Well, we finally did it. After (only) a couple of years of thinking about it, we got another dog! Meet Luka, our beautiful Australian Shepherd x border collie puppy. She is 12 weeks old today and has turned our house and lives upside down… in a mostly good way. She loves belly rubs, going to the beach, scampering away with one of your shoes when you’re in a rush to get out the door and falling asleep in the most encumbering spot on the kitchen floor she can think of.
Something I have discovered is that getting a pet rouses the same sort of opinions in some people that having children does. When you are considering a puppy people will tell you their frank thoughts: that you are insane, your timing is off, you won’t be able to travel (well…) your age gap is too small/too big, your breed choice is terrible, one is enough, two is enough, two is too many, three is perfect, etc etc. I am an overthinker as it is – sometimes hearing other opinions just makes my own more anxious.
There were also my own thoughts to wade through. Parents with older kids will laugh at my naivete here; but I was clinging onto the idea that life might ‘get a bit more simple’ with Miss Nerd about to start kindergarten at the end of a very long summer. While the start of school for your youngest child can feel bittersweet, and I totally get that; we had also all looked forward to Miss Nerd’s first day of kindergarten for a long time, she included. COVID had put a limit on the amount of daycare we could access; it was expensive, not enough for my workload and we had been on a waitlist for more daycare for more than a year. I hoped kindy would help. But when we decided to get a dog, we were almost at the very end of what had been one of Perth’s hottest summers on record. Summer holidays in Perth can feel arduous and long; many parents await its end with longing; and I am no exception!
So we’d just emerged from a brain-sapping, torturously hot summer, we were looking forward to the kids starting school, I was looking forward to getting stuck back into a lot more work; who on earth introduces a puppy into the mix right as things are meant to slow down? I was conflicted. I unloaded to a few people – including a few internet friends! Isn’t it funny – and lovely – that sometimes the people you think you would get along the best with in real life, you have never actually met in person. You just chat with them over the internet. You feel like you know them but you have never shaken their hand.
A kind-hearted Instagram friend and fellow dog person in Brisbane, known to her followers as The Kmart Forecast, completely understood my worries about getting another puppy when Nala was my ‘soul dog’. She told me something very kind and truthful that turned out to be spot on: that just because I’d already been lucky to have a one in a million dog in my life, didn’t mean that I couldn’t love another dog dearly, and worrying about Nala’s feelings to a puppy situation meant we had her first and foremost in our minds.
And it was a fellow blogger friend all the way in Canada, Val of Zen Shmen blog (and another dog person) who also helped me make up my mind. She sent me a really lovely email when I told her about a less-than-kind comment I had received; and part of her lovely message included this: “The favourite thing I learned through all the uncertainty and upheaval of the pandy is, when it comes to big decisions, choose the bigger life. You will never regret it.”
Well, we definitely chose the bigger life option here.
One energetic, intelligent Aussie shepherd x border collie girl.
In the end, I think getting a second dog was one of those decisions where we decided to just plunge in. The reason I say this is because firstly, we knew a new dog would be a lot of work, when we do already have a fair amount on our plates, and secondly, we already have Nala, who does NOT like other dogs.
She never has. I remember going down to a dairy farm in Harvey to pick her up; my first pick from a lovely litter of Border collie Labrador mixes, and the owner handed her to me. “You should know that she doesn’t really… LIKE the other puppies,” she said, apprehensively. “She’s not very keen on other dogs.” I looked at the ball of white fluff in my arms and almost snorted with mirth. “How can an eight week old puppy not like the other dogs?” I thought. I would socialise her heaps and take her to puppy school and she would be fine, I thought.
Well. Her first owners were right. Nala soon made it quite clear that she does not like other dogs. She would never attack them, but wherever she went she was always content to just ignore them disdainfully, as if they did not exist, and be utterly, one hundred percent fixated on us; her owners. Nala is a people dog for sure.
She is NOT a dog-dog. She has played nicely with probably four dogs in her life. She is jealous and possessive, completely obsessed with Mr Nerd and I (she merely tolerates the kids) and a spoilt, only fur child who walks into the lounge room, stands in front of the TV and sighs dramatically if you are not going to bed at the time she wants to go down. She sounds delightful, I hear you say, why wouldn’t you bring a puppy home to that?
