When you first get a puppy, they tell you to socialize it as often as possible. Get her comfortable around new people, introduce her to new smells, teach her how to be polite, to ask for permission, encourage her to be friendly and non-fearful. It turns out those things are not inborn. Like anything worth having, a good dog is something you have to work at. Particularly when said dog stands a good chance of outweighing both you and your partner in adulthood.
Beta Testing for Babies
There are many reasons couples choose to get puppies. Companionship. Snuggles. A deep desire to have all your socks in someone else’s mouth before you wear them. But I’ll come right out and say it: Michael and I are practicing for babies via our puppy. Now, before I get myself into trouble on the Internet, I know that raising a puppy is not the same as raising a baby. For one, you can’t put a baby in a metal cage for a few hours with a stuffed animal while you go run errands. And a dog is never going to come home at 3 a.m. smelling like weed, telling you he was studying for a test and to mind your own business, GOD MOM. But nonetheless, our puppy is a tiny helpless monster who depends on us to teach her how to navigate the world. We are, in essence, raising her.
So we’re beta testing our marriage for that challenge. And it turns out I’ve learned a lot more about our marriage over the last six months than I have about puppies. Here are some of the surprising things our tiny demon dog has taught us.
hermits just wanna have fun
Before getting our puppy, Michael and I had settled into a comfortable routine of hermitude. We’d get up, go to work, maybe go to the gym, come home, cook dinner, catch an hour of TV, and then go to bed. Our lives were centered (mostly) in and around our home and our relationship. And y’all? Sometimes it gets really boring in our bubble. And lazy. Getting a puppy fucked this all up. Because guess what? You can’t socialize a puppy from the comfort of your couch.
So because we have this new puppy, my partner and I have been forced to socialize ourselves. We’ve had to shed our hermit-y ways and say yes to things like group outings, for the sake of the puppy. We explore new places because of the puppy. We go on daily walks through our neighborhood. And our relationship is improving exponentially the more we take the puppy out into the real world. And it’s been so good.
When we’re tackling the big-picture marriage issues, my instinct is always to dig deeper, to turn inward on ourselves, and to solve the problem from the inside out. Translation: talk it into the ground, beat the dead horse, hope something changes. But as our relationship is thrust out into the world more and more by this giant helpless animal, I’m realizing that might not always be the appropriate means for change. It’s hard creating interest in a void. And it’s really easy to default to lazy, repetitive behavior when it’s so comfortable and familiar. So maybe what we need to level up our relationship isn’t to look inward all the time, but rather to introduce external stimuli to our marriage and see what develops. It’s the riskier move, sure. It could blow up in our faces. But then again, it’s worked before.
Help, I need somebody
Remember that thing I said about beating a dead horse? We do that a lot. I prefer this training method; he prefers that one. I’m a sucker; he’s a hard ass. We obviously both think we are right all the time. And while we come to a compromise 90 percent of the time, the other 10 percent we fall into a routine where we argue the same point over and over again, hoping the other will break and see our point of view. Fun, right?
So last month, when it became obvious that we were hitting a wall with certain aspects of our dog’s behavior, we bit the bullet and hired a professional dog trainer. At our last session, I was bemoaning a recurring argument Michael and I keep having about who should take our dog for a walk when we get home from work (thrilling conversations being had our house, I tell you). The trainer listened intently as I complained about XYZ, looking to her to back me up on my point. Except the joke was on me, as she kindly took me through a series of questions that pointed out how I may or may not have been the cause of my own frustration. Would I have listened to my husband if he made the same point? Probably not. (Sorry, Michael.) And I don’t feel bad about it. Sometimes you just need an objective third-party opinion to point out the obvious. And there ain’t no shame in that. Not to mention having a professional around has been good for team morale. It turns out a lot of the bad behavior we’d been blaming ourselves (and each other) for? Totally normal. I guess teenagers are jerks, no matter the breed. Who knew?
Responsibility is sexy
We live and work in Silicon Valley. Which means we are surrounded by a culture that values people with no strings attached: child-free, single, etc. And Michael and I are both people who love our jobs. So it’s really easy for us to put our work first and our marriage second. But puppies? Puppies need routines. And also, when they are really little, they can’t hold their bladder for more than an hour or two. Which means that Michael and I have had to completely renegotiate the logistics of our marriage. Regular schedules. Devoted bedtimes. And at first, it was really hard. I have a flexible job, which means it was easy for me to fall into the primary caretaker role. And for the first few months, we argued about this a bunch. But working through these growing pains has given us an opportunity to step up for each other in ways that are, frankly, really sexy. I’ll take my partner rearranging his schedule so I can get uninterrupted work time over flowers any day. (Though I will also take the flowers, just in case you were asking.) So while the popular narrative is that added responsibility turns people into stressed, harried shadows of their former selves (and there’s been some of that, for sure), for the most part, I’ve found that getting a puppy has made us more diligent, responsible humans, and better partners.
The jury is still out on whether there’s any validity to our beta testing parenthood vis-à-vis the puppy method (we have to wait for actual babies for that, I guess). But I’d argue that anything that strengthens our marriage is laying the groundwork. And practice makes perfect, right?