B. K. Stubblefield
© Copyright 2018 byB. K. Stubblefield
This story was inspired by my dog, Harper. My husband and I adopted him as a ten-week-old puppy. On this day we didn’t know that our lives were about to be turned upside-down. He was a puppy on steroids.
Harper challenged everything we knew about dogs. He wasn’t our first dog, but he was the one who made the most significant impact. Harper was the reason I began writing, and he continuous to inspire me.
five years old, he is calm (mostly) and is a wonderful family pet.
However, 5 p.m. is the magic hour. This is when he wakes up
demands our full attention. And occasionally, we catch a glimpse from
The big white dog lay under his favorite tree in a shady spot, like most days when the weather was nice. As sunlight filtered through a dense canopy of leaves, a light summer breeze ruffled his curly coat. Eyes and feet twitched on whatever dogs may dream about. Maybe he was dreaming of chasing the ever elusive rabbit, or perhaps he was catching the red Frisbee he was partially laying on – his favorite toy.
The dog seemed content, and so did his Master…well, we let him believe he was the Master. Sitting in a comfortable wicker chair, he sipped his favorite beer with the dog by his side. The Master was lost in thought and peaceful contemplation, too. A man and his dog - a picture I would never get enough of. A picture I wanted to hold onto forever. Every man should have a dog, and every dog should have a loving human companion. The man in the wicker chair was my husband, and the dog by his side was our dog, Harper.
calm picture of peaceful harmony had been earned the hard way, with
the price shared equally by the dog and his human family. Harper was
an odd fellow. Memories of a wild puppyhood, along with our daily
struggles to help him adapt to our way of life were still vivid in my
mind. Perhaps because of these struggles, I was so grateful that
Harper had overcome many obstacles. He came a long way from being a
timid and shy puppy to the loveable goofball he turned into. But I
am jumping ahead….
December 9, 2012
It had been four long years already since Sabo, our beloved Saint Bernard/Collie mix, crossed the rainbow bridge and earned his wings. Sabo was a large, beautiful and just perfect dog! When we adopted him from a no-kill shelter in Germany, he was of 4 months old. And it was love at first sight. At my first visit to the animal shelter, I could already tell Sabo was of an independent mind - which was a challenge I wanted in a dog. He didn’t jump up and down with the joy of having a visitor. On the contrary, after allowing me a quick scratch on his back, he took residence on top of his dog house and followed my every move with watchful eyes. Really? Of course, I had to have this puppy! My mind was made up that I was going to have this dog.
The next day I came back with my husband in tow to visit Sabo – after all, I wanted him to give his blessing. Little did he know that he had no choice; the dog practically belonged to me already! I always wanted a big dog.
Saint Bernard’s were known to be loyal, protective and just beautiful family pets provided one could put up with the amount of hair and drool. Something about a Saint Bernard’s solid bulk, droopy eyes, lazy walk –and yes the drooling too- made me fall in love with this breed. Sabo’s mom was a huge Saint Bernard and dad was a traveling Collie, always looking for a good time. When fully grown Sabo resembled both breeds, with the sweet gentleness of the Collie and the stubbornness of Saint Bernard.
We were ready to sign adoption papers. The shelter manager had other ideas; she didn’t want to adopt a dog out to a military family. Too many times dogs were abandoned and left behind when families received military orders to return to the United States. Sometimes the dogs were just dropped off at the shelter’s doorstep. After a few heated words, we compromised. We would sign a contract allowing shelter representatives to visit our home, and we agreed to return Sabo to the shelter’s care if we couldn’t take him with us when we had to move. I ensured her this wouldn’t happen and I happily signed our agreement.
A new family member was about to join our household. On pick-up day Benny was re-named, Sabo. My husband, a tanker in the Army at that time, named him after a training tank ammunition - it was a fitting name for our dog. Sabo was already housebroken and became the perfect house dog in no time. He was playful, great with children, and mild-mannered. Sabo loved cold weather, mainly the snow in winter. He would roll around in the snow, chase small children, grab their hats, and pull them off. It was a game he loved to play. Children screaming and running meant they wanted to play and were chased even more. As much as Sabo loved snow, he was the most water shy dog I’ve ever met. He would sidestep puddles – and I have never seen a dog not heading straight for a good puddle. Sabo was fearful of water.
When my husband received his military orders to move back to the States, our dog came with us. During Sabo’s 14 years with us, he accompanied us to every new duty station, and to our final destination, Kentucky. He lived healthily and happily until it was time to say our final goodbye.
Sabo was the most faithful and loyal companion anyone could wish for, and this was one of the saddest times for us. His departure left a huge hole in all of our hearts – a feeling I would never have anticipated at losing our dog. During his last day, our Veterinarian was by our side helping us with the most challenging part of our goodbye. She gently suggested that many dogs deserve to be loved. Maybe a new puppy was just the medicine we needed? Our hearts were heavy, and a new dog was just not the right choice for us so soon. Baxter, the cat, was still with us and he became the sole beneficiary of our love.
As time went by we slowly came close to talking about a new dog – far off in the future.
In December 2012, shortly before the Holidays, with long evenings ahead and not much else to do but watching TV, I finally turned to my husband and blurted out “Will we ever get a new dog”? After a deep breath and a moment of silence he surprisingly answered, “We’ll look after the Holidays? Yay! Really? Are you sure? Oh, the excitement and anticipation of it!
