It is believed that canine domestication occurred between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago. Wolves were first attracted to human camps to scavenge for leftover food and eventually became travelling companions. Over the centuries, dogs were bred to help humans with certain tasks, such as herding livestock, hunting, capturing rodents, aiding fishermen, and guarding property. This evolved into the more common work we see today, such as search and rescue, drug detection, guide dogs, aiding individuals with mental disabilities, sensing human aliments like cancer, and sometimes even as fashion accessories. Yes, dogs are incredibly smart and capable creatures, but the vast majority of us have dogs simply for their companionship. In fact, there is scientific evidence to suggest that when dogs and people gaze into each other’s eyes, oxytocin, known as the “love hormone”, is released in both the humans and dogs, proving the mutual love for one another.
The average dog lives 10–13 years. Having grown up with a dog, I know the end comes all too quickly. I currently have a 4 years old, and have witnessed the many changes in him already; the marks on his elbows, the calmer disposition, a couple of gray hairs on his snout, already showing signs of an aging pooch. And yet, regardless of the sadness I know I will feel with his loss one day, I simply cannot express the gratitude I have for being fortunate enough to have him in my life, albeit just for a short time frame.
When I was 5 years old, my parents got a puppy. I remember the day we went to pick her up from the breeder all to well. With 8–10 fluffy, adorable puppies running around, it was like I had died and gone to heaven! Upon leaving with our new family member, I recall being very sad however, not for myself but for my puppy’s mother. I couldn’t imagine how my mom would have felt if someone had taken me from her; perhaps this was the start of my compassion toward animals.
Copper was a Golden Retriever, a perfect, gentle, family dog. She came with us on vacations, swam with us in the pool, let me dress her up, and provided us with a lot of laughs overall. I would lay on the floor with her most evenings and pat her head, I would give her food from the table when nobody was looking and wake her up early to come watch cartoons with me downstairs. Many nights growing up, she would sleep with me in my room, protecting me from all the scary things and once she would leave for my parent’s bedroom, I would follow suit and sleep with her on the floor. Copper lived an amazing 15 years; it was a beautiful friendship and one that made me confident that I too would get my own dog one day.
After talking about getting a dog for years, my husband and I finally agreed that it was time; having both grown up with big dogs, the decision to get a Labrador Retriever was an easy one. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be the best dog mom! My dog would be well behaved, well trained, stay off the furniture, he would not beg for food, but of course he would be well loved. I read books on how to train dogs, specifically labs; I prepared the home by buying crates, dog fences, appropriate dog toys and the healthiest of food and snacks. We purchased an orthopedic dog bed, organic shampoo and toothpaste and asked the breeder to provide us with a blankie that smelled like his mother in order to ease the withdrawal those first few nights. I was ready!
The day we got Rudy, I was immediately in love. All I wanted to do was squeeze him so tight and tell him I loved him. But no! Too much coddling would make him overly dependent and it was important for me to find a good balance between absolute but tough love.
The first few months I did my best to follow all of the rules. I exposed him to many sounds and environments, I brushed his teeth, I taught him to nap in his crate, to sit, to lay down, to give me his paws, and to speak. As a 15lb puppy, everything seemed so easy, and quite frankly adorable; but, as he grew bigger, the walks got more difficult and the bad behaviour more frustrating. Despite my best intentions in exposing him to as many things as I could, he seemed to have a real hatred toward skateboards, rollerblades, strollers, and kids who would stare at him. I tried influencing him with treats and praising his good behaviour as that’s what the book told me to do, but it never seemed to work. I recall the stares I would get from people, some of them scared and others judging my poor dog parenting skills. Once there was even an older lady who told me that if I can’t handle a dog of that size, I shouldn’t have gotten him in the first place. I would smile and I say I know while in my mind I was giving her the middle finger. It was her negative energy that got Rudy all riled up anyway. I would walk him two to three times a day as I was told that exercise was the best way to get your dog to behave, but, he always managed to find the energy to pull at the leash, bark at others and chew on any shoe he could find when back at the house.
When he would nap, many times, I would curl up on the floor with him just to pet him and stroke him while he slept. I probably should have seen it coming, but slowly enough Rudy found his way not only onto the couch but also into our bed. By the time he was 75lbs we had replaced our queen size bed with a king and caved into the fact that our dog was being treated more like a child than like a pet. In this same time, Rudy also adopted quite the personality; he paws us in the morning so that we will wake up to feed him, he full tilt sprints outside every morning in hopes that he’ll snag a bunny or a bird in the backyard, when it rains he leaps off the ground to try to catch the falling drops mid-air, he rolls onto his back and makes the most human-like noises so that we will pet him, not as individuals but as a family. We call this “family rub down time”.
As my career started to require more of my time, we had the awful decision to make. Who would now care for Rudy during the day? Many people leave their dogs unattended for hours on end, but given Rudy’s energy level, I knew this would not be fair to him. Rudy had a love interest who lived across the street, a Chocolate Lab named Bisou. Bisou had a walker and so I inquired about having Rudy walked with her just 3 times a week. The first day the walker took him from the house, Rudy was noticeably stressed; his tail was tucked between his legs and he kept looking back at the door, wondering why I wasn’t going with him. I shed a tear as my baby was now off to enjoy the world without me. I couldn’t have lucked out more with Rudy’s walker; Scarlett treats Rudy with the same amount of love that I do and so 3 times a week quickly became 5 times a week, allowing me time to focus on work.
His playfulness results in an immense amount of shedding, coating my dark hardwood floors daily. His running and jumping in the yard usually means he brings in chunks of mud on his paws, which leave paw marks on the floors and stains on the couch. Having grown up in a house that was always immaculate, even with a dog running around, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t keep my house clean. My mother explained to me that she used to vacuum every single day, but prefaced it by saying she was a stay-at-home mom, she had the time to do so. I finally threw up my hands in defeat and hired a cleaning lady twice a week. The days I come home after she has cleaned give me so much joy, that is for about 1 hour and then the floors are riddled with filth all over again.
My husband and I would discuss why we had failed at sticking to the plan of keeping Rudy off of the furniture and having him sleep on the floor, like a dog. It finally came out, both of us as kids had always dreamed of having our dog sleep in the bed with us, it would appear we were doomed from the start. I suppose we battled internally with the notion that to have a well-behaved dog, there needs to be certain parameters. Other people had strongly advised us that we should not have dogs in the bed and so I think we went into dog ownership, wanting to please others, when in actuality, we veered from what we ourselves had truly wanted.
At this point we had decided that we would raise Rudy exactly how WE wanted and instead spend more of our energy enjoying Rudy partake in all of the things that make him happy. From there, the messy home became less noticeable, a family lived here after all! We now try to avoid rollerbladers on walks and distract him with treats for anything else that may cause him to bark at others. We’ve embraced the morning sprints in the backyard and learned to gate off the closet so that he can’t get his mouth on our shoes. In just 4 years, Rudy has already taught me a lot about myself. I’ve gained more patience, I’ve learned unconditional love, I’ve learned to let go of some control, and I’ve learned to have confidence in my ability to property care for another being. Most importantly, I’ve learned that as parents, we are doing the best we can, and by showering him with love, I think he’s turning out just fine.
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