Last month, I discussed my mixed feelings about sending Max off to Puppy Boot Camp, also known as “board and train.”
When the day came, I packed her into the car and drive about half an hour north, to S., the trainer’s home. S. met us outside, and we talked for a bit – and I admitted that I was about 3 seconds away from grabbing my dog and going home. Apparently this is entirely normal drop-off emotion? Parents of kindergartners may relate.
Eventually, when I couldn’t stall any longer, I handed Max’s leash over to S.
Max wanted nothing to do with that, going flat on the ground like a toddler about to have a tantrum. And I had to take a step back and let someone else – a relative stranger I’d only met once before – handle it.
S. was calm but firm, and eventually Max went into the house with them, and I got back in the car and went home, thinking, “what the fuck have I just done?”
The first week, I was at Rainforest Writers’ Retreat, and Max would have been in boarding anyway, so it wasn’t too hard. Max was decompressing, so not much happened those first few days for her, either.
The second week, it was…kinda nice? I missed her, but I was also remembering how much time and energy she was eating. I was getting regular updates, meanwhile – photos of her looking energetic and pleased, and video of her working on her skills, focused and happy. So… it was okay. We were all doing okay. The cat, in fact, was doing GREAT. He started sleeping on my pillow again, now that he didn’t have to worry about Max trying to stick her nose in his bidness.
Oh no. This is bad. Am I a bad person for enjoying my dog-free life?
(Parents of summer camp-age children are laughing sympathetically right now, possibly)
The third week… was hard. Even the cat started to look around like, “hey, wait, isn’t someone else supposed to be coming back already?” S. and I had a Zoom meeting to go over the progress Max had made, and… Max was in the background, resting on her cot, not even lifting an ear when she heard my voice.
Shit. My girl had transferred her loyalties. She didn’t miss me!
Then S. pointed out that every time I spoke, Max’s tail thumped. She totally knew it was me, she was excited to hear me – but she had been told to “place” on her cot, and that’s what she was doing.
Oh. Okay. I guess? But then I got handed my own homework: to think about the past two weeks, and what I’d want to do differently when Max came back, if there would be a change in the House Rules.
The main change I decided to make was that Max would sleep in her kennel all the time, not the bed. I know a lot of people are okay with sharing bed space, but Max is ~45 pounds of long, lean canine, and also, she kicks. Other than that… it was going to be a lot of wait-and-see. Her behavior was hopefully going to be different, so I’d work off that.
And then the day came… S. brought Max home. And… she didn’t seem glad to see me?
But the thing was, I’d been used to judging her happiness by her jumping up to greet me. She’s been told not to do that. So I had to look closer. She went straight to her new cot when told to, and settled down… but she was wiggling. And whining. She wanted so badly to get up and greet me with wild abandon, but she was being a Good Girl and staying put.
Even when the cat came in the room. Max perked up and watched the cat intently, but when reminded, she sank back down on her cot and did not do her usual up-in-the-cat’s-bidness greeting.
Holy shit. My Slightly Wild Child had embraced discipline.
And then I was introduced to the discipline I’d have to embrace, for the next few weeks.
Max did her part. And it’s a lot. Ten (10) pages of typewritten instruction, lot. Most of which I already knew, but it’s laid out in black and white now: this is my job. And I’m not saying that as a metaphor; it’s a job.
The next month or so is 100% on me, to maintain her training, to dial up the structure, and dial down the affection, be firm with the rules and consistent with both praise and rebuke, until she accepts that yes, this is how life is, even when her trainer isn’t around It’s been 24 hours as I type this, and I’m already seeing a steady stream of micro-challenges from her as I test what she knows, and she tests what I know.
But we’ll be fine. We got this.