It was some time in February when things started to really settle down after bringing Em home. She was fully housebroken, crate-trained, walking slack-leashed on the city streets (and down the freaking hallway, thank god), understood basic commands like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “give,” and did cute things like let us know when she needed to relieve herself, not completely lose her mind when I left the room, and actually sit or lay down at any point during the day.
All was finally calm in our household — it was how I imagined life with a full grown dog to be. When a fellow five-month-old puppy owner asked if our Alex and I were having just as hard of a time with our puppy as she was with hers, I was all “Well, it was hard, but now…”
To say the least, I was confident, because it wasn’t lost on me — AT ALL — that the behavior I was seeing from our puppy didn’t just magic itself into existence, but was actively created each day with persistence, consistency, and a ton of patience. A schedule that we wrote prior to bringing her home, which we followed religiously from the second she walked in the door, was the real champion, however. It set the course for our lives, which saved the sanity of my pitiful, systematic brain. Our sheer dedication to all of these things are what allowed us to build and cross some kind of bridge of puppyhood, over to an ethereal land where ALL OF THE STUFF was not hitting the fan ALL OF THE TIME.
For the first time since Em came along, I had real hope that one day life could once again resemble the way it was (e.g., not cleaning up pee every 20 minutes), and that one day, our story of raising a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog would be one of success.
But that was before I met a couple five-year-old Bostons, and BT owners in Seattle started coming out of the woodwork saying totally non-frightening things like “the energy doesn’t stop,” and Em got spayed and came home like, “IDGAF,” which is when I realized:
By the third week after her surgery, some time in April, all hope was lost. Seven months old, and now she was ignoring her name and all commands, had regressed a little in the housebreaking arena (which we expected, but it still sucked), entirely stopped napping (naps = the only periods of relaxation you have with a Boston), began to freak out when we worked from home — at our desk — two feet away from her, was pulling on her leash again, and unremittingly jumping on the coffee table. It was unpleasant — especially the not listening and peeing everywhere (again) part — and my patience with such high levels of BS extended about a fortnight, which I think is pretty freaking reasonable for a silence-craving introvert and perfectionist, before I was like:
But I’m stubborn as hell, and I would endure virtually anything if it means that I am successful in the end, so after a day or two of exasperation, I set out to be the very calmest, determined leader that I could be. My inner Beyonce…
was successfully masking my inner Mona-Lisa Saperstein…
and I was going to be the champion of adolescence, come hell or high water.
But Em is the hell and the high water, and in May, things escalated. But only after I was led down another path of false hope when she began to relieve herself outside and nap once more, which, of course, lifted my spirits, and made the following exponential growth of adolescent BALONEY disheartening to say the least.
She started to jump on the baby gate (which quarantined her and her pee to only one area of the house) when she was frustrated, or wanted more attention, or wanted a toy/anything that was blocked by the evil contraption. Then she started doing the same thing to me — jumping on me every time she wanted something — which made for some super-fun times. Everything got extra fun when she began to chase the cat and jump on her, too.
It was endless — absolutely endless. Almost every waking hour while in the house became a fight. A fight for getting the dog to actually listen, a fight for keeping the dog (and especially her eyes) injury free, a fight for keeping the dog happy and calm, a fight for silence, a fight for ANYTHING. NORMAL.
Nothing helped. No amount of walks or play sessions, which is basically the most suggested remedy on the internet for such craziness, ever did the trick. A cure-all it is not when you have a high energy breed who laughs in the face of a 4 mile walk, and then proceeds to run around — on an empty stomach — until she throws up.
Now every time I read about a high energy dog or someone says they have one, my brain interprets it as “large dog unsuited to my lifestyle” and think:
If a 20 minute walk tires out your dog: high energy my ass. Heck, if a mile or two does them in, I’m still calling BS. Random internet resources that only tell me to do just that to somehow make my puppy behave better:
It stayed that exact same way until we moved back downtown in early June, when things got just a little worse.
When we removed the baby gate from our lives to start integrating the dog into her permanent, adult living situation, the cat chasing escalated, but this was anxiety-inducing, not irritating. What was irritating to me was when she started to add barking to the mix whenever she jumped on me, and would jump up next to me and bark if she wanted attention or for me to throw a ball, and was all around, in my face, barking and jumping constantly. That was awesome.
All I could do was ignore the behavior, ignore her, and leave the room if she did it, and praise any calmness when I came back. If I was home, I was getting up from wherever I was or stopping whatever I was doing, and leaving the room quite literally every two or so minutes. We went on like this for another few weeks before any of it paid off. But it did, finally, pay off.
Now here we are in July, the jumping has stopped, and so has most of the barking. We’re still working on the cat thing, but she has progressed by leaps and bounds in her ability to leave it alone.
Persistence, consistency, and a ton of patience wins again.
For as hellish adolescence is, I know that all of her behavior is developmentally appropriate, and is not indicative of her overall character. It also could never sway the unconditional positive regard and love we have for her. She is absolutely the sweetest dog I have ever laid eyes on, tries so hard in all she does, is incredibly obedient when she is not rambunctious, and is the most loyal, loving friend I have ever had. But the things is: everyone talks about this kind of stuff. The good stuff is always in the spotlight. It’s not hard to imagine that raising a puppy is fun, and fulfilling, and filled with sweet moments, but it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. To ignore that would be to perpetuate an image of a life or a situation that is unrealistic. It is hard, it is frustrating, it is, like happiness and fun, an integral part of raising a puppy. In a society where stigma about feelings other than total happiness is rampant, I want to be a person who focuses on the feelings that garner that stigma, and talk about those. The more we talk about about the hard stuff, the more we normalize it, and the more we break down defense mechanisms and barriers that keep us in this same, antiquated place that tells us that those feelings are negative, maladaptive, or wrong.
Frustration, confusing, desperation, anger, hurt, depression, anxiety, anything….they are not wrong. Even if you feel it when you have a bouncing little puppy, even if you feel it on your wedding day, even if you feel it when you bring home your new baby, even if you feel it and you’re the richest person in the world, even if you feel it when you are randomly driving in the car one day: you are allowed to feel it. It is not wrong to not to be happy with everything all of the time, and it is not wrong to say so.
I’ll never stop trying in what little way I can to change the narrative of this society.
I hope that if you, too, are raising a puppy, and you, too, don’t enjoy every single aspect, that you know that you aren’t alone. I’m right here on this crazy ride with you. I probably will be for a while.