Remember when you were young and went to festivals? Four whole days of sleepless madness, staggering around in your wellies and pyjamas clutching a mug of whiskey, the smell of Bohemia and compost portaloos, games of tug of war with random excitable strangers at five in the morning after a blurry night of jumping about in a tent? That’s what having a puppy is like, except without the tent, and it goes on for months.
And perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if you could just get through these months in private, if other people didn’t have to see you sit down in the middle of the pavement and cry out “Just HEEL you freakin’ maniac!”, or if they didn’t have to stop to pat the puppy just as you’re learning how to pick up her poo, but they do it seems, because eventually you have to leave the kitchen and VENTURE OUT.
THE FIRST HUMILIATION
Your vet will tell you that before she is fully inoculated your new puppy is not allowed on the ground. This may not be until she is over three months old. They will also tell you that if you don’t expose your pup to cars, bikes, buses, skateboards, umbrellas, Goths, Punks, children and other alarming everyday sights and sounds before they are three months old, then they may develop severe behavioural problems.
So you roll your eyes and buy a baby sling.
The sling makes you feel like you’ve finally crossed a line into motherhood – no, not a line, let’s face it: a chasm – and in your mind you spin a cotton wool web around the tiny furry creature as her tiny furry heart beats fast against your chest. Suddenly the once innocuous and dull suburban street seems fraught with danger and you tense at every car that speeds past and cower beneath the Hitchcock crows. You tentatively flex your new maternal wings and wrap them around your lop-eared hairy bundle, and just like that they appear – those first stirrings of love.
THE SECOND TASK
Back in the kitchen, you make preparations for what you are now referring to as GroundDog Day. You’ve somehow managed to loop a collar around puppy’s neck, but the lead is still largely in her mouth. Half a roast chicken later however, and the two of you are trotting gamely past the washing machine side by side to the regular chant of “heel”. You throw the clearly sensational dog training manual aside and wonder what all the fuss is about.
GroundDog Day arrives and you, pup, and husband meet by the front door for a last minute prep talk.
You open the front door and take your first step as a family into a brave new world. Just the one step mind, because puppy’s already launched herself at the begonia bush and is now dangling like a meerkat from the end of the lead, eyes as wide as tennis balls. You lure her back into situ with a stern “heel” and a biscuit and take step two, whereupon the microscopic mutt lunges at a passing car with all the determination and strength of a bull. Biscuit. Heel. Step three sees her drag her claws down the neighbour’s new sports car, and on step four she manages to swallow a banana peel. Fifteen minutes later and you’re only half way down the road, you’re fast running out of biscuits and patience, and your perpetual lack of sleep is exacerbating the possibility of tears.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse you hear a small child squeal “Oooh look mummy, a puppy!” and you freeze mid-scream as a real family starts to approach.
In the time Before Puppy, if you were having a bad day, hadn’t slept or washed and were wearing mismatched clothes and odd socks, you could still safely shuffle anonymously along to the local Co-Op without having to make any more than brief eye contact with the shop security guard in an attempt to assure him you had no intention of pilfering today. Now however, with puppy in tow, and when every day seems to see you morph a little further into Widow Twanky as you ransack your wardrobe for anything you don’t mind getting clawed and bitten to shreds, you are unable to leave the house without having to make small talk with pretty much all of the General Public.
Later on, much later on, when you and pup have learnt to do these walks a little better, this enforced interaction with the world at large can be a good thing – knowing that no matter how alone you may be feeling you can always go and stand on a patch of grass somewhere and be assured that someone at the very least will come and stand next to you in companionable silence.
For now however, with your bouncy ball of excitable fluff at your heels, these meetings with the General Public bring you all the comfort of a damp squid:
Your one saving grace is that the vet has told you puppies should only be allowed a tiny amount of exercise a day due to their as yet unformed joints. You check your watch and breathe a sigh of relief: time to go home.