When I was a kid I wanted a big furry dog. I wanted a dog who could greet me at eye level even when all four paws were squarely on the ground; one who would protect me from bullies and be my play companion. The dog could be either sex or any color as long as it was big. The main problem with this was my father, who was terrified of dogs. A dog had bitten him when he was little and although he never admitted he was ever afraid of anything, the whole family knew he was afraid of dogs. So when it came time to bringing a dog into our home, my parents got me Fluffy, a Shih Tzu. Not quite what I had in mind, but she was mine and I loved her.
Fast forward to adulthood. I still wanted my big dog. With my first home came the freedom to get my first dog, Alex. Alex was an incredibly sweet Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. He had big paws and a big heart and he was going to be my big dog. However, a strange thing happens when you try to fulfill a childhood want in an adult body. Some things are undeniably different. In this case, I was physically much taller. Although I had now gotten a puppy that would have seemed quite large by most people’s standards, in reality he only grew to be 74 pounds and didn’t even match up to my hip level. Wonderful as Alex was, he would never be able to lick in my face from a standing position.
My second dog, Zoe, was an Australian Shepherd. She was huge in spirit, but compact in stature. It was clear that fulfilling this childhood desire was going to take finding my own version of Clifford the big red dog. Since I was bigger, I was going to need to find a truly giant dog. That’s when the words first tumbled out of my mouth, “I'm getting a Great Dane.” A Great Dane: A perfectly huge creature who would meet me at the door and engulf me in its colossalness. So off I went in search of a Great Dane.
Many of my clients consult with me regarding the best way to pick a new member of their animal family. Everything I’d ever said in this regard was thrown out the window when I saw Jadzia. She was a 12-week-old Great Dane, a stunning display of white and silver with small patches and dots of sleek black fur. She had soft floppy ears that bounced against her head when she moved, reminding me of a little girl with pigtails. She was nothing less than adorable. With the enthusiasm only a younger portion of my mind could muster, I called her to come over to me. This young part of me was so enthralled with the idea I was actually going to get this giant puppy that I was able to look right past the fact this puppy wasn’t particularly interested in giving me the time of day. That was okay. I would take her home and we would bond and all would be right in the world.
I brought her home and got all sorts of Great Dane things. Giant toys, giant beds, giant everything for my giant dog. There was only one problem. She didn’t think she was mine. No, she had picked my then-husband, whom I'll call Bob, to be her person. I was barely an afterthought for her. But give me a challenge and I’m up for it. I was not going to lose out having this new being adore me too.
So, I signed us up for obedience class in hopes it would help her to see me as a more significant being in her world. Since I believe training needs to be done with the whole family, I brought both Jadzia and Bob to class with me. Of course, whatever he asked Jadzia to do she did without hesitation. Whatever I asked was completely ignored. Even though I practiced the lessons with her daily and was incredibly consistent with my interactions with her, she didn’t care. There was a magic circle around Jadzia and Bob and I was not to be included in it.
I don’t blame Bob for this. It’s hard not to enjoy the affections of such a magnificent animal but, after all, this was my childhood fantasy we were talking about here, not his. No, I was still going to find a way to get Jadzia to look at me with those “I love you best” eyes. So, out the window went much of what I knew about dog training. I needed to go for broke.
I decided I would let this monster puppy sleep up on the bed. I rationalized that she didn’t have a lot of meat on her bones and loved to snuggle in the covers to keep warm. She was soft and warm and made the bed toasty. A little too late it occurred to me we had another problem. Jadzia was a Great Dane puppy, which meant one day she would grow up to be, well, a Great Dane. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Now this immense dog, who still had little interest in being my “big dog”, was quite happy to sleep diagonally on the queen sized bed. In fact, she had taken to jumping in bed day or night to doze on her Serta mattress, wrapped in her organic cotton sheets! For a year Bob kept saying he thought it was a bad idea to let Jadzia sleep on the bed. No one, besides the dog, was getting any rest. I had to agree.
Okay, since I was the leader here, I could make the rules. The new rule was: “NO DOGS ON THE BED.” This worked for Bob and me, but Jadzia had other ideas. As we got ready for bed that first night, Jadzia had already made herself comfy in the center of the mattress. I led her off the bed and told her to lie down on the ground. We turned off the light savoring the prospect of a good night’s rest.
A few minutes later, without a sound, something was moving at the foot of the bed. Jadzia had gotten her nose under the covers and like a snake was slowly slithering her body up the center of the mattress. Clearly she thought nobody would notice a Great Dane in the bed. As soon as her head got up to our level she rolled on her side and shoved us off to the far edges of the mattress. I screamed, “Jadzia, get off the bed!” She leaped up, taking the covers with her, hoping to escape whatever invader this human was yelling at.
This was just the first of many nights of Jadzia trying to figure out how to regain her preferred sleeping arrangement. There were the times when she broke out of the crate we had her sleep in at night, or the numerous times when she stayed on the floor but chewed any of my clothes she could get her teeth on. Needless to say, she never destroyed a single item belonging to Bob.
I just needed to accept what had become of my childhood dream. Jadzia was pretty much an immediate gratification girl who excelled at being large, ignoring me and being entranced by Bob. She just wasn’t interested in playing the role of my “big dog.”
Sadly, Jadzia had a short two-year life. However, she taught me something very important during her lifetime. Jadzia taught me that some childhood fantasies are best left in the past in order for us to be open to what is available in the present. I try very hard to practice this lesson to this day. Still, sometimes on chilly winter nights, I miss that radiator with a heartbeat under my covers.