Having learned graded exposure therapy in my student days from a brilliant supervisor and fellow Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owner, when it came time to welcome Charlie into my life I thought training him would be a breeze! There would be no fear of lightning, no puppy teeth biting into my hands, no destroyed furniture and there would be no need for a dog groomer! I thought he’d show off his numeracy skills by barking 7 times if I ask him what 5 plus 2 is, pose on a pile of books wearing glasses and turn into Charlie the Academic Cavalier and become world famous like Doug the Pug. And most importantly he would not stop me from going out and taking shots of lightning bolts, he’d let me sleep in peace, and he’d trust me to cut his nails. I had a detailed plan and the will to implement it. “I’ve got this covered,” I thought to myself.
On the long drive home with 8.5 week old Charlie, which saw me drive from one end of the state to the other and back again over 2 days, he fell asleep to the soothing sounds of George K. Wilson reading “A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron. The more I heard about Bailey and his love for his dedicated human Ethan, the more I fell in love with my sweet new friend sleeping in the little pet carrier on the passenger seat next to me. A few days later when he started whimpering I replayed the audio book and he went silent almost immediately and fell asleep with me holding his front paws in my hands.
Within less than a week of him coming home, I replaced the voice of George K. Wilson with thunderstorm sound effects. I didn’t make a fuss and just acted like it was normal music. I was nowhere near creative and resourceful enough to mimic any of the atmospheric changes that bring thunderstorms so I had no idea if I had done enough to desensitise him. The first night that he heard heavy rain on the roof and hid in the laundry, I thought my plan had failed. But fast forward to late October when another person new to puppy parenting asked me if my almost 7 month old boy was scared of thunderstorms too, and I was pleased to say no. He also didn’t fret during the November and December storms, so I was free to go for a drive with my camera.
But he has concluded that nail clippers are infinitely more dangerous than thunderstorms. Most other puppies have a universal agreement that noone knows which of the two is the most dangerous. But not Charlie. He knows beyond all reasonable doubt that it’s those nail clippers! Hold his paws as much as you like, but the second those nail clippers are in your hands, you become his worst enemy. As far as he is concerned there is no such thing as fight OR flight. It’s more like fight AND flight. That innocent little boy with big brown eyes who cuddles up to me when he’s cold suddenly turns into a wild animal. Biting my hands and clawing at my arms until I accept defeat, or until he wiggles free. Whichever comes first. An hour later I realise I haven’t managed to cut even one nail and my arms are covered in so many red scratches that I’m not even sure if half a tube of Savlon cream is enough to heal them! But the worst part? I began to wonder if my dog is secretly a cat! Because surely only felines claw at people like this! I resorted to taking him to the vet tonight just to deal with his long nails and could hear him cry out as I sat in the waiting room wondering if I should have dismissed them telling me to leave the two of them to it and insisted on being in there with him. But the next thing I knew it was over and we were heading home. It’s a mystery how we made it home from a 6.15 appointment by 6.30 with every one of his nails trimmed, but we did.
At 10 months old, he still rarely lets me sleep a full 8 hours, but on the positive he has only ever damaged one thing of value. Even the pile of books showcasing the work of my favourite Australian and Hungarian photographers are still safe on my coffee table. So either he’s a very special cavalier indeed and shares my love of photography and understands how precious those books are, or there’s hope for Charlie the Academic Cavalier after all. Nahhhhh… he still thinks stealing my socks and shoes when I’m trying to put them on to take him for a walk is a good strategy to get us out the door faster! Charlie the Academic Cavalier? Who am I kidding?