My Pup Java

Dog Ownership: A Half Year Assessment
June 3, 2011, 8:25 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

As many of you know, Michelle and I adopted a German Shepherd puppy named Java approximately 4 months ago. It has been a crazy 4 months. We’ve seen our pup go from 9 pounds to well over 50 in that time. We have seen her flop, fall, flail, and eventually run in that time. She’s a big dog now, and she’s not done growing!


In that 4 months we have experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Java is a classic Alpha – female: ultra dominate, ultra willful, and way, way too smart for her own good. She’s very cleaver, very curious, and has a mental energy that I didn’t think existed in dogs. She is constantly “roaming” for something to do. A lot of this is the “puppy” phase, but there is more to it than that.


I want to preface the remainder of this letter by saying that in NO WAY am I complaining or trying to garner sympathy. I am not trying to be melodramatic, exaggerate or embellish the story in any way. The purpose of this letter is to help non-dog owners understand why we do the things we do, and provide a brutally realistic assessment of dog ownership for those who may be thinking, “hey, I’d love my own dog!”


I’ll begin with a bold statement: dog ownership has entirely changed my life.


First there are the practical things:


– Taking her down 29 floors to pee/poo 4 times per day (more when she was younger)

– Coming home from work for 1.5-2 hours per day to feed and walk her on your lunch hour

– Daily trips to the dog park (minimum of 1.5 hours outside per day)

– Daily training regiment

– Cleaning up literally hundreds of “accidents” from inside our apartment

– Replacing 3 leashes that she has chewed through

– Removing carpet, hiding decorations, and generally leaving our apartment bare

– Transporting her, getting her to the vet, to Michelle’s parents, etc. on public transportation

– Constant, and I mean CONSTANT, supervision.

– Scratched floors, chewed shoes, torn leather couch, chewed drywall, etc. You get the picture.

– $65/3 weeks for food (the good stuff because we’re trying to do all we can)

– $XXXX in toys, poop bags, crate, blankets, etc.

– Vet bills


And the not so tangibles…


– Dealing with non-dog people…people who are afraid of dogs, PERIOD.

– Dealing with misguided comments about aggression, “friendliness”, etc.

– Dealing with people touching my dog without asking while we’re training

– Dealing with people who hype my dog up and then wonder why she barks or pees

– Dealing with people who decided to discipline my dog without my permission

– Dealing with small-dog bias and people who always blame the big dog

– Daily guilt for not being home enough, not training her enough, ignoring her too much, etc.

– Strain put on my relationship with Michelle as we try to work through these issues.


In many ways, Java has enriched my life. She has created a sense of structure in my daily routine. She has opened my eyes to the reality of obligation in the true sense of the word. She has taught me patience (my old nemesis). She’s shown me just a smidgen of what it’s like to define your day by someone who depends on you for the air they breath and the food they eat. And finally, the companionship of a dog is unrivaled. Man’s best friend is an understatement. She lives to please. I love that little bastard.


In other ways, however, the stress and strain of owning a puppy has been immense. The word “unbearable” has popped into my head a few times. There have been at least half a dozen occasions where I have just lost it and had to remove myself from the situation. Having to deal with daily mouthing, peeing, general disobedience, guilt, late-night barking, growling, etc., all when you’re trying to foster your relationship with someone while BOTH of you work full time is just insanity. Sometimes I just plain old do not like Java. Sometimes it takes all of my effort not to scream at the top my lungs.


So, where to go from here? Things are slowly progressing and slowly getting better. The passing of time brings new adventures and new opportunities. I’m excited about the future and happy to see another day of puppy-hood behind me. In the meantime, I want to give a shout out to a few groups of people that play an important role in my life, and in the development of Java (even if they don’t realize it).


To non-dog owners: the number one issue with young dogs is unwanted behaviour related to over excitement. High pitched = positivity and excitement. Movement = positivity and excitement. Girls, resist all urges to squeal at the top of your lungs at the very sight of a puppy. Yes we know that puppies are cute, but you’re not doing the owner a favour and might even illicit a negative response from the dog (excited jumping, mouthing, peeing, etc) that even YOU won’t find all that pleasant. Never touch or pet a dog without the explicit permission of the owner. We are not mean, we are (sometimes) working very hard to train our dogs and even the slightest distraction can ruin an entire days work. We know that you are just trying to be nice, and we appreciate that, but waving your hands in front of our puppy, tapping your feet, etc., is an unwanted distraction. Furthermore, this could be a safety issue with some dogs (remember what your parents told you as a kid?! This is still true all those years later). Never, ever, EVER attempt to discipline another persons dog. You are 100% entitled to defend, deflect, or avoid unwanted behaviour; it is the owners responsibility to control their animal. However, swatting, closing your hand over a dogs mouth, kicking, or any non-loving physical contact with the animal is completely inappropriate.


So, what CAN you do? Well, the best policy for interacting with puppies is to simply ignore them. They have short attention spans and will soon grow tired. If you just absolutely have to meet the dog, and I totally get this (I obviously am one of these people), then just ASK. Say to the owner, “that’s a great dog, how old is he/she? Do you mind if we meet? Can I pet her?”. Remember that waving your arms in front of the dogs face or squealing will not endear you to the owner. Be calm, confident, and move slowly with purpose. Give the dog a rub and then move on with your day. Easy, isn’t it? The owner will thank you!


Finally, please remember that our reluctance to let you meet our dog, lack of eye contract with you, or a seemingly unpleasant attitude is not directed at you. We are most likely stressed about our dog, embarrassed about barking or peeing, or simply focused on the job at hand. We are most likely completely reasonably people, we’re just in the zone. We’ve had 100 people ask to pet our dog today and we’re probably a little bit tired of it. We’re also training, and as I mentioned even little distractions can ruin everything. I’m not an asshole, I promise!


To my friends who I have seen less of, and who have been peed on, mouthed, jumped on, barked at, scared (hope not!) or intimidated in the slightest: I apologize. We’re working on it and it will get better!


To the love of my life, my girlfriend Michelle: my mother recently told me that one fundamental aspect of a strong relationship is the ability to shine when your partner is down. I am fortunate enough to have you play this role in my life. I can guarantee that without your encouragement, unconditional love and support, calming words and enthusiasm for life, I would be a lesser man. It would be impossible to do this on my own. Thank you. We will get through this and we will be stronger for it!


To the prospective dog owner: STOP RIGHT THERE. Think about what you’re about to do. Research as much as possible and realistically assess your life. Can you afford an animal? Can you cut out at least half of your social life? Can you come home from work every day or have someone feed and let your dog out for you? How will you deal with late-night barking? How will you deal with the neighbours, your landlord, your roommates, family, friends, etc., when your dog pees on their carpet, barks at their parents, or playfully lunges at their younger brother or sister? Do you like walking and being outdoors? Do you have a big backyard/cottage/dog park near by? Can you afford puppy socialization classes and a professional trainer? Last but not least, can your life be defined by your dogs needs and wants? Can you do all of the above and much, much more EVERY single day with enthusiasm and unabated positivity? If you can’t, dog ownership is not for you. If you can, dog ownership just may be worth it.

– Mike