(Benjamin: continued from Three Strikes, I’m Yours)
The first night, Ben trained us.
Apparently a throbbing and punctured finger wasn’t going to deter me from the delusion that I could become the alpha in our burgeoning relationship. I knew from what little firsthand “adult” experience I had with dogs (most of which came via my Dad’s basset hounds which had less than nothing in common with this wild little terrier-cross that continued pace the room in front of me) that dogs had a hierarchy in their packs that started with the Alpha, the leader, and ended with the most submissive of the pack, the omega which was often the runt.
So while I had lost the battle of the couch earlier, I still expected that I would win the war of the furniture. As bedtime neared, we braced for the worst but hoped, naively for normal. Heck, after 16½ years with Ben, I still don’t really know what is “normal,” but that aside, I think we still thought that owning a stray dog would somehow become easier than it proved and that we’d somehow express a wish and Ben would conform.
The first step before bed was taking Ben out to pee – again. We were nearing 8 hours since Ben had come into our lives; he had already once peed in the house and been outside once as well. It was now time for the ready-for-sleep pee.
One of the things about Magda and her boxer, Aïda, that impressed me the most was the fact that she could “command” Aïda to pee. Given that my dog had peed in the house within the first 10 minutes of meeting me, I figured we would have a long way to get to where Magda was with her girl.
The key, according to Magda, was to utter the command and reward the behavior; given the behavior didn’t immediately come on command, it would mean a lot of repetition. And given Ben was determined to smell every leaf and pebble before peeing, it was going to take a lot of repetition. After that, the repetition grew tiresome and difficult to keep up with since Ben decided he needed to then mark every leaf and pebble.
I was committed that Ben wouldn’t be one of those dogs (like my father’s bassets) that peed in the house. So the first step in this was taking Ben outside every 3-4 hours. And so this first night, I walked Ben down five flights of stairs to take him outside. We didn’t use the elevator. While Ben was afraid of little in this world, apparently the non-steady elevator freaked him out. It was our first walk alone; and it was kind of cool having this little dog guiding me through the night. The world seemed suddenly different with a dog at my side … pulling me along. Eventually he peed, and I rewarded him with piece of wiener.
To avoid another “accident,” the plan was that Andrea and I would take turns of getting up in the middle of the night to take him outside, command him to pee, hope that he actually did it, and then reward him, and so on … and in the process, we hoped we’d remove the opportunity to pee inside by simply keeping him rewarded and empty. Ultimately our plan worked. And thankfully our teaching schedules meant that we could take turns coming home and taking him out again throughout the day. And so, for the first few weeks this dog was getting 6 or more walks a day! We were exhausted, yes, but I’m also happy to say that until late in his life (at around 13 years of age), Ben would never pee in the house again after that first moment I met him. And, by the time he had reached four years of age, Ben was also peeing and pooping on command: smart boy.
Anyway, after losing at rock-paper-scissors, it was determined that I got the first night … so we set the alarm for 3am and got Ben settled in the hallway outside our bedroom door … the same hallway we had met in only 8 hours earlier. He was calming down, slowly, but he was definitely adjusting to his new space.
Now to implement the plan to win the furniture war. First tactic: close the bedroom door with the dog in the hallway. We were clear: this little mongrel was not going to be sleeping in the bed. This was non-negotiable, at least so Andrea said. Who was I to argue? I was still pissed over the couch incident anyway.
Most of you with dogs will know what happens next. Ben started whining. And to be clear, Ben is a loud whiner. He’s a very “verbal” dog in general which means he emits a lot of noises beyond even barking (he does a great chicken impersonation, for example). But worse than the high-pitched whine was his piercing bark. Yes, Ben barks … and while his bark has deepened a little, or so I’d conjecture because it doesn’t irritate nearly as much as it used to, back in the day, Ben was able to hit the perfect octave of shrill bark that felt like someone was squeezing the air out of a helium balloon in your ear while simultaneously slamming a frying pan on an anvil. Not that he has many shortcomings, but Ben’s bark has always been his worst quality.
So there we lay, staring at the ceiling, looking at each other, covering our heads with pillows and generally thinking what the hell were we thinking as Ben varied between whines, shrill barks, scratching at the door and generally doing his best to make sure we got evicted.
After an eternity or 15 minutes, which ever was longer, I rolled towards Andrea and said: “We can’t do this. The neighbours will kill us … or we’ll kill the dog. Just one night. The poor guy is lost, in an unfamiliar place … let’s just get him calm and we’ll try the bedroom boundaries another night. Ok?”
She relented, though I’m quite sure her mother’s voice was screaming: “You’ll regret this.”
And so I opened the door and this crazy little messed up skinny blonde dog ran into the room and jumped up on the bed, ran towards Andrea, licked her, and then sniffed my pillow and curled up in my spot.
I stood staring at Ben – and Ben stared back at me – and then he laid his muzzle down on his paws and totally relaxed.
I sighed, felt the pulse beat in my wounded finger, and knew this was going to be a very long night as Ben trained us how to care for him.