My Childhood Dog Wasn't Perfect -- But He Was Perfect for Me
As a child, I grew dog-obsessed on a diet of Animal Ark books, Homeward Bound, and whatever canines large or small happened to pass me in the street. I wanted a faithful companion to lick the tears from my cheeks when I cried, go on adventures with me, defend me from bad guys, and eat the bits of my dinner I didn’t want.
I was constantly disappointed that none of the dozens of abandoned boxes I passed daily ever revealed a litter of unwanted puppies or kittens. Mysterious noises never led me to an adorable animal trapped somewhere, and no stray pet ever wandered into my house and took up residence (mostly because in my area of London you keep your doors locked!).
I felt cheated that none of this ever happened to me, even though books and films had led me to believe these were all everyday occurrences. An overdramatic and somewhat stupid child, I briefly considered blinding myself in the hopes of being given a guide dog, but even for me that plan seemed a bit extreme.
Several years of what must have been an incredibly irritating long-term campaign of whining, gathering intelligence, pointing out every single dog I encountered, more whining, reasoned arguments, PowerPoint presentations (really), and whining followed.
Amazingly, my parents are still speaking to me. Even more amazingly, when I was 13, they agreed that we could adopt a retired racing Greyhound. I constantly evangelize ex-racers, as there are so many of them needing homes every year, and I’ve even been lucky enough to spend time working with the Retired Greyhound Trust. Greyhounds are often described as the perfect pet: sedate, mature, and affectionate, with reasonable exercise requirements. That would have been fantastic, had we ended up with one. Instead, we got this guy:
That’s Jack. Approximately one year old at the time of adoption, five-eighths Greyhound, three-eighths Border Collie, and completely crazy. The first time we saw him he was frantically turning circles in a crate while barking at the top of his lungs, overjoyed to have visitors. From the start, Jack had a couple of wonderful qualities, including being virtually silent (first meeting excepted) and arriving perfectly housetrained, as well as his good looks and charming personality of course.
However, he’d also picked up a lot of terrible habits in his first difficult year of life. He jumped up, he pulled on the lead like a runaway train, he had that particular, as-yet-untrained-sighthound brand of terrible manners, where he’d flatten strange dogs while playing and then trample them on the next circuit just as they’d regained their feet. His time as a stray had given him impressive scavenging skills, and he chewed up anything not nailed to the ceiling. He was kind of sexist, and as an awkward result of his formative time being spent in a rural setting with little socialization, he was also just a little bit racist. Altogether, he was hardly Old Yeller, though he was better looking.
I was thrilled that my dreams had finally come true, but I was also shell-shocked that my new darling was a juvenile delinquent. My unreasonable expectations of some angelic, almost-human Lassie-type were quickly dashed. I think it’s fair to say that with your first dog, you don’t truly understand what you’re getting yourself in for until you’ve done it. No one in my family had ever owned a dog before as an adult, and now we were learning on the job.
At first, as an unconfident and socially awkward 13-year-old, I was terrible at it. Being clever, bored, young, and strong, he really walked all over me for a little while. At first, I felt Jack wasn’t the dog that I’d expected, so at first I wasn’t the owner he deserved. Slowly, though, things began to turn around. We made a group of friends, both human and canine, and Jack began to socialize more and learn some manners while getting the company and exercise that he needed. I discovered that squeaky toys could get his attention back to me in basically any situation.
We took classes together, and there his food obsession was a plus rather than a pest -- his highly reward-oriented tendencies meant he was motivated and quick to learn. He started to excel at both basic obedience and party tricks, which had the double benefit of making him a better canine citizen and occupying his mind and body. At some point between his second and third birthday, he grew out of his delayed adolescence a little bit, too. I began to learn and grow in confidence, and so did he.
Looking back, I’m so glad I got my irrepressibly naughty devil dog, rather than the imaginary angelic one. He’s caused some stress and a few tears over the years, but it’s always been impossible not to love and laugh at him, too. Everyone knew he was special: After he was rescued from being put down at a pound, the owner of the charity’s son wanted to keep him, and when that wasn’t possible he became his namesake.
We grew up together, and I learned so much from living with and teaching him -– a slim encyclopedia worth of dog knowledge, as well as how to be confident, assertive and independent. It’s good to have a dog like me, one who makes mistakes and doesn’t always know how to behave (although I’ve never done anything as inappropriate as urinating on a complete stranger or making off with the entire roast chicken centerpiece of someone else’s family picnic, delicately plucking a drumstick from the hands of a toddler on the way out).
Unbelievably, he’s nine now and I’m an adult, but when Jack and I mess up, we still always know there are people around to love us anyway.
Recently, I was in the park with friends. Dog radar still switched on after many years, I spotted a couple being cheerfully dragged every which way by a bouncy brindle Lurcher. I went up and introduced myself so I could stroke their dog (this always mortifies whoever I’m with) and they revealed, looking a little worried, that they’d only had him for a week. I explained how similar he was to my own rescue dog when he was young, and they asked if I had any advice. “Just know he’s going to be a really good dog,” I said, “and buy lots of squeaky toys.”
Have you lived with a rambunctious pup? How did you cope? Tell us your story in the comments!
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