In my area, the shelters do their own puppy classes, so when Silas went to puppy kindergarten, the “competition” was pretty intimidating. There was my little who-knows-what from who-knows-where, in a class filled with stunning examples of all the most biddable breeds, who had stayed in their litters to a comfortable eight weeks and had verifiably good temperaments. In comparison, Silas was a neurotic mess.
At home, I was busy reading Ian Dunbar, Pat Miller, and Patricia McConnell. Ian Dunbar, in particular, constantly beats his readers over the head with the fact that you must be PERFECT in order to have a decent shot at raising a good dog. I almost despaired. I could never be this “perfect” dog owner. We didn’t know 100 people. We didn’t, at the time, even know ten. The dog could drop and pee faster than I could ever imagine, even if I took him out every fifteen minutes. His one accident a day, which hindsight tells me most pet owners would kill for, loomed like a black cloud. In comparison to those perfect puppies and perfect owners, we were both failures.
I think the switch flipped for me sometime about halfway through our first round of obedience class. Six-month old Silas was easily the least manageable dog in class, but even back then he was pretty good at home. The next dog over was fantastic in class. I was filled with envy. Then I heard her owner asking the instructor what she could do, because her dog only slept from 10:00 to midnight, then kept them up all night.
After that, I tried to be much more careful about comparing my dog to another dog that seemed “better.” Or, at least, to take the comparisons with a grain of salt. Because Silas is, as the blog says, a very imperfect dog, with some issues that I absolutely take seriously. But he is, as a day-to-day living partner, a pretty darned good little guy. In fact, I’m guessing that a lot of people would happily trade their easy-to-walk, stranger-loving dogs for a one who is, for instance, trustworthy in the house uncrated. Who has never, ever chewed a shoe, or torn up a sofa cushion. Who doesn’t try to counter-surf. (Unless there’s unattended butter. I don’t blame him for that one.) Who is super smart, but doesn’t use it against his owners.
This time through obedience, Silas is the best dog in class. (He’s also the only one who is more than seven or eight months old. I’m not getting cocky.) Last week, we were doing “Leave It” exercises. The lady across from us couldn’t get her very energetic puppy to stop frantically trying to get the treat out of her hand. Silas was leaving treats that I dropped from shoulder height. I caught her looking at me, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. Sometime before class is over, I need to go tell her that it will all be okay, and that comparisons of a particular moment really don’t tell you the whole story.
In that moment, though, I was smug.