my wife and I do what we can for our puppy. We let him out every 30 minutes or so to tinky-dink with an ever-present hope at the back of our minds that he'll also do a number two. We let him out first thing when he finishes with a nap. We let him out after he eats. Hell, he's going outside so often that he might record The Backyard as his permanent address when he's filing his taxes, which will inevitably wreak havoc with the IRS.
But one eight-hour chunk of our 24 hour day — night time — is when we run into the most trouble. And that, my friends, is my dilemma.
A dog's relationship with its kennel can be a mixed bag. Often a scary place of doom and isolation at first, it can transform to be a safe haven; a nice place to take a nap. If you think about it, wouldn't it be nice if we all had a quaint little rectangle with secure walls and a metal grate to protect us from the outside elements while we slept? I guess I just described a prison cell, but my comparison stands.
Our puppy definitely took the "doom and isolation" approach to the kennel at first. And maybe he still does — who am I to know, a mere mortal human with no experience in dog speak? The first few nights, he cried and shouted and screamed as puppies do — high pitched, ear-piercing shrieks — and kept us up. My wife even started hearing "phantom cries" in the night: when the puppy isn't crying but you think you hear him crying. Which is just as bad, right?
One thing we've learned about our puppy is that he does not mind pooping in his kennel. Not one bit.
We do all that is suggested of puppy maintainers.
Take the puppy out right before bed.
Get the puppy up in the dead of night — 2:00 a.m. — and take it outside.
Wake up early and let the puppy out.
Still — whenever we open the door into his bedroom, we're greeted with that sweet, sweet scent of used dog food in pumpkin pie form. And the puppy is indifferent. I'm not saying he doesn't care — maybe he was upset earlier in the night about the foul-smelling pile in his sleeping quarters — but by the time we're letting him out, he's ready to put the past behind him and start his day.
We've tried feeding him earlier in the afternoon. We've tried feeding him less. I've stood outside more times than I can count in the frigid Iowa winter for 30 minutes, begging and pleading with him to do the deed so I can crawl back into my warm bed and try to get some sleep.
But if there's one thing I've come to count on in life, it's this: there will be poop in that kennel in the morning, and it will have to be cleaned up in one way or another.
We've tried all the normal things. And now it's time to step up our game.
Fighting Fire with Fire
Dogs love food, believe you me. Dogs will even do tricks for food, like "sit" and "down" and "shake." Our puppy is pretty good at this. He's food-motivated. He reads Eater.com on a regular basis and is even a guest contributor.
My wife and I sat down and thought about this strong sense of food-based motivation. How could we use this to our advantage to convince our dog to stop pooping in his kennel at night?
Here's how we approached it: at around 9pm each night, we load up six hamburger patties, a bratwurst, and a New York Strip steak onto a plate and fire up the grill. The thing about cooking meat is that dogs aren't too particular about how well the meat is cooked — so we tend to leave everything rare to medium-rare for the sake of time.
Next, my wife will exchange goodnight kisses with the puppy and softly place him in his kennel. Then she leaves, turning off the lights and closing the door behind her.
Approximately 90 seconds later, I enter the room. I leave the lights off and sneak in with a plate of cooked picnic meat. I softly set the pile of meat in front of the puppy's kennel door, place an oscillating fan directly behind the plate so it is blowing hot meat air inside the kennel, and make eye contact with the puppy.
Finally, in a soft, comforting voice, I say, "Sonny, if you don't poop in your kennel tonight, I will give you all of this meat. So please, do not poop. Do not poop in your kennel."
"Sonny, if you don't poop in your kennel tonight, I will give you all of this meat. So please, do not poop. Do not poop in your kennel."Me, at night, to my dog.
I emphasize the last part because I know it's the most important. You really ought to focus on repetition and consistency when training dogs, and you should never send mixed signals.
The first night, the "meat trick" did not work. Nor did it work the second, third and fourth night. Not only were we simply tired of cooking — and promptly throwing away — enough meat each night for a family of five, we were also starting to get weird looks from our neighbors. It turns out, you accrue a certain amount of "social debt" after throwing a theoretical barbecue every day under the moonlight and not once inviting your neighbor over for a hamburger.
