Last week, my world was flipped on its head. After years of researching the right breed, waiting for the right time, and finally being in a stable enough living environment, my husband and I finally welcomed home a puppy.
We had been on a waitlist with an out-of-state German Shorthaired Pointer breeder, and when the litter was born, were told that if we wanted a female, we’d have to wait until the spring for the next litter. We had the option of a male with different coloring, or waiting at least six months for the possibility of the puppy that we had envisioned.
After waiting three whole years to finally get a dog, six more months just felt impossible. Being someone who typically has no trouble manifesting my desires (read: making things happen when I really want something), I took matters into my own hands and began researching breeders in our area.
Nearly immediately, I found one who had an older puppy available. It was male, and a little beyond the sweet baby puppy phase. We were open to meeting him and seeing if he was the right fit, but after a few red flags from the breeder, we kept looking.
Then I came across a breeder I’d been referred to but had forgotten about, located only an hour away. He had an eight-week-old female puppy available, the exact coloring we’d been hoping for. We drove out to the country to meet her on a Sunday, instantly fell in love, and brought her home the following Tuesday.
We named her Juniper, and she was precious. My husband and I don’t have children, and the excitement and joy having a puppy brought us felt like a glimpse into what most people must feel as they become first-time parents.
In the days leading up to bringing her home, we bought her a beautiful crate that matched our furniture, a fluffy bed fit for a princess, specialty puppy food, and every cute toy you can imagine. We puppy-proofed our home and our yard, read everything we could get our hands on about positive reinforcement training, and felt like kids on Christmas, eagerly awaiting the gift of bringing our puppy home.
It took Juniper a couple of days to adjust to being in our home, but she was affectionate and loved napping in my lap. She seemed to bond with me immediately, and also was very loving toward my husband. She took to housebreaking and crate training very well, and right away her intelligence, confidence, and strong will were evident.
Toward the end of her first week with us, I was in the backyard with Juniper as she played and ran around. She started getting a little too rough, running up to me to bite at my ankles and so on. I figured she was getting tired, as she was due for her afternoon nap, so I scooped her up to calm her down and bring her inside.
As I picked her up, though, her demeanor changed. She went from playful and floppy to rigid, serious, and stiff. She began growling, snarling, and curling her lips, and even biting me as hard as she could without letting go.
Disturbed, I held her scruff until she stopped. That seemed to calm her down, and I thought she must have just gotten confused in play, and maybe was testing my dominance – though I noted that she seemed oddly young for that.
I grew up with large sporting and herding dog breeds, and only once had a puppy who growled. He was a rescued Australian Shepherd, and after what we presumed was a traumatic start to life, he was very fearful when we brought him home. He growled at me and each of my family members for the first couple days we had him if he ever felt cornered, but it did not take us long to earn his trust and teach him that humans were safe.
That experience had taught me about dogs who would be aggressive out of fear, which was one of the reasons I valued finding such a confident puppy in Juniper. She certainly wasn’t afraid of us, and when she would hear a new noise outside that did frighten her, she always responded by sitting up extra tall and facing the direction of the foreign sound.
It was clear to us that her disturbing behavior hadn’t come from fear, but I found myself justifying it. Perhaps it was because she didn’t have an older dog around to teach her the pack order, or maybe it was just a one-time thing.
Unfortunately, another episode happened a couple of days later. We were working with her on her puppy mouthing and biting (playful and exploratory, not aggressive), when she became frustrated and went into her “attack mode” once again. This time, my husband was present, and we were both equally disturbed. Still, we tried to reckon with the behavior, and resolved to be more consistent with her training.
The hyper-aggressive episodes began occurring daily, then multiple times a day, whenever she wasn’t getting her way in a situation. Mostly, it would happen in the afternoon or evening, and usually when we stopped her from digging in the backyard or were ready to bring her back inside the house.
We had taken her to the vet each week since bringing her home for various things, like her first check-up, vaccinations, and a slight ear infection, and when we mentioned that we were having some trouble with her biting, the veterinary staff shrugged it off and said, “she’s just a puppy, there’s not really anything you can do.” Our last visit to the vet with her at eleven weeks, even one of the techs commented on how strong-willed she was after she repeatedly ran back to the door of the exam room – even after being distracted with treats, toys, and coaxing.
We triple- and quadruple-checked that we were feeding her appropriately, that she was being given ample exercise and mental stimulation, and sensing that she needed something I couldn’t pinpoint, I spent nearly every hour of each day with her.
As I was the one spending more time with her, and her primary handler, she was naturally having more of the hyper-aggressive episodes with me. She also would get into predator stalking position, staring at me with a lowered head (like a wolf), if she was off-leash in the yard. We began wondering whether maybe she perceived my husband to be the alpha, and was testing the pack order with me, because when she would have an episode with my husband, it was much less intense and much shorter in duration.
However, last Saturday evening, my husband was practicing some of her training (again, to be sure we were giving her plenty of mental stimulation, to which she always responded well). This time, she got frustrated with him and went into a frenzy – it was more intense than it ever had been, and she was biting down on his hand with all of her might, growling loudly, snarling, and essentially attacking him. He remained very calm and level the whole time, and eventually got her calm enough to put her in her crate.
Exhausted and flabbergasted, we agreed that we would reach out to the expert trainer who we had been referred to in our research prior to bringing a puppy home. He trains military dogs and works with high energy, working breeds, so we knew he would be able to help us.
We arranged a consultation call for the following morning. After not even hearing the half of it, the trainer said without an ounce of hesitation in his voice, “That’s not normal. You need to contact your breeder immediately and get a new puppy.”
