Jun 7, 2014

Becoming a Dog Person

Becoming a Dog Person with Jenn and Luke | Business, Life & Design

Significant and I rescued Luke (the only "person" whose real name I can use) from a shelter while we lived in Laurel, MD.  I wasn't sure I was ready for a pet at the time and, despite a carefully laid out agreement determining responsibilities (mostly his), I had some misgivings.  We didn't want the same things at all!

Significant wanted a smaller, "apartment" dog.  I did some research and saw that size really doesn't matter as much as temperament, which backed up my argument for a larger dog, like a greyhound.  We did so much research on breeds, size, dog psychology, the whole nine yards.  None of it mattered in the end.  Sure, we got a few tidbits from the shelter, and we spent an hour or so visiting with Luke.  He seemed gentle enough and was friendly and a good compromise in terms of the sizes we had argued over.  But in terms of actual information, we got very little.

Things the shelter said that were true:
  • Tendency to eat fabric/soft things (we lost a few socks, but he's learned, finally)
Things the shelter said that were totally wrong:
  • Crate trained (Nope, not at all.  After freaking out for 2 hours the first night, he escaped and ran frantically around the apartment until we realized what was going on.)
  • Lab mix (I think this was to make it easier to find him a home.  So many apartments have prejudices against Rottweilers, Pitbulls, and even Dobermans and Luke is probably mixed with the first or last of these.)
  • Afraid of storms (hey, at least one positive!)
The day we took him home was a bit impulsive and probably foolish.  Significant was working one of his 24 shifts (different job, weird hours), and I had plans up in Delaware.  But we couldn't wait, so we picked him up anyway, and I took him to Delaware with me, growing increasingly stressed by his continual whining and not understanding his signals or what I needed to worry about him getting into.

Sister3 watched him for me while I went to dinner with a friend, but I was so anxious the whole time that it wasn't very enjoyable.  Thinking about it now, it's almost laughable.  I was very obviously a new pet owner.

That night I went to another friend's house, one who was dog-friendly, to spend the night so I'd have some moral support until Significant got home from work the next day.  Luke spent the night getting on and off the bed and pacing, occasionally growling or barking at the beings on the other side of the door, and I was totally freaked out, not knowing what any of it meant or whether I should be afraid of the growls.  In the morning, I sped home, waiting impatiently for Significant to get home while Luke barked incessantly at me, and finally burst into tears the moment he walked through the door.

"Why won't he stop barking?!!!"  (Seriously, I don't think the whole "ignore them until they stop" thing works.  Say what you will.)

"I don't know.  Here, I'll take him into the other room and you go lie down."

Significant got him calmed down and we fed him.  We spent that day trying to learn how to best take care of our new pet and the next several nights trying to decide how to handle the crate fiasco.

We struggled with crate training for weeks.  We tried the wire crates, and the plastic ones.  We tried tenting a blanket over it to make it feel like a "den" and succeeded only in destroying the blanket.

Crate training fiasco with destroyed comforter | Business, Life & Design

Finally, one day, we tried leaving him uncrated.  Magic!  I honestly don't know why we didn't think of it sooner, but I'm going to have to blame it on inexperience.  He was so destructive inside the crate that the idea of leaving him alone with access to our furniture just seemed terrible.

And he had a few lapses.  We lost some sofa pillows and and the inside door mat.  When we first got him we were both home most of the time, so he didn't really have to get used to being alone for a while, and the very few occasions that we did leave were usually rocky.  As soon as we started a more normal schedule, he adjusted and the "bad behavior" went away.

My dog, Luke, in the laundry | Business, Life & Design
Posed, obviously.  Such a well-trained dog would never roll in the laundry...

By the time we had had him a year, he was trained, he understood most of our commands, he wasn't our "dog" anymore, he was our baby.  He sleeps on the bed with us every night, gets cuddles and the occasional "people food."  We feel bad when we leave him and he gives us the big sad eyes, and drooping "my spirit is broken" ears.  When we come home at the end of the day, he's at the front door, whole back end wiggling with enthusiasm, and making the oddest cooing/growl/Chewbacca noises I've ever heard.

In addition to learning to love this happy little animal, I've learned more about dogs in general.  What's normal, what's not.  The fact that a little growl here and there is really nothing to be alarmed about.  That bad behaviors aren't permanent, and training just takes a little time.  That we got really lucky, because despite our initial trepidation, Luke is really one of the most chilled out dogs I've met (case in point: Sister2's dog, Maverick, has all kinds of emotional psychiatric doggy issues and she's probably scoffing at the "training just takes a little time" comment).

Seriously, who could not love this guy?

My dog, Luke, with his backpack being adorable | Business, Life & Design

And my other favorite

Significant goofing off with the dogs | Business, Life & Design
Significant getting goofy with Luke and Maverick (who is currently not being crazy, but usually is)

It's been a really amazing experience overall and I'm so glad I agreed to it despite my misgivings.  I always thought of myself as more of a cat person and now I'm learning there's no hard and fast rules (definitely pros and cons though - I posted a "Cats vs Dogs Comparison" a while back).  Most pets are hard not to love!

What was your first pet?  Did you have trouble adjusting?