Bringing another dog into the house did not seem like an option. You might laugh, but we didn’t want to upset Nala. We didn’t want her to feel like she was being replaced. We were always happy with our big, hairy spoilt girl, her quirks and all. But the thing you need to know about Nala is that she is super smart. I know everyone thinks their dog is super smart. But although Nala has moments of complete idiocy like all dogs, and her share of moments that make us want to scream ‘what are you doing’, she is still one of the most intelligent, astute dogs I have encountered. As an eight week old puppy she was completely house trained in two days. She went on one walk as an eight week old puppy, and the next day coaxed me to come follow her, watching to see if I was, then walked up to her lead hanging on the wall on the laundry, looking at it, then looking at me and back again, to see if I would get the hint to ‘let’s do this again’. She learned multiple tricks in only five days. You could always speak to her in sentences and she would understand, respond with a small bark for ‘yes’, remember things you promised, sulk if you forgot something you had told her you would do, like taking her to the beach the next day. She was the first really smart I had and I was grateful for it.
We got Nala to be my ‘personal protection’ dog. This is because I am profoundly hearing impaired, and at the time I was living on my own here.
I rely on hearing aids all the time – but they come out when I am sleeping or showering. Without my hearing aids, I can hear, but only if something is really LOUD. I needed someone to be my ears, especially at night. We got incredibly lucky that Nala took to her role so seriously. I had owned this tiny, round eight week old puppy for three days and already she was barking and growling at the front door if someone set foot on our property.
It was almost like she knew my hearing was nowhere near as good as hers. I had had her for just a couple of weeks and one night, she woke me up in the middle of the night, barking in my face and jumping on my chest with her front paws. It turned out to be just teenagers sitting on the verge after a party (who hasn’t had those late night verge chats about everything and anything?) but to Nala it was a potential danger.
It was almost like she knew my hearing was nowhere near as good as hers. She learned to differentiate between ‘bad’ and ‘passers-by’ and ‘people we know’ and ‘the postman’. She also alerted me if my phone rang. I could be having a shower, and sometimes Nala would just poke her head around the door, fix me with a look, walk away and I knew it meant the postman had dropped something off or my Nokia had played its jangling tune (shush, we didn’t have iPhones then).
One night, Nala was going nuts all night long barking at the front door. She was driving me nuts too. Eventually, fed up, I let her out the front garden to let her burn off some steam and get it out of her system. She took off next door straight away and ran up to their wall where there was a gate, growling and barking. I couldn’t see anything unusual, and finally coaxed her back home. She woke me up barking multiple times that night.
The next morning, I found out that next door and a whole line of houses on our street had all been broken into. Except ours.
Once the Sunday Times were doing a story about how houses with dogs tend to be broken into less frequently than houses without dogs, and they came here and took a really nice photo of me with Nala. Years later, when I was pregnant and ginormous, wanting it over with already, I would don my husband’s ugg boots (the only shoes in the house that fit my turgid legs. It was the middle winter, but Mr Nerd did not dare ever ask for them) and I would waddle angry, stompy laps of the local park in the evenings, trying to get each baby to hurry up. As I walked my laps Nala would circle me protectively, her hackles twitching upwards at anyone who came near. I felt very safe. We called her my direwolf.
When we brought each baby home, she encompassed them in her protective ring too, despite us knowing she has never really been fond of kids – even ours. One night, I was at home alone with the kids – Little Nerd was three, Miss Nerd was three months. Murphy’s Law, of course, meant that Mr Nerd was on a work trip at that time. Nala woke me up barking and growling loudly, her hackles raised. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. I just knew instantly from the fast, furious way that Nala reacted that someone was trying to get into the house.
There was a man at the front door. He started banging on the front door and trying to open it. “Who is it?” I yelled. “Open the ******* door,” the man yelled. “I know you’re in there. Open the door or I’ll ******* break it open.” Nala was ready to rip.
(By complete coincidence, that SAME DAY Mr Nerd had said to me, “I was thinking we should get security cameras for our house?” Let me tell you, that sped it along).
