I remember these two pet food commercials from a few years ago: One featured a man trying to get his new cat out from under his couch. In the other, a woman wanted her new dog to play fetch. By the end of each ad, the pet owners seemingly give up—but the cat hops onto the man's lap and the dog drops the white ball by the woman's side. A voiceover says something like, "The best part about adopting a pet is when the pet adopts you."
Things aren't so simple. My greyhound Tone, for instance, doesn't know how to play fetch and he's too big to fit under the couch. I can't pinpoint the moment I realized Tone loved and trusted me back. I do know he sniffs and licks my cheeks if he notices me crying. He wags his tail when I come home (if he isn't napping). But I've been told it takes a year for a retired racing dog to totally adjust to home life.
My partner Alex and I brought Tone home at the end of November 2015. He'd been adopted before, but they had sent him back. Like a shirt that was the wrong size. From there, he was put into a foster home and eventually handed over to us. All 72 pounds of him.
We adopted Tone on the same day we met him. It seemed fast to me. I was expecting for us to bond. Tone liked us, but nothing indicated he would be keen on living with us.
"People say the dog picks the owner," said the woman who fostered him. "Frankly, I think that's bullcrap."
She explained it was never "love at first sight" when adopting a dog: "He doesn't know you, he doesn't trust you, he doesn't love you."
Still, I fancied myself an animal whisperer. Pets I'd been told were shy or "doesn't like most people" would end up curled up beside me within an hour of meeting me. I was well-suited to have a dog, but I had never actually owned one before. And Tone (or Ulthinkofsomeone, as he was known on the track) hadn't spent much of his life in a house.
He growled at me on his first night with us. A quiet rumble from his throat as I attempted to lead him towards the bed in my room. I pulled my hand from his collar and stepped back. What? Dogs never growled at me.
"I just want him to love me," I'd tell Alex.
We've since created some kind of bond, I think. At least, I like to believe our relationship goes beyond me pouring his kibble, taking him outside or cleaning up puke from the time he thought eating a sock was a good idea.
There's at least some difference between when we first started teaching Tone to "stay," and how he responds now. The idea is to increase the distance between the dog and the owner gradually, while being able to walk a full circle around without him turning to face us.
Tone had trouble with the second part. He didn't like it when I stood directly behind him because he couldn't see me, so he would only stay put until I reached his tail. Recently, that changed.
One day, I decided to do some training with Tone while Alex was at work.
"Tone," I said. He looked at me. "Stay."
I walked slowly. When I passed his tail, he didn't move. In a moment, I was in front of him again. It was no Hallmark moment of triumph, but it was something.
I pushed the button on my training clicker and Tone's ears perked up before he excitedly took the treats from my palm.
"Good boy," I said, a smile spreading across my face.