The search for a new family member started right away…happy times were ahead of us with a furry bundle of joy. I knew my heart was open for a new dog. I knew I wanted to adopt a dog from a shelter. I knew I wanted a large dog. I knew I wanted a dog different from Sabo. I knew I WANTED A DOG!!! I envisioned a loyal companion, mild-mannered, similar to Sabo who would accompany me on long walks. It was time to trade in the old treadmill for brisk walks in fresh air exercising my new large breed dog and losing a little weight in the process. And so my search began…
I checked into a Pyrenees mix for my new puppy. Thank GOD for the Internet. My search began that evening. There were so many sites, and so many dogs but luckily Petfinder.com made the search easy. One could search by size, breed, zip code, and male/female. So many dogs, so many choices, but wait…..OH, how cute! A whole litter of Pyrenees/lab mixes was just listed - a total of eight boys and girls. All of them looked so happy and innocent, but all of them were rejected and dropped off at the shelter for adoption.
For no particular reason, a little boy named Nanook stood out. He looked straight into my heart. I had a hit! Could it really be? Emailing back and forth with the shelter it became clear that there was a high demand for these little pups. However, they would have to remain with the shelter/foster parent for 2 weeks. A visit was not possible until a later time. So what to do? Unseen and on faith I put a deposit on little Nanook only to find a couple of days later that he was on hold for someone else. Although ALL of the pups were so cute and all looked almost alike, this is the one I wanted. Why? I didn’t know - a little voice was telling me that he was ‘The One.’ After a frantic email to the shelter on Christmas Eve, I received the greatest Christmas present – an immediate response that the wrong person was listed online. Nanook was really mine. No gift could have made me happier than this message. However, his name ‘Nanook’ did not seem quite right, and his name would need to change.
I called my long-time friend Debra in Colorado – she just adopted a furry kid a few weeks earlier. We compared notes and had so much to talk about. I wished she was here!
Debra and I met during the process of purchasing her new Kentucky home several years earlier and soon became the best of friends. At my first visit to Debra’s new home, I met Lily her little Pekingese and was treated to a little ‘dance’ as well as a cuddle on the sofa. Our friendship was Lily approved and sealed with a snort.
Just a few years later Debra, Lily and her cat Dooney - yes, she had a cat too – moved to Colorado to be closer to her family. It was a sad goodbye. While we stayed in touch and our friendship continued, it was just not the same. She was one of the most colorful people I had ever met. Vibrant, funny, outspoken and gentle at the same time, she always made me laugh.
One day I received the sad news that Lily too had said her final goodbye. Knowing what I went through with my loss, I could understand the sadness and loneliness Debra felt. I was happily surprised when I received an e-mail with a picture of a little bitty dog. Cricket had become Debra’s new companion. I was very happy for my friend that she had been able to make this choice. I too wanted a dog again! Now that my husband was open to adopting a fur-kid, we would have so much to talk about.
It’s adoption day! I could hardly wait! And I was prepared! From food and bowls to the biggest softest dog bed, and toys - everything this little pup would need was already waiting for him. And not to forget piddle pads and a gate. I had a plan! It would be great!
The opinions on dog crates varied. I believed that gating off the kitchen area and letting the kitchen be the puppy’s “crate” would work just fine. With another sleepless night ahead, the hands of time moved way to slow as I lay awake. Whoever said counting sheep will help had never expected a new puppy with such intensity as I! Why was my husband lying next to me lost in peaceful slumber and snoring? Tomorrow we’d pick up our new family member. How dared he?
It snowed last night! No! We had a 2-hour ride, would we make it? Yes, Bob assured me. We would go, no matter what! Up until now he let me believe that the new puppy was just his way of making me happy. However, the determination in his voice told me that he, too, was looking forward to welcoming our new fur-baby. We were meeting the foster parents half way at noon; it was time to go!
It was 12.15 p.m. – where were the foster parents? Like a pair of undercover cops on surveillance, we sat inside our car with the heater cranked up and the windows slowly fogging over. Finally, a vehicle with their description drove up. My boy was coming – my heart began to beat faster. And then he was there...meet Harper!
I couldn’t believe that the moment had finally arrived. Harper looked just like his online picture, and yes, this was definitely the dog I had chosen. He was placed in my husband’s arms while I completed the necessary paperwork, finalizing the adoption. The puppy’s curious little button eyes took in his surroundings as he snuggled into my husband’s arms. The little dog showed no signs of being afraid of these new people who made all those cooing noises over him. He seemed curious and happy with his new human Dad from the start.
Finally, it was my turn to hold my new fur kid – so light, small and seemingly fragile at 10 weeks young. But good grief he stunk!!! He needed a bath. Badly!!! Soon we were on the road to take him home. The foster parents assured us that he had adjusted well at their home and was a happy little fellow. And that he would make low whining noises when he needed to go potty. Yay! That was what I wanted to hear!
The clear plastic container in the back seat was padded with a soft blanket and a little toy inside. It seemed way too big for this small dog. Little did I know Harper would outgrow his travel container within the first two weeks? For now, Harper barely was able to look over the top, but that was okay. He was safely tucked away for our 2- hour car ride back home. Curiously he peeked over the rim of his box as we took him away to his new home. Quickly he settled in and went to sleep; reminding me of the car rides, we made with our son when he was a baby. Often this was the only way to get our son to go to sleep. The rhythm and sound of the car always made him fall asleep. Apparently, this method worked for dogs too! But Lordy, the smell of this dog – I thought of cow patties – quickly filled the car and settled in all our clothes.
