Late one summer our two Cocker Spaniels both crossed the rainbow bridge. With no time to train a puppy before the start of school, my sons and I headed to the local Humane Society.
As we walked through rows of kennels, one dog begged for our affection more than any other. And he, too, was a Cocker Spaniel. After playing with him in the fenced area and experiencing his overflowing energy, we felt a connection. We instantly knew. This dog was the one for us.
Then we learned the facts.
We would be his third home after two failed adoptions. The first was a young working couple who kept the puppy in his crate most of the day and then at night. Not surprisingly, he never completed his training and urinated immediately upon being released. In the house, rarely outside.
That’s when the punishment began. Hitting repeatedly and then isolating, as if that approach would correct the maladaptive behavior. After less than a year, the couple decided that the puppy – now a limping, frightened dog – had to go.
Neglected. Then Abused. Now Abandoned.
Quickly adopted because of his good looks, the dog fared better in his second home – at least initially. The older couple worked diligently to break the bad habits yet eventually grew frustrated. Yes, the urination problem continued. When anyone opened the backdoor, the dog darted. Although the yard had a fence, he quickly found one opening after another. And bolted.
Free to roam. No boundaries. Plenty of attention and treats from strangers.
That’s when the dog received a microchip for identification. After the fourth call in five months to retrieve the dog from miles away, the couple gave up. They needed a calm, obedient pet, not an escape artist. Back to the Humane Society the dog went.
Since this new dog would be a handful, I asked my sons for a commitment. A daily commitment. No doubt, they understood the challenges from their own early childhood trauma. After they agreed to give the dog a forever home, my youngest son Brandon named him Halli.
Knowing the crate would be a trigger, I let my son Michael sleep with Halli in the laundry room for the first week. Not a single accident, and when taken outside each morning, Halli promptly did his business. Within a month I thought we had him fully trained.
Watching him follow my sons around the house was a welcome sight. Seeing him sleep with them was comforting for all. That dog truly belonged.
But that changed when school started and my job resumed. Halli would need to go into the crate. Alone. Scared of the unknown. Upon returning home, he did relieve himself outside – only to come inside and immediately lift his leg on the living room furniture. Day after day.
He was now the one in charge, not us.
For the next six months, we made sure Halli received a brisk walk before coming inside. It worked. Those fifteen minutes of bonding with one of my sons reassured him, made him content. But the moment we changed the routine, the urination in the house returned.
Without question, Halli’s behavior had meaning. He refused to be ignored. He demanded to be included – all the time. So we let him, as much as possible.
He loved riding in the car and sticking his head out the window. He loved joining us for a DVD and going from lap to lap. He loved sitting under the dining room table and waiting for a scrap to fall. He loved running with my son Andrew on the track and cutting in front of him. 🙂
The crate, however, remained the biggest challenge. Unfortunately, we couldn’t always take Halli with us and had to use it. For thirty minutes he would howl, according to the neighbors. Then he finally bent the metal bars and managed to escape. Desperate to find one of us, he tried clawing and chewing through several doors.
Thinking he’d been abandoned, the poor thing flipped out. Doggie meltdown.
We empathized. We adjusted. We found a better way.
Eight years later, Halli is still with us. A huge part of the family. Yet the triggers remain, if we forget to be mindful of our actions.
Just like I’ve learned with my sons. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love