You know that giant switch you have, buried deep in your gut? Wait, you do? Because I didn’t know I had one. Until a small, furry, 10 week old labradane came along and took charge of my ‘motherboard’. (Sorry, the bad jokes are a result of being a nerd for way too long now. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Or can you ? hmm.. #FuturePostMaterial).
I did not grow up with any petst5 (pets – sorry, Kahlua just threw his Kong at my keyboard.). I knew nothing about Dogs. To the shameful extent, that I did not even know chocolate was bad for them. (Don’t worry, nothing bad happened.) But that’s my point – everyday you learn something new.
However there are days, when you look back and say – I will do this differently with my next one! #InstantMother And I think, today is one such day.
When Kahlua came home, it took me but a few days to realize, he was a different puppy. He was not your typical, launch yourself at anything strange that runs and chase it, puppy. He was a scared puppy, and I was a clueless new mom. Yes, I had some very wonderful, experienced, helpful people around who guided me and I am ever so thankful for them. (Karan- My strongest support system, Sambuddha – grew up with what 10-12 Fox Terriers in India, Nadine – had Jenny Dog in Germany, Angela- my magic horse woman. I had not discovered my other wonderful magic woman – Michelle of Doggie Dayz just yet).
My natural course of action was to protect him, from everything. #InstantMother. The only times we went out – were to do business. I was very lucky when it came to house training – he trained himself. I had nothing to do with it. We did not really go to the park. I provided him with no stimulating experiences. This was my first major mistake with him. He stayed in his shell. I stayed feeling like the worst mother ever. To the extent, that I’d started doubting whether the life I was giving him was in anyway better than what he had at Best Friend’s Dog Rescue (the rescue where I adopted him from). I seriously felt that at the shelter, the poor pup atleast had an open space to run around in, and his sisters for company, rather than being in an apartment with us.
One day I decided – a trip to the dog park was in order – it was a disaster. But, it was a disaster in my mind. It was a stride of progress for Kahlua. He witnessed other dogs playing, other people with their dogs and just outdoors in general. However, he mostly stayed under the park bench. Or hid behind me. I hugged him and cuddled him. In my mind, I was comforting him, telling him it was ok. All would be well. #InstantMother. This was my next major mistake with him.
When we walked outside the apartment, he shied away from everyone. I failed to understand. People loved the new little black puppy. But he wanted nothing to do with them. He peeked at them from behind me, worried. If he did not want to go in a particular direction, would sit stubbornly, in his tracks. He even quivered with fear. I had no idea what to do. Bewildered, I would just pick him up, and carry him around like a baby. #InstantMother. Huge mistake. He was going to grow into a massive dog! But we would deal with that later, right ? Even bigger mistake.
Every pup is different. It was my misconception that puppy equals always playful and crazy. It was my misconception that all puppies rather be outside than inside the house. It was my misconception that all puppies are rambunctious and will chase after everything. Usually, the problem is at our end of the leash.
Kahlua is one of the most intelligent people I know. He is smarter than most human beings I know. He is cautious, and honestly, I am grateful that he doesn’t chase after anything and everything that moves, launch himself into poisonous plants, eat suspicious things outdoors (indoors? different story). I am even grateful he is wary of strange people. Outdoors, he will approach with caution, or not approach at all. (indoors? different story)
It took me a long time to accept that my pup, is an introvert. And I don’t know why, because I myself am almost exactly like this. He is absolutely happy with people he knows and loves, but takes time to warm up to new people. It is important to overcome one’s misconceptions, and accept your pup for who they are. Just like you would, a child. This does not mean I did not love him then, and I do now. Absolutely not! This means, I was upset, thinking that I was doing a bad job, and my baby was unhappy. I was upset he didn’t play freely like other dogs I knew. But this was my problem. I realized in time, that we can find our own fun stuff to do. Yes, we need to get over our fear of all things outdoors, but we are happier playing indoors, there is nothing wrong with that. If we want to just hang out with each other at the dog park on certain days, and play with the other puppies on other days, that is fine too. There are no rules to happiness. This is our life together. There are no rules for fun!
What would I have done differently ? exposed him to many more new experiences than I did at the puppy stage. Brought him everywhere with me like I almost always do now. Taken him to friends’ places. Taken him on trails. Taken him to daycare. Taken him to parks (dog and human) to play fetch. Just.. anything that would be new and stimulating!
What else ?
When he showed fear, the right thing to do, would have been, just to ignore it . Give him time. Walk around the park and let him follow me around. Let him sniff around, and let him realize, that this is all good. Everything is ok. I should not have pawositively reinforced the fear that he was already feeling. Not only at the park, but in all ‘walks’ of his life (quite literally).
When he parked his obstinate behind, as a puppy, I should have kept going in the direction I had originally intended. Me stopping, talking to him, picking him up was a signal to him that:
- He could control me. He was the pack leader.
- That there was indeed something to be scared about (if he was doing it out of fear).
Almost two years have passed now, and he is much much more confident, and his fear almost gone. He does like going to the park a lot, chase other dogs who are chasing tennis balls and distract them, walk on trails, go to restaurants and to the beach. He loves going with us to parks where there are large open spaces and play fetch. God knows he LOVES playing fetch inside the house (we don’t encourage this for the sake of our neighbors), chasing the laser pointer in the patio etc. He runs confidently off leash alongside his human, and very well on leash too. He absolutely loves going to day care. At one of the boarding places, they tell me he loves playing in the pool. I try and expose him to as many new experiences as possible.
My fur baby is a smart, loving, playful pup. He used to live in a shell just after I rescued him. But just as soon as I learned to be at ease with myself, he started crawling out of it and turning into a pure goofball – and that’s a great thing. As long as he is healthy, happy and well behaved, everything is a good thing.