Two hours later we were home. The moment of truth – how would Baxter react to Harper? Surprise! Baxter was curious and didn’t hide behind the sofa as I thought he would. I guess Baxter realized this fur ball was here to stay and it would be best to be friendly, rather than fight it.
But that smell was filling the room; something had to be done about it. So off to the bathroom and into the tub – Harper looked like a scared, wet rat but didn’t fight it too much. A warm towel to dry him, and then a big dog bed to curl up on. A little nudge helped him to climb onto the big bed. Immediately he settled and fall asleep. Yes, Harper was the right name for this dog. And life, as we knew, would change…..
Funny how his name came about. Keeping a running list of possible dog names none seemed right. Jack – my mind saw a black Lab, Sherman – a St. Bernard and so on. The inspiration came at the Irish Pub in Louisville with an excellent tasting beer. Well, while sitting at the bar toasting Santa Claus with a glass of Harp beer - it was right before Christmas, and Santa Claus was thirsty too (and a little tipsy) - we discussed our favorite subject of late, what to name the new dog. The mood was light and playful when Bob smiled and announced the dog’s name would be Harper. What a GREAT choice – we had a match. Harper it would be.
Day 1 – The day was filled with excitement. I still couldn’t believe he was here with us. A cold, snowy day outside with a warm fire going inside was the perfect picture of tranquility. Bob and I were taking turns letting the puppy out for his potty breaks. And so we kept the heavy jackets, boots, and gloves handy. We took him to the furthest part of the backyard to designate an area to Harper’s potty activities. As tiny as he was and as cold as it was outside, we carried him out; carried him because the noise of the electric garage door opener startled him. The cold and snow did not bother us – at least not on this first day. So cute, a little tinkle and he came running back and sat at my feet. He wanted to be picked up again. Perfect, the dog already came back to us without being called, and he stayed close to our side. Life with the new dog would be great! Cuddled up on Bob’s lap it was so peaceful in our home. We had three full days to spend with him before we both had to return to our everyday work life.
It’s been such an exciting and emotionally exhausting day, and it was our time to go to bed. Harper’s bedding was in a kitchen corner along with a pillow I had covered with one of my old T-shirts. Perhaps the scent of his new human mom would give him security and comfort during the night. We went to bed, expecting a restless night ahead of us. And we were not disappointed…Harper was whining. He was trying to figure out how to trick the gate so it would open up for him. After a while, he settled in and was quiet. Great! Two hours later again….there was a little whining noise. My husband and I were wide awake, grabbing at our clothes to get Harper outside so he could take care of his business. Hurry, hurry! We got the pants and boots, and coat, and gloves and a hat! Too late…he piddled on the kitchen floor. No big deal - Bob geared, bracing for the cold winter night while I cleaned the kitchen floor. There were many great products on the market to clean and eliminate the scent, but diluted vinegar also did the trick.
Our bed was still warm, and so we went back to sleep….for only another couple of hours before we had to get up again, taking care of business. Around 6:00 am I couldn’t sleep any longer and smelled the freshly brewed coffee. Hmmm….I found Bob stretched out with our puppy cuddled up on his lap. They’ve been there on the couch for the past 2 hours!!!! How cute!! And so day 2 began.
Quickly it became clear that the puppy needed to go outside A LOT. It became a race to put on heavy clothing and boots to take him outside. We watched him like hawks but the one second we look away was the moment Harper little bladder let go….ugh. We gave him lots of praise and treats when he did his business outside.
The puppy slept a lot; his preferred spot was my husband’s lap. It already was clear that his new Dad was also his cuddle buddy. When awake, Harper played, using his sharp little baby teeth on my hands – his preferred chew toys. Day two was filled with playtime, many trips outside, lots of cleaning – I needed to stock up on vinegar! As the day was winding down, we were tired but had fun with our new dog.
Day three was more of the same. I could watch my dog all day long. He loved to cuddle up with Bob but liked to bite my hands whenever he was awake. His razor sharp little teeth had a way of tearing into my hands. Ouch! Why didn’t he let me pet him? It was beginning to annoy and disappoint me. I read anything I could find on the internet about raising a puppy and puppy training. Tomorrow the reality of the everyday life would start back up; tomorrow we would need to go to work. Since Bob left really early in the morning, I had to figure out how to handle everything and still get ready on time. I was fortunate to have a flexible work schedule, so I was sure it would be all right.
The next morning I was spending as much time with puppy Harper as I possibly could, including taking him outside. Seemingly every 10 minutes he had an accident and would need to be taken out again. Putting coat and boots on and off was cumbersome, but it had to be done. Oh man, it was cold outside. My treadmill would not get a workout this morning. Little did I know that our exercise equipment would not be used for weeks?
When it was time to leave the house, I wished I could spend the day with our new puppy. I’d be back during lunch to play and take him outside. In the meantime, I hoped he would be all right.
During lunch, I rushed home to find several little puddles on the kitchen floor. I showed Harper his piddle pad spread out on the floor, but he took no interest. How could I make him understand he needed to use the pads instead of the kitchen floor? So, out we went, teaching Harper where to do his business in the yard.
settled in with our dog, and it was fun to watch him play as he ran
after Baxter, the cat. It was not so much fun to clean all the little
accidents that happened so often. And it was not so much fun to
bundle up every 10 minutes to carry Harper to the backyard. It was
Patience, Patience, Patience!
