I remember the day I first laid eyes on him. I couldn’t believe he was going to be mine! I didn’t even believe in love at first sight until then. But as he stumbled around, trying to chew his sister’s tail, he noticed my my red toenails and instead made a beeline for them. Before he could sink his shark teeth into my toes, I grabbed him under his front legs and lifted him up into my arms. I held in my arms a wiggling bundle of joy. A 5 week old doe eyed, black German Shepherd puppy. He looked at me for one nanosecond like he was really seeing me before deciding I wasn’t worth the attention. My toes were a different thing!
That was May 31st, 2009. 7 years ago and yet it feels like it was just yesterday. Our breeder wanted us to come by and look at the litter we were going to get our puppy from. All we knew was that we wanted a boy. Didn’t matter the color or the drive. Well let’s just say we didn’t know what we were getting into with the drive. We thought we both had enough experience to handle him. We were so wrong. The breeder had picked out the dark blue collared pup for us. Yes, that was Señor Sharkie, the one who went for my toes and it wouldn’t be the last time either. He was still weaning off his mother and needed to complete the early socialization that is key to their development. He wouldn’t be ready for us for another 3 weeks. I was going to totally steal him if only the breeder would leave the room for 5 minutes. 🙂
We named him Hugo and brought him home June 20th, 2009. I should have carried him home in my arms but like a first time parent, I was trying to do everything by the book to make sure I got it right. He sat at the far corner of his brand new crate in our SUV and whined all the way home. He threw up three times, peed once during the three hour drive back. I was too smitten to care! We stopped every time he had an accident and cleaned up the crate and placed him back in. He didn’t seem to mind being in there, just had a serious case of motion sickness.
I wish I had a smartphone back then. I lost so many of his moments because he was too quick for me and getting a shot on a regular camera was near impossible. Hu was an energetic puppy. He came with a mute button but no off switch. He could go for hours, rest 30 minutes and then be ready to go again.
My initial euphoria however began to fade after two weeks. He was definitely a rogue pup. He loved to push boundaries and loved getting into trouble because it meant he got a chase around the house. I remember the day I was playing with him on the kitchen floor and he was suddenly fascinated by my ponytail. Before I could grab him, he ran behind me and grabbed it, swinging from it like a 4-legged Tarzan. He was too tiny and too wiggly to catch. I tried to shake him off but he was having too much fun. Finally he slipped and landed back on the ground. Even that young, he was sharp as a whip! He learned his basic obedience commands in under three tries (my younger dog Ali has yet to break that record) but you could see his wheels turn as he weighed the pros and cons of actually obeying the command. He obeyed them because he wanted to, not because I had asked him to. My independent minded boy!!
He stole shoes, fancy pillows from the guest bedroom, towels, if it could be moved he had his jaws wrapped around it! Little did I know then that he was doing all this to get my attention and to get me to play with him. He was my very first dog and all my ideas of how dogs should behave got put to test. I figured the more structure I added to his life, the better he would rally. Wrong again! Hu is a free-form dog….he will not work for you because you ask him to. He will work for you because he wants to. Took a long time for that to register in my novice biped brain. The more independent he acted, the madder I got, to the point of actually thinking he was mocking me. I got short with him, corrected him on a pinch collar, trained the heck out of him at the club and at home in hopes of bringing a semblance of the dog I had envisioned him to be.
There’s a common saying in the dog world – “You get the dog you deserve.” How is it that I deserved this monster?! I tried to change him and God knows he tried to comply to the best of his abilities. The less he complied, the madder I got. Thank God our vets had more patience with him than I did and put up with his antics! I came close to killing him a few times!!
Finally when he was 18 months old, something magical happened. I would take him intermittently to a Schutzhund (a sport for working dog breeds) training club to work on skills needed to train obedience into a free-thinking dog. I say intermittent because I was too ashamed to go there a lot and have him make me look like a bumbling idiot. I regret that mistake the most. I couldn’t let him realize his maximum potential because I was too insecure. I was anxious and annoyed and he fed off my energy and got more unsure of himself and less “obedient”. What the hell was I doing wrong?? I had followed every rule in the book and yet he was far from perfect. Others had dogs that looked like they were perfect angels. Mine on the other hand was the devil incarnate and at the other end of the leash was me, his befuddled handler!
As my trainer saw me go through the motions of training Hu, he stopped me and asked “Are you enjoying this?” I looked at him like he was mad and said “No, how can I enjoy this when he is being such a pain!” He smiled at me, the kind of smile trainers reserve for the special stupidity that I was displaying and said “Forget for a few minutes that you are training him and just play with him. Let him climb on you, let him be him and cheer him on for being the awesome dog that he is.” I made a mental note to look for another trainer but agreed to try. And then something happened. Hu began to focus on me, take cues from me, choose me over the smell on the ground. He began to rally. I felt such joy, like I had unlocked some secret safe. From that moment on, everything took on a new hue (pun intended). Everything just became easy.
I took Hu with me everywhere from the start because the books told me to, but now I actually enjoyed his company and he enjoyed my attention and how I doted on him. He started to work FOR me and WITH me. He started to become not the dog I wanted him to be but the dog he was born to be, several hundred times grander than anything I could have envisioned! I often imagine what he would have turned out to be if he were a child. I’m sure I would have created a misfit, diffident human being and the damage would have been irreparable. Instead I was looking at a dog that not only forgave me for every flaw I had, he actually helped me open myself up, become more tolerant, more compassionate and a better person. I look back and see how far I’ve come, how I’ve grown and all because he showed me the way and didn’t wilt when I repeatedly made mistakes. He taught me how to love with an open heart, live in the moment, be happy and never take things too seriously. He has seen me through the crests and troughs over the last seven years and has been my constant companion, my confidant and best buddy.
I cannot even begin to express in words how grateful I am for that day he came into my life, but I know he’s touched my life way more than I touched his. If you really get the dog you deserve, I am definitely one blessed woman!