Last month, my family got a dog. It was our first ever dog after a lifetime of cat ownership. In the preceding months I asked everyone I know for advice on how to raise my someday dog. At a conference dinner this past summer, my favorite food writer on earth, Helen Rosner mentioned one piece of advice I’d never heard and it was about what she described as a scarily accurate app that lets you know when your puppy needs to go. Everyone else told me about the importance of being consistent with training and praise, taking a puppy class to nail all the basics, and clipping the puppy’s nails and playing with her ears often so she didn’t get weirded out by it when she was an adult dog.
The first four days of puppy ownership were great, but they were also literal hell. Don’t get me wrong—Lucy was cute and amazing and it was a wonderful experience to have a pet for the first time that actually loves you back instead of giving off an air of veiled hostility—but having an 8-week old puppy was very similar to the time I had an 8-week old human baby. All day and night I took her outside every hour to try and pee and poop and still I spent hours doing laundry every morning and evening due to accidents. I didn’t sleep for days, visiting her several times a night to find large wet patches on towels and blankets despite getting up dutifully every couple hours.
I last experienced a young human baby 15 years ago back when I was 15 years younger and it turns out going three days without steady sleep and having anxiety dreams/nightmares whenever I did nod off wasn’t healthy in my late 40s. After a few days of this I was overwhelmed by it all. I was killing myself to be the best puppy owner to this dog and still she was literally pissing over everything.
Then I remembered the conversation with my puppy’s godmother, the award-winning writer Helen Rosner and so I DM’d her to ask if that fabled puppy poop predictor actually existed and if so, what was the name? She promptly replied (after asking for a photo of the dog and agreeing that Lucy was the cutest thing on earth) so I immediately purchased and installed Puddle & Pile. It costs 3 or 4 bucks but I figured my sanity was worth it.
It’s a pretty simple app. You describe your puppy’s age, then hit a button when she eats or drinks, and you log when she pees and poops, and you can mention whether it was intentional, or accidental. Then it all goes into some sort of black box of math that they have a settings/visualization for. The app appears to be written by a dad and his daughters and though it has possibly the worst fonts on earth for an iOS app it’s got a cuteness factor and hand-built sensibility that makes it all OK. Forcing the developers to use Helvetica in this app would feel weird and cold and distant.
Oh and those hearts in the screenshot above? They fill up over time, but also they use the tilt sensor on your phone to “slosh” around like they’re filled with liquid. You will find this silly and endearing and just another fun aspect of the app.
But this app is no joke: After a few hours of logging her activities, the app started sending predictions that were pretty close. After about 12 hours of using it, they were totally accurate. After a day or two, it was always plus or minus a couple minutes of when our dog had to go. I’d either take the pup outside to an immediate bathroom break, or there’d be one sitting on the floor of our laundry room.
I can’t stress how revolutionary this app can be when you don’t know anything and you have no experience with a new pet but you want to teach your puppy to do the right thing and you’re praising her for doing things right and cleaning up after doing things wrong. This app was life-altering for the next couple weeks for me. I no longer had to check dutifully every hour during my workday or wake myself up constantly all night. I could let her sleep like a puppy should and finish my work in the next room but whenever my watch or phone buzzed, we could take a little walk until she relieved herself.
Throw this onto the pile of stories about what tech can do to improve our lives these days, but this extremely accurate single-purpose app took the main source of stress and chaos in my first few weeks of puppy ownership and made it all bearable. My puppy could now always do the right things, and I no longer had to clean up one mess after another. If we had to take a short car trip, I’d know when she needed some relief. Whatever they charge for this app, it’s worth every penny.
Soon after, our new puppy figured out how to use her doggie door leading to our dog run and now she can let herself out at 3am all on her own and her accidents are so rare that I no longer need the app, but what a killer app it was for those first few days of utter chaos, bringing some semblance of control back into our lives.
And thank you once again to patron saint of the internet, Helen Rosner for being both a great person and a fount of human knowledge.