Our last puppy?
“This is it,” my wife said. “No more puppies after this one.” At that moment I couldn’t really disagree. We were a couple weeks into our lives with Shea, then a 9-week-old Australian shepherd puppy, and we were beaten down and wounded. My forearms were covered with scabby slashes from puppy teeth/claws and neither of us had experienced a full night’s sleep since we’d brought Shea home.
Yes, Shea was an adorable puffball of hair who loved to cuddle and had an essential sweetness to him.
He was a terror, too. He ran around the house at all times with his mouth open, looking for something, anything, anyone, to bite. He got into everything and destroyed whatever he’d nabbed.
He slept while we were awake, kept us awake when we attempted sleep. He terrorized our older dog, following him constantly and nipping at him with his needle-like puppy teeth whenever he got in range. He bit my sister-in-law’s toe hard — but playfully, we insisted — during Thanksgiving dinner.
One cold night we were watching television and saw a commercial in which an adorable yellow Lab puppy, covered in mud, approaches his human. We laughed. “How cute,” we agreed. Within a couple minutes our own puppy came in through the doggie door, soaked and covered with mud, having run through the sprinklers despite the cold. Our words weren’t exactly, “How cute.”
When we’d tell people about our wild thing, folks would smile and say, “That’s how puppies are.” I would respond that I’d raised plenty of puppies, but this one was particularly crazed, a particular trial of our love for dogs.
When you get an Australian shepherd you know you’re getting a smart but energetic, maybe even hyperkinetic, dog. Someone who knew Flynn, our previous, uncommonly sedate Aussie, and then met Shea said we were paying double for the mellowness of Flynn with the zealousness of Shea.
After a few Shea weeks, we’d reached our breaking point. We had to do something. We contacted renowned local dog trainer Mike Burk, someone we’d worked with previously, and decided to give Shea private training.
Mike was convinced Shea was just a puppy being a puppy and could be trained to become a good canine citizen. He started training Shea … and us. Shea’s behavior, and our behavior in interacting with Shea, improved rapidly.
After he had his last round of puppy shots, we started taking Shea on a nightly basis to Woof Town, Imperial’s wonderful dog park, which is within walking distance of our house. There Shea found an outlet for his love for wrestling with and chasing of other dogs. When he nipped other dogs too hard while playing, particularly older dogs, he learned tough lessons about biting that we hadn’t been able to teach.
The dog park, combined with long walks in the morning, sapped some — and let me emphasize the word “some” — of the boundless energy from Shea, and his behavior at home became “somewhat” — and let me emphasize the word “somewhat” — more sedate.
And finally, after weeks of snarling, growling and hissing whenever the puppy approached, Bobby seemed to realize that Shea essentially was a sweet soul who used wrestling and gnawing as demonstrations of affection. Bobby and Shea started hanging together much of the day, going in and out of the doggie doors to check out happenings in the house and in the yard, providing another outlet of energy for Shea.
Now, at 5 and a half months, Shea is becoming a pretty good puppy. He still loves to wrestle and he still tears up various items, but his tendencies toward destruction and general household terror are lessening, and his essential sweetness is coming out more and more.
Is Shea our last puppy? Well, we’ll just have to see about that. Bret Kofford teaches writing at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley. He can be reached at kofford@ roadrunner.com