When I first met Kibbles — the black Chihuahua mix I later adopted and renamed Valentina — at the animal shelter, she was wearing a cone collar and sat on my lap like a docile angel.
Her predecessor, my late pug, Adriana, had been 14 pounds of mayhem who treated the world like her own personal bouncy castle. She didn’t start to calm down until she was around 7 years old.
So when I met Valentina, I thought it might be a nice change to have a placid, predictable dog.
Well, I was wrong. Actually, it might be nice to have a placid, predictable dog. The part I was wrong about was that Valentina was that kind of dog. Even before I took her home, I started to see her behavior was pretty much impossible to anticipate.
By the time Bideawee approved my adoption application, she had acquired kennel cough and was put in quarantine.
I went to visit her in the shelter’s basement, where she was segregated in an open fenced-in enclosure. Her cone collar was off and apparently her inhibitions were, too.
She barked and pawed for my attention. She let me pet her for a few seconds, then broke away and ran laps around her enclosure like a cheetah, then stood still for me to pet her for a few seconds and repeated the pattern.
A few days later, I was allowed to take her home. I had a red, yellow, and blue keyring chew toy and a little dog bed waiting for her, but as soon as she crossed my threshold, she ran under my bed and hid in a corner.
A friend came over and we sat on the floor and talked until Valentina poked her head out a bit and crawled out tentatively, then retreated, and repeated exercise.
By the next day, she stop hiding under the bed, but when I left my T-shirt drawer partway open, she tried to climb inside it like a crib.
She also would hop on top of my upholstered footstool, curl up on it, realize it was too small, and climb down. That pattern stopped after she ripped open the cloth and tore out the stuffing.
When I left my closet door open, she would crawl into the corner behind the laundry basket and look out. Whatever happened to make wolves evolve into Chihuahuas, it left the den instinct intact, to be sure.
When I wasn’t home, she stayed in a crate and, as soon as I opened the door, she would run past me to my bed, then scale the overhanging blanket like a rock climber, and hoist herself onto the mattress. (Actually, most pets love their owners’ beds. The surprising part was that dogs can scale vertical surfaces.)
I guess most of the aforementioned unpredictable behavior is explainable: Dogs tend to get antsy in enclosures but love being surrounded by a structure as long as they can see out the front.
Valentina did develop one habit that I never figured out. Every night at around 10 p.m., she would get a look on her face as though she suddenly remembered an appointment, strut into the bathroom, and come back out 5 seconds later. I don’t know what she did inside there. She left no evidence of wrongdoing.
Maybe a few secrets should belong to our dogs and our dogs alone.