My Favorite Mistake: Adopting a Rescue Dog
An impulsive choice that turned out to be stressful, expensive, and one of the best things ever
Last winter I adopted my puppy Pawley from a local shelter. It was a spontaneous decision based entirely on emotion. I wanted to cuddle and she was available. It was the dog-adoption equivalent of a one-night stand that results in a lifetime of parenthood.
In retrospect, I probably should have taken longer than eight seconds to decide to add another canine to my house. After all, I already owned one dog, a dachshund named Rosie who makes Kim Kardashian look low maintenance.
But after I’d made the decision, there was no going back—not when the shelter worker said the dog was probably part pit bull, part Doberman, and not even when the vet said she would likely get up to around ninety pounds. As I left the vet’s office I envisioned a future where I walked around with a sweater-wearing dachshund and ninety-pound pit bull. And I came to terms with the fact that I might be single for a very, very long time.
For the first several months things went relatively smoothly. Or at least as smoothly as life with a puppy can go, which is to say that I spent about 97 percent of my time cleaning up dog excrement. But then last summer there started to be some sibling rivalry between Rosie and Pawley. The problems quickly escalated to my living room looking like Michael Vick’s backyard circa 2007. I decided that it was time for some drastic measures.
First, I hired a local dog trainer known for working with aggressive dogs. Then, I signed Pawley up for one day a week of day care to socialize her with other dogs. Next, I gave some serious consideration to becoming a drug dealer to supplement my increasingly expensive canine habit.
On the trainer’s first trip to my house, he eyed both dogs, stating that he knew what the problem was. He pointed to Rosie and said, “That one’s a Republican.” Then he pointed to Pawley and said, “And that one’s a Democrat. It’s no wonder they’re not getting along.” I’d actually suspected the same thing. I immediately liked my new trainer.
His methods and results were impressive—and entertaining. I’m not sure if he ever knew the names or even the gender of either dog. He referred to Rosie primarily as “the weasel” and almost always called Pawley a “him” or “he.” But when he spoke they listened. Well, Pawley listened. I pulled Rosie out of training after the second lesson under the pretense that “old dogs can’t learn new tricks.” Really it was just getting embarrassing for him to see how much a seven-inch-tall dog was able to manipulate me.
It quickly became clear through the lessons that my total inability to discipline either dog was actually the root of the problem. While, as most of my friends will tell you, I have no problem bossing around humans, all a dog has to do is wag its tail and I immediately feel as if I’m the one at fault. When my trainer heard me whisper an apology to Pawley after one session, he realized that the problem in this household wasn’t the dogs. He ultimately spent more time training his Homo sapien client than his canine ones.
Somehow, despite my discipline deficiency, the combination of the training and day care has worked. I wouldn’t say I’ve become a dog whisperer through the experience, but I have learned how to show who is in charge in my house. It’s me. Like, at least 60 percent of the time.