Puppy Love: What Getting a Dog has Taught Me about Myself & Relationships
For many years, my partner and I have talked about getting a dog. It is often part and parcel
For many years, my partner and I have talked about getting a dog.
It is often part and parcel of conversations about mosaic tiled kitchens, careers and hopes to one day be in the San Francisco Dyke March – our dreams of the future.
It has also been a consistent element of my life because my girlfriend LOVES dogs. Every day she would show me pictures of dogs, ask when we were buying a dog, get me to dress up as a dog (ok no, I’m joking, she never did that).
But, this woman bloody loves dogs.
I guess I do too. Or rather, I love all animals (except horses, I just never agreed with them). My love of other creatures generally started at a young age when I would collect (save!) snails from the garden before my mum mowed the lawn, I became a vegetarian at 12 and to this day I’m the crazy woman that misses meetings to save injured pigeons.
In my early childhood, I grew up with a dog who I adored. Suki was a real family dog and I’m sad I’ve not been hold onto more memories of her. Unfortunately, when I was still quite young, my dad was in an accident with Suki in the car and after a range of complications, she had to be put down. Also, I know a couple of paragraphs in I’m talking about a dog that died but it gets better I promise.
Above: Cute little me and perfect Suki
This is important, because I didn’t realise this would have any impact on my later life or my connection to animals. After this, my family went on to have hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets and an evil rabbit (why didn’t you like us Willow?!). When I was 11 I got my cat Millie, who was and still is my world. She went on to have 3 kittens and since then, my family have always had animals.
So, as animals had been central to my childhood, my first pet as an adult and with a partner was a big deal to me. I wanted everything to be perfect and to do it right.
Roll in Frankie in April 2020.
My girlfriend and I welcomed her into our home, bought toys, researched organic dog food, purchased top notch health insurance, the fluffiest blankets and absorbed every bit of knowledge on the latest research in dog ownership and progressive training methods. Yeah, we’re extra.
So, this is my puppy, Frankie…
See, told you it would get better. Don’t you just want to smush her? Try to contain yourself.
In the last few months, Frankie has taught me more about myself and relationships than I ever expected to learn.
Most of it can be summed up as common sense, but here’s the highlights…
You need to accept people for who they are
With the planning and dreaming of getting your first pet, and specifically for dog lovers, this can create a heap of expectations you’ve placed on the situation and what your magical life with your dog will look like.
I’m going to wear matching outfits with my dog, my dog will nap on me whilst I read a book over coffee, my dog will be cute and friendly and well behaved. My dog will be the best dog in the world of dogs and have 1 million Instagram followers on her personal account.
The poor dog had no chance.
Dogs and particularly puppies are not well behaved, unless you teach them to be well behaved (go figure?), they will not automatically be what you want them to be when you want them to be it and the desire for that says a lot more about me than anyone else.
I had unrealistically high expectations for a tiny puppy. I expected her to sleep nicely through the night, pick up training immediately, not bite, love cuddles, entertain herself, walk next to me on the lead, never bark, love everyone she meets… the list goes on and now I’m just embarrassing myself.
Getting a dog is a huge commitment and it takes a lot of work – Paige
Now don’t get me wrong, me and my partner have put a significant amount of effort into training Frankie with kindness and positive reinforcement. So much so that my sickly sweet nicey voice transition to a more firm and obedient tone is seamless. We’re now at a point where that training is paying off – Frankie is toilet trained, obedient to more complex commands and well behaved 90% of the time.
But, she’s still a puppy. It would be unfair of me to want her to be perfect all the time and projecting my desire for “perfection” in every aspect of my life onto a tiny animal is completely unfair – I think this is true for people too.
People and relationships will not always be what you want, they take compromise and commitment. You have to assess the situation, communicate the best you can, persevere and sometimes meet people with where they are at.
I think when you wholeheartedly accept someone for who they are and allow them to grow in their own time, it can be the most authentic and rewarding of relationships.
