Saturday, February 11, 2012

Puppy Love and Angst (Babble)

We’ve had our dog, Chipper, for about three months now.  It’s been quite the learning curve.
(Chipper the day we brought him home)

I had a dog growing up, and we loved our loud, lazy beagle, but she was boring.  That dog snored at the end of my parents’ bed at night, barked at mail carriers, and slept on the couch most of the day.  She was fun to pet, but she wasn’t exactly entertaining.  Just pleasant to have around in the sense that dogs can be nice to have around.

Ian has allergies to cats and many dogs so never had a pet growing up.  Chipper, being a poodle mix, doesn’t make him sneeze (I love that the dog doesn’t shed), and this is Ian’s first real experience living with a dog.

As adults we’ve had rabbits, but rabbits don’t really prepare you for having a dog.  (They prepare you for having kids in the sense that you learn not to get to attached to ‘things’ since everything gets chewed on, but that’s a different post.)  I’ve learned that getting a dog is a lot like choosing to have one more child.  You get what you get and you love it but it is a lot of work and some days are better than others.  And people judge you about your dog about as passionately as they do your parenting style which is hard to get used to.

The most interesting thing to me is how it feels like we’ve always had this dog.  He’s part of our family and he’s all settled in as if this is the only place he’s ever known.  It would seem strange now not to have this little fluffy figure moving about the house all the time and underfoot in the kitchen.  But there are still things we don’t know and things we need to get better at and things yet to figure out.

Here are the best things about Chipper:  He’s playful and cute and has a silly under bite.  He has a lot of energy and he’s great for a game of fetch.  After being walked he gets this crazy burst of adrenaline when we reenter the house and he runs in these frantic circles and it’s hilarious.  When he’s relaxed he’s floppy like a rag doll and you can plop him into any position and he’s good with it.  He’s only thirteen pounds and all fluff and you can scoop him up like a baby.  He lets the kids pick him up any old way and carry him around.  He’s fun to cuddle on the bed in the morning.  When I’m the only one left downstairs working in the evening, Chipper waits for me before he goes upstairs to sleep.  After a bath he’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt.

(Aden and her dog)

When we happened to tell our doctor that we’d gotten a dog at the girls’ last checkup she thought it was wonderful.  She said something about how watching her own children with their dog had impressed her with the therapeutic effects of such a relationship.  That a bad day at school could melt away with some quality petting time.  I’ve even noticed that for myself, how after a stressful day at work it’s nice to go home and have the dog be happy to see me and be able to unwind by petting him or having him chase a ball.  Sometimes when we pet him we call him therapy dog.  He likes to lounge next to us and sigh.

There is something so simple and warm about the love of a dog.  When he just wants to lie in my lap or at my feet while I work, it’s comforting in a way that’s both selfish yet reciprocal.  His needs are uncomplicated most of the time, and easily met with a pat on the head or by just being present.  It reminds me a little of that pleasant feeling of being enough for a small baby.  I remember so well when Aden was tiny and how after she was changed and fed she would fall asleep in my arms and in those moments parenting felt easy.  In that same sense of being able to meet such simple needs, having a dog seems easy.

However….  The tricky thing with Chipper is we rescued him from the pound, which means we don’t know his past.  We don’t even know his age, although the shelter guessed he was about two.  I suspect at some point he had reason to fear men of a particular size and build because he does not like stocky white men with short hair and he gets anxious and barks at them.  I don’t think there was a second floor wherever he came from because the stairs and the noises above seemed very confusing to the dog that first week.
We’ve had to figure out the dog’s diet and schedule.  We’ve had trouble with marking behavior and Chipper trying to assert dominance over Quinn and other small children.  It’s a bit annoying to have to factor so many walks into our day.

Barking is a problem.  We hired a trainer to come to the house and give us some tips, and that’s helped some, but we don’t have as much time available to practice those lessons as we should.  We’re getting better at controlling the dog when people come to the door, but when he gets really keyed up we’re still at a loss.  We found out recently from the babysitter that when we leave, barking at the new person doesn’t stop.  I’m not sure how to train the dog to do something when we’re not around.

