I went for four years after Lovey died before I started getting the yearning for another dog. I don’t think I’m a cat person. Okay, truth time: the last cat I had was a bobcat and that was a disaster. I didn’t mean to buy a bobcat, but the pet shop said it was probably a Manx. Nope, dear friends, it was a bobcat.
So a cat was out – at least until those memories faded a few more decades.
I started looking around for a Sheltie puppy. I love Shelties. They’re a lot of work, but they’re smart and they’re very loyal. Unfortunately, the only people who had Sheltie puppies either had the merle coloring, which doesn’t trip my trigger or they were charging $1500 per puppy. Um, no.
One breeder I talked to suggested I call a second breeder she knew, which led to another phone call and another. Finally, I reached a very nice woman here in San Antonio who dabbled in breeding Shelties. I think they’re called back yard breeders. Mary Beth was a very conscientious breeder, however. All her dogs were AKC and checked for a certain type of blindness Shelties can have. She had all her dogs chipped as well. She had a litter of five dogs left, but they were a year and a half old. All of them were merles, except for one, the most submissive of the litter (I can hear you laughing now). His name was Flash and he was a tri-color.
Mary Beth kept warning me that he was excessively shy. I told her that didn’t pose a problem. My previous two Shelties had been extremely timid.
We agreed on a reasonable price for the dog. I took Flash home and all hell broke loose. I kept him on a leash and only introduced him to my office, the kitchen, and his bedroom area. I had his large crate in there and that’s where I expected him to want to sleep.
Instead, Flash ate cords – I went through two keyboards and two mice before he was finished in my office. He refused to sleep in the crate but cried all night. He wasn’t the least bit house trained although Mary Beth assured me he was.
At the end of a week, I returned Flash to Mary Beth and got my money back. I had books to write, I explained. I can’t watch him every second of every day. Oh, by the way, Flash never barked at anything at this point. I couldn’t imagine bonding with this dog. He wasn’t friendly. He didn’t want to come near a human being. He never came near me. He flinched when I raised my hand to pet him.(I don’t think he was ever abused; I just don’t think he was socialized very well.)
This was in December of 2009. Between December and June, 2010 when I finished a new book, I kept thinking about Flash. Had I given him enough time for us to “bond”? Had I been fair to the dog? I called Mary Beth and said, “Do you still have Flash?”
“I do,” she said. “Plus, I have to tell you, I think he misses you.”
Since I knew she wanted to sell me the dog (again), I pretty much discounted what she said. I brought Flash home and our dynamic was different. Not perfect, just different. I agreed that he didn’t have to sleep in the crate. He never ate another cord. (He did, however, eat his leather leash.)
This relationship has been different from the beginning. First we went to obedience school. Then we started doing tricks and learning something together. Every time he mastered something I wanted him to do, I felt like we’d both added something to our repertoire.
I started reading books on bonding with your dog, the very first time I ever realized it was a conscious interaction between animal and owner. With my other dogs, I’d gotten them, I’d loved them, and that was it.
Step by step we began to trust each other. We worked on Flash running through a tunnel. We did agility training. We practiced hand signals and voice commands. I hid kibble, made him guess which hand had a treat. He learned never to leave a room before I do and now he nearly twists himself into a pretzel not to be first out of a room. Gradually, he learned that it was a good thing to be rubbed all over and that brushing teeth was fun. Every tiny thing we did cemented the bond between skittish dog and reluctant owner.
I had to learn to be his leader; he had to learn to follow me. The love is most certainly there, as is the fondness and amusement. Bonding is more than that. I think it’s mutual respect.
The last five years have been frustrating, delightful, joyous, and the most rewarding relationship I’ve ever had with any animal (and I’ve had some great pets). I adore this dog because of what he’s taught me about selfless giving, and about love itself. I know Flash has a shelf limit; we all do. But another thing Flash has taught me is to give everything a second chance, and have a ball while you’re doing it.