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November 3, 2023

What My 3-Legged Pup is Teaching me About Patience

How can I teach my 3-legged Roo good behavior without shouting at her?

She’s still a puppy, and learning every day, but I don’t want to be a shouty dog owner as I correct her for less-than-good behavior.

This evening she lay in the sunset grass near the shore, happily chewing a stick to pieces. Another curious dog (a dog she knew) approached her from the beach and Roo’s hackles stood on end. Her little puppy voice growled until the smells became familiar.

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen her defensive in an offensive way.

Usually, she wags her skinny little butt, flips on her back, belly up, ears flattened back in the sweetest submissive way, hoping she’s met a playmate.

Not tonight.  Tonight an old, gentle, German Shepard she had recently met ambled up the rocky beach. The Shepard, shaggy and sandy, took in little Roo while his owner reached out for a hug. Roo was trying her best to appear twice her little size.  All that sweet puppy fur standing as if electrified.

I wonder if she learned that tactic from Tino.  Arching her back and bristling so that every hair on her body seemed longer, sharper, scarier.  My kitty has that down. Look bigger.  Don’t run.

But tonight I didn’t scold Roo  – I just let the dogs be dogs until hugs and wags abounded.

The puppy excitement I’m not worried about. It’s how she doesn’t listen to me when I give her instructions, and the strong energy with which she sinks her loving bites into my skin.

When she doesn’t listen, I feel like I’ve met the rebellious teenage version of myself in puppy form. And it sucks.

I don’t want to be a shouty dog owner. The other day, my neighbor, whose household includes two boisterous, sweet, and completely deaf dogs, told me he’d mentioned to his wife (after watching from his porch while Roo ignored me and lay in the grass while I called to her) that I hadn’t yet learned to master Roo.  She knows I’m her mom.  She doesn’t know that I’m supposed to be her master. I haven’t established myself as the alpha of our pack.

Let’s be honest.  Tino is the alpha in this household.

If you’ve been reading my blogs long enough, you know my kamizee kitty calls all the shots around here.  I submit to her meows.  Roo shrinks from her venomous glares. Tino wins.  That’s just how it is.

But Roo?  I’ve been leaning heavily into praise and rewards for that girl.  And she’s a good girl.  Snuggly in the evening, sweet and sleepy in the morning. Fun and playful, and nap-time calm during the day while she snoozes at my feet.

But there is this space in our afternoons . . . let’s say from 4:30-ish to 7:30-ish, when she is hell on wheels. And her toothy, mischievous smile mouths everything like a hungry shark would a diver’s cage.

EVERYTHING has been perforated in my house.  My lampshade, my journals, my lighter for my candles, any medicine tubes, all my shoes, my brand new pair of sunglasses god-dang-it, and my yoga mat.  Now she has started in on my plants, chewing the most perfect leaves into wet green confetti.

When she bites into something she is not supposed to – flesh or treasured belonging of mine – I shout “NO” and replace what I take away from her with a toy she can chomp, bestowing a “good girl” on her as she happily begins to chew whatever new thing I’ve given her.

Then I find myself remembering the off-comment my neighbor made. “Christy hasn’t yet learned to master . . .”

As Roo again sinks her teeth into me, my shouts of “Ow!” that are meant to teach her that she’s bitten too hard just don’t seem to land.  Teeth still puncturing the soft parts of my forearm, she looks at me, with her dark, mirthful eyes . . . and she bites harder.

The swear words fly and I lose my patience.

After three months, she just isn’t getting the message.  I’ve started shouting NO and clamping down her little jaws of terror with my own hands.

“NO” I shout, and make the meanest expression I can, brows pinched, and frown in full force, hovering inches above her little puppy face.

NO.

She takes this in. She thinks about it as her gaze meets mine with calm. Maybe she’ll release, maybe not – she’s going to ponder her options first.

Part of the problem is that I kind of admire this about her.  Yes, Roo, challenge authority and test all the boundaries.  Just not my authority.  Respect my boundaries. This is a learning stage for both of us.

I know she means none of the harshness in her bite.  She just wants to play.

I know I mean all of the harshness in my voice. I don’t want to bleed.

Still.  A shouty dog owner is not in my future.  Maybe this is a throwback to the shouty house I grew up in that I don’t wish to recreate with my animals.  In my childhood home, everyone was a shouter.  Me included.  We shouted our anger and frustrations all the time.

In the last year or so, I visited my sister’s house.  Her lovely son had done something not so lovely.  She quietly called him to her.  She spoke low. Spoke serious.  Her furrowed brow and no-non-sense frown communicated all the disappointment and sternness she needed so that her son knew to right whatever wrong had been committed.

I remember watching this scene play out from my corner of the couch and thinking, “What peace.  What progress!  How did she do that?”

Growing up in our household, anger was shouted, but correction was also done through shouting.  And shouting reverberates far beyond the shouted-at moment.

Shouting affects the energy in the room. It saddens pets and kills plants. The impact of shoutyness lingers and permeates and stains – long after the issue that sparked the shout has been forgotten.

Even now, thinking about the shoutyness affects me in some energetic and emotional way.

If I had kids, I can see myself being a shouty parent.  I’d totally have to take parenting classes and join support groups to improve my reactions all I could, aging as my kids grew. I would be learning to forgive myself for any expletives that rocketed from my mouth as items spilled or broke. I can see this pathway I didn’t take as clear as day.

At my sister’s, witnessing this shift in teaching and communicating between parent and child inspired me.

As a dog owner, I’m attempting to be better in what ways I can as an authority figure.  As the master. So far, it’s not going that great.

Roo’s 3-leggedness does nothing to impede her energy.  She’s streamlined now, and faster and stronger than ever with just her 3 legs.  To learn the best puppy-parenting practices, I’ve joined dog forums and Googled puppy obedience sites regularly. I talk with neighbors who’ve owned puppies. In the last three months, Roo has learned at least 6 1/2 tricks she will perform, but only for treats.

The consensus I’ve gathered is that it will just take time.  It will take persistence, consistency, and patience on my part as she grows from puppy to doggy.  Especially in those afternoon to evening hours when her fangs come out.

By 8 pm, she’s usually curled up next to me on the couch while I type, and then, all I have for her is love, and no more shouties.  In the evening, I’ve almost forgotten all about my damaged, once-cherished items and the teeth marks on my skin.

Almost.

~ Christy

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