A reader recently told me she had a new Golden Retriever and it brought back fond memories of when we got JD 8.5 years ago... So dearie, this one's for you 🙂
On weekends, Kings and I used to drive to pet shops just to drool. Bearing in mind I was not a baby/child-person (but have always been a dog person), I used to get really judgmental at families who would then also drive up with the little kids going, "Please can we get THIS one, PLEASE, PLEASE It's SO CUTE!!!" because I wondered just how much thought had gone into picking a pet. I don't like pets simply as "playthings" for children.
Well, JD is a Border Collie. They're bred to run up to 25 miles a day and can have an IQ of a 5 year old child, and Kings and I worked 12 hour days, sometimes longer. Basically, we had no business bringing home a 4 month old BC pup, especially when we hadn't actually planned on getting a dog to begin with. We just couldn't leave her in the pet shop. We had no idea how she'd got there. But we just couldn't leave her back there. We stood around for 90 minutes, said a fervent prayer we were doing the right thing, and drove home with her.
She threw up on me in the car, then promptly passed out on our apartment balcony. As we frantically did our research on the - our - prone passed-out puppy, here's how we survived each other:
1) When you first bring a dog home from a pet shop or shelter is your best chance to train the dog to adapt to your schedule, because the dog's "expectations" of "fun" are usually quite low then.
The worst thing (for their own comfort) a family can do when they bring their new puppy home over the weekend is to play, play, play with the dog all weekend and then expect the dog to know the party's over on Monday when everyone goes to school or work... The anal in me kept JD quite strictly where she was expected to be while we were at work the mom we got back that weekend, only playing and walking her extensively at night, just as though we had just got back from work.
If you are as dog-crazy as I am, you will find practicing this restraint as hard as I did. With a child, I would probably find some other fun thing the child enjoys doing, just so the dog is left alone during "official school hours."
When Monday rolled by, Kings and I took turns taking the first couple days off (no helper back then) just to watch her, then we graduated to coming home at lunch. As we watched unbeknownst to her, she worked out her own schedule as a) play early in the morning with us (great way to start our workday!) b) when she thought we'd left for work she would play awhile more on her own, eat her breakfast, then nap c) carry on entertaining herself - BUT not look for us/ expect us to materialize and entertain her d) as it started to get dark, build a real air of anticipation at our home coming (and yes we spent all night til bedtime with her - I gave up my gym (and lost 9lbs) and we used to live along Orchard Road in Singapore, which is very near the Botanical Gardens - though people called the cops on us at least once for letting her run without a leash in the park at 9.30pm thereabouts)
2) Always "program" an "off switch" in your dog.
One of the first things we "communicated" to JD was when/how playtime was irrevocably over. It involved the word "enough," firmly spoken and then with zero reaction to her antics - and never caving. No matter how appealing the soulful eyes and winning puppy grin was. It got easier as she stopped expecting us to cave.
Nowadays she's a smartass who responds to most of what we say - if she wants to - but back then having the "off switch" was a real lifesaver.
3) Minimal yelling or spanking
Well I caved once when she ate my Oakleys. She was so upset she never did it again. Ditto. But it's not uncommon for dogs to get used to being yelled at and therefore not respond. JD is for eg very good at zoning out Rockstar's yelling and bossing. Better to moderate your voice - very appreciative, or zero reaction. Then when you need to yell to stop her from attempting to cross a busy intersection by herself, she's more likely to listen.
4) Understand the "underlying nature" (or breed) of your dog before deciding on any training
For eg, Border Collies pick up Agility training much easier than Huskies. Because BCs are bred to run and swerve about and follow more elaborate commands when they herd sheep. Huskies are bred to Just. Keep. Running! So don't get upset with your Husky for galloping right off the training ground, they can't really help it. Also probably why we rarely see unleashed Huskies (they run off and don't come back), but we do see some tiny breeds or Golden Retrievers and BCs waddling/ padding by off-leash. In fact an ex-colleague (similar work hours) back in the day got a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They are like, the ultimate lapdog, they love to be stroked or bathed and will just sit there and let you do it. And running about the grassy areas at the bottom of HDB flats is apparently plenty satisfying exercise. She ended up getting another.
Your instructions/ training "overlays" your dog's natural instincts, it does not really remove them. It's like understanding the behavior of your chosen asset class in an investment - commodity, interest rate, equity etc - and then how the derivative on the underlying asset class modifies some of that behavior. But you have to first be fine with the underlying asset class.
5) Work out how to communicate so your dog understands
You should not get mad at the dog for peeing in the house if you did not communicate where their "toilet" is. That said, those fake "potty training" scents for dogs suck. At least the one we used. Succeeded in convincing JD never to go there because she would get locked in there for many hours until she decides to pee. She never did. It was my husband's idea. (We ended up bagging a tiny bit of the Real McCoy and putting it where we wanted her to go..)
JD turns 9 on March 7. How I wish I could turn back time. How I wish we could know as much as we do about each other today. How I wish dogs live as long as humans do. All those times I felt lousy coming home from work and there would be a warm furry body lying quietly, unobtrusively as close to me as she could get. I never knew you could buy a best friend for SGD 1,200. I never knew there was unconditional love up for grabs too. In discussing how to prepare Rockstar for the inevitable, someone advised me to "stagger", basically get a second, much younger dog. Except JD's been a lone ranger all her life and Border Collies have to be socialized early if you want them to buddy another dog. But more than anything I couldn't let her know we were getting ready to replace her, even if it means Rockstar's - no, really MY sense of loss would be that much harder to bear.
When the inevitable happens I will mourn the loss of a true, one of my best, friends. But I will rejoice in the much-loved life I was able to give her.
Then we get another dog. I never understood before how several dog lovers I know mourned the loss of their companions and then refused to ever have another. Yet what I tell them I have to now repeat for myself in text: There are so many animals out there that will have horrible lives from the many indiscriminate pet breeders and owners out there. You have the chance to give a much-loved life to some animal.
But for now, I deeply envy you guys who are just bringing your sofa wetting, slipper chewing, hairball shedding monster home.
Ps: And here's how we got the dog to accept the baby