Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Raising a puppy an exhausting but rewarding responsibility
It's been 11 years since I last had a puppy. I don't remember it being quite so labor intensive and exhausting. Perhaps puppy rearing is analogous to giving birth. I've heard women say shortly after having a baby, "That's it! No more kids. I'm never going through that torture again!" Yet they go on to do it again and again. Either they forget the pain, or the rewards are greater than the consequences of giving birth.
That's how I feel about raising Larry - it's not easy, but it's gotta be worth it ... isn't it?
In any case, the deed is done, and Larry is here to stay. Not quite 11 weeks old, Larry has been with us exactly two weeks as I write this, and it has been an exhausting fortnight.
"Trainer train thy dog" is similar to "physician heal thyself." It's so much easier to dole out the advice than it is to follow it. Like that first night, when Larry was screaming in his crate by the side of the bed, and music didn't help. Lavender spray didn't help. Putting my fingers through the bars to let him know I was right there didn't help, nor did covering the crate. All I could do was close the windows and doors so my neighbors might not hear him (fat chance). Oh how I wanted to release him just to make the ear-splitting, mind-numbing noise stop. After awhile it wasn't even about Larry's distress. It was about me - I felt I might go crazy if he didn't stop.
Even knowing how I would have to pay for it in spades at another time if I let him out of the crate, I was considering it. I thought, like Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day," and maybe I can better deal with Larry's screaming on "another day." And then, suddenly, Larry stopped screaming. Whew! His timing saved me from giving in and reinforcing (rewarding) his screaming by letting him out of the crate.
What having a nearly 11-week-old puppy has done for me is renew my empathy for our students and clients. There's the frustration of having Larry start to pee in the house when I've been diligently taking him out nearly 30 times a day, and all I did was sit down to have a cup of coffee five minutes after the last time he was out.
There are so many little things puppies don't know that we don't even think about with our adult dogs. When I walk from point A to point B, adult dogs aren't underfoot. The puppy, on the other hand, is. There's a danger of either my stepping on him, or in trying to avoid him, tripping or losing my footing, and falling down.And then there's the "puppy proofing." OK, so I'm not the best housekeeper in the world, and my husband is thrilled that Larry has forced me to remove the obstacle course of shoes that was littering the bedroom floor, putting them in the closet where they belong (according to my husband). But what about the fringe on the living room carpet? Where do I put that to keep it out of Larry's reach?
The answer - dog trainer talking to myself - is supervision. I know it is. And trading - getting Larry interested in something else other than the carpet fringe.
So I have spent virtually every waking minute in the last two weeks feeding, exercising, supervising, trading, cleaning, acclimating Larry to his new home and life, feeding, cleaning, walking, trading, feeding, cleaning ... have I said that already? It's exhausting! But you know what? It's also fun.
His antics make me laugh. His fox-pounce onto a toy, or chasing an ice cube around the kitchen, his problem-solving when he loses something under a chair, his curiosity about all the new things in his short life, his just-plain adorable-ness. My ego is stroked by his desire for contact when he's sleeping, even if it's just his paw against my shoe, and his happiness when he sees me. Having a puppy is hard work, but at the end of the day, it's so very worth it.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.