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Dog ownership: The "What have I done" Moment

Where dog ownership occurs, there inevitably follows a panic stricken, "What have I done?" moment. This is the moment when it dawns on you that you have voluntarily brought into your life a demanding creature who has pressing needs, acknowledges no rules or boundaries. This is particularly true with first time dog owners, and it is not to say that acquiring a dog is a negative experience. It is however, a responsibility that nothing else prepares you for.

When you have a child, on arrival they are fairly innocuous. Sure, they may deafen you with their cries, but for the first few months they are fairly controllable. By comparison, a puppy enters your life in an advanced state of physical development, and perfectly adequately equipped to wreak havoc in your life and home.

As your cute little puppy scampers into your abode, he glances around him with interest. He might sit on his sweet little puppy butt and scratch his darling little ears. This is puppy body language for, "I am stalling for time while I plan my first attack." I have never read this in any published guide to canine communication, but from my extensive field studies, I can assure you this is how to interpret such behaviour.

This is born out by the fact that the puppy's next move will be to chew something, scratch something, or mark something in the time honoured doggy way. The "something" in question will depend on what is closest to hand, but it sure to be a treasured possession. You will rescue your by now damaged and soggy belonging, or clean up whatever bodily fluid ( or solid) the puppy has produced. The pup in his turn will watch, he may well caper about beside you, and he has discovered a fundamental truth of his universe. For every action of his, there is a reaction of yours, and from his point of view it's really fun.

Now he will try another activity, you will deal with the ensuing situation and the pattern will repeat until he runs out of energy and falls asleep wherever the mood takes him. This will almost always be in the most awkward location possible, obliging you to step carefully over him while he snoozes, regaining the energy for later fun and games.

You may not have reached your, "What have I done?" point, because puppies are cute, and it is possible to forgive them most misdemeanours. However, the acid test is often the first night spent with a new puppy. Your new companion has been ripped from the bosom of his family, which was a particularly cosy place to sleep. He is not happy about it, and has no qualms about expressing his unhappiness. He will in all probability cry and howl and make the whole range of sad endearing noises at a pup's disposal. This is the time many owners’ nerves fail them; the puppy is allowed into the bedroom, never to be ousted again, and they will definitely have reached the, "What have I done?" point.

The next morning will be no better, as odds are the puppy will have produced all manner of yucky smelly liquids and semi-solids in the night, in which he will have at least trodden, if not rolled with evident relish.

Toilet training was my own "Waterloo". Although I had waited to get a dog of my own for years, after days shadowing my puppy armed with a clean up spray and cloth, I was a broken woman. "What have I done?" was my plaintive wail, as I fell to my knees, probably straight onto a freshly left "message".

The good news is that the moment passes. The panic wears off, and the hard work and perseverance continues. Gradually, unperceivable to you, living through the process, your dog matures and learns. Then one day, the full realisation of what you have done hits you. True, you have brought into your life a demanding creature, who still has pressing needs, but he does now acknowledge rules and boundaries, even if he does not always obey them. More than this though, you find beside you someone who will follow you wherever you go if you let him, he will never criticise, he will always be on your side, always ready for a game on a good day, or a consoling lick on a sad one. You are at the centre of his world, and all he asks in return is to be a small part of yours.

So although all dog owners will experience at least a fleeting moment of panic, it passes, and the hard work of the puppy months becomes a distant - and fond - memory. Some of us even find ourselves ready to sign up for the experience again. I myself have been "puppy-broody" recently - surely the only thing better than one dog is two? I have made arrangements, visited a breeder, and plans are being made. This time I'll be prepared. I'm ready for the house breaking, the training, the chewing, the scratching, the trips to vet, the disturbed nights.....

Oh no - what have I done?


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