Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Our Dog-Fearing Family Came to Own A Labrador

Once upon a time our family was afraid of dogs. Kevin was afraid of their stink. I was afraid of how messy they are. And our four children have always been exceedingly afraid of everything about dogs. These fears (mainly those of the children) have cost us friendships. It is difficult to explain to someone that your child is afraid of their dog if they see their dog as a family member who cannot be relegated to a kennel, back room, or back yard in the presence of a fearful child. I often wanted to grumble, "Listen, if it was your grandpa who was terrifying the bejeezus out of my kid right now, I'd ask you to remove him, too!"

Each of our kids has been afraid, but we've seen that as they get older, the fear starts to subside. It helps that we know some rational folks with well-trained dogs who have been VERY patient with us and our fears. It was after a visit with one such friend that my heart started to be overtaken with all the good things I've heard about kids having dogs and I gave dog ownership some actual, intellectual consideration. Also, the kids wanted some red-eared slider turtles and I couldn't see spending lots of cash on a small amphibian who may or may not pass Salmonella to us and certainly would never snuggle or fetch or go for walks or be trained to do tricks.

I did my research and my cousin alerted me to a great breed, the Hungarian Vizsla, which sounded like a dream partly due to the fact that it is known for "low dog odor" and I was still trying to deal with Kevin's biggest concern. Every Vizsla lead I got dead-ended. Every trip to a dog adoption or a shelter led me to believe that the only dogs available were Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas. And so, unexpectedly, we found our Yellow Lab at a pet store one crisp Sunday evening in November. We got a significant discount because she had been at the pet store too long. She was still adorably cute, but no longer was she a teeny puppy, and therefore less sellable. After hours of deliberating, kids begging, and to my surprise, a look of joy on my husband's face (though he might deny it) - we loaded up the van with a crate, a bag of dog food, a box of supplies, and a nervous, almost four month-old puppy who had lived all her early life in a cage.

On the drive home, we named her. Recently, we had listened to a series of three books on CD about a sweet beagle named Shiloh. All of us loved the story and so the feminine version, Shyla, became the all-around favorite for our new dog.

Shyla was nervous about everything. On the drive home from the pet store, we dropped her, Kevin, and Joe off at the park at dusk so the rest of us could go home to cook dinner and assemble the crate. The guys said she was terrified to cross streets and Kevin ended up carrying her a good portion of the distance home. This is her first photo with us just inside our front door after her arrival.
It took over a week to break her of her fear of thresholds of our house, garage, and car. She had no initial desire even to look around the house. On our morning walks, I realized quickly that everything was new to her: airplanes, cars whizzing past, other people, leaves blowing in the street. Thankfully, it didn't take too long for her fear to change to curiosity.

Shyla was comfortable in our house well before John was comfortable with a dog around. For a while, he regarded her as a land shark. He only felt safe here:

This made for a stressful few weeks. We had to put John in safe places or make sure Shyla was tethered to our back door or our banister. Otherwise, there was a lot of blood-curdling screaming going on and my heart alternated between breaking and flip-flopping numerous times a day. For those in a similar situation, who might be wondering how long it takes a five year-old to quit an irrational fear, it was one month. I knew when enough days went by with no vicious attacks, John would start to grasp that he was safe and could be friends with Shyla. Don't think I'm cruel to introduce such a fear right into the home - John begged to have this dog, and he showed signs of affection toward her right away - as long as she was asleep and securely tied to something.
On having a dog, I am shocked (not too strong a word) at how much I enjoy it. I really like her! Yes, there is dog hair everywhere, but it does vacuum up. The kids are all over her. They run to share affection, feed her, let her out to pee, help with baths, etc. It should be noted that no one else but me has ever cleaned up her barf, but I knew certain jobs would fall to me. We do share the poop clean-up chore.

She is sweet, there's no denying it.
And if I've convinced you to get a dog, you should do two things. 1) Crate train. And 2) Familiarize yourself with Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. Here is Shyla in her crate, where she happily spends her nights and the times when we are out of the house.
Shyla is our beloved pet. I think this family photo from Christmas about sums up her place.  She's part of us, but not one of us. She won't face the camera, or smile, or even stop playing with her frisbee - but the whole photo is more fun now that she is part of it.

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