How I Spoiled My New Dog and Turned Her Into a JAPP (Jewish American Puppy Princess)

As a Clinical Psychologist and marriage therapist you get to see and deal with all kinds of interesting family problems and relationship issues. Early in my career I saw a young Jewish couple who claimed their biggest problem was conflict over what kind of dog food to feed their Schnauzer Skippy. I helped them to negotiate their dietary differences but thought to myself at the time, “is that really such a big deal?” Well, apparently it is for some people. Now almost thirty years later I can better appreciate how our pet problems often mirror and reflect issues we struggle with as individuals and as parents. Let’s face it. When people refer to their dogs, cats, and squawking parrots as “family members” they really mean it. So Ok, that’s my professional side taIking…. Personally, I’m a prime example of “do as I say and not as I do” and if you dont believe me just ask any of my three twenty-something sons, their lovely girlfriends or their five cohabiting canines. By outing myself as a case study in “doggie donts”  I’m taking a conscious, albeit self-deprecating step in the direction of what I usually encourage my clients to do, to aspire toward total transparency and emotional honesty right down to the well, “bone”. Here’s my dog story:

Recently I added a black labrador pup to my empty nest. Everybody who knows me gave me the following explicit warning: “Dont turn your new puppy into a spoiled brat or food whore”, they said. ‘Dont give her human food scraps. She will be just fine with dry dog food”. Even my little sister in Colorado opined, “You’re not a Jewish mother. You’re a dog owner. Try to remember that.” Of course I nodded…with mock sincerity. I know what I’m doing, I thought. I’ve got a Ph.D. I have taken grad school courses in animal behavior and cognition. However, maybe they felt obliged to tell me this for a good reason. One of my former dogs, Lucy the dachshund waddled like a failed contestant on Biggest Loser and looked more like a stuffed sausage or rump roast from Kroger than something that was bred to hunt badgers. Hana, my Scottish Terrier and co-therapist in San Francisco would go out at nite and successfully beg Italian meatballs off the kitchen staff at the pizza place next door. I had to retire her from active duty in my private practice due to her non-stop farting during my psychotherapy sessions. Worse yet was Huck the Chow puppy who went rogue during an Epstein School carpool pick-up, attacking all of the kids in the back of my Chevy Suburban for their leftover Lunchables and kashrut school snacks. I’ve never seen a small dog lock onto a juice box before (or since) and then refuse to let go even as it was being beaten senseless with a Ninja Turtle backpack. I wont elaborate any further other then to mention the time Simon the ill-tempered mini dachshund levitated using some unknown form of yoga or extraterrestrial technology and deftly nabbed a humongous filet mignon off a dining room table. The point is I probably should have known better after all these years of dog ownership. Did I mention that I specialize in eating disorders?
After I got Harmony the Black Lab from the Labrador Rescue people, I easily rationalized giving her small bits of string cheese and an occasional bite of Black Forest Ham due to her emaciated physical condition. She was a true rescue dog barely rescued from a kill shelter in Alabama. I dont know why but Alabama is like the canine equivalent of Auschwitz. Dogs disappear there in droves and are never seen again. So, I felt immediately sorry for Harmony and I didn’t listen to reason. Now I know better. Her sweetness and gentle nature belies her supreme cunning. I already detailed on my Facebook page the incident several weeks ago in which she stole my chicken breast from Publix, took it upstairs to one of my kids bedroom, ravaged it like a ferocious she-wolf and then hid the remains under a dresser by pushing it with her nose. I know this for a fact because I saw it with my own eyes and could hardly believe it. I guess in retrospect I was still in deep new dog owner denial. By the way, Harmony lies about her food crimes like a seasoned psychopath. Her soft eyes, cocked head and happy slightly-drooling smile show absolutely no sign of the conduct disorder and character issues lurking within. I want to believe her. I really do. But then this just happened today. Around dinner time I fed Harmony her “dog food only” meal. Then I decided to grill myself some turkey burgers on the barbie. I thought I heard her sigh when I put down her food bowl full of Iams Premium dry bits. The quick furtive glance she gave me seemed to say, “Um, what’s this?” or “Hey, how about some rotisserie chicken or lamb gravy, baby?” Of course I wrote it off as just my imagination or free-floating Jewish guilt. I proceeded to season my turkey patties and flame-broiled them to perfection. Unfortunately, when they were done i put them on a large serving platter on my granite kitchen counter thinking to myself, “I need to keep in mind this dog is no mini dachshund. Sure, she has those long beautiful Labrador legs and amazing sense of smell but surely she could NEVER get up THIS high to nab these burgers while I go plug in my cell phone upstairs…right?” Again, Harmony looked at me with her radiant angelic face and seemed to say, “Certainly not!”  Well, guess what.  Two or three minutes later I heard a big crash and when I yelled her name and screamed, “What was that?!” (as if she would answer me…duh), all I saw was a black blur as she went bounding out of the kitchen area while smacking her lips. By the time I got there all that was left was a broken plate from Target. The pound and a half of grilled turkey burgers was gone like a bad magic trick. I didnt even get a T-shirt. Now i dont know if I will ever trust her again. I would say I feel violated but I know alot of this is my fault as I clearly enabled her doggie narcissism, inappropriate sense of entitlement, and foodie-like sensibilities.
Maybe I should  go to a 12-step program but I dont know which one is best suited to dog owners who spoil their pets rotten and then pay the price in poo and pooches who are unusually picky eaters. Hell, with all the garlic powder, Monterrey steak seasoning, and liquid smoke I put on those turkeyburgers I’ll be lucky if I dont end up scrubbing carpets all nite. Perhaps I should just consider it a valuable life lesson and act of penance regarding helicopter parenting a new puppy. Still, I’m crazy about her and hope she enjoys the seasonal tasting menu and food pairing experience I’m currently working on for her….

Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and eating disorders specialist living and working in Sandy Springs, Georgia.  Contact: 404-932-7193


About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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