Puppy Love

Emer Halpenny offers some tips on welcoming a new addition to the family.

Since babyhood, my daughter has been begagging for a dog. I’d like to say it was her first word. It wasn’t. Her first word was ‘duck’, but I think she was trying to say ‘dog’ and got confused. I mean, she was so young at the time. Every day she pleaded, offered her life savings, swore she’d never ask for anything again

There were so many reasons why it wasn’t a good idea. But finally, her desire for a pup outweighed them all. As she approached her tenth birthday, a part of her began to give up all hope. Silent despondent tears replaced the pleading. We cracked. For the next three months we were glued to puppy websites, looking for the perfect dog; one that wouldn’t need much walking for example, that wouldn’t bark or shed on the carpet. Confused by the mine of information, I suggested one morning that we visit our local rescue shelter. So off we went, my husband and I, two unaware pack leaders, to see what they could tell us. We were ushered towards the kennels. And so, all of a sudden, Sam came into our lives.

Eight weeks old and cute as a button, it dawned on us with a kind of dull horror that we had just taken on a new baby. He cried all the way home. He greeted the kitchen floor with a healthy splash. He didn’t understand English for goodness sake. But when my two little girls came home from school and found him waiting there, and the dog-lover fell in a heap on the floor next to him, beside herself with joy, weeping with relief, I caught Alpha Male’s eye and we silently told each other, “We’ll make it work.”

Ah, the short bliss of ignorance. Ten books and the entire box set of The Dog Whisperer later, we know better. That is, we know what mistakes we’ve already made. Picking a dominant assertive little blighter who thinks he’s the Andrex puppy was the first mistake. Giving him my slipper to play with was another. Adoring him, yet another. Sam, at four months, is now a confident happy dog who eats well, sleeps soundly and occasionally gets sassy. In a dog whisperer kind of way, I fancy I can hear him sometimes say, “Did I land on my feet here, or what?! Bring it on!” So we’re going for some puppy training classes, back to our friends at the dog shelter. We know we’re meant to be the pack leaders and he’s supposed to be the follower. We know we should ignore him when we walk into the room. We know we should only show him affection when he’s in a relaxed submissive state. And we do try, honestly we do. But then, he looks at you. I know that what he’s really saying is: “What do you want from me? Because if you don’t want me for anything, I’m going to sleep.” But I humanise his expression.

I make it: “Hello Mommy, you love me don’t you?..you’d do anything for me... I’m a tad puckish - any chance of a treat? If I sit like this? Cock my head like so?” I could suppress the part of me that is saying I didn’t think this through. I could block my ears when other dog owners say,“Think he’s bad now? Wait till he hits adolescence!” Or can I look at my little girl lying curled around him, smiling dreamily as she sighs, “Thank you Mum.”

– Emer Halpenny


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