And so the first week went by as we settled into a routine. It was a LOT of work to clean up after the puppy. Sometimes I thought that maybe crate training would have been the better choice. After all, every professional trainer recommended this method. Bob wouldn’t hear of it. I needed more vinegar, and my kitchen floor smelled like salad dressing. Harper too had settled in and developed his own routine.
Every morning around 4:00 am Harper woke up whining until Bob got out of bed to cuddle with him. Precisely at the time I joined them, Harper would exercise his teeth. No matter how many chew toys I shoved in front of him, he wanted to bite and chew on my hands. His teeth were needle sharp and left marks. I didn’t think the dog liked me very much. Why wouldn’t he cuddle up to me like he did with my husband? Why did he always bite and pee right in front of me? When we’d go to the Veterinary Clinic I’d ask the Veterinarian about the dog’s behavior. She would know the answer.
In the meantime, I searched the internet for answers. What I found did explain why Harper liked chewing my hands but did not offer a real solution. Giving puppies a variety of chew toys was mostly recommended. Honestly, this did not work - at least not for me. The dog liked to bite me, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
With the continued search of the internet, I found promising dog training websites I checked into. It may have been too early starting with Harper’s training, but I knew I wanted a well-behaved dog. So I signed up.
Soon I realized the personal interaction was missing and too many questions remained unanswered. I needed all the help I could get. Luckily one site had some great advice as well as puppy training videos I could use immediately. I was determined for Harper to grow into the companion we were looking for. The common advice was patience, patience, and more patience. It had only been two weeks since we brought Harper home and my patience was still going strong.
As more time went by Harper continued to exercise his teeth on my hands, feet, and shoes. My patience began to wear thin. Every morning, between 4:00 am to 6:00 am, and immediately after dinner we didn’t have any peace in our home. We had an out of control puppy terrorizing us.
If we were not bundling up, taking him outside, cleaning carpet and tile, then we were chasing after shoes and socks. And I was still fending off his razor-sharp baby teeth from biting my hands and toes. It was quite exhausting. We definitely didn’t sit on the sofa watching TV anymore! As a matter of fact, watching a program was pretty much impossible.
Tension began to rise. Harper was confined to the kitchen where he rattled the gate, attempting to get out. There was no escape from this dog. Help! This was nerve wrecking. We were tired from getting up several times during the night and numerous trips outside into cold winter nights. Deciding to go to bed early was the answer to a dog who wasn’t allowing for one minute of peace and quiet. But, the cycle started again a few hours later. This puppy was on steroids! Would this ever end?
My husband and I were tired and worn out by this little monster dog. We were stressed, and it showed. Bob couldn’t wait to get to work in the mornings. Reading as much on the subject as I could keep me motivated and sane. One piece of advice I found about puppy biting was to give him ice cubes to crunch on. Much like a teething ring for a baby, it would soothe his gums. I was willing to try anything, and to my surprise, Harper liked the ice cubes. Harper came running at the sound of the ice maker – the dog thought it a special treat. He became addicted to ice cubes!!
I needed help! Talking with as many dog owners as possible, I found out that most had crate trained their dogs. They didn’t have nearly the same complaints we did. Still, my husband was opposed. Why?
I sensed that he regretted the decision to adopt a puppy, but I was willing to try anything to make this work. Still searching the internet, I found one site promising great results with clicker training. And so I purchase another dog training course. Everything I read and listen to make excellent sense. I actually had good luck with some of the training. At least Harper began to pay attention and Baxter the cat could eat his food without being chased. However, it didn’t help with the chewing on my hands and the pure wildness of this dog. Besides, Harper showed some aggression when I had to correct him. He growled and showed his teeth - and still bit my hands. He wanted to be ‘boss.’ Oh boy, I really wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t know what to do to tame this dog. Did he even like me? This constant biting and challenging were getting old. I too was beginning to think it had been a mistake of getting a puppy. Why did I ever want a puppy? However, giving up the dog was not an option. We needed help – we needed obedience training!
Comparing notes with my friend Debra she couldn’t relate to my problems, or I to hers. She had her own unique challenges with her new rescue dog. Neither of us could be any help to the other, but it still felt good to talk it through and encourage each other. One day she asked if I loved the dog. When I looked into my heart to find the real answer, I saw that “yes” I did like this little monster. Despite his untamed and wild manners.
Imagine my surprise when our son Chris came to visit the puppy for the first time, and after checking him out, Harper decided Chris was his new best friend! Together they sat on the floor - and Harper was the best little puppy I could ask for. What was wrong with this dog? Why couldn’t he do this with me? He was still biting me with every touch, and my hands and arms bore the marks. I was encouraged and had hope for the dog and us.
One day on my way to work I decided to stop by Sam Russell’s Pet Supply. I drove by there every day and knew one of their services was doggy daycare. I never really thought much about doggy daycare but knew my friend took her dog once a week to play and socialize. Lily always had a good time and liked doggy daycare very much. My first visit to Sam Russell’s left me with a great impression. My first thought of entering the store was “Cracker Barrel for Dogs.” The store was rustic and inviting, and the reception was warm and welcoming. I knew my dog was going to be in good hands.
At Sam Russell’s I met Debbie, and we had a long conversation about the challenges of puppy training. Debbie too preached patience. Yes, I tried to be patient, but how much longer? Harper was not yet ready for his first visit and stay. All his puppy shots needed to be complete. I was SO prepared for him to play with other dogs, but we’d have to wait another month or so. I left assured that when he was finally joining daycare, Harper would be so tired in the evening that a peaceful night was almost guaranteed. Oh, how I was longing for a couple of hours with a tolerable dog.
