Thursday, 6 October 2011

It’s a Strangelove...or how I stopped worrying and learnt to love my dog

Have you seen the film 'Marley and Me?' - you know the one about the family who learn important life lessons from their adorable, but naughty labrador...who is often described as 'the world's worst dog'?

Well, I've got news for you film fans...Marley is a perfect pooch compared to my dog, Mister Bones.

We got Mister Bones during the long hot summer of 2008. My husband and I carried him home, wrapped in a blanket, feeling for all the world like proud new parents.

We had got his dog bowl, bed and toys all ready. We had read the books and done our research, so we felt we were ready to raise this beautiful (if slightly daft looking) animal.

Ten hours later...our sofa was ripped to pieces, his toys lay in tatters, he had gone to the toilet all over the floor and was now crying into the night because we wouldn't let him in our bed.

The truth is that everybody who gets a new puppy expects a few nights, maybe even months of this sort of thing right? Well, here we are four years later, and while Bones is now (mercifully) house-trained, he is still the naughtiest dog I have ever met!

We have another dog – Scarlett – a beautiful old rescue dog who came to us from a terrible, cruel home. When we got her she was very underweight despite being a greyhound cross, had never been house-trained (or indeed slept inside a house), or had a proper collar. She was bald around her neck from where she had been tied up and covered in scars.

It took a few weeks and a lot of patience but soon we saw Scarlett grow in confidence and she became a keen student, eager to learn sit and stay, fetch and play. She is – most of the time at least – the perfect dog!

But Bones is special. Despite puppy classes and training groups he has struggled to learn anything other than sit. He does come back on walkies, but only if there is food to tempt him. He sometimes plunges himself into rivers, forgetting he is afraid of water and then cries for us to come and pluck him out. I have on many occasions seen him run straight into the glass balcony door because he forgets it’s there...and so it goes on.

Even our animal-loving friends and family refused to dog-sit Mister Bones because of his tendency to emit a high pitched whine (that we call his sorrowful song) whenever he wanted attention.

We had begun to despair – fearing we were terrible owners. Then I had a baby and suddenly Mister Bones grew up. Far from being jealous of our son, as we had feared, Bones loved him!

Although our boy is now an energy-filled bundle of toddlerhood, Bones is gentle and patient with him. In fact, he adores him...especially at dinner times, when he sits ever so attentively by his highchair waiting for the inevitable scraps to be flung his way.

The point that I am making is that dog ownership is never straightforward – it is fraught with challenges and especially when you bring a new person or animal into the house it can be a very worrying time.

The most important thing I have learnt living with Bones is that you as an owner have to be willing to understand and recognise what your dog is feeling.

Be gentle and patient, try to let the little things go but remain focused on the important skills you can teach your dog that will help them live a happy, fulfilled life.

Living with Bones has been a rollercoaster. He has cost us thousands of pounds in damage (1xcomputer, 1xsofa, 1x family Christmas presents, 50+ books/ DVD’s destroyed and the list goes on) but to us – he is priceless.

Calie Rydings, RSPCA press officer

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