If you know me, or follow me on social media, you know that I have a dog that I am head over heels in love with. But to call him a “dog” is really not fair because he’s so much more than a dog. He’s a Puli.
Puli is a breed of Hungarian sheepdog with a very distinctive “corded” coat. Some folks (non-Puli owners) refer to them as “mop dogs,” and with their cords resembling dreadlocks, some even call them Rasta dogs, even though they have no association with Jamaica or Rastafarians or reggae music. They are very unique in appearance and every time I’m out with him, I have to answer questions about him. A simple trip to Petsmart to pick up some dogfood turns into a 45 minute circus. A trip to the farmers market leaves me exhausted after repeating the story so many times while trying to find the best locally grown tomatoes. Even on our afternoon walks through my neighborhood, every time I’m out, people stop me to ask about him, cars pull over to ask about him, and kids are always dying to pet him. Fortunately, he’s a patient fella and LOVES attention. And even though it gets to be a bit much sometimes, I really don’t mind answering all of those questions people ask.
My Puli’s name is Ziggy, and the only way I can describe what it’s like to have him in our house is that it’s like living with a Muppet. He’s furry, and goofy, and smart, and obstinate, and never fails to make us laugh and smile. He’s crazy jealous, so if visitors try to hug either me or my husband, he lets them know he’s not happy. He doesn’t even like to see affection between me and Chip – he will jump right up in the middle, licking our faces, letting us know that he, too needs kisses. We repeatedly have to remind him that we are not a threesome!
Ziggy came into our lives 3 years ago. We had been talking for quite some time about maybe getting a dog someday. I was interested in the Havanese breed, or maybe an Old English Sheep Dog. I know folks love labs and retrievers and those Golden Doodle cuties, but I wanted a dog that fit in with the personality of our family, one that was furry and cute, and not common. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been researching a breed of dog I had never heard of. He stumbled across a picture of a Puli online one day. It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has a white Puli named Beast. He became intrigued by the unique appearance of the breed, researched its temperament and set out on a quest to find one for our family.
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At first, he kept it secret and was going to just surprise all of us with a new puppy; then he thought maybe giving his wife a head’s up was a better plan, plus it was an out of state trip and we were able to make a weekend of it. We told the girls we were going out of town to get a surprise and they wouldn’t find out what it was until we returned home on Sunday, and that there better not be any shenanigans going on while we were away, or no surprise. They had no idea what we were going to get. They thought we were going to come home with a boat. We still have no idea where they came up with that.
We met the breeder halfway, since she was on her way to a wedding. We found a cute hotel that was pet friendly, made a trip to the pet store for supplies, and enjoyed a nice meal out at a lovely restaurant before meeting our new baby. He was an adorable little bundle of black curly fur who the breeder referred to as “Blue.” We didn’t sleep much that night as we were afraid of him peeing on the floor, or falling off the bed, and he did cry a little bit. He was so little, he couldn’t navigate the stairs in the hotel, but he trotted along on his little leash like a champ. He was a perfectly good little puppy and attracted a huge amount of attention while we were out and about because he was so dang cute (and no one could figure out what breed he was!) He had breakfast with us at a pet-friendly outdoor café, then we crated him and got in the vehicle and headed home. Of course I couldn’t stand it and had to hold him on my lap for most of the trip. We were like new parents, worrying about if he was drinking enough and peeing enough and how do we know if he needs to poop.
When we returned home, the girls were so surprised and it was love at first sight. We agonized over the perfect name for a couple days, and finally settled on Ziggy. Since then, I’ve discovered “Ziggy” is a pretty common name in the Puli world, but I don’t have naming remorse – his name totally fits his personality. He learned commands quickly, was a little bundle of energy, and seemed to have the goofiest personality from the beginning. Potty training was probably the toughest task, and even that really wasn’t so bad. He was a perfect fit for us.
Puli pups are not born with their distinctive cords – they start to develop somewhere along the 1 year mark. Some folk opt out of cording and keep their Pulik brushed and clipped. We allowed ours to cord, and of course had no clue what we were doing. He started to turn into a matted mess, but thanks to the Internet with online resources, I was able to figure out how to prevent the mats and allow the cords to develop. As with most things, if you let Mother Nature do her thing, all will turn out just fine. Some folks allow the cords to get very long, all the way to the ground. We prefer to keep Ziggy’s a little bit shorter – long enough so he looks like a classic Puli, but short enough to keep clean. As far as grooming goes (a question I’m asked frequently) I started out bathing him myself, but it eventually got to the point that I simply didn’t have the right equipment so I set out to find a groomer who would work with me. Easier said than done.