It had been a long time since my husband and I seriously fought over anything and were upset with each other for more than an hour. Well, it happened – we had a fight. Over Harper. We were so stinking mad at each other for an entire day and night. It was over a training collar I bought for Harper.
A collar of all things! As I had watched all these different training videos and techniques, I decided that Harper needed a prong collar - just a small one. At this time he was only about four months old and showed a strange behavior.
Harper was afraid of the outside world. No matter how much we tried to coach him with treats in hand, softly spoken assurances, or stern commands, it got worse instead of better. Whenever we grabbed the leash to take him outside, he pinned his ears back and tucked his tail. His favorite hiding place was under the dining room table, where he sat with a pleading look in his eyes. Or he just ran away from us, trying to hide somewhere else. It was so frustrating getting a leash on him, and it was nearly impossible to coach him out of the house. His little legs locked – now way would he take just one small step toward the door and the big unknown world outside. We had to pick him up and carry him to the yard. No amount of treats would coax him out of the house.
Once in the yard, Harper was mostly okay - as long as nothing was out of the ordinary and no strange noises or unfamiliar shapes startled him. The first time he experienced a helicopter flying close by, he tucked tail and bolted. Running straight to the house, Harper sat in front of the door waiting for me to catch up, begging to let him inside. He would run for his life when a car drove by, the garbage truck or school bus passed by, or the neighborhood dog barked.
Harper was filled with fear of anything strange and unknown. At the first sign of the unfamiliar, he ran to the front door begging to go inside. By then, Harper was four months old and had never been on a walk. He didn’t show any interest in going for a walk - so much for the exercise that I had hoped for. The short trip to the mailbox appeared to be a horrifying experience. Passing the boat in the driveway was a huge obstacle and could only be achieved by taking a wide berth around it. So scary! Harper pulled so hard on the leash, straining to get back to the safety of the house that I thought I’d need shoulder surgery soon!
At this point, I was still carrying him out of the house, but it was becoming more difficult with his ever-increasing weight. That’s when I decided to buy a prong collar to train him to walk with me. Although I read that these collars should not be used on puppies under the age of six months, I was not going to use it in a harshly way. I bought it to give Harper a little more guidance and structure. Perhaps this would help! Bob was having none of this. He was dead set against the prong collar, and our dog was not going to wear one. This collar reminded him of a medieval torture device; similar to the tools we saw in torture chambers of German castles we had toured. He just did not want to hear any of the excellent training advice I picked up online. He did not believe that the collar supposed to resemble a quick nip - much like the puppy’s mother would use to correct and teach her pups. After all, I did all the reading and planning and what did he do to ease the situation? Frustration was running high, and tempers flared.
Stomping off downstairs to the man cave the standoff had begun. Neither was willing to talk about how to handle the dog. While I thought tough love was best, Bob just threw up his hands and gave up. We were so mad, at each other and the dog. This was not good. Searching for a solution, I resigned myself to giving up Harper and finding him a new home if this would restore normalcy back into our lives. I knew in my heart that Bob was not happy and did not like his new life with this dog.
As the day went on and evening settled, Bob found himself in the ‘doghouse.’ This was the first time in many years he elected to keep his distance and stay away from the dog and me. We went to bed mad at each other. It had been a long night with several trips out into a cold winter night. Along with cleaning the kitchen floor, I handling everything by myself while Bob snoozed undisturbed in the basement. The next morning we finally came face to face by the coffee pot. We both felt sorry about how things went the previous day.
I tearfully offered to find a new home for Harper. Surprisingly, Bob did not agree. The steam was out, and we would make it work. I recognized that his dog already had a leash on my heart. I loved him and would be heartbroken if I had to give him up – despite his unbelievable puppy manners. And with that, the prong collar was never mentioned again. I knew that both of us had merely been at our wit’s end. Fatigued and not knowing exactly what to do with this monster dog we let it get the better of us.
One morning I walked by Sabo’s grave and stopped. I asked Sabo to stop playing in dog heaven for just a moment to take this puppy under his angel wings. To guide and mentor him to be the dog we so desperately wanted. I felt silly confessing to Bob my early morning conversation with Sabo. I was shocked when Bob confessed having had a similar discussion with Sabo.
Right around that time another surprise waited for me – my friend Debra decided to move back to Kentucky! The long and harsh winters in Colorado had gotten just a little too much. And what better place to go home to than where you hung your heart in the first place? My friend would return, and color would come back into my life!
At four months old and only one immunization away from joining puppy daycare, I also made the decision to enroll Harper in obedience school at the earliest available class. First, I called Bella, owner of Bella’s K-9 Academy to set up a private lesson. I met Bella a few years earlier and had a chance to observe her incredibly well trained Border Collies. I wanted Harper to become the best-trained dog so he could come with me to my office where he would stay with me without being a nuisance to my customers and coworkers.
When arriving at the training facility for my private class, I walked into an ongoing training session. I was in awe about what I saw and the skills this dog displayed. I knew I had arrived at the right place. My Veterinarian had given me her business card when I asked about a referral. Bella started working with her first dog in the early 80’s, got her first Border Collie in 1992 and started training with the local Dog Training Club. Quickly she began teaching with the club until they disbanded. Her Veterinarian asked her to continue teaching at his facility until he encouraged her to start her own training facility in 2000.
