My Dog and I Are Renewing Our Vows

The following piece was written by our events and social media coordinator, Amy.

I remember the day we got our precious dog, Elphie. We had everything set up in the house ready for her. My husband and I were bursting with excitement to have our very own puppy. We had read books and watched shows; we wanted to work hard at training and create a positive puppy experience for both her and us.

When we met Elphie it was love at first sight. We brought our 7 week old, English springer spaniel pup into our home on a beautiful spring day. She was unsure of things at first and followed us everywhere. We had planned to keep her in the crate at night, but even just hearing her cry was too much, so she came up on the bed, and there she stayed.

Elphie took to positive reinforcement training methods so well. We had a great time training her and showing off her tricks to others. On her first birthday, we threw her a party with all of her doggy play mates. She even had pupcakes! We would take Elphie hiking all the time. She loved to swim too. Basically anywhere we went, Elphie came too. Since she was a pup, Elphie has done everything with gusto, and being a springer, she naturally has a lot of energy. We’ve always said her motto is “Go hard, or go home.” Elphie was also very spoiled.  She was in short, our baby.

Then it was time for my husband and me to start discussing babies -human ones that is. It was never a problem for our Elphie, as she adores children. They share her same energy and zest for life. When Elphie was 3 years old, our beautiful daughter was born. Prior to having our daughter, we made sure to read up on how to introduce a baby to a family pet, and we promised to keep Elphie included in family life after the baby arrived.

In the beginning, we did a great job. My husband continued to take Elphie out on walks to quell some of her energy while I was home with the baby. Gradually as the demands of our new baby, work, and daily lives increased, those walks started getting shorter and longer apart. It was the cold winter months, we were tired, and didn’t feel like taking Elphie out for walks, let alone long hikes. We couldn’t take the baby into a dog park, and on our days off we wanted to attend family day events. It was too much hassle for us to bring the dog as well as the baby. We grew impatient with Elphie. The more she stayed inside and wasn’t exercised, the more destructive she became. It was a viscous circle.

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“Go Hard or Go Home!” That’s Elphie’s motto and she sure holds us to it if we don’t give her our attention and proper exercise each day.

Baby number two came two years later and we had even less time for our once precious pup. We would regularly come home to find she had pulled things off the countertops or ripped through our bags to find a piece of candy or gum. We put her behind a baby gate, but she ripped it off the wall!

My husband and I found ourselves growing incredibly tired and impatient with her. I was constantly telling her to get out of my way when I was carrying my baby. I used to think it was cute having a shadow, but now it was frustrating. We have a great yard, but Elphie doesn’t want to be in it alone. She needs to be wherever we are. She needs attention. She needs exercise. She NEEDS her family.

For the first time I considered that things might be easier without her. I couldn’t believe that thought crossed my mind, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. It would mean I wouldn’t have to hear her howling when we are playing out in the front yard and she’s not with us; I wouldn’t have to clean up after her after she has stolen our food; I wouldn’t have to pick up my crying toddler because Elphie got so excited to see her that she knocked her over; I wouldn’t have to pray that no one knocked on my door while the baby was napping because it sets her off barking; I wouldn’t have to dehair all of our clothes constantly.  Life sure would be a lot easier, but in reality, I could NEVER do that. Sure she drives me nuts sometimes, but I love her, and we made a promise by taking her into our home.

Here was my turning point. I recently took Elphie swimming – one of her favorite pastimes. Just watching how happy she was brought back all of our wonderful memories. This was our original baby. Yes, I know some people think that’s cheesy, but it’s true. When we got home from swimming, she was tired. For the rest of the evening, she cuddled up to us. She slept, and the best part was she actually listened when she was given a command. That hasn’t happened in a long time. She’s usually over-energetic (due to lack of exercise) and doesn’t listen because we don’t take time out for her, then we get too impatient with her, and between us, we forget the positive reinforcement training.

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Regular exercise like walks, hikes, and swimming helps dogs release pent up energy, making for a more well-mannered, relaxed dog at home.

A few evenings ago, we were about to go on our usual neighborhood walk and I was about to put Elphie in her crate. Then I realized, a tired Elphie, is a good Elphie. I put on her leash and told her to come. She almost couldn’t believe it. She behaved so well – we all had a family walk and it was great! When we got home, she ate her dinner, then laid down while we played with our daughters. We have taken her out every day since, and it’s been enjoyable for us all. I’m now sitting on the couch, snuggled up to her and she’s snoring (yes, she’s allowed on the couch).

I decided to write this piece not to chastise people who feel the way I let myself feel with Elphie, but more to say that it can, and will get better if you remember to honor your commitment to your pet – your four-legged family member. Life gets hectic and things are more disposable these days, but the one thing that doesn’t ever need to be disposable is your pet.

So Elphie (let’s pretend dogs can read), I promise to be the owner I once was. I promise to take you out every day – it won’t always be a long walk, but you will get some sort of exercise. Something you need. I promise to give you a treat a day. I promise to keep working on our training. I promise to give you some of my time every day. Even if it’s late and I’m exhausted, I know you love to snuggle. I promise to be more patient with you. I promise to not give up on you, and most of all, I promise to love you forever.

See that’s the beautiful thing about dogs. No matter what we do, they love us unconditionally. Instead of seeing the negative in my dog since we have had children, I’m now CHOOSING to see the positive. I see a smart, funny, energetic and sweet dog who is just wonderful with our children. I see a dog that would do anything for her family. Her people. I see Elphie. Our sweet Elphie and we are so lucky to have her.

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To learn more about positive reinforcement training, LVH’s Dr. Kloer suggests the following websites and books:

If you are concerned about your pet’s behavior or are looking for ways to positively train your pet, we encourage you to contact our Behavioral Veterinarian, Dr. Leslie Sinn.   You can learn more about Dr. Sinn’s services and how to schedule an appointment with her at our practice on our website.

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