I’m knee deep in puppy rearing, which is pretty tiring. It’s not QUITE as bad as human babies or toddlers, partially because the duration is much shorter, but there are still a lot of disruptions to sleep and interruptions. I’m lucky in that I have a really great puppy. She’s a wild bundle of energy when she’s awake and tries to get into everything, but she’s relatively easy to redirect and is a quick learner when it comes to training.
It also helps that both puppies are super cute and cuddly!
My husband and I can’t have more children, so puppies are kind of our way of adding to our family. Yes, it isn’t quite the same, but some of it is just close enough to soothe that little ache that’s there, wanting a baby in my arms. A puppy will cuddle up in my arms, cry to be picked up or played with, and has a scent that is somehow “new.” It’s a different scent than a newborn, but I find I sniff my puppies in a way similar to how I would just hold and sniff my kids when they were newborns. There’s just something almost intoxicating about the smell of a new little creature, fresh to this world. The logical part of me guesses it all has something to do with mothering instincts that get triggered to make mothers stay attached to their infants and in this case, my brain is confused enough to attach to another mammal’s baby. Happily, the puppy also attaches to me in a way similar to its mother, coming to me for comfort when she’s frightened or tired.
One of the most fun things, though, about spending time with a young child or a puppy is that I get the chance to see the world through new eyes. For my puppy, Roo, so many experiences are brand new to her. She is excited to explore the world around her and has an innocence that even a grown dog doesn’t have. She assumes everyone loves her and will pet and give her treats just like we do because she hasn’t yet been scared of anyone. She thinks everything is probably good to chew on because she hasn’t yet bitten into something sour or with a nasty texture. She also is sometimes afraid of things that are completely safe, like a strange leaf and she will tentatively explore it, jumping back and forward. It’s fun to see her little brain working, always trying to figure things out and yes, it all reminds me of my children when they were little and I would sit with them, watching them explore the world and enjoying seeing them like little scientists, experimenting with the big world around them, learning so much and so quickly, little brains just soaking it all up.
For me, this is a chance to let go of adulthood a bit and not be so responsible and serious. I talk to my puppies in a high pitched voice like I do children because both respond better to it. I can be playful and in fact, I need to be. I have to take breaks from my responsibilities to play tug or roll a ball or do a quick training session and even those are meant to be fun for the pup. I cheer and celebrate with them when they get something new right and I patiently redirect them away from doing things that aren’t good for them…or our house. I fall asleep with my puppy snuggled into my neck, her favorite spot to be, where my scent is the strongest and sometimes I stay awake watching her dream, knowing she won’t be this little long and I remember the way I’d be so exhausted with my own babies, yet still stay awake watching them sleep because I didn’t want to miss a single precious moment.
Raising puppies makes me feel older and younger both at once. With each puppy I raise, years have passed since the last and I forget how the late nights get a little harder each time. I drink my coffee and push along because I know this is temporary. It probably will only be a few weeks or months at most before both puppies are sleeping through the night. My husband’s puppy is bigger physically, so he can sleep through already, but little Roo just can’t hold it that long and needs potty breaks during the night. As she gets bigger, she will be able to go longer. When I think back to my own babies, I remember YEARS of disrupted sleep, so it’s quite a difference. I feel a little older as I roll out of bed in the middle of the night, calming a crabby puppy and taking her outside to go potty.
I feel younger again as I play games in the living room and laugh at the silly faces the puppies make. We all laugh a bit more, even as we rub our eyes a little sleepy. My teenagers act a little more like the kids they really are underneath those teenaged bodies as they cuddle and play with both puppies. They’ve helped raise puppies before and still I’m impressed with how good they are with them, similar to the pride I feel whenever they hold someone else’s baby and know how to be gentle and act silly to get a smile.
Our dogs are a part of our family in a way that’s hard to describe to people who haven’t had them. We know that they aren’t children and there are times we definitely don’t treat them like children, but they also aren’t like livestock or wild animals. They are companions and they are a big responsibility, too. When I decide to adopt a puppy, I commit to keeping that dog for life, no matter what it takes. If there are behavior issues, we’ll work through them and manage them. If the dog has health issues, we’ll take care of them. When we move, the dog will come with us. Much of our life revolves around what is best for them and it changes our plans often. With Sam, his behavior issues meant we couldn’t really have houseguests unless they were very comfortable with big dogs that were very wary of strangers. We also were limited in where we could go on vacation because he didn’t board well, particularly towards the end of his life and most hotels that allow dogs still don’t allow a big horse-dog.
Still, we adjusted our lives because he was part of our family in the same way we adjusted our lives for any issues our children had. I like to think our own kids learned a lot about responsibility and commitment from that.
I love sharing my life with dogs and they bring such joy and richness to my world. In the same way I used to sometimes wish I could fast-forward through the sleepless nights with my babies, I sometimes look forward to next year, when the pups will be past most of the puppy and adolescent dog struggles. Yet, in the same way I wished I could freeze time in so many moments with my children, I realize this time of tiredness and puppy nips is so short and I should enjoy it as much as I can.
So, I’m sleepily getting in workouts and walks and looking forward to my four-legged workout buddy joining me. Maybe I’ll teach her to do yoga too?