Affiliated with APDT, a Mentor Trainer for Animal Behavior College and CGC Educator she was just the right person to teach my dog some manners. It felt good to open up to Bella about the frustrations and helpless feeling we experienced. It was great having a professional dog trainer giving a mini class into the mind of a puppy, to set realistic expectations about the puppy stages. After all, Harper was still a puppy. I learned how to start Harper walking on a leash as well as some basic commands I could work on. At the end of the session, I was excited again and looked forward to teaching my dog some good behaviors.
The following week Harper went to puppy daycare for the first time. As usual, he pulled and strained, not happy about being taken to a strange place. New places were still scaring him. The way he acted, he must have thought he was being dragged to a house of horrors. I left him there for the afternoon. Knowing it would be a good experience for him, it still felt a little bit like abandonment.
When I picked up Harper a few hours later, I was greeted by a very happy puppy. His happiness expressed itself by a big puddle on the floor. The wonderful people at Sam Russell’s assured me that this happened all the time. Oh boy, this puppy was happy to go home – and immediately went to his dog bed and passed out. WOW! Debbie at Sam Russell told me this would happen!
Bob and I had a GREAT evening – we actually watched an entire program for the first time in many weeks. After just two visits Harper could not wait to go to puppy daycare. Before too long we were hooked! We had discovered our insurance policy to a tired and happy puppy. Slowly but surely things started to calm down, and we settled into a new routine.
Potty training started to come along. Harper eventually discovered piddle pads and later jumped on the door when he needed to go out. Our nights became more restful. We actually slept through most of the night again before getting up to let Harper outside. And then suddenly Harper slept through an entire night without an accident. The pride and joy can only be compared to potty training a child who’s finally ‘got’ it.
By then it was March, and obedience training was scheduled to start. Not sure what to expect Bob and I arrived at Bella’s K-9 Academy along with several other frazzled dog owners. The class consisted of a couple of German Shepherds, a rowdy little Boxer puppy, a mild-mannered Shih Tzu and an adorable Golden Retriever puppy named Molly Rose. All of us realized we had our work cut out. Every week we had homework assignments, and for the next eight weeks, I saw the progress all of our dogs were making.
Bella was a great teacher – strict but loving and compassionate. Her knowledge of training methods and dog psychology was priceless. During class, it quickly became apparent that indeed the dog owners were the ones being trained rather than their dogs. We were being trained on how to handle our dogs and teach them basic commands. I think Harper enjoyed coming to class as much as I did – Bob not so much.
One day early in the week I received a phone call from our Veterinary Clinic letting me know a neutering appointment just opened up for the next day. With no hesitation, I agreed to bring Harper in to get snipped, provided he could continue with the obedience training. When I picked up Harper after the procedure, I expected a calm and somewhat docile puppy. Instead, he was fully awake and didn’t even think about slowing down. He was ready to continue his mischief. We did not miss any class, and Harper did not show any signs of slowing down. Little by little and almost without being noticed, he began to change.
Eight weeks later we wrapped up class and Harper, along with the other dogs, passed a final ‘test’ of all commands he had learned. When all dogs passed the basic obedience class, Bella held a graduation ceremony. Each dog received a certificate, a dog treat, and a photo, taken during class. At the very least I would recommend a basic obedience class to anyone with a new dog. We enjoyed training so much that I immediately enrolled us into the next course, Level II obedience training.
In the meantime, we practiced at home as much as we could and time allowed. Like every morning, Bob left very early in the morning for work. I was so busy at my job that I always chased time but never really caught it. Puppy daycare was the best invention for working puppy parents, which we take full advantage of.
We love Sam Russell’s! Still around 8:00 pm every night – we almost could set a clock to it – Harper turned into a wildling. Usually, this didn’t last too long anymore, so we learned to deal with it. He was now housebroken and went outside without being bribed. Actually, he was exploring the outside more and was slowly becoming accustomed to different noises. Although he still did not go any further than the mailbox. We walked him on a leash in the backyard for training and to keep him from getting in trouble.
By now the weather had changed from icy cold to wet and slushy. One early morning, after a long and rainy night, Harper and I walked in our backyard. It was still dark, and I was only half awake. Allowing Harper to explore and wander around, I had him on a 20 feet retractable leash. He was so mild-mannered on this morning. Harper walked so beautifully beside me that my mind began to drift. As I am going over the day’s to-do list in my mind, I was not paying much attention to what he was doing or sniffing at. Somewhere far down the road a truck engine started up, and in that same instance, my dog turned into a racehorse.
He took off running, his speed fueled by fear – all I remembered was a white streak. While Harper was on a practice run for the Kentucky Derby, I was holding on to his leash for dear life. Harper, even though still a puppy, had developed an incredible strength and speed and was now pulling me behind. Not wanting to let go of the leash I stumbled in the dark, ran into low hanging tree branches, tripped over exposed tree roots and was stopped by a large holly shrub.
While falling to the ground, I knew right away that I had twisted my ankle badly in my high shaft rubber boots. Oh boy, did I mention the leash instruction came with a warning and video link on how to avoid the exact thing I so painfully experienced? Well yes…I read the warning signs, and I watched the video too! Finally, I let go of the leash, avoiding of being dragged on the ground behind my racing dog.
