Novelist | Singer
After a dogless six months, we brought our new boy, Sailor, an eight-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy into our house. Changes to our routine are now well established by COVID. While the shutdown has been an interruption, without a dog, we’re now free to stay inside until we actually have to go out, rather than being required to go out because the needs of a four-legged companion superseded ours. Our peeing and pooping needs could be taken care of in the very next room.
I was nervous about getting a puppy; a baby. A baby who had lived with seven other dogs (three siblings, mom and dad, and two mastiffs) until we drove up to Shapleigh, ME to pick him up on March 26. We had been waiting since January 24, the day I made the deposit. We named him Sailor before he was born, before we knew if we were getting a boy or a girl.
He was cute, of course. He was playing with his brother and mother, who was constantly running from the puppies still trying to nurse. He drooled heavily the entire two-hour drive home. The sleeves of my jacket were completely soaked, and I worried that he would be a terrible car rider. This dog had to be a good traveler. I ignored the drooling and hung my jacket out to dry. I would wait for a couple of days anyway to launder the jacket. Drool is after all just water from a beautiful puppy’s mouth.
He was obviously in shock. We had a puppy corral ready and waiting, and the second we put him inside, he started to cry. We wanted to habituate him to the pen so that he felt safe, but this seemed backward to me. He was already crying, and I didn’t want him to be stressed out about his new accommodations, so we took him out and held him. We held him much of that day.
I had read the books, and watched Cesar, as well as talking to friends who had raised puppies, unlike me. My last puppy came to our family house in about 1965, and puppy raising was very, very different at that time. The pup went into a box in the garage and cried itself to sleep. I don’t remember much about that time in terms of puppy-rearing but was very certain that I wanted to do as well as I could. Our previous dog Lila came to us at 2 ½ years old with some damage (neglect, fear, over-feeding and a shock collar to quiet her protests). We had a few things to correct, including her total mistrust of strangers and her terror of close spaces. She lived to be 17 years old, an almost perfectly behaved dog for most of those years.
I was determined to do Sailor right the moment his feet crossed our threshold. So we fed him, took him out and plopped him on the ground outside every hour. We got him through that day without one accident. Then, we tried to go to bed.
It’s difficult to know how long to let a puppy cry—a puppy who has been snatched from his siblings and mother and father and moved into a house with two older people and no other dogs. We lay in bed and listened to the whimper turn into a plaintive groan and then escalate to a loud and painful howl, sounding for all the world like a wounded wolf. Finally, I got up and said, “What’s the worst that could happen if we bring him to bed? He might pee or poop in the bed, but we won’t have to listen to this.” So we brought him to bed and he fell asleep instantly, exhausted from the energy required to make those atrocious noises.
Sailor woke up at 3:00 a.m. and whimpered. I got up and put on my robe, scooped him up and took him immediately down the stairs to the backyard and put him on the grass. As if on cue, he squatted and peed. Like magic. I was so amazed, I wanted to take a photo, but hadn’t thought to bring my phone and I was half asleep as it was. I picked him up and took him back to bed, and he fell asleep instantly. I felt like the Dog Whisperer. It took a few days to occur to me that the breeder had started this discipline in the puppies. I am forever grateful.
The joy of being woken by a young puppy has to be one of the most precious experiences in the world. Ever since COVID began, I have woken up with a steady, pervasive feeling of dread. Lila’s decline compounded the emotion, and when she was gone, my world caved in. But now, a sweet wet nose and warm kisses opens my eyes, and the aroma of puppy-breath brings me into a kinder, gentler existence. We’re living a new life with new life in our house.
After the shock and nerves wore off, he decided we were his people. The bond has begun. So far, so good. It’s been relatively easy this first week. He’s had a couple of accidents, but as long as I can keep a schedule, so can he. I’ll write again in a week or so, and perhaps I’ll be a raving lunatic by then, but I doubt it. He’s mellow and communicative, and he listens. And I’m heeding Cesar’s advice, “Would you allow a 45 pound dog to do that?” And the answer is definitely no. I’m fully aware that adolescence is on its way. But for now, he’s a beautiful 9-week-old puppy.