2am at the airport on a Thursday morning we find ourselves patiently waiting in the car for a puppy we've never met to land with her owner. So many questions are running through our minds; what if she doesn’t like us? What if we can't handle her? Is this even legit? How do I wash a dog? We don't even own a home, have we overcommitted? Is she actually coming? The owner has cancelled several flights over the past few weeks.
The dog is absolutely beautiful. She seems sweet but she isn’t interested in us and seems a little on edge. It’s her first time flying in an aeroplane. The owner doesn’t want to say goodbye to the dog just yet. We drop them at a hotel, say our goodbyes and arrive home at 4am with no dog and a couple of deflated hearts instead. Have we made a mistake?
The next day we rally our egos, pick up a few things for lunch and await our guests. This time I don’t let myself get as excited.
Once again, they arrive. The dog is still beautiful and seems just as sweet as a few hours ago in the airport. We don’t know each other and there is no trust yet. As a teenager I was attacked by a friend’s dog so initially I’m a bit scared of her; mals can be intimidating if you don’t know them. I flinch a little when she nuzzles into my hand but I think she likes me. She lifts one paw while I pet her and our friend (who happens to be a dog trainer with extensive experience in training working breeds) tells me it’s a sign she trusts and respects me.
We eat, talk with the owner about the dog’s personality and traits, her diet, the environment she grew up in and if she’s had any form of training. We ask about the rest of the litter and hear about a puppy who was returned after being attacked by another dog. The owner has had a strong bond with the litter and has found it hard parting with each dog, even going as far as to follow one delivery truck as the puppy left for it’s forever home. We take everything as a good sign. The puppy is healthy and the owner is here vetting us to make sure she’s happy with the dog’s new home. We all feel good about the situation. Last hugs and kisses transpire and before we know it we’re waving goodbye to the previous owner as the uber drives away.
We have a ten month old malinois. Does that mean we need to be responsible people now? As it all hits us we realize we now have a dependent. This beautiful creature we’ve now adopted requires love, attention, food and a safe place to be a dog. “Shotgun not picking up the poop,” says my boyfriend. I quickly realize that despite each growing up with a dog we really have no idea what we’re doing.
Fortunately we’re not completely alone. We have a close friend who is also now our dog trainer, and with a background in training the Malinois breed we follow his instructions to a T.
Crate or no crate?
The day flies by as we all get acquainted with each other and before we realize it’s time for bed. We’ve decided that we’re going to crate train our pup. (Really we’d just like to snuggle up with her and keep her at the foot of our bed!) But, a little info about us; we don’t actually have a home and we travel everywhere for work. Sometimes we can be in one place for a few weeks and sometimes a few months. Given this, and the fact the dog has grown up in a crate thus far, we consider the options and decide that crate training is the best decision for us and our lifestyle. So we do it. And this is where our first laugh and owner faux pa happens.
What we know is that the dog usually sleeps in a crate. We also know that she barks if she needs the toilet. This is how the night goes down……
At about 11 pm we put the dog in the crate
After 5 minutes she starts barking
We take her straight out of the crate with no petting or attention etc. to the backyard as instructed by our trainer - nothing happens
She goes back inside the crate and we go back to bed
After 5 times my boyfriend has had enough. He brings the dog upstairs into the corner of our bedroom and puts her on a towel on the floor for the night. We turn the lights off and go to bed. Some rustling ensues as the dog explores the bedroom and after a few minutes it goes quiet, …..too quiet. Squinting our eyes we can make out the figure of a dog squatting in the center of the room taking a giant poop. My boyfriend is furious (he has been in and out of bed 5 times taking her to the bathroom after all). Before any of that fury slips out I yell, “Wait, wait wait, don’t say anything bad! Remember what the trainer said?” Our trainer’s strict instructions were, “No negative reinforcement for several weeks or until she fully understands what is expected of her. If she does anything wrong, ignore it. Only praise for good behaviour.” He had explained that as we’re getting to know each other, he doesn’t want us to create any conflict, only a solid bond between the three of us.
So what did we do? We swallowed our frustration and picked up the poop (he did, if you were wondering), cleaned the carpet and the three of us went to bed.
Just like that, our days as virgin malinois owners had just begun.
Lots of Love,
Virgin Malinois Owner