And of all the dogs in the world we could have picked, this one barks and howls at violin playing.  When the girls practice each night the dog runs to their feet and barks along.  If I hold him in my lap he ‘sings.’  The trainer showed us ways to distract the dog, and we have had practice sessions where Chipper was busy enough playing fetch that he lost interest in the violin sounds, but it makes me wonder if I can ever teach at home again.  I originally had images in my head of Chipper being a sort of shop dog that I could take with me to the violin store from time to time, but seeing as he barks at the arrival of strangers and howls when people play violin, I don’t think he’d be good for business since that’s all that happens there.

We had one unfortunate incident that made me question if we should keep this dog.  He bit Mona.  He didn’t break the skin, and after investigating the cascade of stupid actions on the part of our kids we decided it was not fair to blame the dog, but it really troubled me.  It still troubles me to some extent, because that seems like one of those zero tolerance moments for a mother: The dog bit my kid, the dog should go.

But the kids did everything wrong and the dog was being a dog.  I was lying in bed upstairs, sick, and Ian had walked down to Target to pick up some cough medicine to help me get through my rehearsal that night.  In that fifteen minutes of the kids being left alone with the dog they messed up.  First of all, Aden was supposed to have fed Chipper and forgot.  So the dog hadn’t eaten anything in twelve hours and was starving.  Then she left an apple on the dining room table when she knew better.  Chipper grabbed it.  So the kids cornered the dog, and Mona began trying to wrestle the food out of his mouth.  This, after all our discussions about how they should never go near a dog while it’s eating, and that you never corner an animal.  So Chipper gave Mona a chomp on the arm.  Kind of hard to blame Chipper, but it still freaks me out.

I came home from rehearsal that night ready to find the dog a new home, and Ian talked me down.  He seemed surprised to be the one defending Chipper.  Adding extra chores to his stay-at-home parent schedule with all the walks and one more mouth to feed had not really won him over to the joys of having a dog.  But at the thought of getting rid of Chipper, Ian was suddenly the one voicing the dog’s virtues and how much he means to the kids.  Going back to life without the dog just doesn’t feel like a desirable option.

It reminded me a little of Mona and her fish a few weeks before.  Mona was getting bored with the fish she got for her birthday, not convinced it was an interesting enough pet to trouble with.  She was considering giving it away, maybe even just to her sister.  Then one evening when she moved the fish to a cup in order to clean the water in the fishbowl, she left it unattended for too long and apparently the fish managed to jump out.  I happened to walk by and notice both the bowl and cup were empty, and just as I called to Mona to ask about it I spotted the fish on the floor.  When Mona walked in and thought her fish was dead she shrieked with an intensity I’ve never heard from her before.  Absolute panic and horror in her voice.  Then I saw the fish flop and managed to get it back into its bowl where he drifted around for a moment before returning to normal.  Mona apologized to her fish as she wept and wept.  There is no more talk about whether Mona wants to keep her fish.  It is now the best tended fish in all of Milwaukee, and when Mona moves the fish to the cup to clean the bowl she has her brother stand guard.

So Ian, the one person in the house reluctant about getting a dog to begin with, came to Chipper’s defense and thus we still have a dog.  The dog, literally, loves Ian best of all, and it’s hard to resist the charms of a creature who just wants to be near you and gaze at you adoringly.

I’m glad we have Chipper.  Despite the fact that dogs can be unbearably gross and now our lives involve picking up poop all the time, it’s worth it.  There is something complete about our family now that we have a dog that I didn’t realize was missing before.  I love watching Quinn laugh as he throws a ball over and over to his dog, and seeing how happy Aden is when Chipper chooses to snuggle on her bed some nights.  I’m proud when Mona, without prompting, gets dressed at the crack of dawn to take the dog out for his morning walk.  I love it when Chipper rests his head on my thigh while I’m trying to type.

We still haven’t worked out all the kinks of owning a dog, and maybe we never will, but it’s okay.  We love our dog.

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