First Days…

We thought we would be firm. We thought we would be able to teach our new puppy to sleep downstairs on his own. We are the humans. He is the dog. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or so we thought.

After bringing our new puppy home, we made up a bed for him in the kitchen. Our three kids and I took turns sleeping near him or with him, in an attempt to help him feel more comfortable in his new surroundings. After a couple of nights of this, it was time to work on a more long-term solution. My longing for a full night’s sleep was becoming quite compelling. It was time to be firm. Kids in their own bed, me in mine, and the puppy in his. I put the pup in his bed and said good night.

It didn’t take long for him to start crying. Cries of loneliness, fear, and abandonment. He was barely 9 weeks old. Taken from his mom sooner than either of them cared for. Separated from his sister at the pet store…the only family bond he had left. And now he was in a strange house with strangers, who have abandoned him to sleep alone , in an empty room, through the dark, lonely night.

The puppy seems to like being with us, I thought while lying in bed listening to his cries. He’ll get used to sleeping on his own. That will never happen if I give in now. But he likes being held, cuddled, and comforted. He just wants to be with us. To not feel so alone. He’s so small and so young. Give it a bit longer and see if he settles down. Dum dee dum dee dum. Nope. I can’t just let him cry. What if he wakes the kids? He’s still getting to know us. Still adjusting to his strange, new home. He sounds so sad! How long has he been crying? Only five minutes. Yikes! This is going to be a long night.

I went downstairs. He was SO happy to see me. What a welcome for someone he just met a couple of days ago, and had only been apart from for five minutes. I picked him up and took him to the couch. If I sleep with him on the couch, it’s not like I’m giving in. The couch is different from our bed. He’ll know that.

It took a little while for him to settle down, but soon he was cuddled next to me. What if I roll over on him? He’s so darn little…just 1-1/2 pounds. I’ll have to learn to be cautious. To be aware of him even when I’m asleep, or when I’m just waking up. My mom-radar is already switched on for the kids. I’ll just fine-tune it to include puppies. Sleep soon happened for both of us, but it wasn’t a restful night for me. The couch is not my preferred bed.

As we approached bedtime on the next night, I wasn’t thrilled about sleeping on the couch again. My fatigue was a growing issue that needed addressing. And so, a decision was made. I needed a decent night’s sleep. The way to achieve that was to give this young puppy what he so desperately needed…comfort, contact, and a sense of security. Booboo, who now finally had a name, would be sleeping with us. And so it went for the next fifteen years.

Chuck says that this was the first reality-check for him regarding the dog. The awareness that this puppy might end up being our dog, rather than the kids’ dog. Years later when the kids grew up and moved out, one-by-one, and didn’t take Booboo with them, his suspicions were finally confirmed. I, on the other hand, knew from the beginning that Booboo would be with me and Chuck for the distance. As much as he was a family dog, the long-term bond was between Booboo and me.

As Booboo settled in, we began teaching him things that were necessary for us to get along well together. Things like doing his piddles and poos outside or on the newspaper, not biting too hard when playing, and not barking excessively. At the same time, we realized that he was teaching us as well…bedtime for him was 9pm, don’t play too rough, remember to fill his water dish, and take him along when we go on an outing. As the years went by, it became difficult to say for sure who was teaching whom. Knowledge and learning was happening both ways. Did we teach him or did he teach us? Regardless of the direction of the lesson, learning was definitely happening…and in hindsight, it was I who benefited the most. Some of the lessons were direct from Booboo to me, and yet many more were indirect, through shared experiences and challenges that I would not have encountered without him.

A definite bond has evolved between dogs and humans. It got its start some 50,000-ish years ago when dogs agreed to be the first domesticated animal. When a dog joins a human family, he takes his place within the pack and strives to achieve and maintain a strong, positive relationship with his human companions. Dogs have learned to trust, depend on, collaborate with, protect, and love their human families. And just as each human has individual needs, quirks, personality traits, and a unique perspective on life and its situations, so do dogs. We can learn much from each other, if we take the time to see the world through the other’s eyes

The lessons that will follow are about commitment, respect, play, communication, differing perspectives, nutrition, attitude, forgiveness, healthcare, aging, change, death, grief, and above all else…love.

-Jenne Hiigel

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