A dog has occupied a prime position in Glen’s and my life together ever since we met decades ago. In the early years a border collie mix named Jude gave us pleasure and occasionally distress when he disappeared following the scent of another dog, likely a female in heat. Thankfully his strong instincts also brought him home, albeit many hours later. We switched to females who wander less. Next came a champagne retriever Tess whose abiding trait was never wanting to be a bother, not even in her quiet death on our arrival in Toronto for Christmas 2000. In the New Year, thanks to a lead from our friend Vicki, we rescued an eight-month-old golden retriever, Cheyenne, and she brought us joy for almost 14 years.
When Cheyenne’s demise broke our hearts, I wanted to pause, mourn, reflect, but Glen had to fill the hole with another dog. I could not deny his fervent wish. After scanty research and a recommendation from Glen’s brother, we rushed into a decision to get a Brittany Spaniel, a breed small enough to travel in the baggage hold of an airplane on flights between Vancouver and Scottsdale. We picked up a cute, 11-week-old female in Nowhere Arizona and chose to name her the homonym of Flair/Flare, as several of the connotations suited her.
To declare we underestimated the difficulty in managing an indefatigable, demanding pup represents a blatant understatement. Although we anticipated the usual challenges in house-breaking and training, Flair took everything to an extreme. Accidents became disasters, nips led to bites, affection caused aggression. On a leash she jerked us along at full tilt as she sniffed and swallowed anything, everything, in reach. She’d jump up on people or poke their private parts with her inquisitive nose. She refused to learn a recall command; in an off-leash park she wore a 15′ leash for us to step on to retrieve her.
Flair also threw fits on walks, turning abruptly on me with bared teeth, drawing my blood in her attacks. Glen and I talked interminably about her, trying in vain to explain her unacceptable behaviour. I wanted to admit we’d made a mistake, send Flair to an acreage, and begin anew with a tamer breed. Glen could not.
Several frustrating months later, he began taking Flair to puppy training classes — to no real avail. She later attended boarding school for two weeks of obedience training yet continued to hold sway over us.
One morning I met a dog whisperer in an off-leash park in the West End. Lucy not only counselled us in training Flair to fetch and return a tennis ball, thus promoting adequate exercise, but also helped in resolving my untenable relationship with her. Apparently Flair had to acknowledge my hierarchy in the “pack” to bring her impulsive attacks to an end. I won’t outline the tactics both Glen and I implemented on Lucy’s advice but will say her flare-ups stopped, after two and a half long years. I’ve formed a weak attachment to Flair, although she remains a strong presence in our home.
To reap the benefits of a dog, choose the breed prudently. A reference book may say a breed likes exercise, but there’s a gulf between walking and running a dog. I’ve since read — and experienced — a Brittany shows hyperactivity when not given ample exercise. Flair also demonstrates “separation anxiety” (misconduct) when left alone for too long. And she whines when excited or stressed.
Consider finding a mature dog, rather than a pup, so you get a clear sense of her temperament. We bonded easily and completely with Cheyenne at eight months of age.
BENEFITS OF A PET
- Taking a dog for a 30 minute walk every day improves our health.
- Owning a dog gives structure and purpose to our days.
- Petting, playing with or simply watching a dog reduces stress.
- Chatting with fellow dog owners when walking a dog or at an off-leash park alleviates loneliness.
- Having a dog is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better cardiovascular health.
- Caring for a dog can help relieve the blues and encourage us to be more positive.
- Knowing a dog will use its keen sense of hearing to detect anyone prowling around increases our sense of security.
Every project needs a leader, whether in the workplace or at home. For a long while we failed to designate a leader, and our conflicting styles of treating Flair caused her confusion and me resentment. Along the way, we realized Glen needed this project in retirement more than I did. Our situation became acceptable once he assumed control, making the pet project — and the benefits thereof — his alone. •