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The Duke of Georgetown (Part 3) (20/30)
An unprecedented transformation
Aside from a useless unpaid internship and waiting tables for the Greek equivalent of the Soup Nazi, the Summer of Duke was a blast.
Rural life suited the puppy well. He enjoyed trying to figure out the giant dogs who had manes and hooves and were ridden by humans, and he even snuck off one day to explore the neighbor’s chicken coop. My sister and brother in-law were incredibly patient and helpful. Duke always had someone to hang out with, and my brother in-law worked with us on what became the pup’s formative behavioral training. All told, our time in Southern Pines, North Carolina was very enjoyable and productive.
While Duke had learned and developed a ton that summer, it was clear that we still had some work to do. His intelligence and high food drive made him both an excellent student and a pain in the ass. He continued to improve in structured training and on walks with me, but when he was unsupervised or sensed an opportunity, he often acted out. He would chew up things he wasn’t supposed to, run away when let off the leash, and pull anyone else who walked him all over the place.
These things are, of course, to be expected from a puppy. We all act regrettably in our adolescence; dogs are no different. Duke was coming of age the best way he knew how.
However, I did start to develop some concerns about the time horizon. Every dog is unique, but I had yet to come across anyone whose canine companion hadn’t calmed down by age two. Since the summer in North Carolina I had finished college and moved back to Houston. By then Duke was coming up on three years old, and he was still very much a puppy — good looks, behavioral issues and all.
I was worried. Would he be this way forever? I of course loved him unconditionally and was happy to have him no matter what, but the prospect of a lifetime puppy sounded exhausting. I buckled in and mentally prepared for this reality.
And then, a few months after his third birthday, something just…clicked. I am not exaggerating when I say the transformation was overnight. It seemed like every training session, every correction, every experience suddenly made sense for him and the path forward became clear. It was like a scene out of the movie Limitless. He suddenly knew exactly what he was and was not allowed to chew on, responded extremely well to commands, and adapted perfectly to every situation he found himself in. This sounds like hyperbole — it is not. It was remarkable to witness.
Everyone says their dog is the best dog. It’s one of the unwritten rules for having a dog. All pups are amazing, to be sure. We are not deserving all of that they give us. Anyone who says their dog is fantastic is automatically correct.
All of that said, believe me when I say this: Duke is the best dog. Ask anyone who knows him or has taken care of him. They will confirm.
First of all, I have never met another animal of any kind who adapts and goes with the flow as well as he does. Feeling energetic and want to go for a hike? Great, he’s in! Groggy and feel like sleeping in? Perfect, he’d love a nap. Roadtripping across the country? That’s amazing, because car rides and new places are the best!
Duke has been with me everywhere: countless cities, restaurants, Airbnbs, mountains, lakes, stores, you name it. When I go out of town and can’t take him with me, it takes him roughly thirty seconds to completely settle in to whatever his temporary home is during that time. Without fail, everyone who takes care of him tells me that he’s the easiest dog they’ve ever had.
He’s handled illnesses and injuries like a champ. When he tore his CCL (the canine equivalent of the ACL), the equanimity and perseverance he demonstrated throughout his surgery and recovery would serve as a model for my own ACL surgery a few years later.
Beyond the adaptability, he’s also just ridiculously sweet. Duke loves everyone. He may bark at people from the window or pretend like he’s wary from a distance, but once you’re within a few feet of him you’re a close friend. Doubly so if you have anything edible on your person. He will be thrilled to spend time with you and very interested in anything you have to say, regardless of whether or not he understands it (the focused eyes and pronounced head tilt make this clear).
Duke’s presence will make you forget everything bad in the world. Sort of like heroin, but cuter and considerably less harmful.
All this is to say that I got extremely, extremely lucky. It’s still surreal to think back on the circumstances that brought us together. Adopting that little black dog is far and away the best decision I’ve ever made. He’s been there through all the ups and downs of my adult life, and I can’t imagine that time without him. He has brought immeasurable joy to my life; I hope that on some level I’ve been able to do the same for him.
Duke is eleven years old now. He still has the same puppy eyes, which are now accompanied by a regal grey beard. He’s as happy and healthy as ever. I know that won’t always be the case, so I’m trying my best to take a page out of his book and enjoy each moment. It seems that the roles have been reversed and he’s training me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.