So we decided to give it up and try a new measure: popular culture.
And the Oscar for Best Poop Goes to…
Who doesn't love a good motivational story?
Let's see what comes to mind. For instance, that preacher guy in Hacksaw Ridge who didn't once fire a gun but saved a bajillion lives in WWII and almost fell off a cliff.
Or — what about Simba in Disney's animated film The Lion King who goes from young cub to big-shot king of the pride? You feel ready to tackle whatever comes your way after watching that movie.
We decided to put the trappings of modern cinema to good use in an attempt to curb the mysterious-yet-persistent kennel mess. My wife is a hell of a video editor, so she fired up Final Cut Pro and got to work.
We picked out some of our favorite motivational films to splice together: Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, My Best Friend's Wedding.
We also threw in a couple important moments from television shows: Parks and Recreation, The Good Place, Breaking Bad. We tried to focus on scenes where the main character had done something wrong and had to redeem themselves by doing something really great.
This is how it works: around bedtime, I softly lay our puppy in his kennel. I'm also carrying with me a small cup of freshly-prepared popcorn, no butter. It's important that the puppy understands the gravity of the motivational highlight reel my wife has prepared, but also that — in order to sustain the film business — you need to purchase food from your local cinema's concession stand because that's how they make their money.
Anyway, after I set him in the kennel with his movie treats, my wife walks in with her 13-inch MacBook and sets it up in front of his door. She turns the volume to about 50% and opens Quicktime Player in full-screen mode.
After hitting "Play" and making sure the video is set to loop, she leaves the room and quietly shuts the door. We both like to stand in the hallway a couple minutes to hear Alan Silvestri's sweeping cinematic score "Run, Forrest, Run!" before retiring to our bedroom for the night.
Unfortunately, what greets us in the morning — other than a dead MacBook Pro battery — is a pile of feces. Strike two.
Poop in your kennel once, shame on you. Poop in your kennel twice, shame on me.
The Long Pooper Scooper Arm of the Law
A good way to get something you want but can't have is through the law. Luckily, one of my friends from college is a certified attorney.
My wife and I met with my lawyer friend who told us about a thing called a "Cease and Desist" letter. It's a fancy way of saying: "Stop doing this, or else!"
After she drafted it up pro bono for us — meaning "for free" in Italian — we got together and discussed our options. My friend recommended that we approach our puppy with a stern yet non-aggressive tone. She said that by the third attempt to make something happen, people ought to know what's coming to them. Puppies are no different, she said.
So last night, we took the Cease and Desist letter and neatly taped it to the inside wall of the kennel. When it was time for bed, we brought our puppy into the room. We lay him down to sleep, and I said with a sturdy yet gentle voice, "We hope you take all the time you need with the letter. Please know that we our serious with this request. It will be the final one."
"Please know that we our serious with this request. It will be the final one."Me, to my puppy, when I've just about had it.
He looked up at us, eyes barely open, and made a big, vocal yawwwwwn. As we left the room, I texted my lawyer friend to let her know the letter had been delivered. We didn't see the need for it to be officially served. We wanted it to come straight from us.
Last night, my wife and I didn't sleep much. We lied awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering if our puppy had read and understood the letter. We considered our options. What if the poop didn't stop? What if we were condemned to a life of cleaning up a soppy mess of brown stew each morning?
The next day, the kennel was silent. As I let our puppy out to do his morning business, I didn't notice the normal rancid smell wafting out from his corner of the room.
I bent down and peeked into the kennel. In the back was our letter, removed from the side and folded neatly into thirds. A wave of relief rushed over me as I came to the realization that our puppy had acknowledged our legal mandate and that we'd come to an agreement — he would no longer poop in his kennel during the night.
That was when I pulled the letter out to reveal what was underneath: a nice, brown pile of pudding.
The battle continues.
Josh Larson is a New York Times Best-Selling Author and a regular contributor to Pups Weekly. You can buy his latest book, "Are You Doing Potty Training Correctly? Probably Not." on Amazon.