The first two groomers I called, based on recommendations from acquaintances, adamantly declined. One lady was even a little bit snooty in her response, “Uh, yeah, no. Definitely not.” I finally found a lady who was not only happy to do it, she was EXCITED to meet him. “I’ve never seen one in real life! I can’t wait!” Lori at Canton Pet Spa has been amazing to work with. We have a system that works: she washes him, clips his nails, trims the fur around his face, cleans his ears, and shaves around his “private parts.” This is called the “Feet, Face, Fanny Package” which makes me giggle. In the summer, she shaves down his belly to keep him cool, which you only notice if he lays on his back with his feet in the air (and he does frequently – we call this “airing out”). She gets him about halfway dry, then I pick him up and get him dried the rest of the way, which takes a bit of time, involves lots of towels, a crate, and a fan and covering the furniture with blankets for a day. I’m also responsible for trimming the cords, which I do a little shorter in the summer, and a little longer in the winter.
Ziggy definitely came into our lives at the right moment. The girls were 18 and 16 so they were old enough and responsible enough to help out. And, being teenagers they never seemed to tire of posting photos of him to Instagram, or sending Snapchats to their friends with him in it. They were also getting ready to go off to college, so when we became empty nesters last year, having Ziggy around helped to fill the void in our house. Sadly, it also meant that he was now spending a little more time by himself, so there was definitely some adjusting to the new dynamic for him as well as us. He is not an only pet, however. We also have an 11 year old Maine Coon mix named Cletus, who is a grumpy old man and was not at all pleased to have this furry creature invading his space. I had this picture in my head of them curled up together, napping on the couch or licking each other’s fur. Yeah…no. They really aren’t friends. They tolerate each other for the most part, but there is a fair amount of chasing, clawing, hissing and barking going on…and who know what kind of shenanigans go on while they are alone.
I’m convinced the cat tries to get Ziggy in trouble, as I witnessed the cat jump on the counter, paw an ink pen off the counter so it landed by the dog who immediately picked it up in his mouth and trotted off. Fortunately, I saw this play out and was able to retrieve the pen before a disaster happened. On another occasion, the cat pawed a tube of icing onto the floor, which the dog devoured after getting icing all over the house. We do not have evidence that the cat did this, but there is no other explanation for how the icing came to be in the dog’s possession. Ziggy, however, is perfectly capable of getting into trouble on his own. During the puppy years, he chewed up countless shoes, ate several pairs of Victoria’s Secret underwear, and even ate my eyeglasses – which cost me $400 to replace. His destructive chewing probably amounted to around $1000, but fortunately he out grew that.
We have taken Ziggy on vacation a few times: he’s been to Destin, FL three times, and Daytona Beach once. Travelling with him is a breeze because he LOVES riding in the car and is good about staying home alone in the vacation rentals while we go out to have fun. Unfortunately we have had to board him a few times, and it has never been a good experience. For some reason, he comes home smelling like mildew – and that dirty towel smell is nearly impossible to get rid of. The last time we boarded him at our vet’s animal hospital, I left instructions to keep him dry so this didn’t happen again, but then upon return, I was lectured by the vet because apparently my instructions to keep him dry were too much work for them. Next time we have to leave our fur baby behind, we’ll be hiring a pet sitter to take care of him in our home.
I’ve also discovered that Puli People are a crazy bunch. All of us are absolutely smitten with our pets, and we all know that we don’t own the Pulik, they own us! I am part of a Puli owner group on Facebook, and I am on there every single day, looking at pictures and reading stories and sharing input with everyone else – people all around the world from Europe to Australia and the U.S. It’s an amazing network, and it’s heartwarming to “know” all these people and interact with them because they love their dogs every bit as much as I do. It’s also very weird to log on and see pictures of dogs that look exactly like yours, and who do the exact same things. Not all Pulik look exactly alike, but they all have similarities that are unmistakable. Breed standard colors are black (most common/dominant), white, and gray, however there are also cream, rust, brown and fako pulik. “Fako” can be described as a sort of tan/brindle/cream/gray and some of them come with a dark mask. Ziggy is a black Puli, with gray in his tale. Many Puli owners have more than one; we have been on the fence about adding another to our family and I imagine we will at some point in the near future, especially now that we are on 5 acres instead of a tightly packed subdivision.
Of course, we think he’s the best dog in the world because of his affection, his protective nature, his general goofiness, and his intelligence. We’ve taught him tricks, and he can identify most of his toys by name: Pink Dragon, Owl, Turtle, Chewy Bone, and New Toy, amongst others that we’ve had to say good-bye to over the years like Squeaky Monkey (R.I.P). What’s amazing to me is not only all of those traits, but what he’s brought to us in terms of pure enjoyment – and I cannot believe we waited so many years before making the commitment to get a dog, because I cannot imagine our lives without him.