Our last puppy?

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION - BRET KOFFORD

“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

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