Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love, Bones

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” – unknown

My dog is eating my house. Really, he is. He is actually ingesting it. This is not a metaphor. But we’ll come back to this later.

At the beginning of summer vacation in 2013 we brought home a puppy. It was the perfect time: I wasn’t teaching during the summer so I would have all summer to train him, he would be with us all summer to train us, and the girls were also out of school to love on him to their hearts’ content. In fact, I brought him with me on the last day of school (the day I got him) to pick them up. They had no idea we were getting a dog, so this was an enormous surprise.

It wasn’t an impulse buy. For months I researched the kind of dog I wanted: a Dogue de Bordeaux, also known as a French Mastiff, and known to the world at large as the lovable scamp of a dog Hooch in the movie Turner and Hooch. In fact, after we brought him home, I made the girls sit and watch that movie as a cautionary tale. “This is why we need to train him now,” I stressed. “He’s going to get big.”

He was seven weeks old and already weighed 14 pounds.

Look at that face!
He had the sweetest face I had ever seen and eyes that just looked right into my soul. I knew when I saw him that he was the one.

We named him Bones.

He is our boy; he is our baby. And we are his people.

During the summer, there were many accidents in the house. It was easy to forget how young he was because he grew so large so quickly. He doesn’t whimper or cry, so to my kids, he doesn’t ‘speak’. He uses his eyes to communicate; they are extraordinarily expressive, but very quiet. So there were accidents. I think every inch of my carpet has been cleaned with Resolve…twice.

He’s also stubborn.
"Nope...not gonna do any more..."

When he’s done with something, he’s done, and that’s it. He sits down, looks at me with those big eyes, and won’t budge no matter what I demand he do. I have to remember that just as we don’t expect our kids to be perfect carbon copies of us because they have their own personalities, he has his own personality too. Once I allowed room for that in our training, it went much more smoothly.

He became an instant part of the family and has always loved to play.
The problem? Bones doesn’t know how big and heavy he is. Right now, at eight months old, he weighs 83 pounds, and he thinks he’s a lapdog. When he gets excited, he doesn’t jump (good training…) but he does have a tendency to run head first into our legs. My guess is I have about 12 tiny stress fractures in my legs at any given time (I might be exaggerating a little). He’s solid bone; his head is like a boulder. I always have bruises on my legs because when we play, he steps on me. His paws are almost the size of my hands.
"Of course she wants me on her lap. Why wouldn't she?"

He loves us unconditionally. We have his trust. Every day when we leave, when it’s cold or yucky outside, or (because this is Texas) if it’s face-meltingly hot outside, Bones goes (mostly) willingly into his crate. He stays there for hours. When we get home and let him out, he is so happy to see us that he head-butts our legs, runs in crazy circles around the den, and gives us hugs with his paws. He isn’t mad at us for leaving him in his crate all day. There is no cold shoulder, no frosty silence. The happiness just pours out of him. If you locked someone you love away for hours each day, or even simply ignored them for hours at a time (with no locking away, because –really– that’s wrong) that person would be angry. Dogs don’t get that way.

Somehow, they know something that we humans don’t. They know how to automatically forgive.

Sometimes Bones stops by the couch, puts his front two feet up on it, and leans his head into me, sort of like a drive-by hugging. Other times he sits next to me, sags against the sofa, sighs, and offers me his paw. He just wants me to hold it. When Emma is feeling ill, and laying on the couch, he sits with her until she feels better. He is her best friend, and she can whisper all her secrets in his floppy ears. He likes to lay on our feet so we can’t move without him knowing it. We are his people. He is our dog.

Bones just sat there with Emma, for hours. His tiny friend was sick and he had to stand (sit?) guard.
Sharing secrets is one of the best parts of having a best friend. Here it looks like Bones is thinking, "No she di-int!"

But into this paragon of heroic canine-wonder comes his fatal flaw: he’s a chewer, which brings us back to the fact that he is actually consuming my home. Have you heard the saying “he’s eating me out of house and home?” In this case it’s the literal truth. Bones eats a lot, but despite the full belly, and the abundance of chew toys he loves, he has decided to chew the house itself.

Exhibit A

The chair. This chair was in perfect condition before Bones decided it had a lovely flavor. You may wonder why I didn’t notice for a while that he was eating it. He didn’t leave much evidence. He wasn’t simply chewing on it and letting the bits fall to the floor. He was eating it, then hoovering the floor for bits he missed.

Exhibit B

The back doors. No, I don’t live in a condemned building (ignore the dogs’ nose art on the windows, please…I haven’t cleaned it off in a while). But looking at these doors, you’d think this building was about to collapse. Again, he’s eating them. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but he’s almost completely removed the wooden framing from the glass panes on the outside. He’s destroying the wooden bit that separates the two doors (I have no idea what that’s called). Again, very little evidence is left lying around.

Exhibit C

Finally, he’s removing the little strip that seals the space between the doors. See? There’s a visible gap between the doors now. Oh my God. I don’t even know how he got ahold of that in the first place.

So, my dog, at eight months old has demonstrated that he can eat a house. But out of everything else he has demonstrated, this is the thing I care about the least.


He is always ridiculously happy to see us. Always. How many beings in your life can you say that about? He is never upset that we came home. He is a constant source of recognition. Our arrival never goes unnoticed or unheralded. The joy of our return seems to make his day.

He is unafraid to show he loves us. People often withhold their affection until another person shows it first. How absurd. He isn’t afraid of looking foolish or needy. I wish more people were like that.

He has no agenda. Bones doesn’t loves us in order to get something. Dogs don’t think, “I’ll love my people if they do this,” or “I’ll stop loving them if they do that.” No. He doesn’t hug us so we’ll pet him. He just “is”, with no ulterior motive. Of course, he won’t turn down a treat when it’s offered, either.

He teaches my children a new way of communication and to pay attention. I tell my kids they have to listen to what Bones is telling them and they look at me like I’m insane. Slowly, though, they are learning what that means. His body language, the tilt of his head, his eyes…all of these things communicate. It isn’t verbal speech, but it is how he ‘talks’.

He holds no grudges. Of course he gets his feelings hurt sometimes if I have to tell him ‘no’, but he forgives quickly. Holding grudges takes so much energy and effort. Dogs live so much in the present. Those 8 hours spent in the crate? Forgiven and forgotten the moment we let him out and he gets to be with us again.

These things are so much more important than physical things that can be replaced. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m upset about the doors. I can’t afford to replace them yet, but when I do, they won’t be made of wood.)

I want my kids to have good role models. I worry that they will look to certain celebrities for how to behave, how to perceive relationships, or how to look. To try to forestall that, I talk to them -a lot- about what things are important to emulate, about what makes a person good. Unconditional love and support is at the top of the list. Amazingly enough, my kids get to see an example of that all the time in Bones. My hope is the generosity of spirit they see so freely given will leave a lasting impact on them.

Love, affection, and kindness: they mean the most no matter what species you are.

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