Altricial

The adjective “altricial” describes a young animal born in an underdeveloped state that requires care and feeding from the parents. The dictionary attributes this word to only “birds or other animals”, but I can’t think of any animal, including humans, that this word doesn’t apply to. We’re all born little and helpless and need some support when we are first born. Never has this been clearer to me than these past couple of weeks since we’ve adopted an eight week old puppy into the family.

Our new puppy’s name is Josie, and she is quite a spitfire. Josie loves to sit on our laps, play tug of war with her own tail and even watch the TV. She learned sit during the first few days she was here, and although she doesn’t quite understand fetch, she’s starting to get the idea of it. However, Josie does not like being left alone in her crate and lets us know by way of frantic barking. And she still seems to think that fingers are fun chew toys. So, clearly, she still has plenty to learn.

Over this past week, I’ve found myself getting frustrated with her plenty of times. Every time she bit my hand or barked while I was trying to eat breakfast, the irritation would mount a little higher. Especially early in the morning, when I was trying to eat or study, it only upset me more that she couldn’t just sit still in my lap or chew on her toys quietly.

I think our past experience with Sadie, our previous dog, spoiled us a little bit. From what we can remember from when she was a puppy, Sadie seemed to know instantly what she could and could not play with. She learned “sit”, “stay”, “off”, “wait” and “no” so quickly that we hardly felt like we were training her. She didn’t mind being on her own (even though she did once climb over the baby gate so she could be with us), and she never seemed to bark. Now, with our new little troublemaker, we’re having to regain an abundance of patience along with all the tricks of having a puppy. 

Still, for all the trouble that she’s caused us, she makes up for it by being so sweet. I’ve lost count of the times that she’s fallen asleep in our laps, curled up so that her nose touches her tail or splayed out like a starfish with limbs going every which way. I remember the first day we brought her home we tried to throw toys for her to fetch, but she mostly wanted to sit next to us, or on top of us, or in our arms. In the purest way possible, she just wants to be with us all the time.

So, really, how can I blame her for being a needy little eight-week-old baby? If you look at her age from a human perspective, she’s really only at the developmental stage of a one-year-old. And you would never scold a one-year-old when it cries for mom or dad.

Of course, we’re going to have to train her and make sure that she knows to mind her manners as she gets older. But we also have to keep in mind that she’ll catch onto things as she grows up, and she still has plenty of growing up to do. For now, all we can do is remind her to keep her teeth to herself, take lots of deep breaths when she starts barking her head off, and cherish the moments while she’s still small enough to sleep in our arms.

See you next week!