We watched a nature documentary yesterday. With squealing monkeys and hungry lions. As the death throes filled the room, Kepler the puppy, continued snoozing. Oblivious. Last December, the sound of flamingos flapping their wings resulted in an evening of barking and zooming, as he searched for the scary pink birds. What a difference a year makes. 🙂
December marks twelve months since that furry whirlwind joined our family. And what a journey it has been. I was newly diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension when we adopted Lottie, our beagle. Calm, quiet and happy to snooze for hours on the sofa; we were a perfect match. However, this time, with my PH improved; I had more energy for supporting and training a rescue pup. So we chose a six month old Patterdale Terrier, who had already lived in four different homes, by the time he joined ours. Left alone all day, from a couple of months old, he couldn’t cope. Scared and anxious, destructive and boisterous, playful and inquisitive, and charged by Duracell batteries. He needed a lot of love and guidance and cocktail sausages! 🙂
Due to Covid restrictions, we couldn’t meet Kepler until he moved in. Although we’d read his reports and listened to the warnings from the rehoming team; I hadn’t fully comprehended how difficult it would be. Even when he arrived and zoomed around the garden; I didn’t click how energetic he was!
However, I quickly realised what a mammoth job we’d taken on. Like all puppies he’d steal slippers and bite furniture and have accidents inside. He’d attack the hoover and pull on the lead and try to chase cars. He’d bark at the postman and mouth us and run everywhere. And he was determined to sneak into the local fields of sheep! 🙂 But due to his background and breed, he also had many additional needs. He was scared of every noise and movement, and overstimulated by anything new. The neighbour sneezing, a car starting, reflecting light. Television sounds, curtains moving, flying birds. Real dogs barking, cartoon dogs barking, Lottie barking. In a constant state of fight-or-flight; sometimes he’d curl up in fear, but mostly he’d snap and yap and run. And he’d jolt awake at the slightest sound. Car journeys made him howl, crates freaked him out, and I couldn’t leave the room without causing distress. He’d jump on surfaces, grab and snatch, and the word “wait” wasn’t in his vocabulary! He craved love, but would mouth if touched. He enjoyed toys, but wanted a human playmate. And without constant stimulation, he’d attack the sofa or become the Neighbourhood Watch! 😛 But hardest of all, he was always on the go! He wouldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t rest. At all. I was in complete shock. It felt like a tornado had smashed into our world.
So I went into teacher mode. In came a strict timetable, with designated rest time. In came a plan of the learning objectives, and mini steps to get there. In came boxes and boxes of treats. It was just like the old days, but without the laminated games! 😉 Rewards for sitting in his bed, rewards for lying in his bed, rewards for staying in bed. Rewards for standing near the car, rewards for sitting in the boot, rewards for letting us close the door. Phil slept on the downstairs floor for the first fortnight; gradually moving a little further away from his bed each time. And after a few tiffs, the dogs were kept apart and then slowly re-introduced for increasing duration. At each new step, we’d dish out treats every second -every second!- encouraging him to continue that behaviour. Later, we learnt to recognize his stress signs and calm him with his commands or toys. And one magical day, we realised that stroking his cheek made him sleepy! How we celebrated! 😉
But wow, the first months were difficult. With Phil working, I was largely alone with both pups. On duty every moment of every day. I was living in survival mode, barely coping. Although at my PH strongest; I quickly realised I wasn’t able enough. I didn’t have the stamina nor lungs for him. Bending over and playing games and picking up toys and wiping his feet made me breathless. Watching and rewarding and playing and rewarding and teaching and rewarding needed more energy coins than I had. My face was always bright red- a sign I was overdoing it. But still I had to continue. There was no time off. His needs and his timetable and his training came first, and dictated our lives. In desperation I spent hours googling enrichment ideas, bought ridiculous amounts of toys, and joined many supportive Facebook groups. But still, for the first three months I was exhausted, exhausted, exhausted. For the first three months, I cried every day. For the first three months, I wanted to return him. Having a spirited and complex puppy is difficult. With PH, it felt impossible.
However by Spring, life started to get easier. Thriving on the consistency of the timetable and our expectations; thriving on our love and security; there were big breakthroughs. Being alone in a room, ‘waiting’ for a treat, playing with a ball on his own (yay!). Car journeys without howling, going inside his crate, letting us stroke him. Not barking at the birds or the cars or the neighbours. Not zooming in fear, at the slightest sound. Excitedly exploring new places! And resting -yes resting- during the day! As each month passed, he relaxed more, calmed more, learnt more. As each month passed, he brought more fun and laughter and excitement and happiness and love to our home. And as each month passed, the puppy and PH learnt to live together. 🙂
Now, twelve months after that first zoom around our garden, he’s a different dog. Happier, calmer, braver, content. He adores tennis balls and squeaky toys and ostrich bones. He loves learning tricks and going on runs and long country walks. He can catch a frisbee, run faster than Phil, and he’s an expert at tug! (I credit all our energetic games for my increased fitness! 😀 ). Plus, he gives the best snuggles! There’s still plenty to learn, but he’s doing amazingly. Absolutely amazingly.
He crashed into our family, but shook it up for the better. Happy first adoption day Kepler. 🙂