How to Make a Puppy Feel at Home
This is an excerpt from my book: Second: A Tale of Grief and Puppy Love...
Tangenyika was not exactly thrilled to find herself alone, without her littermates and parents, in her new abode. The whimpering in the car turned to whining in the house. Being left alone for a second would bring it on, and occasionally even with me sitting a few feet away, the urge to cry would seem to overtake her small frame. She could certainly be distracted with food and toys, and I assumed that it would take a little time for her to get fully acclimated; but after a couple days, I was at my wits end as to how to get her to move beyond the whining phase. I had gotten one of those plastic travel crates. The breed book seemed to be suggesting that providing a secure, small place for her to retreat to was soothing to all dogs. In Tangenyika's case, this was far from the truth, being in the crate seemed to be a special kind of torture. Even just trying it out for 2 minutes, while I went to the bathroom, brought on a torrent of whining that would take a hour to abate, even once I'd returned and she was out of the crate. Of course, I now realize that my perspective was all wrong. How on earth was she to know that I was just in the bathroom? Did I expect her to rationally wait some appropriate amount of time before giving in to the feeling of abandonment?
One of the hardest, and yet, most fundamentally enriching shifts that one has to make when choosing to live with a dog is to really start to inhabit the canine mind. Us humans are so often lost in projecting the future and revisiting the past that we really fail to dwell in the present. Getting practice on staying present and understanding that we should focus only on what is happening right now is a gift that we get from living with dogs. In order for me to solve the whining dilemma, I needed to just experience what was going on. All of the options from my scheming and dreaming conscious mind failed. I was imagining scenarios way too complex to have actually been what was happening with my puppy.
At some point, full of exasperation, I laid down flat on the floor with my face close to hers and surrendered. I can certainly offer up theories today, but it was simply that until that moment, I had not just been a being in close proximity to her, just sharing the moment. I was – up until that point – always reacting to her from my default human perspective. Standing five feet above her, constantly talking at her, swooping down on her to pick her up – there was a spatial distance that must have felt like an ocean to her. As well, I was highly alert for any signal to rush her outside for her own bathroom breaks. Instead of being comforting and reassuring, I was all frantic human activity. Most of which occurred several feet above her position and took place in a language she had not yet began to parse. I had not yet demonstrated to her pure companionship.
The basic act of laying down flat, in the end, changed the relationship for good. Letting her come to me, being able to respond to her without an agenda, merely wanting to let her show me what she wanted in that moment, somehow broke the cycle of whining and allowed us to start developing a partnership. I've learned time and time again, when there is a difference of opinion with a dog, the fastest way through the contentious issue is to get still, quiet, and maybe even get on the ground.
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