Christmas morning rolls around. A big box, wrapped in gold paper and an oversized bow sits under the tree, an eager puppy waiting inside. This puppy is a blank slate, ready to be trained, immediately loving everyone around him, and would rarely have an accident in the house. He would understand our expectations without being trained over and over again. He would adjust into our family routine without a hiccup.
If you’ve ever had a dog, you know what you just read isn’t reality, even a little bit.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I had this skewed vision of having a dog before we welcomed Pebbles into our home, an optimistic tendency of mine that is hard to squash, and one that I don’t even realize that I’m doing. You see, my family never had dogs growing up, so I was building these lofty and false ideas of what being a dog owner was like. As you may have expected, the first days of having a dog came with a large reality check for me.
We brought Pebbles home, a 4-month dachshund mix rescue. The first couple days were pure bliss – even when cleaning up accidents, waking up to his whining, or hiding our shoes from him. We finally had everything we’ve ever wanted.
About a week in, we were laughing a little less. The nightly wake ups were still happening, due to him getting used to his crate and learning to hold his bladder. The training period was taking longer than I had hoped, an expectation that I find crazy now.
We found so much joy in his antics, his blossoming personality, but by now the nights of limited sleep were catching up, along with house training. A day would go by without an accident, we would get overly confident, and fall two steps back the following day. We knew he would eventually learn, and we would adjust, but the future didn’t seem so clear. The honeymoon period was fading faster than we thought.
With most things in life, it’s hard to take advice from others before you’ve figured it out yourself. Many of my friends told me how much your life changes when you get a dog, how much work it truly is. I heard them, believed them, but it wasn’t until that 10th night in a row of waking up to barking at 1am that it sunk in.
Like many choices in my life, I see the best possible outcome. The sunny days outside, our friendly dog greeting neighbors with kisses. We would take European road trips together, eat at an outdoor cafe with him curled up at our feet. I happen to like this quality of myself, but in retrospect I see the truth that was hiding in my blind spot.
Yes, we will have a lovely time outside in the sunshine with Pebbles, but when strangers pass by and say hello, he might bark in defense, pulling at his leash. It takes training to bring out his trusting side, and even then a lot of dogs will never be completely accepting of everyone they see – and that’s fine.
What I didn’t realize was that Pebbles wouldn’t come in a box with a big bow, a blank slate of a puppy who I can train exactly how I want him to behave. It’s just not like that.
It’s work, but it’s worth it.
A few months passed and he learned these skills. It was such a gradual transition, I realized one day that he hadn’t had an accident in a long time. He even learned to love his crate. With all his training, we made adjustments through trial and error until we got it right. The beautiful and scary thing about raising anything is that its behaviors are a direct reflection of how much time and energy we put into training. None of the accidents or chewed up shoes were directly his fault – it was ours. Once I made this connection, it changed the way I trained.
Summer came, and we decided to finally take Pebbles on a road trip to Garmisch, a picturesque mountain village in Germany with clear lakes to swim, hiking trails, and cute outdoor restaurants. This called for three hours in the car and two nights in a small cabin. Maybe, just maybe a part of my vision would come true!
The drive consisted of a cacophony of whining from the backseat. The new atmosphere of the cabin was stressful for him to stay there alone while we went out to dinner, something he was fine with back home. We learned that he’s not a dog that loved to swim, even in the clear mountain lakes. And my dream of a relaxing time at an outdoor cafe? Well, you guessed it, wasn’t as relaxing as I had imagined.
I had everything I had visualized, it was just slightly more stressful than expected. This doesn’t mean that he’s a bad dog or that we had a terrible time, it means that I need to adjust my expectations.
Right now, Pebbles is asleep on the couch next to me. He’s paws are twitching, a sight that always causes Josh to point out how cute he is. We have been together for 8 months now. We’ve gotten through the hardest parts: house training, crate training, getting neutered.
We’ve reached the point where we have all mellowed out and understand each other. We take each day as it comes, whether it’s a high energy day when he needs loads of time running around, or whether the day is sleepy and simple.
I think back to my dream as a kid, wanting desperately for a dog to love, these perfect visions in my head, I realize how much better reality is.
He has made our house a home.
He’s our perpetual shadow, our kitchen assistant, our comforter, the snuggler who always ends up on his back, belly scratched, paws dangling in the air.
The happiest soul to greet us when we wake up, or through the front door. The one who will always love us no matter how many times we mess up.
He is a part of us. The earnest, playful, at times annoying, lovable parts of us. And I would choose that over “perfection” any day.