I never thought I would be here.
Adding a puppy to our lives was going to be a good thing.
I sold my diamond ring to bring this puppy home.
I researched dog training, and dog breeds. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was prepared to go to the ends of the world to make the new dog fit into our family.
I fell in love with Coda. We all did; a week after bringing him home, my husband (who had never before owned a dog) left me a beautiful note saying how happy he was that we had a dog. Coda is my baby. We’ve bought him all sorts of neat toys. I love to take him for long, brisk walks and Andrew likes taking him for bike-rides. I love that having a dog has magically made my children more responsible; they pitch-in with taking care of Coda and with so many other household chores now – without even being asked. I love the way having a dog has been like therapy for my ten-year old – who finds pure joy in getting puppy kisses and playing tug with the dog.
And yet. I wish I had known removing a dog too early from his litter makes it difficult for him to learn not to bite. We received our puppy when he was seven weeks old. Before that he was in the care of a foster home for a little over a week. Before that he was in an animal shelter. Doing the math, he was probably taken from his mom around five weeks old or earlier.
Now, at five months old, Coda struggles with anxiety, hyperactivity and biting. We’ve been through puppy class – where our dog was repeatedly called out for misbehaving and often removed from the class. All the other dog owners looked at me as if our dog was a bully and a maniac. It was the most exhausting part of my week. I’d leave every class frustrated, embarrassed and downright sweaty from trying to control him for an hour.
We’ve had a certified trainer to the celebrities come to our home for a personal training session. She kept remarking that although he was very smart, he was also very strong-willed. She was obviously annoyed when he totally ignored her repeated attempts to correct him for whimpering in his crate. I was floored when she looked at me and said “Good luck with that one.” Before she left she scared him into submission for a few minutes, and we spent the next week trying to lure him out from under the couch.
I’ve read countless articles and tried to be oh-so-consistent. For biting we ignore the dog, and if we can- give him a time-out. We’ve tried water in the face – and when he was little, yelping like a hurt puppy. We’ve tried smacking his nose and telling him ‘no’ . . . and yesterday when he bit my wrist I shoved my hand into his throat to gag him, but it didn’t phase him.
My dog’s bites are getting harder as he grows and even though I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to, he isn’t getting it. He ‘nipped’ at my son’s friend who was over the other day. If his nip was a little painless snap at the ankles maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but he really clamps down and leaves marks.
I am torn and dizzy thinking about which is worse: to give up a dog, or run the risk of it biting friends and children. Perhaps it was irresponsible for me to get a dog in the first place since I am not experienced. But every dog owner has to start somewhere, right? And if so many people have dogs, why wouldn’t we be able to handle it? But what it boils down to is that I truly think that he is an unusually difficult dog. Heck even Ms celebrity trainer was challenged by him.
People ask me how it’s going with the new dog, and because I feel like I have to make this work, I give polite responses like “He’s a lot of fun.” Which he is . . . sometimes. But I have slinked back from telling the whole truth because the truth is, I feel like a huge miserable failure.
Ridiculous I know, but my biggest issue right now is what will everyone think of me if we can’t handle him? As we were preparing to get this dog, a friend looked me in the eye and asked if I knew what I was getting into. She reminded me that a dog is not something you can just give back when it gets hard. It’s part of your family. “I know it,” I said. And I truly believed that with all my heart. I still do.
My husband and I had a long talk about Coda last night, and my husband’s comment was that this dog needs constant attention – and we can devote all of our energy, time and money into training him. That is a choice we could make. Although, do we want our life to revolve completely around a dog? Is that even right? Andrew said “He will either be a good investment or a very expensive mistake.” Ouch. Why do my mistakes always have to be so darn expensive?
We’re still researching, thinking, training and praying. I have emailed some dog experts to ask for help. I really would love Coda to be part of our family for a long time. If I have to give him up I will be heartbroken – and yes I will cry hard. And I really don’t think I would ever get another dog. I wouldn’t feel I deserved it.
Yesterday, after a slightly traumatic dog v. mommy episode, my seven-year-old daughter shrugged her shoulders and asked if we could please give him away. She said it was a lot more fun before we had him. Then she asked if we could adopt a baby instead, because babies don’t hurt you when they bite.