We bargained, asked if there was even a sliver of hope that we could help her work through this, even if it meant sending her off for bootcamp-type training with him. He explained that this behavior can happen in any breed, and that it is an extremely rare neurological defect. That it makes dogs untrainable, and a serious safety liability down the road – that a dog like this is not suited for family life in a home.
Unconvinced and frankly in shock, we reached out to a few other trainers for their opinions. Across the board, they each echoed the same opinion without hesitation. We did some reading on this rare and very disturbing behavior in puppies, and learned that this is, in fact, a defect in the dog’s brain that it’s born with, and that no amount of training, socialization, love, or treats could fix it. If the puppy were behaving this way in a pack setting, it would be attacked, as it would never be natural for a puppy to be in charge (as these dogs believe they are).
The breeder was very gracious, and held the same opinion as the trainers. He asked us to bring Juniper back to his ranch, where he would check her out just in case it had just been something to do with us, and we just weren’t a good fit for her. He said they’d be able to find her a better fit either way, so we drove her out there that same evening, still in disbelief.
The next morning, the breeder called me and apologized for how unfortunate this situation was. He said in all his years of breeding, he had only heard of this happening one other time. He offered us a full refund or a future puppy, and confirmed that Juniper indeed had what is termed “dominance aggression.” He said that since she won’t make a suitable family dog, that he would keep her at his ranch so that she could be free and happy. He told us that he was planning his next litter to be ready in the late spring, so about six months from now. I wanted to scream.
All week, we grieved. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, dreaming about her, missing her sweet face, kissies, and cuddles. But I was also so perplexed by the entire situation. Why had this happened? After all, the only thing I’d really wanted for the past three years was a dog!
Why did this have to happen to us? Why couldn’t Juniper just have been normal? Why won’t there be a puppy available – from this breeder, or the out-of-state one, for six months? Why do I have to keep waiting in agony?
At the beginning of the week, my frantic prayers were that we wouldn’t have to wait very long to get a new puppy, that it would miraculously just happen right away. Or even better, that the breeder would call to inform us that Juniper was much better, and that we could go pick her up anytime.
Toward the end of the week though, after mourning and crying more than I could remember over the loss of any family member, my prayers began to change. Instead of pleading with Divine Source for the impossible, I instead began praying to get my joy back. For renewed peace and acceptance of the situation.
My husband had to go out of town this weekend, and I set out to keep myself sufficiently distracted, while still dedicating time for self-care and healing. Alone in our house in the evenings though, I found myself on animal rescue and adoption sites, looking up other breeders, and even researching other breeds until I was finally tired enough to go to bed.
Yesterday the longest partial lunar eclipse in over 500 years happened. Full moon energy sometimes disrupts my sleep, but last night was especially rough. Sleeping for only a few, wakeful hours, my dreams were of Juniper once again. I woke up too early, but was ready to be awake.
Sipping my coffee in the still quiet of my living room, now void of a puppy, her crate, and half a dozen fluffy toys, I felt a shift in my perspective. Reflecting back over my obsessive behavior the night before, and the feeling that I had to find a replacement for Juniper right away or the world would end, I realized that this pattern was familiar.
This was exactly what I’d spiraled into following the ending of a volatile relationship before meeting my husband. In both instances, I had become obsessed and desperate, utterly unable to enjoy my life or find gratitude, and convinced that until I had the thing I wanted most, my joy and life were incomplete.
Even my approach to getting Juniper was similar to how I felt when I met Terrible Ex-Boyfriend TEB). Something about it had felt too easy, convenient, and too good to be true. In both scenarios, I’d felt like it could be from God – after all, even though I went looking, the thing I was looking for appeared. But in both cases, I never had that sure-fire knowing that comes when it truly is the right step. The knowing you feel in your gut and your bones so much that it gives you chills.
Truthfully, I’d begun growing impatient and figured it wouldn’t hurt to try the door. Well, it did hurt – a lot. The heartbreak of the ended relationship devastated my mental and physical health, and took years and so much self-work to heal.
Juniper felt like all my hopes and dreams to be a dog owner just burst before my eyes and slipped through my fingers. In each scenario, both of TEB and the puppy, I have the sense that in going after the wrong one (the imposter), the right one was delayed.
Maybe I wouldn’t have met my husband if it hadn’t been for that heartbreaking relationship, but maybe even if I had, I would have been ready to fall in love with him as soon as we met. Instead, I was still hung up on TEB, heartbroken, and a mess over the whole breakup when I met my husband after grasping at any glimmer of hope by swiping right on dating apps.
Of course, romantically things did work out. I fell in love with my husband years after meeting him on a dating app and deciding to be friends since neither of us were ready for a relationship. Why would I think that getting a dog would be any different? Why wouldn’t I just trust that in the right timing, it would all work out just the way it was supposed to all along?
On the bright side of all of this, including my obsessive patterns to feel a sense of control over my life, both Terrible Ex-Boyfriend and Juniper highlighted to me what is truly important in the right one. They also brought to my attention some huge red flags that otherwise weren’t on my radar.
Pain is not the end of the world – it is merely a really loud teacher.
So, this full moon lunar eclipse, I am releasing the need to control the timing of getting what I want and my innate impatience surrounding such, but also releasing the pattern of being down on myself for repeating a hard lesson.
I am able instead to see the beauty and validity of my approaches to life, recognize that just because something that I went for didn’t work out, doesn’t mean that I messed everything up and that it won’t work out. I release my self-judgment and embrace true maitri, honoring my own resilience, ability to recognize what’s not serving me, and choose differently out of loving kindness, compassion, and friendship for myself.
As we enter whatever season of life is next for us, may we know in the quiet stillness of the morning how fully and completed loved and supported we are, and trust in the perfect the timing of our precious lives.