We desperately wanted a dog. Unfortunately, the one we got doesn’t seem to like us.
Instead of finding the devoted, love-you-no-matter-what pooch our of dreams, my boyfriend and I ended up taking home an apathetic little weirdo who could not care less about our existence.
There are some basic truths I know about dogs, those being: Dogs like to play! Dogs like people! Dogs like eating treats and chasing things and are optimistic balls of fur that will be undyingly devoted to you and maybe even fight off a pack of wolves for you if you're stuck in the middle of the woods in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve (please see Look Who's Talking Now). But overall, dogs are supposed to love you, right? I'm not sure our dog even likes us.
After months of tedious and incredibly anal-retentive planning, my boyfriend and I reached the decision that we needed something else in our lives to love. Ideally, this something would fall somewhere on the line between a human baby and a succulent. I already killed all of our plants (RIP $30 echevarria) and am not a good enough adult to remember to feed something more than twice a day, so a dog sounded like a good idea.
A dog-pal would (supposedly) be excited to see us when we got home from work and would spoon with me on the couch while I watch Long Island Medium and eat caramel ice cream and cry. That's what dogs do!
Sure, we knew that dogs have different little doggie personalities, and that one may enjoy meeting new people while another could take pleasure in eating then regurgitating our socks, but that was all to be expected.
The search for a dog was unexpectedly emotional and stressful—a dog we fell in love with at the pound on Friday was already adopted by Saturday morning. A tiny, sweet lab who looked friendly in her online profile turned out to be require more training, medication, and socialization than we had the means or time to give to her.
I even PayPal-ed $10 to a “stray dog retreat” in Arizona that promised to match us with the perfect pooch and then ship them airmail to us in NYC (there's a 60% chance this magical dog farm is not a real place and that I sent $10 to teenager in Moscow who profited off my dog-desperation). It was horrible. We were under the impression that this process would be easy. It felt like we were adopting a child.*
We were ready to give up on our dreams of dog ownership when a friend of a friend of a friend announced on Facebook that she couldn't care for her adorable pup anymore because of her demanding job schedule.
This dog, Emma, was around 5 years old, up to date on her shots and vet visits, and was described to us as “chill.” Her pictures showed a cute frankendog with slim hips and a giant barrel chest, huge fox ears, and a twisted tail that was missing fur in some places. She was the perfect combo of cute and freaky.
We arranged a meeting with Emma and her current mama and fell hard for Emma’s weird proportions and quiet disposition. It was instant doggie-love. Emma’s soon-to-be-ex-owner also gave us all of her beds and blankets, a stockpile of dog food, and bags of other dog paraphernalia. Emma was an all-inclusive dog package!
She was quiet, well-trained, and came with her own accessories. Her only disclaimer was that “sometimes she pees in her sleep” but, seriously, that also seemed incredibly endearing at the time. We were thrilled.
When we went to pick Emma up, she was silent and contemplative during the car ride. I stuffed her with treats in an attempt to trick her into liking me. She roamed around the apartment quietly, sat on her blanket, then fell asleep. She already felt comfortable in our apartment! This dog stuff was easy!
We became less confident about our dog-skills, though, when we learned that Emma was not nearly as delighted to be hanging out with us as we were with her. We soon learned that her favorite activity was to sit quietly by herself, stare at the wall, and ignore us. Was it because she was anxious? Did she miss her old owner? We alternated between giving her space (if a dog even understands what that is) and smothering her with non-stop petting and treat-dispensing. Nothing really made a difference.
I had never met a dog like this before. All the other dogs I knew were excitable, energetic people-pleasers who would gnaw off a paw if it meant getting an ear-scratch from the nearest human. My mother’s creepy little pug will literally hyperventilate out of excitement when it sees her, even though he’s mostly blind and can only breathe out of one of his nostrils. Emma isn’t like this at all. Yes, she is “chill:” she is very well-trained, almost never barks, and I have never seen her beg or misbehave in any way. We quickly learned that “chill” was an understatement.
After a few weeks had passed, we realized that Emma still did not get excited to see us when we came home. She had absolutely no interest in toys or playing fetch. She perked up a little when going for walks, but would get bored quickly and want to head back after about 5 minutes.
She didn’t care about other dogs and was fine with ignoring them completely (in fact, she seems offended and confused by their presence, as if she doesn’t understand what dogs are). Her favorite thing in the world is to sit on her tiny blanket and stare at the desk fan we have in the living room—she’s quite the ascetic.
We consulted a vet and the Internet which both confirmed our darkest suspicions: No, she wasn’t depressed; no, she wasn’t in pain; and no, she did not have a rare dog disease that would make her forget how to be a dog. This was just Emma’s personality.
It’s not that Emma dislikes us, necessarily. She may just “value her time alone” and be more of an introverted pup, which, apparently, is something that does exist in this universe.
We tell people that she’s cerebral, independent, wistful. We say that she’s intelligent and very sensitive—that she’s pretty much a thwarted artist stuck in a dog’s body. When in reality, she just is a loveless dog-bot.
So what do you do with a dog that doesn’t care about you? After a month we decided that whether she loved us or not, we wanted to help Emma live her best life: We would find out, if it took all of our emotional and physical strength, what made Emma happy and then smother her with it (metaphorically, obviously).
It’s difficult to tell what Emma likes because of her crooked tail, which doesn’t wag and therefore cannot alert us to any instances of dog-joy. She seems to not hate sitting in front of the desk fan, so we leave that on for her 24/7. She prefers walking on carpet to our hardwood floors, so we covered the floor with blankets. Sometimes she’s a fan of treats, sometimes she’s not. I have a feeling that she likes the TV, but the data is inconclusive. And that’s everything Emma likes.
It’s easier to list things Emma does not like:
· Other dogs
· Brisk walking
· Sitting on furniture
· Hardwood floors
· Excessive petting
· Spooning with me and watching TLC (although she doesn’t hate caramel ice cream)
As of now, it’s been over 2 months and we’re still trying to work with Emma. I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed: Emma is more like a third roommate who hogs the living room than a true dog companion.
I know she tolerates us, and there’s a chance that she might even think of us as friendly acquaintances, but she definitely wouldn’t save us from a burning building or go out of her way to alert someone that we fell down a manhole.
In short, I don’t think our dog loves us. We don’t know what to do about that. We know we don’t want to put her back in the shelter because we can’t bear to think of this quiet little pup having to give up her solitary ways and surrounded by loud, unrefined dogs. Is it enough that we love her, even if she doesn’t love us back?
Or is it unfair to her to keep her with people she doesn’t like (or, does she actually like anyone)? Is she moody and indifferent because she’s going through her teenage years? How do you solve a problem like Emma?
We need advice, friends. Until then, we’ll keep on stuffing her with treats and telling her how pretty she is, even if all we get in return is an indifferent doggie eye-roll.**
*Author’s note: This was is no way like adopting a child.
**I’m pretty sure this happened once.