Dad = Food
Two years ago, on this very day, a family of foster parents walked out of our apartment and left a black whippet mix behind. I remember the living room the day; we were outside of it on opposite ends, him peeking out from behind the wall to the entryway, me standing just inside the kitchen. He didn’t do well with men, still doesn’t do great with them. A trail of treats lured him out, but he scurried back into the entry once he’d eaten them all.
I walked over to him and knelt down. I’d read that dogs’ fear of you will alleviate if you get down closer to eye level. I don’t know if that worked; there was just too much fear. He lay in a tight ball, shaking. I remember thinking “Yeezus. Does he think I’m about to execute him or something?” and then thinking “He probably does. More treats.”
[irp posts=”2747″ name=”What my Puppy has Taught Me”]
Food is how I built our friendship. Early on, I fed him every meal to impress upon him that “Dad = Food.” When I went into the kitchen, he hesitated but followed. If he sat on command, or came when his name was called, I kept treats handy. I still remember going to the Four Firkins liquor store one day and having dog treats fall out of my pocket when I produced my wallet to pay, then bringing Porter to the Firkins at beer-tasting events and sneaking him cheese bits.
Two years and some 10,000 treats later,
Diesel Porter has acclimated to life in a suburban home with a man he need not fear. The entryway wall he hid behind when we first met, he now follows me down that corridor to my office when he sees I have pizza. He knows “Dad” doesn’t eat the crusts. Wait. Let him feel your stare. If he tells you to go, just walk out and come back. Wag your tail just hard enough to make noise. Bother him into submission. The longer it takes, the crunchier the crusts get. Looove the crust when it’s crunchy.
He has figured out that “Mom” – whom he loved the second he laid eyes on her – will offer him a taste of whatever she’s eating so long it’s not on our “TOXIC FOR DOGS” fridge magnet chart. All he has to do is stare at her cute.
We heard stories of his conditions before he was rescued, but this we know now: he’s never hungry for long.
Side Story: He may have also figured out how to get the bedroom door open. I’m still trying to figure this one out. I could’ve swore I shut the door all the way, but maybe I didn’t. I could’ve swore he was in the bedroom with me, and he was. This much, though, I know for sure:
- The door was closed.
- He stood up on his back legs and put his front paws on the door handle.
- The door was open.
It was a circular door handle, and he had to pull. You’re right, it might not have been closed all the way; and you’re right, I suppose he could have pushed it forward just lightly enough for the latch to knock the door backwards. Let me tell you, though, this little shit can stand straight up with more balance than some humans I know, and he can use his front paws as hands also better than some humans I know (like, everyone who drives on Twin Cities freeways).
I watched him stroll through the door and out of the bedroom, apprehensive but very proud, like a dad might if his 9-year-old had just earned a black belt in karate and yeah of course he’s proud THAT’S HIS KID but can this kid kick his ass now?
This is a dog that knows to get off my side of the bed when he hears my sleeping pills rattle in the kitchen at night. This is a dog that knows to get off the chairs at my mother-in-law’s living room when he hears her coming, and get back on when she leaves. One time, a sheep dog tried to “herd” him at the dog park. He ran straight at her and jumped right over her.
If you’re reading this and you have an inside-out sheep dog, please let me apologize on Porter’s behalf.
It’s been well-documented how a dog will be the companion who cares about you more than any human will. Adopting a rescue dog, if you have the time and patience, is extra rewarding in the unique opportunity you have to instantly make a life better. Many rescue dogs are only alive by a stroke of luck and the grace of a rescue group (like Tuff Start Rescue, from whom we got Porter). Just think of how satisfying it will be knowing that about your dog, then feeding him or her a handful of pumpkin spice-flavored turkey treats.
Adopting an animals offers the extra benefit of watching it grow and become smarter. Just as there’s pride when your child finally poops in the toilet and graduated Kindergarten, so too is there pride when your dog or cat learn to do business outside or in the litter box. There was pride when our dog first learned to get the treats out of his toy ball, and there was pride when he ostensibly worked a round doorknob without opposable thumbs.
There was pride, but I definitely tried it myself to make sure it was possible. It’s not easy, but it can be done.