Living with Luke - Our time, as Luke learns his way around
By Amy LeClaire
Luke Valentino has been a part of our family for only two weeks, yet it feels as though we’ve known him our whole lives. He’s comfortable in his new home, secure with his new dog family, and determined to learn, please and communicate his needs. In the process, he’s exposed a puppy personality that has won us over. He’s laid-back yet playful, intelligent and intuitive, affectionate and affable. He’s everything contained in the unscrambled letters of his full name: L-O-V-E.
“I love you, Luke Valentino.” I lift him from his crated bed each morning, pull him to my chest, and breathe in the warm scent of puppy breath. He yawns, licks my chin and studies my mouth with a wet nose. I’m disheveled and tired, dressed in frayed, March layers but the moment is immensely joyful. “Let’s go do pee-pee.” Our day begins.
Together, he and I engage in training sessions which unfold naturally during playtimes threaded with teachable moments. Luke’s intelligent and calm nature makes the process smooth, though the job of training a puppy is bound by work. He is learning how to live under human conditions—no easy task—even for a human. I don’t want to take the pup out of my puppy, but we need to be reasonable.
“Luke, please!” I am ten times heavier, five times taller, and over fifty years older. I teach up to six Zumba classes per week, yet I am unable to catch my ten-pound pup. He zig-zigs like a fly throughout the yard, a piece of mulch resting dangerously in his mouth.
We compete in another game of Keep Away, one in which Luke plays the Star and I assume the less glamorous role of Crazy Dog Person. My bashful lamb of a pup has put on a devil’s costume. Worse, it’s twenty-five degrees out. My muscles are stiff and tight, my shoelaces untied. Luke has worn me to the bone. I finally reach him and pry open his tiny mouth, visions of surgical risk sailing through my head. Where is the mulch? Did it drop out on its own? I set him down. He dashes off then sits fifteen feet away and stares at me, a casual tobacco chewer. “You didn’t.” Oh, but he did. Clever Luke hid the piece of mulch beneath his tongue.
My pup has a mind of his own, but it’s a smart one. I’ve learned to capitalize on his intelligence and willingness to learn. He’s the first puppy I’ve had to not only learn the commands sit, stay, and come at only eight weeks but, also, apply them to spontaneous (real life) situations.
“Luke, come!” I’ll never forget the first time he spun around to come back to me after dashing towards a dog walker. Hard work had led to the reward of knowing that my puppy will be safe while allowed off-the-leash time. I’m a believer in letting a dog be a dog. A dog ought to run freely, sniff, explore, dig, and roll in the grass. Luke comes back, sits at my feet, and looks up at me. His teddy bear face betrays a chimpanzee mind. I reward him with a kibble (from his own diet), a blueberry, or piece of apple. “What a good boy you are! That was really hard!” I gush and praise my puppy. I’m a proud parent who’s not above driving with a bumper sticker that reads, My Puppy Comes When Called.
The consistency required to train a puppy (on top of hours wedged between my own work, household and social life) has become a full-time job but I do believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Luke seems to feel the same way. He’s already shown protectiveness to our family; barking at the big dogs who stop by to visit. His innate ability to do so, coupled with a lion’s will to set the dogs straight, are a sight to see. His bark, though mighty, is still unmistakably that of a puppy’s. Luke Valentino, in action, has no idea how cute he is. He crinkles his snout and growls, the toughie of a motorcycle gang wearing a royal blue harness as a vest. He stiffens and lets the big dog see him roar. He’s just doing his job, scaring off the baddies to protect his turf. He’s been in his home for only a few weeks, yet he’s compelled to protect it. He makes me smile over and over again. After losing Lincoln, it was hard to imagine that I could love another puppy this much, and so uniquely. There was only one Lincoln. There will only be one Lincoln. Yet this little guy has stolen my heart.
“We are a good team.” I cradle him like a baby and he chews on my sweatshirt tassel. His eyes are as black as marbles, his nose moist. He reminds me of innocence and goodness, and how simple happiness can be. I want to stop time and freeze the moment but my puppy is on the move.
I rest on the assurance that time (in lieu of rest) is on our hands now. There will be time to watch Luke take one more dramatic, flying leap off of the second-to-last deck stair and time to watch him zoom around the house at record speed. There will be time to zip through shopping aisles like burglars on the run and time to sit out on the deck and watch the birds, just as Lincoln and I used to do. There will be time because this is our time.
Stay tuned for more on Living with Luke as Luke Valentino adapts to his new home! Write to me at [email protected]