We are getting a new puppy mid-June named Kai. He is a yellow labrador retriever. His momma, Reece, was friends with our beautiful Ms. Bay who passed last January. When we found out Reece was going to have puppies, we got on friend Julie’s list. (This may be Kai or his sibling. We’re not sure yet.)
Several weeks ago, while I was away in the Bay Area celebrating my oldest son’s passing of orals on his PhD and launch into dissertation mode, Julie texted and asked if we could take the pack for four days over Memorial Day weekend. Her husband’s dad had died and they were going up to Oregon to be with family. I would get home, have a day to regroup, then all seven four and a half week pups would come over with Reece who was still nursing, though the pups started solids as well. This was quite a favor and we had never had puppies (as in EVER) in mass.
Well, of course we will do it! was the obvious response.
We printed up documents of feeding instructions and emergency numbers and pasted them on the fridge. The dad showed up with a whole pickup bed worth of equipment which we set up. One by one, momma and puppies piled out of the backseat crate and into our hearts.
Frankly, I think this should be mandatory for every pet owner. Make it a bill. Maybe a Change.org petition. Every puppy owner first needs to tend to the entire pack for a minimum of four days before bringing one home to stay. Because during these four days, you really begin to understand so many aspects of the transition from dog pack to people pack. You understand how hard it must be for the pups to leave their family and move to a human family with new rules and new ways that were different from their primary family.
It reminded me of this exercise I did at this recent youth mental health conference I went to at Asilomar after watching a film called “Removed” about a young child dropped into the foster system. Child services took her from a domestic violence situation. Here was the exercise.
Pretend you are a tourist in Russia and war breaks out. You have $10 and don’t speak language. You have only one more night in your hotel. You can’t leave the country and the embassy is under attack. All foreigners will be removed and imprisoned if found. You are stuck there for at least a year. What do you do?
This, I thought, must be similar to how the pups feel when they are taken from their pack and brought into homes with a new language, culture and customs. They are eager to please, but don’t know the language, the rules, the routines. They need time, and focus, and consistent practice to know they are doing all the right things.
Potential puppy owners really need to read Ian Dunbar, the Monks of New Skete, and anything they can get their hands on from top trainers in this field. Then, unless they are professional breeders or trainers, they need to hire a trainer BEFORE THE PUP comes home, to train them. It is not fair to the pup, who’s stuck in Russia, not to invest this way. This training should continue after the pup comes home and as the pup grows. Then maybe we won’t have such a high rate of pet dissatisfaction and abandoned animals.
Watching the pups also taught me about personality. We saw how certain pups would pair off. We spotted the instigator who would bite everyone’s ears and had insomnia. We saw the boy who always reached his arm out to draw around his sibling. He did this many different times. We saw the pup who preferred to be behind the doghouse in a smaller, tighter space (sensory integration issues?) I could see the labeling process happening before our very eyes.
We witnessed competition and collaboration. As the pups interacted we saw how biting could be both for play and domination, and that if one got too aggressive, a third pup would often come over and intervene. We saw them wrestling for pack position, and we noticed those who wanted no part of that competition. By the second night, we saw how all pups piled on top of that blue cot thing, cuddled up, and slept all night snuggled together.
I noted how forgiving they are. No grudges, no anger, no remembrance of biting and wrestling, or who did what to whom. Just one big happy family, growing together, and so happy when the whole thing begins all over the next day. Pure love.