In late March, my husband and I decided to adopt a puppy. We had our hearts set on a black lab mutt, and I had found the perfect one. All puppies make me go weak in the knees. But this one was a real looker — speckled paws, cockeyed ears, and seal-pup eyes. As she snuggled into my lap on the long car ride home, I looked over at my husband and sighed. I was in puppy heaven.
A week later we were in puppy hell. The dog hadn’t taken to being in a kennel the way we hoped she would. At night she made ear-shattering noises that sounded like human screams. And then she would howl, and then yowl, and then cry, and then bark. She tried every noise in her puppy arsenal. Even earplugs couldn’t muffle the sounds of her discontent. So we suffered . . . sleepless night after sleepless night.
In vain I searched for some solution. I downloaded e-books on crate training. I pleaded for advice on Facebook. I scanned online puppy forums, studiously reading even the most cockamamie suggestions. But nothing worked. And the more I read, the more certain I became that this was somehow our fault. We had ruined our puppy.
So when a friend mentioned that a toy with a beating heart might calm her down, I didn’t even chuckle at the ridiculousness of the suggestion. I turned to the almighty online purveyor of everything — Amazon. And there I found “Snuggle Puppies Behavioral Aid Toy for Pets,” a stuffed hound with a “new and improved” plastic heart designed to produce a “real feel” heartbeat. The price tag was a tad hefty for a dog toy — $39.95 — but I wasn’t just buying a toy. Oh no. I was buying peace of mind and (potentially) a good night’s sleep.
Four days later, Snuggle Puppy arrived. We opened the Velcro cavity in her sternum, removed her red plastic heart, and switched it on. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. The heartbeat was audible even at a distance. And it seemed to do the trick. With each passing night the dog whined less and less until she wasn’t making any noise at all. Blissful silence. Totally worth $39.95.
Snuggle Puppy’s impact on our family has been overwhelmingly positive. But there is a downside. Lately, I find myself fixating on what Snuggle Puppy represents: namely, my inclination to overparent. Rather than giving the dog a few weeks to get used to her crate, I let my anxieties get the best of me. I looked for a quick fix. I coddled her. I threw money at the problem. And the end result is, of course, totally adorable. But it doesn’t really matter much if you indulge a puppy. What worries me is that I might behave the exact same way with a human child.
My husband and I are still undecided about whether to have a baby. (I’ve agonized over the decision on this very blog.) And my hesitation stems, in part, from deep-seated concerns that I won’t be a good mom. I’m worried I’ll become the kind of over-indulgent, uber-protective, anxiety ridden helicopter parent that I abhor. And having a puppy has done nothing to alleviate my concern.
A couple of weeks ago, we left the dog with my parents and flew to New York City. I left excruciatingly detailed instructions in which I outlined the many steps required to turn on Snuggle Puppy’s heart. But would my parents read them? Would they be able to figure it out? I wasn’t sure. At 9pm I sent a text. At 11pm I sent another: “Don’t forget to turn on Snuggle Puppy’s heart!”
They did forget. “What is snuggle puppy?” my stepmom texted back the next morning. But the dog survived. She had a ball, in fact. Puppies (and children) are resilient creatures, after all. They can probably handle a little over- (or under-) parenting. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll use up most of my anxiety on the dog, and when it comes time to rear a child, I’ll be able to provide the perfect amount of parenting. One can hope.