Puppy Cuddles

Cashew did not start out as an especially cuddly dog. Cashew was the first pure-bred dog i had ever owned. I was used to taking in rescues and strays. They were oh so grateful just to have a human who loved them, a roof over their head, a warm place to sleep, and food in their bowl daily. Every rescue i had was very cuddly and affectionate. I had been warned that aussies had very independent personalities. For the first couple months that i had her, Cashew didn’t want to be held, stroked, or rocked. She wanted to do everything herself and she didn’t go for any of that sissy cuddling crap. It kind of broke my heart. Here i had this animal that i was supposed to love and protect, and every way i knew to bond with her was like fingernails down a chalkboard to the dog. In the past i had tried to adopt a child from a foreign country. I was warned that children who had grown to a certain age without parental guidance, love and protection would learn to fend for themselves. I was warned that once i brought my new child home and installed them into the house, they would not suddenly run to my room for comfort in the middle of a storm, ask my help when they were stumped at how to fasten buttons on their clothing, or sit in my lap during our down-time. I was warned that these children had long ago stopped seeking soothing or comfort from others during times of fear, stress, or uncertainty. They would eat the food cooked for them, wear the clothes purchased for them, and sleep in the dora the explorer or batman bed so lovingly made-up for them. However, one could not expect them to just suddenly understand affection and throw their arms around their new adoptive parent and seek them out when there was lightening in the middle of the night. We were told to be patient. There was no guarantee the child would ever learn what it was to count on another human being and develop a relationship of trust and affection with their new parent or siblings. It was a possibility but it couldn’t be rushed. It was just one of those things you had to try your hardest at, exercise infinite patience, and hope for the best. Cashew reminded me of these children. She was fiercely independent. She didn’t need me for anything. She didn’t seek me when she was scared. In fact, i’d never seen her scared. She came in to eat and sleep. She never licked my hand. She never looked me in the eye. She never laid next to me or allowed me to hold her. Much like those children who had made their start in a concrete institution, Cashew was a beautiful, healthy dog that was not attached to me in any way. I had to make peace with the idea that this might be her personality. She might never come in for a cuddle like my Sili, but she was an excellent guard dog against everything from coyotes to armadillos. She was good at what she was bred to do. I had to give her that. I was impressed with her set of skills even if she had no fondness for me. I couldn’t help but admire her strengths. However, on hard days, when she had pooped, peed, shredded things, and flung all of it across the house in a tornadic motion, when she was standing in the middle of it without a care in the world, it was hard for me. It was harder for me to forgive her trespasses than it was for me to do the same for Sili, for my brain was full of fond memories of tenderness with Sili. She was a cuddler. She looked to me when scared. She tried to hide behind me during storms. She looked into my eyes and formed expressions on her face. I could draw on all these memories when she was being naughty to remind me that i loved Sili. I had to try harder and say it more often with Cashew. I often wondered if i had done the right thing in bringing her to our property and adding her to our little family. However, i had made a commitment when i put her in the car in lockhart, and come what may, no matter what kind of personality she turned out to have, i was her mother. Whether she viewed me as “dispenser of kibble” or “mom”, she was my responsibility and it was my job to rear her up with the same love i extended Sili. It was a delicate balance too. I had to be more strict with Cashew. I couldn’t ever budge from that bottom line because if i gave her an inch she took a mile. Sili was hurt and offended if she felt i was angry with her. To tell her i was disappointed in her behavior was enough to make her avoid her bone and treats for a day. It was not so with Cashew. Cashew had to be disciplined by a more concrete reward and consequence system. My favor was not something she sought or valued in the beginning. She did not care whether i was upset with her. She’d happily chew her bone in time out. She was unashamed. My approach with her had to be completely different from my approach with Sili. If she peed on the pad, she got free time on the land with sili, unsupervised. If she peed adjacent to the pad, she stayed inside with me while Sili had free time outside by herself. If she responded to a command she got a treat, if she didn’t she got nothing. If she waited quietly in a seated position while i prepared her food she got to eat. If she barked, whined, and destroyed the door, i put the food back in the refrigerator and didn’t bring it out again until she was quiet. Originally i knew nothing about dog training. Sili was trained beautifully by one of the best dog trainers i will ever have the privilege of knowing. However, to my horror, she retired. She would not be training Cashew. I wanted the dogs to