Monday, May 13, 2013

What My Dog Taught Me About Love


I've had dogs in my life for as long as I can remember. Looking at baby pictures, my first dog King, became my friend while I was in diapers. When I began Junior High, King was still a good friend. There have only been brief periods of time in my 61 years that I've lived without a dog.

While I've loved each of my dogs, Teddy a Cavapoo, (part poodle, part King Charles spaniel) is my favorite dog. He’s been part of our family for 7 years. It’s ironic to me that my favorite dog is the only dog I've ever had who is not reliably housebroken. Teddy can go months without an accident in the house. Every single time I've thought he’s gone for so long without an accident perhaps he’s finally house broken Teddy will pee or poop in the house. He’s especially prone to do this when it rains, because he hates being out in the rain.

It’s miserable living with a dog who isn't house broken. What I hate the most are the times I've  discovered his pile of poop by stepping in it barefooted. It’s totally gross and disgusting to feel dog poop between my toes. No matter how long I wash, I feel disgusted for days.

I thought putting Ted in a crate might help. It didn't, Teddy will poop in his crate. Worst yet, he didn't  mind being covered in his own poop. The process of getting him clean was both smelly and disgusting. There was no way I was willing to go through that process a second time. By necessity, I gave up on the idea of using a crate to stop him from accidents in the house.

Still determined to get the upper hand, I used clicker training to teach Teddy to pee and poop and command. This works most of the time.  Yet he won't give up on the periodic reminders he''s not house-broken. I find it ironic a dog that periodically pees and poops in the house became my favorite dog.

There’s two more disturbing issues that's unique to Teddy and troublesome to me. If we travel with Teddy and I have to leave him alone, he’ll cry his eyes out. It makes no difference if he’s with the rest of the family. The minute I leave, he begins to howl. He’s so loud you can hear it from hundreds of feet away. This doesn't happen at home, I can leave for work and he’s fine with that. Away from home he's less secure.

 Secondly, there’s an issue with our sleeping arrangements when Teddy goes on vacation with us.  At home Teddy sleeps down stairs by himself. Occasionally Kate (our daughter) will take Teddy upstairs and allow him on her bed. Not me. I've never ever let a dog in my bed  until our first vacation with Teddy. Kate tried to have Teddy sleep beside her. Teddy would have no part of it. He cried and cried until I let him on my bed.

 I know I shouldn't have given in, but it was late at night. There was no doubt his loud protests would wake half the hotel guests if I allowed him to cry for hours on end, so I took the easy way out and let him on our bed. The good news is he’s relatively small and doesn't take up that much space. My wife and I slept the entire night without either of us being aware we were sharing our bed with our dog.

Now Teddy insists on sleeping in our bed whenever he accompanies us on our vacation. At first I didn't mind, because he stayed in one place and never bothered me. Now that he’s certain he has a place on our bed he became a bed hog. There isn't a single night we don’t end up fighting for bed space. He tricked me with a few peaceful nights, which are now distant memories.

To sum things up, my “favorite dog” pees and poops in the house. Teddy is the only dog which required me to invest a great deal of time and money with a professional trainer. I wanted professional help with Teddy's separation anxiety. In addition to his private lessons, I paid for a class to help Teddy become certified as Canine Good Citizen. I specifically asked the trainer to focus on the task of separation because I knew that was Teddy's most difficult challenge 

On testing day, he easily passed every test but one. When I gave him to stranger and went behind the barrier Teddy fell apart. He howled like a baby. I’d never been so embarrassed. We were the only ones who failed the test that day. I'll never forget the kind words of encouragement the trainer gave me which helped me leave the facility that day with my dignity intact. She said Teddy was a very obedient and likable dog who was obviously very bonded to me. She said if your going to fail this test, that’s the best reason to fail.

For those of you who think this is an easy problem to fix you need to know when I board Teddy in a kennel which has an out-door park, Teddy will cry for weeks on end until the day I return to pick him up. Obviously letting him cry it out until he gets over it doesn't work when he’s capable of crying inconsolably for weeks on end.

Once again I took to my clicker. I've tried to increase the time Teddy can tolerate being without me. I thought I finally made progress when I could go behind a door for 5 minutes without a howl of protest. I learned he could tolerate separation if it were behind that specific door. In all other places the training did not generalize. I know if I took this on the road we might make some progress, but I've decided to live with Teddy as he is.

More than once I've asked myself how is it that a crazy dog that has more issues than all of my dogs combined became my favorite dog. Here’s one of the many reasons why. Teddy was five when I came home from the hospital after prostate surgery. During the first three months post-surgery I suffered with severe urinary incontinence, and stayed at home, Teddy never left my side. In fact he preferred to be on my lap. He was a welcome visitor.

His presence was comforting to me in a way I've never experienced with another dog. Currently, Teddy doesn't sit on my lap as often as I’d like him to. In fact I've accused him of becoming unsociable. Yet I’ll be forever grateful when I needed him the most, he was right there on my lap, day after day, week after week, month after month, until three months passed and I regained urinary control.

Teddy’s been and currently remains a faithful friend, so I love him warts and all. That’s not a bad lesson to learn. Each of us has warts. Unfortunately some of us are incapable of loving someone once his or her warts are exposed. In the relational world, those folks will end their relationships once our warts become obvious to see.  I suspect each person reading this experienced both sides of this coin. All of us were dumped by someone when our warts were exposed, and all of us have dumped someone else when their warts were exposed.

My relationship with Teddy is a vivid reminder of the value of continuing to loving someone warts and all. If you've had a pet that taught you something of value, I hope you’ll share the lesson you learned.