When engaged in the process of training a puppy or a child the level of exhaustion and frustration are much the same, as are the joyous delights and the easy times which are usually when the aforesaids are asleep. Over the days the adult human begins to question their own sanity. I remember it well, but it is way too late for any such questions. Lured, as we all are, by the sweet cuddly images of peaceful obedience, we forget one vital thing. This baby, this puppy, they are not toys and this is not a Disney movie we can pause when the doorbell rings. These invaders arrived complete with an individual personality and it will show itself no matter how many times we read the manual, which, by the way, is never site specific. In my day, this manual was penned by Spock, now relegated to the ‘weirdo’ section of child raising books. Discipline and parental control, ie ‘My way or the highway’ was rightfully in question among we young mothers, all of us having been bashed into shape by the age of 3 months, too terrified of all authority figures to say anything in a loud voice or, even in a whisper, unless, that is the whisper was deferential.
Now it is all turned on its head, this training thing. Now we are advised to distract when our child (or puppy) is chewing up the sofa. We don’t shout or smack or in any way give in to our own raised temperatures. Calm at all times are we, consistent, patient, for hours and days and weeks, months and years. Just that reads as exhausting, and not at all possible for we have work to do, lives that already include other children, other people, other lists of demands, all requiring us to react immediately. But babies and puppies have no concept of that old person trouble. Focussed entirely on their own needs they will make certain to escalate the noise level until they become the only one who needs you right now. Trouble is that ‘right now’ can take over a whole day and half the night until the adult human can barely stand, never mind go again being consistent, patient, positive and happy to sit on the floor, now that the sofa has been considerably reduced.
Everyone has their own ideas about raising small noisy creatures and not one of them holds back on telling you theirs; how it was when they went through this nightmare period and how much better it would be for you, distraught by now and sofa-less, if you changed to their way of thinking. After all, it worked, didn’t it? But you cannot take this in, not whilst in the thick of clearing up endless ‘accidents’ despite all that attention given from 0400 onwards; not while your sleep pattern is no longer a pattern but distilled into one squiggly line, one that keeps stopping and starting until it runs out of ink altogether. Then comes the day you pull your trousers on inside out and never notice until some kind person had a word in your shell-like. Your mealtimes are non existent, unfulfilling junk grabbed on the run, your hair needs washing, you don’t change the bed for weeks (no point, you are never in it for long) and you snap at the lollipop lady. What is happening to me? You might wail as I did for years. Puppies, children, work, sleep deprivation, demands, arguments about the right and the wrong way to train this whirling dervish, mopping, always mopping, and being upwardly cheerful at all times?
I recall a day dream I had during the years of raising a dervish or 5, plus wiggling piles of puppies and kittens. If I could pop the whole lot into the freezer, safe in the knowledge that they would thaw safely when I pulled them out, for a whole glorious week, I could recover my senses. It was a pretty dream and so peaceful. I remember voicing this dream once to a health visitor and her face fell. It’s just a dream, I said, thinking she might faint in my kitchen thus giving me yet another body to look after, and she left rather hurriedly not finishing her coffee. I watched her receding back just knowing that I, along with Spock, was firmly relegated to the ‘weirdo’ section of her mental library.
The new puppy in Africa is raising his game. The exhaustion within the home is palpable. I am tempted to join the ranks of those who know better, whose experiential learning is surely of great value, but I keep quiet. They will raise this dervish their own way and it will be a good and grand way. They have the up -to-date training manual, after all and it is 30 pages long, burgeoning with do’s and don’t’s. It is also not site specific, nor does it take into account location, restrictions, work pace and 4 suspicious cats, cats the pup longs to play with. It will all be fine, I soothe, once this tricky bit is over, this tricky bit that will last for a long time.
We all want our children and our dogs to be well behaved. We all want to encourage their own personalities to grow unrestricted. We want to teach them how to control themselves, to bark when barking is acceptable and to stay quiet when appropriate. We want to teach good manners, respect for others whilst encouraging independence and self-worth. The balance we aspire to seems daunting, and we are often daunted when we look at what we hope to achieve. The key is, I now know, to enjoy the journey. I’m not sure I managed that all of the time but when I look at my dervishes now, remembering the dogs long gone, the cats too, I am so glad I took on the task of raising these marvellous invaders for what they taught me about real life has kept me in chuckles for decades. As it will, one day, for the ones in the thick of it right now.
And there will be a sale on sofas, come the New Year.