Thursday, January 25, 2007

An open letter to an anxious puppy

What does it take to make a relatively normal dog scared of plastic bags? Fans? Doors? Men?

I'm sorry your first family took you from life inside, with mom and dad and the baby you loved and protected, and moved you to an outdoor kennel when you were only a baby yourself. I'm sorry you spent your first winter- your first Christmas- outside and alone without your family. The only car rides you went on were to the vet, and you only got one 15-minute walk a day for exercise. You live inside with your family now, and you got to go to three Christmases this year. Car rides are exciting because they mean dog park or store or school, and the puppy we know can run all day and still not be tuckered out. It took about seven months to get you reliably housebroken, but we finally did it, after about a thousand trips outside (every hour) and lots of treats and praise. I know we'll need to do it all over again at every new place you go, but that's okay.

I'm mostly sorry that every time I leave you, you think I'm leaving you forever. Your first family never taught you how to be alone- they only taught you that you get left alone all day, and that you never know when you might see your people again. I need you to trust that I'll be back, and in the meantime learn that it's okay to do all those things you do when I'm with you too. Your fear of being left is getting in the way of all your loves. Remember how much you loved visiting everyone in the morning and at lunch? Suddenly all your friends are scary again, like the first day we got to school. It's like you are seeing monsters everywhere that no one else sees. Sometime last semester you learned how to turn off your anxiety, and learned how to relax in your kennel and ignore the things that frightened you. I don't know what changed this semester, but I understand that you are not figuring out how to do that anymore.

I'll always do my best to keep you from the things that scare you, but what I want most is for you to learn how to react to scary things like most dogs do. I'm sorry your first family left you with so many ghosts, but we'll work our way through them all. We got you eating like normal, and got you housebroken, and got you to stop chasing cars every time you see one go by. Now we just need to help you learn that being alone doesn't mean you'll be alone forever.

Please properly socialize your puppy, everyone, and don't make your dog be a lawn ornament.

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