Saturday, October 15, 2011

So, how's the new dog?

Thank you for asking. It's been interesting because I'm no animal lover. My husband and his entire family adore dogs, but I see them as clumsy, overenthusiastic creatures that take a lot of work (the dogs, not the family).

But there's no turning back now. We brought Ozzie home from a shelter and I'm not going to make him go back. Anyway, I don't do things halfway. Either I want nothing to do with dogs or I'm 100% committed to one.

In July, when we started looking at shelters, I began researching. I bought Tamar Gellar's The Loved Dog and 30 Days to a a Well-Mannered Dog. Her books stress positive reinforcement and working with your dog's wolf instincts instead of against them. She explains why brute force and loud dominance will not build a good relationship with your pet and gives step-by-step instructions on how to successfully teach your dog to sit, stop jumping on people, come and do just about anything you want.

In the absence of natural dog affection, what holds my interest in Ozzie is an almost clinical fascination with him and a great appreciation for how much he makes my husband happy. Bob now wakes up smiling and spends time every day playing with Ozzie, telling him what a good boy he is and just cuddling with him. Bob's pleasure in life definitely increases tenfold with a dog and that's why I went against my nature and agreed to get one.

As for my clinical fascination, I like the experiment of trying to train Ozzie like the experts. I'm intrigued by how teachable he is and how his brain seems to work. Now that I've read a bit about the motivations of dogs and their basic nature, I like to watch him greet other dogs, react to children, play watchdog, and react to new situations. I have infinite patience for how much he sniffs and sniffs and sniffs because I'm amazed by what I've learned about how dogs process the world mostly through smell. My attitude only changes when he drags his snout through the most disgusting garbage you can find underneath an el (elevated train) viaduct. I still don't stop him, bu I watch in horror because I know Ozzie's nose will later brush me. I accept this because, apparently, that's the life of a dog owner.

My husband works an upside down restaurant schedule so here's our deal: Bob walks/feeds Ozzie in the morning, I walk/feed Ozzie in the evening, and whichever of us has the day off exercises him during the afternoon. My days off are Saturday and Sunday, Bob's are Tuesday and Wednesday. Three days a week we have a dog walker take Ozzie out in the afternoon.

This means I'm living a very different life. I now come straight home after work, after thinking about Ozzie all day, hoping he's not miserably lonely and ripping apart all the kleenex boxes. As the afternoon wears on, I gauge my energy level because I know he'll need a good walk and a shorter one before my bedtime. Of course, right before my bedtime is when I'd like to be winding down instead of trotting around the neighborhood, my attention riveted to every night sound and every tiny shadow that could be a pile of rotting food, but I'm trying to adjust.

Every day I have my worries and doubts. Can I keep up all the physical exercise and attention this dog needs? Can I adjust to the constant animal smell our apartment now has? Will I ever enjoy a relaxing evening again, knowing I have to take the dog out one last time before I can sleep? With my history of responding poorly to emotional attachment and being needed, will I adjust to how much this dog follows me around? And how do I keep it all up for the next six to ten years?

Then again, I know I lie around too much, especially on weekends, so I'm kind of enjoying the exercise I probably should have been getting all along (an early gym routine is not enough). I maintain a brisk power walk with Ozzie, unless I'm patiently observing him sniff everything in the world, and like to jog with him. I forgot how good running can feel, especially the thrill of speeding through the darkness, across leaf-covered city sidewalks. Ozzie enjoys this and I have to say, I'm right there with him. Exercise is also excellent for my mood, so taking an active dog out two or three times on most days of the week doesn't feel bad and it's bound to help my weight loss.

There's also a very Take-Back-the-Night aspect to walking a pitbull mix. I'm a short, 131-pound (these days) woman who has always been smaller than most others. No one's ever been afraid of me, but seeing Ozzie on a four-foot leash, people back away. I find myself saying "Hi" and smiling ingratiatingly at white, African American and Latino men who are a foot taller than I am so they won't panic at our approach. I marvel at how little I have to fear from anyone who might crawl out of the Chicago shadows because my black 45-pound pitbull mix looks mean (that is, until he cringes from anyone who raises a hand to him, but few strangers discover that).

As you can see, Ozzie is kind of cute. I like his glossy, smooth fur (let's hear it for short-haired dogs!) and puppy-like face. He's four years old, but looks and acts much younger. I like how well he responds to my training and how happy he is when Bob and I come home. My favorite things about him are his Batman ears. They're very expressive, especially in those moments when he actually flattens them in submission. I like brushing my fingers against their softness. Are ears always the softest part of a dog?

Having Ozzie around is sometimes endearing. I close my bedroom door when I'm not home because I don't want him on my bed, but he's figured out how to open the door. Bob says this means he misses me. At first I was annoyed, but now I find it kind of appealing. I continue to close my door when I leave the apartment, but just to give him a task to do, not to keep him out. I carefully make my bed to minimize the amount of dog dirt that gets under the covers (I hate dog dirt in my room).

Bob invites Ozzie to sleep in his bed each night, which I'm completely fine with because I just go in my room and close the door (I sleep best alone). They curl up together and Bob happily lets Ozzie rest his head on Bob's head, neck or shoulder. I could never fall asleep with a dog on my head, but Bob actually sleeps better this way, even though he often finds himself hanging off the bed when he wakes up. I find Bob blissfully waking up with a furry ear in his eye, starting off the day right.

It feels worth it, so far. Our household is a lighter and more cheerful place, plus Ozzie is great at cleaning up kitchen spills. It's my personal dog experiment and it's going well for a 45-year-old woman who never wanted one. I still don't (I felt much more immediate payoff when I got a husband), but I'm optimistic. I'll never be an animal lover, but I believe that pets are good for you, and I expect my affection and enjoyment of Ozzie to eventually outweigh the inconvenience and worry. Eventually.


Regina said...

He barks briefly when he hears someone in the hallway of our building or outside the apartment. No problem, but in the middle of the night he gets really worked up, barking and growling and waking us up completely. He'll go on and on. Any advice?

Mick said...

Your life as certainly changed, you have the makings of a excellent dog owner.