Brett is a nosey dog. There’s no doubt about it – I’ve had people say that about him. (It’s a small village we live in, and all the dog walkers know him.) When he was only about 11 weeks old, we took him to a dog trainer for an initial assessment. She said that he’s a confident and inquisitive puppy, and should be very biddable. That’s very nicely put, isn’t it?
So what does a confident, curious pup do? Always pushing the boundaries, trying to set his own rules!
Here he is, at 3½ months of age, redefining where he’d like to sleep.
When Brett became house trained, we expanded his world a little. We allowed him in the lounge and the dining room, and life became more civilised for all of us as we could relax, watch TV together and eat with the pup lying at our feet. However, he was not allowed upstairs, apart from when we needed to shower him.
We made that decision before he even arrived home. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for us: it’s not good for him because for large dog breeds, constantly going up and downstairs would affect joint development and we didn’t want him to have painful conditions when he’s old. It’s not good for us, because sometimes we needed our space and we didn’t want a load of dog hair in our bedrooms, particularly when some of us are allergy sufferers (even though not allergic to dogs).
As a result, normally one of us would be downstairs keeping Brett company, unless we needed to keep him out of the way, in which case we’d leave him in the kitchen and keep the pet gate shut.
One evening, Brett had fallen fast asleep in the lounge so we left him there whilst we went upstairs to say goodnight to the boys. We were all chatting in my bedroom lying on the bed, with the door wide open.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of our eyes we saw the door move, and this little nose slowly poking its way round. Brett was silent as a ninja, but when he saw us all there, it’s like he hit the jackpot – his tail wagged furiously, and he did his excited “I’ve found you! Can I have some attention please? I’m sitting so nicely…” – sitting but at the same time scooting closer to us thing. I mean, you can’t be mad at this adorable display of affection. After all, we didn’t tell him to stay downstairs.
To him, it’s just a case of boldly going where no puppy has gone before, to explore new worlds and seek out new (or any other) lifeforms, just as the Enterprise’s mission states. And boy, did he feel clever!
Was that the thin end of the wedge? You guessed it! Over the following weeks and months, there were more forays upstairs. We never invited the pup to follow us, unless it’s into the shower room. We simply could not be bothered to take him downstairs again and ask him to stay at the bottom of the stairs or shut him in the kitchen. Some people may say that perhaps he hasn’t got a “solid stay” or “solid sit-stay” or just any kind of “stay”, and that we need to train him better. That may be the case, although he’s very good at it when he knows what’s at stake or it’s part of a beloved game. You can’t expect a pup to stay put in one place for long. It just seems unnecessarily restrictive. There are battles that’re worth fighting over, boundaries that’re worth defending. But we feel that this is not one of them.
So this bold pup who was so pleased with himself, using his own initiative and getting rewarded for doing so, keeps on coming upstairs to see what we’re doing. Is that a good thing, because he is confident and has a positive outlook? Or are we letting the dog set the boundaries? I must admit, that at the back of my mind, I wonder if one day this tendency would not serve him so well. It’s all very well exploring the world when the world is safe enough, but what if the world contains hostiles? Or straying into other people or dog’s territories where it would only be fair if they defended their patches? Some would say that you have to let them learn, and they learn by experience. Well, but some lessons are too costly to even consider…
A couple of months ago, I let Brett out into the garden, like we frequently do many times a day. I ushered him through the kitchen door without thinking anything of it. We have a large enclosed garden which surrounds our house, with a gate at the front and one at the back. The gates are normally shut – visitors generally respect the “please shut the gate” sign. I thought I would just nip upstairs to do a couple of quick chores before letting Brett inside again. It must have been a good 5 minutes before I looked out of the window towards the back of the garden, and what I saw made me panic. My husband had gone out via the back gate, but either the latch didn’t catch properly, or the wind or someone else had opened the gate again, it didn’t matter. I was just gripped by the thought of Brett disappearing through the gate and being lost forever.
I grabbed my phone (in case I needed to run all over the village looking for our pup), stepped outside onto the patio and even before I could see round the corner, shouted, “Brett! Brett come here! Yoo-hoo!” Never was I so relieved to hear the familiar pounding of the ground when he came galloping. Never was I so pleased that he came when called! You bet that I gave him the most praise I’d ever given him, and the biggest treat ever! I was so glad that our pup didn’t wander out of our garden on this occasion, or if he did he didn’t go far.
Then two nights ago, Brett came with me to put the recycling bins out. I had checked that no one was about in our quiet cul-de-sac – no cats, no dogs, no cars coming or going to distract him. Normally he doesn’t even go as far as the end of our drive, but this time not only did he cross the road to the neighbour’s garden, he even went up the road a few doors away to sniff the grass.
I called. He ignored. I called again, and he played deaf. I didn’t want to go chasing him and be all grumpy, so I went back into our garden and slammed the gate shut. Brett recognised the sound and came running back towards our gate. I opened it and beckoned him in. Much to my relief, he didn’t hesitate to come back into the safety of our garden. Phew!
My adolescent pup is growing up, desiring to be more independent. There is obviously much more recall training that we need to do with our dog, but even if that is very successful, what about the other times where I’m not there to supervise? Do I enforce boundary lines where he should not cross and train him to stay this side of the boundary unless I say so? That would be impressive, particularly if he complies in the midst of distractions. He should stick to the code!
However, knowing the nature of this pup, that’s probably unlikely. I compare this thought to parenting our two teenage boys. One of them has always been a boundary pusher, and is at the age now where he simply announces his plans rather than asks for permission. The other one had a habit of wandering off in shops when he was little, and going to friends’ houses without so much as a goodbye look when I drop him off. I had long since insisted on holding their hands. From a young age they both walked by our side when we’re out together. Now when they go off to do their own things, they’ll return. Both of them are pretty much home birds and love spending time relaxing at home. I put this down to blessings from above, and the time and effort we as parents have put into our relationships.
In the same way, I hope that the love and care we’ve shown Brett will make him want to stay close and not wander far. He did come running on those two occasions, didn’t he? We know he loves his home, and his home is with us.