As I pulled myself off the ground, I knew this was not good. Hobbling to the door my dog was sitting there, pretty as he pleased, waiting to be let in. I was terribly hurt and close to tears. But this one was on me - in no way did I scold Harper or was mad at him. He merely did what his instinct told him to do. He felt in danger, and took off to seek the safety of his home. The trust between human and animal was still fragile. It would take much longer before Harper would trust his human leader. My lesson for the day was that we were still a long way from our goal. I needed to pay attention to my dog and what he was doing. The following three days I could not even step on my foot – swollen big and turning black and blue it would take a total of seven weeks before I could walk normal again. Taking Harper outside was impossible for me, so the entire burden was on my husband. Once again we heavily relied on Sam Russell for puppy daycare.
In the meantime, Debra had moved back to Elizabethtown and was living just a stone’s throw away. As if no time had passed, we pick up where we left without missing a beat. Debra was her colorful self, and our friendship was intact and thriving. Our dogs had not met yet – as Debra liked to point out, Harper’s head was as big as her entire dog. Cricket might become an afternoon snack. Cricket was a sweet little soul who had endured hardships no dog should ever have to suffer. But she was a lucky dog; lucky she was adopted by my friend.
In June Harper had been with us for six full months. He had slowed down and started to settle down. Our nights were peaceful, and we were able to sleep again without any nightly wake-up calls. My kitchen floor did not smell like salad dressing anymore. It was much warmer, and we enjoyed taking Harper outside for a game of ball or Frisbee. He loved to chase and to be chased. It was a joy to have this dog around. He had gotten big – 63 pounds and counting. He’d be a big dog. I loved the way he sat so proudly under his favorite tree. Every day he reminded us more and more of Sabo in the way he paid attention or greeted us when we picked him up. Harper turned into a sweet boy who resembled another dog we so dearly loved. Of course, I contributed his behavior change to growing and maturing, neutering and obedience training. But perhaps a little voice guided him from dog heaven…?
Perhaps it only appeared this way, but all the questions I still had were answered with this course. Harper knew how to sit and stay, but the problem was how to enforce the commands in any environment and over extended periods of time. What did I have to do to have my dog walk beside me when asking him to heel? This was the good stuff – at least for me. After all, I vowed to have the best-behaved dog in Elizabethtown, next to Bella’s of course. And so the 8-week fun began.
At the start of class, Bella announced a weekly challenge, followed by a test during the next session. Each performance was rated, and every dog meeting the goal within two tries received a star. The dog with the most stars at the end of the eight-week course would win a prize. I thought this a smart way to motivate the dog owners to work with their animals throughout the week. I loved this fabulous idea. Usually, people didn’t expect me to be a fierce competitor, but I was. Outwardly quiet and polite, I had a fire burning inside my belly.
As long as I remember, people had told me I wouldn’t be able to do one thing or another. It started with my move from one continent to another, many years ago. Back then people ‘just knew’ I didn’t speak the language very well, and that I would become homesick. Well, I proved them wrong. I learned to speak the English language fluidly, although an accent remained. (I am continuously working on it.) I was told I wouldn’t find a job – well I went back to school, increased my hiring ability and started in a minimum wage position. From there I steadily worked until I became branch manager of a finance company. When I decided to enter the world of mortgage financing, I was told I was not the “right material” for this competitive field – that I would be back begging for my old job within six months. This was over ten years ago. Since then I became a top producer for several of these years.
So, to give my dog a challenge, to win a prize, I had to take this to the next level. It was on! I was so excited because not only did I want Harper to win, but I sincerely tried to teach him. It was the reason we had signed up.
Our first assignment was to work on ‘lay down’ command. Per Bella, this was a challenging assignment since the down position is submissive, and the animal may not readily want to follow the command.
As soon as we got home, training started. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and we incorporated plenty of play time and treats, making the hard lesson just a little bit easier – on both of us. It didn’t take long for Harper to understand what was asked of him. He also knew from experience that high praises and rewards await. He liked to please – but perhaps he only wants the treats? We worked every chance during the week. We practiced first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. Harper had this. No doubt.
Saturday came by fast. Our small group – only five of us – lined up the dogs, ready to perform. The small group made the course fun as the dog owners came together, forming a loose bond. The moment of truth had arrived – the challenge was up. Who wanted to go first? No one volunteered. So, what the heck…Harper and I did.
We stepped out, and I gave him the command, “Harper down!” I was anxious to see what he would do. And I wanted to kiss this dog as he laid down as beautiful as a picture - on the first try! My heart swelled, I was so proud of my dog. I wanted to jump out of my skin. When the competition ended, Harper was the only dog getting his star on the first try.
It was hard to contain myself when we came home. Telling Bob all about it, he too was proud of our boy. I still felt like bursting with pride at my mutt’s accomplishment, and I wanted to tell the world about it. And so the idea of sharing this short story with potential new dog owners started to form. Sharing the tribulations and triumphs to encourage anyone adopting a dog, and letting them know that love and patience really were the answers. Harper was the only mixed breed in class, and he will never be a show dog. But he was going to be the smartest, well trained, well behaved and most loved dog in my world. We still had a long way to go, and this was only the first challenge, but he was already a winner in my book.
Recent, sad circumstances led me to think about Harper as a therapy dog. About three weeks after we brought Harper home we took our first long distance trip to visit Bob’s family in his Tennessee hometown. My father-in-law had been admitted to a nursing home several months earlier, due to a debilitating illness that would only get worse over time. Ridden with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, Dad’s world had shrunk to his wheelchair. His room and his interest in everyday things began to wane along with his desire to communicate.