I went to the back of the house and called the police. The policewoman on the phone was very nice. “Hello, I’m not sure if this is really an emergency,” I whispered, feeling surreal, “but there’s a man at my door and he’s trying to get in.”
“Are you home alone?”
“Well, my husband is away, but I have my dog,” I said. “And a baby and a toddler.” She said she wanted me to take the kids and get the dog and lock ourselves in a room. A whole bunch of police were there in minutes. Nala barked again furiously. The man had disappeared. “Reckon your dog would have scared him away for sure with that bark,” said one of the officers. “Give us a call if it ever happens again.”
Nala got a LOT of treats and cuddles the next day and was very pleased with herself.
Anyway, I’ve gone on a lot there, but I do have a point… I swear I am coming to it! My point is that we have a dog who protects her family so hard and so furiously, and who is also so smart and intuitive, that when she dies, I want her to trust that we – her little pack – are still being looked after. I know that will make some people scoff, or giggle, because it might sound absurd to you that a dog would think like that. But as she gets older, she KNOWS she is winding down and while she is still incredibly protective and fierce, she is 12 now. That’s a good run, but she can’t protect us forever.
Some people say dogs know when they are going to die. When it’s Nala’s time, we want her to go peacefully without ‘worrying’ about the pack she is leaving behind. She knows I need my ears. And I want my ears too.
Most people tend to get a puppy after their old dog has died – and I completely understand why – but the thought of not having a dog around also, more selfishly, makes me realise I would now feel uneasy. On the rare occasions I’ve spent the night alone – apart from both Nala and my husband – I’ve realised how unsafe I feel without my dog keeping an ear out; and how much harder it is to fall asleep without that comforting heaviness of her chin across my ankle. She is like my adult stuffy. And so after a lot of thinking, that is what led us to getting another puppy while we still have an old, grumpy, jealous dog.
And you know what? Amazingly, Nala has now adjusted SO WELL to the new puppy. Her first reaction was a tail wag, she was happy and friendly and interested. But when she realised the new puppy was coming into her home and didn’t look to be leaving, she changed. Jealous, growling, angry. The kids were hyper-excited and running everywhere, the puppy was weeing on the floor constantly, Nala was growling, I was home by myself with them all. I KNEW Nala would be growly.
I had been hopeful she would eventually be accepting. But somehow my resolve just completely crumbled and it somehow just hit me; what if she NEVER gets better? What if it is like this permanently? By 8pm that day, I thought oh my god what have we done?! What have we committed to. This could not work. I am a dramatic person; when I’m stressed, everything feels dramatic. Luka could not live with us. I would have to call her owners and let them know it wasn’t going to work out. What sort of life would it be for this sweet innocent puppy, with this horrific fat hellhound terrifying her at every corner? I pictured my home for the next two years with baby gates in every room to keep them separated and never being able to fully relax.
We had told Luka’s lovely breeders, a vet family, in our ‘interview stage’ that we had an older, grumpy dog. They were unperturbed. “Nala will be good for the puppy,” they said, and I was unconvinced, but they turned out to be right.
We made sure to keep things ‘the same’ for Nala, the same way we did when we brought babies home. I think our experience of wrangling a reactive dog around two toddlers over the years had actually prepped us well for bringing a puppy home. We didn’t make a big deal of things changing. We still make a big fuss of her and make sure she knows she is our number one. We always feed her first. We still let her sleep on our bed, the same way she has since forever.
And overall, although I was expecting it to take months for her to adjust, or even up to a year, Nala has done so well – for Nala! The next day after her savage growling fits, Nala was better, the day after even better. When they played chasey in the garden it feels like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. When they have their little happy doggy moments together it’s so gorgeous.
I write this with a new puppy sleeping at my feet and my old dog lying next to me on the sofa. Sometimes Mr Nerd and I have said to each other, I can’t believe we have two dogs. I just think, how lucky am I. Maybe I want three dogs? There is something about having dogs around that just makes everything better. You go to a party and there’s a dog there; instantly it’s a better party. The other morning we said to each other we kind of wish now we had gotten a second dog earlier. Despite the fresh holes in our lawn, the new holes in my shoes and the chewed-up skirting boards in the kitchen, everything feels a little bit more full and rounded and complete now.