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Cricket and the Doggy Steps

            Cricket has been having trouble jumping up on the beds recently, but instead of resting on the floor or calmly asking for help (Butterfly used to snuffle at my hand to ask for uppies), Cricket shrieks endlessly. It’s not just barking, it’s at the top of her vocal range, where glass really should be shattering all around her.

            She takes CBD oil to manage the regular pains of aging, and DES for her previous incontinence issues, which have both helped her tremendously, but they haven’t stopped the aging process altogether. She’s thin, and she has to wear sweaters because she’s lost a lot of hair, and her vision is blurry and her hearing is, let’s say, imaginative. But she is still the complicated, demanding diva she always has been. So when she started to struggle more to get herself up onto Grandma’s bed, after her middle of the night visit to the wee wee pad, she would stand next to Grandma’s bed at three or four or five in the morning and bark her head off, demanding to be lifted back up onto the bed.

            Mom’s answer was to cover her head with a blanket and try to ignore the noise, because that’s how she’s managed Cricket’s long-time habit of trying to bark her awake in the mornings, but I could not ignore the noise. After I’d been woken up two or three nights in a row to lift Cricket back up onto “her” bed, I insisted that we give the old doggy steps a try.

            We bought the doggy steps for Butterfly, way back when, because her legs were too short for jumping onto and off of the beds. She was eight years old and fresh from her last pregnancy at a puppy mill when we first brought her home, and she had heart problems and diabetes and lumps and bumps and broken teeth, so I wanted her to have the best life possible in the years she had left, and I thought the doggy steps would help. I also assumed she’d just know how to use them, magically, but it took weeks of training, and each step required a new chicken treat. Cricket’s contribution to training was that she would try to steal the chicken treats before Butterfly could reach them, though she used every possible machination to get to the treats without ever putting a paw on those doggy steps. By the end of training, Butterfly was only okay with walking down the steps, and not up, but at least it gave her a little more independence. Cricket, on the other hand, continued to treat the steps like hot lava to be avoided at all costs.

            So it made sense that Mom was skeptical about Cricket being willing to use the steps now, at almost sixteen years old. And my first attempt was a predictable disaster. I put the doggy steps at the end of my bed, while both dogs were napping, and when they woke up to the smell of whatever Grandma was having for lunch, they acted as if a scary dragon had arrived to stop them from reaching the floor and they maneuvered so far around the steps that they slammed into the dresser when they jumped off the bed.

But I wasn’t willing to give up. I thought, maybe the problem was that Cricket’s desperate need was to be on her grandma’s bed, not mine. So I put the doggy steps at the end of Mom’s bed, and the next time Cricket wanted to go up, instead of lifting her straight onto the bed, I lifted her onto each step, one at a time, making sure all of her feet made contact, until she reached the top and walked off onto the bed. And then I did it again, and again. And then Mom, still skeptical, put a chicken treat up at the top of the steps, and showed it to Cricket, and Cricket walked up the steps on her own. And ever since then, Cricket walks up those steps whenever she wants to, even when Grandma isn’t on the bed to welcome her. There was almost no learning curve at all.

            And I realized, once again, that with Cricket motivation is everything. And I think I might be more like Cricket than I realized. I don’t try to be stubborn or be a lot of trouble, but when my anxiety is high and there are no rewards big enough to overcome it, I can’t learn anything. I can just shake, or cry, or shout for help. I don’t mean to be like this. In fact, I’ve done everything I know to fix it. But nothing really works, until it works. Once the anxiety recedes enough, and the motivation is strong enough, suddenly things that seemed impossible become possible. But I never know when that turning point will be reached. So, like Cricket, I stand right outside of the Promised Land, wailing, begging for entrance, sometimes not even knowing who I’m crying to, waiting for the steps forward to finally become clear.

            I hope that when my doggy steps, or the equivalent, finally appear, I will be able to learn how to use them as quickly as Cricket has. She is, as always, my best teacher.

“What about me?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

82 responses »

  1. Cricket looks fantastic for almost 16, and wow, right up those steps! Yep, gotta find the right motivation.

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  2. When my dog Teddy got to the point that the porch steps were getting too hard to climb, I built him a “wheelchair” ramp. Could I get him to walk up that ramp? No way! It didn’t matter what I tried, he wouldn’t set a paw on it. He preferred to struggle up the steps to the end of his days. Like you see part of yourself in Cricket, I tend to be a little stubbornly independent like Teddy, too.

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  3. Marilyn Shapiro

    I loved your story about Crickets, and I especially liked your comparison yourself to Cricket’s hesitancy! (theregoesmyheart.me)

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  4. It’s interesting how some dogs can still eventually learn but others are incapable. An old friend had a similar problem teaching his black miniature poodle (also named Cricket) climbing in and out of the car for rides. My friend’s doggo never did learn how to perform this manuever and had to be picked up.

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  5. Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I want a sweater just like Cricket’s! Hold the chicken. I’m vegetarian.

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  6. Well done. Thanks for an entertaining story.

