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Puppy on the Loose

What to do when you're dog won't come.

This week my family and I packed our bags and moved from South Salem to Katonah. Regular readers of my column may be thinking, Wait--didn't she just write a column about moving? Well yes, I did. But those columns were about moving to South Salem from Katonah. It's a long story.

The good news is, moving twice in one year has taught me many important life lessons. My biggest takeaway? All family stress flows from the Mothership. During our first move, I made a few mistakes, not the least being this: Think ahead and be realistic.

I fell in love with a bucolic idyll: Sun Meadow Farm. But guess what. A farm is a lot of work, and the space it gives you comes at a cost of knowing and caring for your neighbors.

People who seek property with space generally also put a premium on their privacy, and my family really isn’t that private. Nor do we have the time to maintain two acres. I spent much of my time longing for the camaraderie I’d cherished in Katonah.

Another interesting thing? My kids really didn’t spend more time in the great outdoors—they spent less as there was no one around to play with.

So here we are back in a wonderful Katonah neighborhood on exactly one-quarter of an acre. While the woods surround us on three sides offering the sights and sounds of nature, they are preservation land, owned and maintained by the state. The neighbors are friendly and welcoming, and my kids are spending the better part of the summer not in camp but exploring their new surrounds.

During our last move, we stacked boxes all over the house. This sent , our German Shepherd Dog, into full gastric panic mode. The very last thing we packed were the paper towels, plastic bags and an industrial sized jug of vinegar.

This time around, I hid the boxes. Each carefully packed box went into an off-limits room and dear Balder was clueless (and diarrhea-free). The movers came, the boxes left, Balder jumped in the car and here we are. 

This time the challenge is . At 8 months she is a flaming adolescent--sometimes loving and sweet, and other times looking over her shoulder and racing off to play. On our two acre farm she gallivanted with her animal friends, scaled up the pirate ship with the kids, and had playdates with her dog pals.  

Now, there are boxes to be unpack, a comparatively small yard, and a road right out the front of the house. The squirrels that she used to chase out the front door just a week ago are now standing in the neighbor's yard. No more blasting off the wrap-around porch and zooming down the hill to clear the forest of intruders, no more playing hide and seek under Mom’s azalea bushes, no more lazy afternoons wallowing in the frog pond. She's a bit off kilter in the 'burbs.

The second day in our new house, I was in the playroom, bottoms-up in a very large moving box. The kids ran out the back door, leaving it wide open. All three pooches followed, a rollicking train of kids and dogs.

The two older dogs, Whoopsie and Balder, seem to know their boundaries instinctively, but the puppy, longing for the wide open spaces of her country home, ran right into the road thrilled to be free. My children, after all my patient instruction about road safety, followed in heedless hot pursuit. And me? Still bottoms up in the playroom, fishing out puzzle pieces. Balderdash, in true Shepherd form, alerted me to the chaos engulfing my flock.

Though there was no immediate danger, it is no less wrenching to be ignored by a dog whom you’ve spent hours training. Hootenanny, now a fluffy “big” dog, was hightailing happily around the neighborhood, ignoring us all. A well socialized gal, she’d meet more neighbors than I could introduce myself to in a week, made kissy-face with all their dogs, and given everyone something to talk about.

Meanwhile, after Balder had had enough of her shinagins he herded her back into the fold. So, what did we “the people” do? We hugged our wayward teenager, of course. There is nothing more steadying to a dog than being accepted back into their group, and more assuring if the goal is a steady recall. Reconnections must always bring a flush of reassurance. 

While I know there is training ahead, Hootenanny must acclimate to the new restrictions of lifestyle, I have no fear she’ll learn them. I remember back to my other dogs' adolescence and the scoffs I received from onlookers who judged my abilities by their reactions. An adolescent is an adolescent is an adolescent, no matter what the species. My dogs are just dogs, completely unimpressed with my credentials or sensitive to my image.

Hoots will receive the same treatment I offer to all dogs--I’ll handle her with the calm structure that is the foundation of my methodology. To earn and enjoy a mindful, trusting companion, you must walk for a while in the shadow of their adolescence.

Perhaps it would be easier to recognize this lesson if you looked at it from the human perspective. Talk to a teenager, or to any young adult for that matter, and you will often witness an enviable freedom from responsibility or concern. Bold and adventurous, they speak episodically, without yet linking the results of each occurrence to their life as a whole. A young dog’s impulses are no different; be grateful they cannot drive your car.

As youths mature, they often return from their life experiences with new wisdom and realization: For all the faults of family and friends, familiar love and unconditional support is more powerful than the lure of detached independence and the rush of the unfamiliar. Sticking close, whether emotionally or physically, is no longer restrictive, it is restorative.

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