During our Christmas visit, we shared the news with Dad. We were getting a new dog and thanks to smartphones we were able to show him a picture the rescue group had posted. It was heartwarming to see how Dad’s face lit up and a big smile formed when he saw the image on the screen. He seemed happy and wanted to meet Harper. We were determined to make his wish come true. The nursing home was great and allowed us to bring Harper, provided his shots were up to date. We could bring a picture of Harper to be displayed in Dad’s room. The photo was meant to let staff know this dog was allowed to visit.
Our trip to Tennessee was uneventful. The dog did grand – actually, I chose to sit in the back and hold him in my lap. This was the only time he would allow me to cuddle him without biting me. I so much enjoyed this trip and almost wished it wouldn’t have ended so soon. Harper behaved beautifully and visiting with Mom went great. Clearly, he enjoyed all the attention he was getting, and of course, Mom was prepared to bribe the dog with a big batch of treats she had waiting for him.
And then we went to the nursing home to see Dad and introduce his new granddog. Walking down the long hallway, Harper and Bob both respectively pulled on the leash. We passed many residents, and without exception residents and staff were delighted to see this little puppy. Everyone just had to pet this cute fur ball.
When we entered Dad’s room, it was as if we did not even exist. Dad had eyes only for the puppy. The smile on his face told us he was happy to have this furry visitor. Gently we placed Harper on his lap holding him as still as we could until it was time to go home. From this visit forward we made sure to bring Harper to the nursing home every time we visited. Without fail, each time it made Dad’s day to pet Harper. And everyone in the nursing home was happy to pet him too. As Dad’s illness progressed and he no longer spoke he would still light up at the sight of Harper and touch the smartphone screen when showing him the dog’s pictures.
have heard of therapy dogs but didn’t know much about their
training. I also didn’t know how much impact their visit to a
nursing home or hospital would have on their residents. On that first
visit to meet Dad the seed was planted to perhaps look into a career
for Harper as therapy dog. It was comforting to know that while the
lights dimmed in Dad’s brain our furry little kid brought some
of the light back, if only for a short time. Dad was buried with
Harper’s picture and may he have found peace in heaven –
perhaps with another one of his grand dogs by his side.
Today was graduation day from Level II obedience training; our final challenge was to be evaluated. Vacation had gotten in the way to complete class per schedule, but Bella graciously allowed us to come early to complete the Canine Citizenship test requirements. Testing contained a set of ten different tasks which Harper performed beautifully. Once again he made his mom proud. One of the assignments was to meet and greet another person walking her dog, just as we would in our neighborhood or while out and about. During this short meet and greet the student dog is supposed to show good behavior by not pulling on his leash, not engaging the other dog while the owners shook hands in greeting, and carried on a short conversation. My partner for this exercise – a person I never met before – shook my hand and her words to me were: “You have a lovely dog, you are lucky he found you.” Indeed I was fortunate that Harper chose me to be his mom.
On to our final challenge – we completed and passed the difficult task for a short off leash heeling. We didn’t finish quite as well as during our practice time at home. At the time of completion, we were still in the competition to win a prize, but the race was tight. Furthermore, should there be a tie we wouldn’t be there for the tiebreaker challenge. No matter, my dog was already a winner! However, it was a lot of fun to be part of this class. We had a great time teaching our dogs good manners – and that’s what it was all about. Whatever course you’ll take, just have fun with it!
The big white dog lay under his favorite tree in a shady spot, like most days when the weather was nice. As sunlight filtered through a dense canopy of leaves, a light summer breeze ruffled his curly coat. Eyes and feet twitched on whatever dogs may dream about. Maybe he was dreaming of chasing the ever elusive rabbit, or perhaps he was catching the red Frisbee he was partially laying on – his favorite toy.
The dogs seemed content, and so did his Master…well, we let him believe he was the Master. Sitting in a comfortable wicker chair he sipped his favorite beer with the dog by his side. The Master was lost in thought and peaceful contemplation, too. A man and his dog - a picture I would never get enough of. A picture I wanted to hold onto forever. Every man should have a dog, and every dog should have a loving human companion. The man in the wicker chair was my husband and the dog by his side was our dog, Harper.
Suddenly Harper jumped up, instantly alert. The hackles on his back stood up; he was visibly spooked. What just happened? Did a nightmare replace his apparently peaceful slumber? Did dogs have nightmares? Something spooked him enough to send him running up the deck stairs where he paused halfway up - just long enough to look behind him. He continued up the stairs and begged to be let into the house. He knew he was safe and secure inside our home. And I knew – we still had a lot of work to do.
was an odd fellow.
B.K. Stubblefield is a new writer with a passion for animal rescue. Her dog, Harper - a puppy on steroids - was the inspiration to her non-fiction books ‘Rescued: A Tale of Two Dogs’ (co-written with best friend Debra Wagner) and ‘Rescued: Out of The Shadows. Fictional short stories and memory books/journals continue to carry the theme of dog rescue. B. K. Stubblefield is a contributing author to "Be Their Voice: An Anthology for Rescue, Volume I & II." Her debut novel, 'Secrets in Oak Creek,’ a mystery/romance novel was released in November 2017. Born and raised in Germany, B.K. Stubblefield spent many years supporting her husband's military career. Moving between Europe and the United States, she now makes her home in the small rural town of Elizabethtown, Kentucky where she enjoys the slower pace of small town living. Early morning walks with her dog Harper are among her favorite activities.
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