Furparenthood can be challenging. You work on manners and good behavior. You reinforce. You spend a small fortune on treats and toys (which you know will be destroyed in minutes). You adjust routines and plans and coordinate a fleet of people who can serve as willing back-ups when things get crazy. You read and you listen and you attend training classes and vet appointments. You go to play groups. You make play dates. You think you’re prepared.
And then one evening over a very grown-up dinner of a brie wedge and leftover birthday cake, you hear yourself utter the following words:
“Stop licking your brother’s butt.”
And it’s all over. In those five little words, you have humbled away years of acquired dignity in rescue-dog companionship.
You’re an educated person. You like to learn from your mis-steps. Perhaps you and your spouse can use this as an opportunity to reflect on some of the more outlandish things that have escaped your lips. And so, we proudly bring you,
Stuff we say to our pups, or where have we gone wrong?
Stop humping your sister’s head.
Don’t eat his ear.
That’s not your food. I’m not even sure what that is.
Thank you for burping in my face. Twice.
The cat is not a chew toy.
Why are you green?
Stay. Please, sit still for 15 seconds.
Your impression of a Dinosaur screaming is charming.
I cannot feed you faster if you step on my feet.
Is that snot on your face, or were you licking your nose?
How in the world is that comfortable?
Why does your breath smell like poop?
Why do you smell like skunk?
Drop it. Dropitdropitdropit.
Don’t step on Dad’s squishy bits.
Don’t kick Mommy’s boob.
Armpits are not gourmet treats.
Must you race me up the stairs?
Must you race me down the stairs?
You’re barking at your own reflection.
You wouldn’t like it if I sneezed in your open mouth.
May I have some room on the couch, please?
Have you caught yourself saying anything “strange” to your furbabies?
Now that we’ve completed our three weeks of formal training, the informal portion begins: business-as-usual. We’re reinforcing the lessons we took away from our time with Olde Towne School for Dogs, and we’re getting better at reading Zo’s cues before he melts down.
We’re not always successful, though. The following are a couple of examples of our continued failures:
We throw a party, and people trickle in starting around 7. The music’s not loud, the dishwasher isn’t on, and the attendees are a group of people whom Zo has met and loved. He enjoys the people-food that our guests “sneak” to him, and he’s a champ at making rounds and licking up the crumbs until about 9pm, when something sets him off and he runs down the hallway to our bedroom. He wedges himself under our bed. If people want to say hi or bye to him, they have to squat down and peer under the bed. Many of our guests do this. He remains there until the last person leaves and the serving-ware is dried. He’s reluctant to venture down the hall when it’s time for a potty break before bed. He slinks outside, tail tucked and shoulders lowered, does his business in record time and then bolts back inside. By the time we’re ready for bed, he’s calmed down enough to hang out on his cot, but his wide eyes and panting let us know that it’s going to be a long, restless and jumpy night for everyone.
It’s finally occurred to us that we should light up the fireplace in the basement of our rental house. It’s chilly outside and the air smells like cotton, pine needles and cloves. A perfect night for pulling up a chair (or rearranging the furniture so the couch is in warming distance to the mantle) to the fire. I’m upstairs in the kitchen making hot cocoa in a pan, and I’m just about to the add the Bailey’s when Zo comes flying up the stairs, almost not making it around the corner into the hallway and back to his under-the-bed hiding place. James isn’t too far behind in ascent. He lit the fireplace, and Zozo got spooked and bolted. The heat, the smell, the sound– we don’t know. So, we push the couch back into its carpet-divots, break out a heavy blanket and enjoy our beverages and books sans flame.
Zozo has met my father-in-law more times that I can count. They have spent a lot of time outside with a tennis ball. And yet every other time he comes over, Zozo submission pees as a greeting and crouches into his crate. Maybe Zo’ll grow out of it; maybe he won’t. But I do know we’re buying stock in paper towels and Clorox wipes in case he doesn’t.
On the flipside, some wonderful things happen that make us forget these instances of “what have we done?” There are absolute moments of joy.
We take a vacation and Zo and Athena can’t join us. Off to camp they go! “Camp” is my mom’s house. She has a cat of her own, Asparagus (or Gus, for short), who gets along tolerably well with Athena, and Gus doesn’t seem to mind Zo too much, either. The cats divvy up the sunspots and nap away the week, and Zo hangs out with my mom. They go on daily walks around the neighborhood, and he gets the hang of someone else taking him on-leash. New smells, new human friends. A fenced backyard inhabited by a family of bunnies. He’s in heaven, as our daily reports… report. In fact, we’re emailed photo-evidence that he’s having a good time.
SNOW. This dog is meant for cold weather, and for a hot minute we consider moving west to Colorado, he’s SO happy in the snow. The dream melts away when I remember how much I loathe the cold. This snow is just a dusting, but we spend hours outside playing, wrestling and chucking a tennis ball. Sure, we have to blow-dry the ice pellets out of his fur when we come inside, but the silliness is worth it. In fact, Zozo perfects running into the back of my legs to make me fall over in the snow, just so he can lick my cheeks. Gross? yes. Hilarious when it’s happening, though.
We take ourselves and Zo out for adventures. We find local dog parks, Yappy Hours, brunch places that allow dogs on the patio. We make play dates with friends and their furbabies. Zozo is great with a rawhide bone under a cafe table. He’ll sit by a park bench and sniff around and nap while we have coffee with friends. He’ll run at the park until we force him to take a break. He loves the ladies- who seem to love him- and he’ll tolerate male strangers if they have a friendly dog of their own. We’re getting exercise and socialized. We’re all coming out of our introverted shells.
If this is what having a dog is all about (the goofy personality, the playing, the snuggling, the little kisses on my nose or feet, the daily success at conquering his inner boogeyman), it was more than worth the effort.