My Dog Cured My Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

Learning to live with chaos

SG Buckley

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I’ve always been tidy, but over the years, I’ve grown more fastidious — bordering on obsessive-compulsive behavior. So, for example, I was forever straightening pictures in my own home — I find frames hanging askew discomforting — but eventually I found myself straightening pictures in other people’s homes.

Then, last November, we got a puppy. On his first day with us, I watched with horror as he gobbled up his own poo in our back garden. I haven’t been the same since. And I think it’s a good thing.

With a dog, you can’t keep on top of little messes. And so you learn to let little messes go.

The dog returns from the garden with a stick. By the time I notice, he’s chewed it into tiny bits, leaving a wet mess all over the kitchen floor. Then he walks across the pale kitchen tiles, tracking muddy paw prints everywhere.

I tried at first, to keep up our old standards. I put handy wipes by the back door. I’d clean his paws every time he’d enter. Then I’d get down on my hands and knees with wet paper towel to clean the paw prints.

But it’s no use. I don’t have enough hours in the day — never mind the environmental unfriendliness of all those wipes and paper towels — to be cleaning all the time.

Then there’s his fur. I particularly chose a non-shedding dog so that I wouldn’t be sweeping the house every day. But even non-shedding dogs shed.

This brings me to our bed. At first, we didn’t allow the dog upstairs. But he’s a family-oriented dog, and it seemed cruel to keep him away from the family. And so within a couple of days, up he came.

We drew the line, though, at sofas and beds. He had to stay on the floor. The sofa rule lasted a week — he’s so cute when he cuddles with us in front of the TV — and then out went the ‘no bed’ rule.

As I write, I’m sitting in bed. The dog is curled up next to me. There’s a white sheet on top of the bed (to protect the cover). It’s marked with faint little paw prints.

A year ago, I would have washed out just one print and thrown the sheet in the washing machine. Today, I’m letting it all go. In truth, most days, I barely notice the growing chaos.

Ironically, it’s my messier husband who is becoming more fastidious. He put the sheet over our bed cover. And then he brought upstairs the dog’s bed. Ever since, he’s been trying to train the dog to sleep there. He says he’s had it with the dirt everywhere.

So what I’m thinking is that the dog hasn’t just cured my obsessive-compulsive behavior, he’s made my husband neater. Really, a win-win.

(Please don’t tell my husband I let the dog sleep on the bed when he’s away.)

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SG Buckley

Writer, editor, parent. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.