The unexpected can be the best
I’ve always had some sort of belief in a serendipitous life when it comes to people. I believe in a flow of life – how people find one another, interact with one another and even leave one another.
In my life, many of my treasured relationships have been unexpected. One of my closest friends, who I now regard as family was a stranger on Spare Rooms. My current partner was a chance encounter at an underground feminist punk gig. I’ve cultivated relationships watching burlesque dancers throw cake at one another, in coffee shops, online, in smoking areas, on a sunroof in Benalmádena and much more.
The people are so very different from one another, but they all have one thing in common – I wasn’t expecting them to come into my life and I wasn’t really ready for them. Same goes for Frankie.
I always saw myself with a fluffy dog – like a Cavapoo, or one with a fantastic temperament like a Golden Retriever. I never liked small dogs much – particularly Chihuahuas and I wasn’t interested in having a short haired dog. I also expected to cultivate a relationship with a reputable breeder and have weeks, maybe even months to prepare, or get a rescue dog.
Frankie was a pretty quick turnaround, she’s a Chihuahua-Frenchie mix and when we picked her up she weighed just 1.2kg – that’s about a bag of sugar. She now proudly weighs in at 3.8kg. She is a short-haired, tiny, tiny dog. Believe it or not looking at the picture below… she is barky, stubborn and highly sassy.
Yet, I wouldn’t change a thing. She is beautifully and wonderfully unexpected.
In terms of timing, everyone said “lockdown is perfect!” – it’s not. In reality you cannot socialise the puppy effectively, they develop attachment issues quicker and you don’t get a break which is hard in the short and long term for owner and puppy.
But, I always think about that episode of Friends when Chandler quits is job in data-something-transponding. Monica is all “now is not a good time to have a baby” and he reassures her – there is never a good time to have a baby. I think this is true of most things with relationships and big decisions – there may be better times, but there is never a perfect time and there is beauty and growth in the unexpected.
You are ultimately responsible for your relationships
Nobody knows your relationship better than you.
Whilst a counsellor can help you work out issues and this can be invaluable, ultimately it relies on you to communicate your experience and feelings and make any changes yourself. Unfortunately, whilst there are dog trainers, there is no puppy-owner counselling for the emotional stuff.
Me and my partner got completely lost in every training video, blog and forum out there and you know what we found? Most of it is contradictory.
Crate your puppy, don’t crate your puppy, always give them access to water, stop water after 8pm, feed twice a day, feed three times a day, bath them weekly, bath them never, ignore the barking, crate them when they bark. It may as well have said “stay home, go out, work from home, wash your hands at the office, be alert”. OH OK THANKS VERY CLEAR, VERY HELPFUL.
Most of the stuff online also perpetuates a narrative of – it’s hard work but your dog is THE BEST THING EVER and you’ll be so happy. When I started to really struggle with Frankie and felt lost and useless trying to care for another living thing, this was really unhelpful. I imagine it’s similar to how new mums sometimes feel, although I can appreciate that is significantly more complex. It also reminded me of dominant relationship discourse in the media – rainbows, flowers and (the often white, cis, heterosexual) couple getting their fairy tale at the end in some sort of busy train station.
It wasn’t until I came across Puppy Blues that I felt a little more normal and able to process my emotions so I could be a better dog parent. I guess in the same way it’s normal to struggle in your relationships and get overwhelmed by the amount of advice and guidance to “help” and “improve” it, it’s the same for any big life commitment that takes work.
It’s been re-affirmed for me that a rocky road is not always a sign of disaster, it can often be a sign of growth and within this, you are responsible for if and how you choose to handle the situation.
As me and my partner move forward with our pampered dog-child, we’re starting to enjoy the daily walks, the evening snuggles and the play time that allows us to just switch off. We’ve even started looking for a house with a garden to rent, as we really want to get Frankie a friend. Hopefully we’ll be able to give a loving home to a rescue dog. No doubt this will bring new challenges and teach me even more about myself, love, commitment and relationships.
Anyway, for now, dog mum duties call as Frankie is currently barking at a plastic bag *sigh*.