In the same way that you remember where you were when Diana died, when the Twin Towers fell, and when Trump became President, you remember exactly where you were when you pressed your forehead to the floor and finally admitted defeat:
It was 5.30 a.m. on a Tuesday, you were kneeling on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, one hand mopping up wee and the other attempting to restrain the puppy as she repeatedly pounced on the sodden kitchen roll as you moved it across the floor – just as exciting a game now apparently as it was a few hours earlier at 3 a.m.. You could almost feel the bags hanging under your eyes and your bruised, bitten shins throbbed as you accidentally knelt on a toy bone. Through the white noise in your head came one clear thought, and it repeated itself like a mantra as you lowered your skull to the cold, wet tiles:
You find a local puppy training class that starts in two weeks and for a time you allow yourself to relapse into your dog dream bubble as you picture all those little wagging tails.
Puppy School day arrives and you trot along filled with the hope of the desperate – perhaps you’ll find out you are not alone, perhaps all this is normal, perhaps you’ll even make friends…
It’s a large class filled with all sorts of breeds but only one other cocker spaniel puppy. He’s going so mental that he’s had to be cordoned off with a makeshift pen made out of upturned tables. You meet the owner’s gaze over the top of them and your eyes lock with a mutual understanding and you almost weep with relief – you are, after all, not alone.
You don’t have to wait long for your own humiliation. When you were told to bring along something to keep puppy quiet during class you didn’t realise this would lead to your first ever “embarrassing parent” moment:
You take a furtive look around at the other parents, clock them reaching into their Waitrose tote bags to bring out fancy Kongs to place on their herringbone dog mats, and realise that you’ve accidentally registered with the middle class puppy school. Your suspicions are confirmed when the teacher makes his opening speech:
Later, you pass on what you have learnt to your friends in the pub, explaining to them what positive reinforcement, affection training, and variable schedules mean.
In the next class you practise some basic commands like sit, lie down, and wait, and you, husband and pup diligently go away to do your homework.
During the third class, as you’re wondering why all that practise didn’t work, the trainer announces that you’re going to learn “leave”, and asks if anyone’s puppy has eaten something they shouldn’t.
In fact, the night before, you’d sent a text to your brother in Indonesia who also has a puppy, asking for advice on how to stop them eating everything and making themselves ill. The casual tone of his reply made you put things into perspective:
You, on the other hand, had nearly fainted when your puppy took on a slug and got her face covered in slime. Time to toughen up.
Next class you learn “settle” and are sent away with the homework task of going to the pub. Fine. But hang on, with the dog? And making her settle? In a pub? Where there will be people? And food? And even… other dogs? Madness it may be, but if there’s gin involved you’re willing to give it a try, so you drag her up to the bar and order a drink.
Ten minutes later your gin sits untouched on the bar, your puppy has managed to cover most of the pub floor in wee, become embroiled in a (real) fight with another dog, steal someone’s hat, and has disappeared... Momentarily the chef appears out of the kitchen carrying your panting, grinning tearaway and asks whose it is. You hesitate, but the pub turns as one to look at you and there’s no escape.
For your final class at Puppy School you and pup have to perform a trick. You smile: she may not be able to sit still and behave, but she sure as hell can get up and dance. The rest of the class watch in disbelief as your beautiful, clever baby girl loops in a perfect figure of eight around your legs and then spins on the spot.
One by one the rest of the group bow out of doing a performance of their own. You let out a satisfied sigh – not many moments like that to savour. Just as you’re basking in your own glory however, the teacher announces one more test before he hands out certificates:
Well you can’t win them all.