When the dog is here, I tend to think of the bad stuff. Like the fact that she can’t go outside for a leak without me taking four trips downstairs, the middle two because she got her lead wrapped around something for the umpteenth time. Now that she’s not here ... if I go into the kitchen right now, it will definitely NOT be daddy-and-Polly-snacktime.
This gets more shockingly real all the time.
Still, this has been a good experience. I used to like dogs and cats equally. Now I know I’m a dog person. A cat is an elaborate house decoration, like a lamp. A dog is part of your life.
Steph is doing much better today than she was when she got here from Houston, and that’s true for Polly as well. The dog used to be a nervous wreck. She did okay with humans, but she was wary and defensive around other dogs.
One day in the first week Steph and Polly lived here, we left the dog in the back yard while we went out to to eat. Polly barked loudly and continuously the whole time we were gone. I was flummoxed enough by the situation to hire a dog trainer to come help us learn to live with her. I want to say that it was mostly a waste of money, but I guess it wasn’t, completely. The one good thing that the trainer did for us was to act as the dog’s advocate, helping us see things from her perspective. After that, I learned to tune into the dog’s needs for myself.
Polly has always had, erm, “boundary issues,” I guess. She feels that most other dogs try to crowd her space too quickly. In the early days, that meant I was pulling her out of fights about once a week. Then I saw a woman at the dog park pin her dog to the ground for a couple of minutes when he was misbehaving. I started doing that too.
Polly always acted too kool for skule when I did that. She was all like “whatevs, I’m just resting. I’d be lying here anyway, even if you weren’t holding me down. I’ll be up and playing soon.” But I only had to do it a few times, and she stopped fighting with other dogs. It’s probably been a year since I had to pin her down. She’s still wary of dogs who crowd her space, but it never leads to a fight. She has learned to use defensive body language to make them back off.
Other dogs would try to play with her back then, and she’d be all like “you’re creeping me out, go away.” For some reason, she warmed up to one particular dog, a weimaraner named Ushi. All other dogs were still icky, but Polly would wrestle with Ushi for however long me and the other dog’s owner were willing to stick around. It was surprising to me that Polly knew how to wrestle, but I guess it’s not difficult to figure out. It helped that Ushi was particularly good at wrestling. She used her front paws like a cat.
In a couple of months, any dog that was about Polly’s size was okay for her to play with. Also, puppies. Polly has made it clear that, if she could, she would steal somebody’s puppy for herself.
Big dogs continued to freak her out. Especially male big dogs. She crossed that final frontier about a month ago. One day at the dog park I looked up from my iPhone to see her wrestling with a great dane that was easily twice as tall as her, and maybe three times her weight. Polly had to jump up in the air to take a swat at him, otherwise she’d only be able to reach his legs.
So here she is playing with a gigantic dog for the first time ever, as far as I know. The situation quickly turned ugly. The other dog didn’t want to play so much as he wanted to smell her butt, and he wasn’t being cool about it. That should have freaked her right the hell out, but it didn’t. She was all like “hey buddy, this isn’t fun anymore. You need to step away from my nether regions.” The other dog was increasingly insistent, not willing to take “no” for an answer. Polly kept amping up the countermeasures, trying to fend him off, finally nipping at him a little bit. She never overreacted, and it didn’t turn into a fight.
Finally he got the message. This huge great dane stood there towering over her, big flat head with a menacing expression, giving her ’tude. His body language said “did you just nip at me? Because I’m pretty sure you just nipped at me.” Polly said “we’re not playing anymore, pal.”
Well! I guess that’s it then. Eighteen months of love and affection later, along with near-daily trips to the dog park, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a happier dog. She doesn’t have much more to learn. She’s still too aggressive when she’s on a leash, I guess we could work on that. And she’s still a bit wary of dogs she’s unfamiliar with, but I suspect that won’t ever go away. Remnants of her past, deeply ingrained. Reminds me of myself.
I have a lot of ideas about dog ownership that I didn’t have two years ago. The main one is this: if you love your dog, everything else will work out. To that end, if you’re not willing to let a dog live in your house with you, then you shouldn’t have one. The dog will test your patience, often, but if you have her best interests at heart, she will reward your efforts, many times over.
That picture of Polly up there was taken in December 2007. She was so skinny then! She ate almost nothing in the first two months she was here. Steph and I thought she was picky about what type of dog food she’d eat. The truth was that she was so freaked out by her surroundings that she couldn’t eat, period. These days she will eat anything.
I thought it would be a good idea to wait until I’m no longer living alone before getting my own dog. They are a lot of work, if you’re doing it right. Seems better to split that work amongst two or more humans. But really, can I live the way I am now, with no other sentient beings in the house? No, I cannot.
Steph and I are talking about getting a little Polly-clone, and co-owning the two of them. I could take both dogs when she needs to go out of town or whatever, and vice versa. And we would each have our own respective dog, most of the time.