Old Dogs Teach New Lessons

Josh Gondelman had to learn to listen to his eight-year-old pug, Bizzy.

Author by Josh Gondelman
Art credit: Twisha Patni

I wasn’t ready to have a dog when we adopted one, and neither was my girlfriend, which normally isn’t how that works. I had promised my then-girlfriend (now my wife) that I’d get her a dog when we moved in together. Then, to prove that I wasn’t trying to back out of my declaration, I brought it up all the time. My girlfriend, assuming I wanted a dog with every cell in my body, began to browse listings online. Within weeks, we had adopted a chubby eight-year-old pug (is there any other kind?), each convinced that we had made the other’s dream come true.

Our first week of dog-having was a nightmare, which is ironic, considering how little we slept. Bizzy (nee Susie) was delivered to us with a sleep crate. But when we put her inside it, she barked furiously at the indignation of it all, like the drunken son of a senator being thrown out of a bar. She refused to stop until we took her into bed with us, and once we did that, she refused to not throw up on our blankets. Until the early morning, Bizzy circled and probed the spaces between our feet, her breath dry and scratchy like acrylic nails thrumming against a wicker basket.

“If this is what having a pet is like, I don’t know if I can do it,” I moaned to my girlfriend (and the heavens) on the third night, somewhere between one and two in the morning. Fortunately, it wasn’t what having a pet is like. Soon enough, Bizzy settled into her new home and became what you might call a Very Good Dog — she’s sweet and snuggly and doesn’t do the three things you really don’t want a dog to do (pee in the house, chew up your stuff, bite people).

Still, Bizzy is an old dog, and she has some old-dog habits. She hates the sound of our doorbell, for instance, and barks when she hears neighbors in the hallway. (As soon as she sees who it is, she calms right down because she loves anything she can see, and her worst enemy is something she can only hear.) She’s also stuck in her ways; she insists on sleeping between my or my wife’s legs all night long, which is more comfortable for a 24-pound dog than the person-sized person who has to contort their body around her.

But, in Bizzy’s defense, she’s so cute I could die. Plus, the unexpected benefit of adopting a senior dog, I’ve found, is how much it’s taught me about dealing with adults.

When you get a dog with a partner, everyone else in your life takes it as a sign that you’re practicing to have kids. And it’s possible that a puppy is a baby-lite, in some ways. But an older dog isn’t. Since Bizzy didn’t require housebreaking or leash training, bringing her home felt less like having an baby, and more like taking on a new roommate.

We were never on high alert that she would pee on our shoes, but we did have to become attuned to the times of day she expected to go out. Bizzy has preferences and predilections, and by choosing to have her in our lives, we had to accept her as she was. We needed to become okay with her occasional fits of anxious barking, separation anxiety, love of string beans, and fear of car trips.

When you meet someone new, dog or human, it’s helpful to realize that you’re not going to change who they are. Sure, they might adjust to you, but at some point, you have to decide whether or not you’re going to let them sleep between your knees (metaphorically speaking, usually). Instead of making assumptions about what others want, you have to listen to them and give them what they actually need.

Although, ironically, if I’d learned that lesson earlier, I might never have adopted my perfect little dog at all.

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