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  7. Patience and cleverness wins the day! I’m glad Cricket has a safe way up now 🙂

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  8. I have had similar problems in the past, but Tami is still young and has a lot of energy. You may want to put thin pads on those steps to get her ties into..
    I have always found that the best thing for pain when they get older is Green Lipped Mussels and this has always helped. If you have not tried this it may make their lives much less painful.

    https://www.hakalife.com/education/green-lipped-mussel/green-lipped-mussel-extract-dogs/

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  9. Cricket is so sweet. It is not easy getting old. We have an old Pug Daisy, she is almost 15, and she has arthritis. We give her pain medication and another medication. Luckily she does not complain much except for when she is hungry. She loves sleeping with us on the bed but she just stands next to it. I should say we did not used to let the dogs sleep in our bed but it was our new spoiled mini-Australian Shepherd who got us started with that. I hope Cricket will feel better.

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  10. Aw, I love the happy ending! Glad to hear the steps are working. 😻

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  11. Incentivizing post! For the question under that last pictured dog (I’m guessing that’s Ellie), maybe possible answers could be that Ellie is at least this post’s best comic relief and most heart-tugging surprise (like an underrated secret weapon) since the focus was on Cricket and I did not expect Ellie to be in this post and to be in the end photo with the final caption. Loving Ellie in her role as a reality check-reminding closer! 🙂

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  12. Love Cricket’s sweater!

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  13. Our dogs took about 9 months to stop ignoring the dog steps. After that, they received constant use. We were patient – no shrieking from our pups, thank goodness!

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  14. Aren’t dogs great? Wonderful story. Thank you.

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  15. The local newspaper published a story about doggy steps. An elderly man went into a hardware store seeking doggy steps. They didn’t have any but suggested he come back after the weekend. When he arrived the staff presented him with a set of steps that had been custom-made over the weekend.

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  16. We recently changed our main car for an SUV. The back is too high for Ollie to jump into now he is old, so we bought some folding dog steps to keep in the car. Yesterday, we took him out to a forest to try them out. He was very reluctant to use them to get into the car, and got in a panic. As a result, his claws scratched our shiny new car at the back. I had to use his lead to make him walk up them in the end. At the forest, he flatly refused to use them to go down, and jumped from the back of the car instead. I think more dog steps training is going to be needed!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  17. Cricket is one smart doggie. Where there’s will, there’s a way!

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  18. A delightful story of doggie/mommy determination. I love your description of Cricket as your leader.
    And though you mentioned Butterfly’s maladies only in passing, your willingness to adopt and care for such a harried puppy mill rescue speaks volumes. Made me teary.

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  19. Have a Blessed Easter

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  20. Aw, bless her! We bought a ramp for Maya she was getting too heavy to lift in and out of the car. The first time she jumped out on her own, she landed on her chin and the second she landed on her front legs that gave out. Ho hum. She never mastered it but now jumps in and out of her own volition so the ramp is in the roof. Hopefully it might come in useful when she is older and age will stop her getting in and out.

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  21. Good job, Cricket!
    And good work teaching, too!

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  22. Wow–I can’t get over Cricket being almost 16. (It makes me realize we’ve been blogging for a long time.) So great she’s using the steps!

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  23. I’m glad Cricket is using the steps. And your comparison of yourself to her and about motivation, it really resonates with me. you’re absolutely right: “nothing really works, until it works”. for everyone, the timing is different and i’ve learned that maintaining a static time expectation instead of on a case by case basis only hinders the learning/discovery process.

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  24. A great lesson from Cricket, Rachel! I inwardly cheered at the pictures of Cricket bounding up the doggie steps (ok at 16 she might not be bounding physically but in her heart I know she’s bounding eagerly up to her comfort spot).

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  25. That is such a great picture of Cricket shouting. Almost makes you snap to attention just looking at it.

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  26. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    CLIMBING A STAIRWAY….TO HEAVEN!

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  27. A most interesting post! Cricket has had a very long life. I love the doggie steps. I seem to be getting more that way all the time. Hope you are doing well.

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  28. Hurray for doggy stairs! ‘Will climb steps for food.’ You betcha’

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  29. It’s wonderful that you have kept your dogs so happy and created perfect motivation for them. I’ve never had a pup live past 13, 16 is impressive!

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  30. Good for Cricket and for everyone. Life should be a little easier now, even if the volume of chicken treats in the world decreases. Actually, it’s impressive that little training was involved. I hope this means that Cricket gets the purpose and is enjoying the benefit. Tall beds did have steps for humans. But I trust you won’t be needing a set (at any level) for a long, long time.

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  31. Hello, Cricket reminded me of my Maltese Poodle J.D (James Dean) a rebel he was, a mummy’s boy of note. Sadly, no longer here, now I have Barney my little prince of darkness! a rescued boy who was left tied up to a post for 2 weeks, when his previous owners left their house. But that is not the reason I am writing; it is to say a big thank you for liking my blog Pets.. when another blogger “like” I prefer to say thank you as I do appreciate when a blogger reads and likes my blogs. Thank You.

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  32. Cricket is precious 💖 Wishing her many more ‘Sleeps’ with Grandma 😀

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  33. Hey Rachel, I’m not sure the best place to contact you…but, You were chosen as the Author/Blogger of the week on my website! Congrats!

    Reply
  34. A fur mom myself, I could now envision my baby’s life fourteen years from now… I have to be prepared even if I still have a long way to go… this post made me tear up.

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  35. We’re moving upstate, and found an apartment that allows dogs. Can’t wait to adopt our own! (and then hopefully a cat too)

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  36. Cricket is so beautiful and spry like a young girl. My cats who just turned one this year brother and sister Freddie and Morticia send their sincerest meows in greeting, I hope you have a nice weekend,

    Reply

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