Puppy lessons in parenthood

OK, I’ll say right here and now that, despite my joking on facebook this week, I do not doubt that babies are harder work than puppies. And, obviously, the stakes are just a little bit higher.

But, that said, I reckon that there’s some truth to puppies being a crash course in parenting.

I so had no idea.

A good friend, Jenn, wrote me several long emails about puppies before we bought Zulu home.

Jenn is one of those amazing friends who is interested in my life and reads all my essays, but who also doesn’t hesitate to take a keen editorial eye and a red pen to those essays and (occasionally) to my life.

Jenn’s keen editorial eye and red pen are not always entirely gentle.

Once I got back an essay with the comment “you are boring me now” planted halfway through it. Another time she told me that I was at serious risk of sounding like Paris Hilton whining about her privileged life. The fact that she was completely right in both cases didn’t make it any more fun to hear.

Jenn, who owns a dog and a cat, was both excited and a bit concerned to hear that we were getting a puppy, and in the week leading up to Zulu’s arrival I received more than one email full of good advice and seasoned with a hint of sternness.

“PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE,” Jenn wrote, “be prepared to work hard on training the dog in more than just house breaking & little things like sit & stay. I highly recommend crate training, and puppy gets NO unsupervised time outside the crate. You want to avoid dress rehearsals of bad behavior as much as possible. Don’t give the puppy the chance to have an accident when you’re not paying attention.”

This gave me pause. First of all, what was crate training? Secondly, I hadn’t thought much about housebreaking, but I suddenly realized that the puppy probably wouldn’t know where the toilet was, and might take a little while to learn – a couple of days maybe? A week? Two? Surely not three?

“I must say I snickered aloud at the prospect that you might be done house breaking in three weeks,” Jenn wrote back in response to this. “Unless the breeder has been working with them (& God bless her if she has!). You really have no idea what you’re getting into, do you?”

In a word, no.

Neither Mike nor I had anticipated our routines being so thoroughly disrupted this week. Mike hadn’t expected that one tiny puppy who needed feeding, toileting, and attention in the morning would make it so much more difficult to accomplish things like making lunch, answering personal email, or eating breakfast. I hadn’t expected to have to get up to check on where the puppy is every five minutes that he is awake, and break concentration every half an hour to engage in vigorous games of “let’s run around” or “shake the towel”. Or to have to work sitting on the floor sometimes so that the puppy can lie near my legs. Or to have to learn to be cautious every time I turn around lest I step on a tiny being.

We certainly hadn’t expected that he would cry every time we left the room, or that we’d have to crate him in our bedroom at night to prevent him from whimpering for hours (though, I must say, it’s a bit heartwarming to see how much happier he is just to be in our presence, and how he’ll settle down and go right to sleep as soon as he’s installed nearby).

Zulu’s been waking up between 5 and 7, so I’ve been sleep deprived and distracted all week, and last night I got a very tiny taste of what it must be like for parents to watch their kids get sick when there’s no one there to help.

Mike’s been up in the villages for the last two nights, so I’ve been single parenting. Last night I took Zulu out the back to do his business. When he went to run back inside he started to skid as soon as he hit the tile floor – all of a sudden he couldn’t use his hind legs properly, he was just scooting himself around on his front legs and sort of rabbiting his back legs along.

Then he went a bit crazy. He started whining and crying and wouldn’t let me touch him – just scooted around, terrified, until he found his crate. Once he heaved himself in there he spun in wobbly circles, yelping and digging and pawing, until he collapsed.

Ten minutes later he cautiously got up and came out, still whining and shaky, but seemingly much better.

We may not have any vets up here, but we do have Dr Google, and Jenn’s sister, Danielle, is a vet.

“I know tele-diagnosing is frustrating at best and impossible most of the time,” I wrote to Danielle via facebook last night, “but is there anything really obvious like parvo or rabies that this is a classic symptom of?”

An immediate consultation with Dr Google – who is always open for business – suggested that I should watch out for further symptoms of a tick-borne disease, and Dr Danielle had the following to say by email this morning:

“I wanted to tell you that it sounds like early rabies, but my coworker tells me that is too mean to say ;). It sounds to me like he slipped and then panicked (we see similar-sounding panics when we put some dogs on the metal exam tables; they try to dig their toenails into the table and stand perched on their nails which does not exactly help their stability).”

“So, Zulu either has rabies or he had a panic attack last night,” I announced to Mike by phone this morning.

“Right,” Mike said. “Let me encourage you to use this as an opportunity to focus on the least catastrophic of the options presented to you.”

“He might have rabies,” I said darkly – more because I felt like being dark than because I actually think he does have rabies.

“He might,” Mike agreed cheerfully. “But he probably doesn’t. We probably just have a dog who is very good at expressing his emotions. You could learn something from him.”

“Ha ha ha. Come home tonight and I’ll express some emotion to you,” I said, still dark – this time because sleep deprivation has apparently reduced my repartee to the level of “ha ha ha”.

“Gee,” said Mike. “That’s the best offer I’ve had in three days.”

“It had better be,” I said.

Zulu’s asleep at my feet right now, cuddled up next to the one toy I’ve so far managed to find for him, and given the way he was mauling the toy this morning he’s either totally recovered from his panic attack, or he really does have rabies. I’ll keep you posted.

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7 responses to “Puppy lessons in parenthood

  1. Hi Lisa, I stumbled upon your blog when I was using Tag Surfer like good ol’ WP suggested. The cute pictures of Zulu stopped me in my tracks. I am hugely inspired to get a puppy now 🙂 You took really wonderful pictures 🙂

  2. Laughing at..oh, I mean with you 🙂 Lis, love reading whatever you write especially your take on your life. Yes, that all sounds very much like parenthood although with my girls at 12, 10 and 7 being answered back to with a bark sounds quite appealing – LOL! When Zulu starts repeating things you have said years back, I’d start getting concerned!

    The pics are gorgeous – thanks for letting me share in the joys of a puppy without the responsibility!

    Hugs xo

    • Happy to share the pics. Would love to be able to share the responsibility, too, I’m finding out. He is adorable. But so… needy. But so adorable. It’s a conundrum, really.

  3. Some mistakes are so much fun to make that we have to try them ourselves instead of just listening to other people. Puppies are a case in point! You’re going to love every blasted moment, sounds like. Don’t forget that God made puppies and children cute so you wouldn’t kill them before they are old enough to defend themselves. Happy parenting.

  4. Pingback: Deep into resilience | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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