I am a crazy dog lady, but have rarely felt able to talk about life as a pet parent. But a chat with a friend made me realize that what I have to say might actually be useful to other pet parents and perhaps even encourage someone to take that step and adopt a dog. So, here goes.
We have two dogs – Buttons (25 months old) and Scooby (17 months old); Both male; Both Indies; Both adorable, yet crazy in their own ways. Today’s post is about Buttons. I have written about him before – how he had been tied up in a garbage bag and dumped by the roadside, how he came to us when he was just 2 weeks old, how we foolishly gave him away a few months later, and the battles we had to fight to get him back again.
Life isn’t easy for first-time pet parents – I keep reading complaints about the poop and the pee and the chewing. But all of these are issues that can be solved with discipline and commitment. We have gone through all of these with Buttons and have come out more or less undamaged (not counting the number of cables, doormats, wall paint and sofa armrests that have borne the brunt of his assault). However, there are bigger, longer lasting issues, the solution to which could just be a compromise or a change in lifestyle or our own attitude to the problem.
Buttons is different from any dog we’ve known (I’m saying this after accounting for any bias I would have as his mom). He is extremely crafty, not just clever, like dogs usually are – you can see the wheels turning in his head when he is considering his next move. He stalks like a wild animal – absolutely silent tread, fluid movements, alert to the tiniest of noises within a one-kilometre radius… As a handsome dog, he attracts attention wherever he goes and stories about him always elicit laughter and cries of “Aww”. But life with him is not all sunshine and roses. SR and I have jokingly told each other that Buttons is a special needs child – but in my mind, I know this is actually true.
The same things that make him such an interesting little fellow also make him very difficult to handle. Take for instance, his alert-dog nature. He is very good as a guard dog, but he is also a major barker. Anything from the sound of the BBMP garbage truck to footsteps in the corridor to a calling bell ringing in the next block will set him off on a volley of barks. Biggest and worst fear – the metallic clang of gas cylinders.
Most dogs are peaceful, if not friendly, by nature. Mine isn’t. He doesn’t like anyone approaching the house, be it a guest or a delivery boy. He is a ladies’ man – he loves my mom, SR’s mom, and a couple of my friends who have stayed over. But he doesn’t take too kindly to strange men. Our erstwhile cook of eight months kept trying to make friends with him, offering tidbits of paneer and roti and veggies. Sir Barkalot would coolly accept the offering and then start snarling at the poor man!
Another thing about him is that he cannot be motivated or trained using food, treats, praise, or toys: these simply do not interest him. When he does something, he does it for the fun of it, because he wants to solve the puzzle or do the activity. His favourite game is Tug, but unfortunately, he takes it very, very seriously – if he loses, he will keep bringing his rope toy or Kong to us for another round; if you let him win just to end the game, he gets pissed off; so you have to keep playing till you tire out and lose the game for real.
Did I mention he hates walks? Yep, that’s right. Every time we bring the harness out, he runs and hides under a sofa. It’s only when we totally ignore him and put the harness on Scooby instead that he decides he would like a walk himself. Funnily enough, once he is out, he really enjoys exploring and sniffing around at the exciting smells in the parking lot. Hates the lift, especially the whoosh sound it makes as the doors close- so god forbid it pings on the floor he is on when he is in the corridor!
He gets bored if you give him the same food for more than 3-4 days, even if it’s chicken and rice, and would rather go hungry than eat boring stuff. Yet, he is extremely protective of his food and has to be left in a room by himself while he eats. You can touch his bowl only after he has walked away from it.
He loves us to bits. but doesn’t know how to show it by cuddling or licking or kissing like Scooby does. However, he will always lie down in the room that we are in, so that he can keep an eye on us. He is fiercely loyal and protective of me – if I am ill and don’t stir out of bed for a whole day, he stays by my side the whole time, not eating, not drinking. Yet, this is the same guy who’s bitten me thrice, because I couldn’t anticipate and handle his reaction the right way. (In case anyone’s wondering, we have taken help for his behaviour issues from the eminent Sindhoor Pangal and what I have described is the new and improved version of Buttons. Go figure!)
I just scrolled up and read everything I have written so far, and I realize I’ve made him sound like an absolute nightmare. That is as far from the truth as is possible.
To earn the love of a dog is very easy – but to earn the trust of a suspicious and fearful one is not. Despite the times of anger and frustration, we cannot imagine life without our boy. He means everything in the world. When he trots over and puts his head in our lap or licks our hand, when he hears something that worries him and presses close to us, when he runs into SR’s arms and asks to be picked up, when he climbs into bed and shares a pillow with me even for a few minutes…those are the precious moments that make it all worth it.
I dedicate this post to all the parents of special needs fur kids out there, who face rejection and struggles every day but love them just the same. Our world would be colourless without them.