know the same hand signals, verbal commands, and tricks. I didn’t want to have to give a different command to each dog to get them to do something. I didn’t want one that knew sit and stay while the other had more in their bag of tricks such as “leave it” and “load up”. I searched for weeks for someone that would train Cashew using the retired trainer’s commands and techniques. Each trainer i encountered wanted to do it their way, not emulate a retired trainer’s style. They refused to use the specific commands Sili knew and many told me “it’s impossible to make a dog do specific tasks like that. We can train your dog to sit, stay, come, or lay down. Shake and roll over are options for an extra fee, but we cannot train your dog to jump up on the car seat.” I thought, “it’s not impossible because my older dog does it, daily.” But, they were not interested in hearing what i needed the puppy to know…only making a sale. I was done. Much like the home improvement and repair projects i took over, it would be easier to train her myself than it would be to talk sense into one of the trainers i had spoken to. So i took my former dog trainer’s technique and i used it as best i could. I used Sili as an example. I let Cashew watch Sili respond to my commands. I let Cashew watch Sili get a treat for the desired response to a command. Then i put Sili inside and focused my attention on Cashew. When she did the behavior desired in response to a command a treat was produced and my voice became very high pitched and she was given a bit of praise. If she did not perform the desired task in response to a command i gave her a few seconds, redirected her attention, and tried again. We would work a little each night right before supper. To drill her constantly would make her sick of training, but we worked a little each night. We dipped her toes back into that pool each night before dinner. They say aussies are very easy to train because they’re smart. That’s not entirely true. They are very smart and they will get your meaning right away. It is up to you to convince them that your meaning is something they care about. Cashew would have been very happy steering the ship with Sili and i as passengers. If you want an independent dog to follow you, that’s something you have to work at. It was very hard for me to train Cashew. I felt like i was working with a stranger. Had she been a child it would have been my job to hide that notion from her, so i did my best to keep that feeling to myself. The first thing i noticed was the tail wagging. I gave Cashew a command one evening. She followed it and i praised her. Suddenly her little stump of a tail wagged. It was the first time i had seen her respond to my praise. I asked her to follow another command. She listened attentively, making perfect eye contact, watching me with those bright brown eyes. She followed the command perfectly. With excitement and pride for her efforts in my voice i praised her again and rubbed her back. Her tail wagged faster. I was thrilled to see her respond to anything coming from me in a visible way. Over the next few weeks whenever she had done something i didn’t allow in the household i would lower my voice and give her a serious tone, a stern expression, and a short “no”. If the behavior persisted i would flip her on her back and hold her on the ground to show dominance. When she followed a command or held her potty, or even used the pee pad correctly i made my voice higher, smiled, and said “good job! Good job Cashew!” Each time my voice went high her little stumpy tail wagged a million miles an hour. I was forming a bond with my little stranger. I had to balance training time with cashew, quality time with sili, and together time because sili was getting jealous as i tried desperately to blow on the emerging flames of the little camp fire of trust and attachment i had been trying to build with cashew for so many weeks. As Cashew watched Sili sit in my lap and cuddle up to me, she started trying those things out to see what the fuss was about. She would come over and plop herself in my lap. If i moved or touched her she would take off but if i sat very still she would rest her head against my leg and take a nap. Over time she became more comfortable with me. My fiercely independent little one developed a softer side that few knew about. She was still a bull in a china shop. She was still rowdy, wild, and unapologetic about many things. She was bold, full of energy, and fearless. I called her my tornado of chaos. However, she began to notice me even when i wasn’t speaking. She would look for me in the yard and follow me or walk ahead of me wherever i was going as i went through the chores. Periodically she would check in by circling back and touching my leg with her nose. There would be kinks to work out. There was a period in which she tried to herd me. There was a period of head butting. There was a period of toe biting. Certain behaviors had to be ironed out and worked on. However, the fire was ignited, the seed had sprouted, the bond was there. It didn’t come easy like it did with Sili, but it was there and it was getting stronger by the day. There would come a time where i could lay on the floor and both dogs would run to me and snuggle up against my torso. That is when i knew i had accomplished what i set out to do. Cashew was no longer a good working dog. She was a good working dog and 1 of my 2 furry children.

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