puppy's first birthday

Puppy Diary #12: The Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens of Sommers First Year

Dear Diary,

Soon we will celebrate Sommer’s first birthday. What a ride this year has been! From the high of picking her up at the trainer’s house and watching her darling littermates tumbling around the pen, to the low of rushing her to the emergency hospital after eating Advil, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for the world (well, maybe I would trade the Advil incident). But, just because Sommer is a year old doesn’t mean we automatically wake up that morning to a full-grown, fully trained dog. No, I expect Sommer to act like a puppy for a long while to come. Even physically, she might continue to change, as she is still lean, and her vet says she might fill out a bit. At nearly a year old, her energy level is high, although less frenetic as when she was tiny. In some ways, now that she is full grown, she needs more outdoor exercise than when she was smaller and could run around the house and tire herself out in the process.

Even as we wrap up the final official month of puppyhood, Sommer requires huge amounts of my attention: She is not an independent type. I’ve been told that this “people person” tendency is a doodle characteristic. I’m not sure if that’s true of every doodle, but I can attest that Sommer wants to be next to me every minute of the day, under any circumstances. If I get up off the couch and move to a chair five feet away, she gets up off the couch and moves to the chair. She’s no dummy. She’s going to stay close to the pack leader!

That leads me to nighttime, which has been one of our biggest challenges this year. She’s doing better at sleeping on her bed on the floor of our bedroom, but she still jumps up on our bed at 5:45 a.m. And that’s not the only habit we have yet to break. She still gets overly excited when visitors come to our house. She still is timid going for walks. She still goes berserk after a bath, zooming around the house and issuing a series of sharp barks that has me covering my ears while she tears around. There are days when she rings the bell to go outside dozens of times a day. I open the door for her, and she stands at the threshold and sniffs the air for the longest time, which drives me batty! Then she looks at me with those big, expressive brown eyes and it feels like a hug. The first year was indeed a journey from puppy to love.

Sommer was born in a litter of four girls and one boy, and from the first time the breeder emailed photos, I knew she was the one for us. Miraculously, even though we were the last family to pick (meaning we didn’t pick, we took the pup who was left after everyone else picked), we got her. That bond has only grown stronger and more sure since the first time I saw her tiny face in the breeder’s photo. We brought her home at ten weeks old. From that day, our lives were never the same. Those initial weeks were not unlike the two times in our lives when we brought home a new baby. Our sleep was definitely challenged. As it turns out, Sommer would tolerate being in her crate at night, until she wouldn’t. When she would wake in the early morning hours, she would decide she needed to be with her pack members and she would bark and whine plaintively. Unlike a baby, there was no “crying it out” method that ever worked for us. Sommer never gave up barking and fell into an exhausted sleep. Instead, she had the willpower and stamina to bark for seemingly hours on end – not that we had the patience to let her bark for that long. Her barking resulted in the entire household being awakened, an equally unappealing prospect when school and work awaited us in the morning. Sommer’s clear preference was to be on the bed with my husband and I. We didn’t prefer that, though, so when she was about 10 months old, we moved her out of her crate and onto a dog bed on the floor of our bedroom, which we thought was a fair compromise. The arrangement works, until she wakes us up early in the morning by jumping on the bed. Sleep, for sure, continues to be our biggest challenge as we complete the first year.

Reflecting on the major accomplishments of the year, Sommer has definitely mellowed. But I can’t take any credit for that, and neither can Sommer. It’s simply a matter of time and growing up. With a lot of coaxing and encouragement, she has outgrown some of her timid nature, which is surely an accomplishment. She’s able to go for a walk through the neighborhood with a general air of confidence, rather than stopping every three feet to check behind her to make sure there are no other dogs sneaking up on us. Speaking of confidence, Sommer is now able to stay home alone, not in a crate, for up to four hours at a time, without incident (yet – knock wood!).

Although she is far from the best-trained dog in the world, she is also far from the worst. “Come,” “sit,” “stay,” “drop it,” “leave it” – these are all commands she follows most of the time. “Come” and “stay” are still the trickiest commands for her to follow, and are susceptible to her mood. “Come” usually works, since she knows there is the promise of a treat, which I usually have in my pocket. But once in a while she gets defiant and decides that whatever she’s doing – keeping an eye on another dog in the distance, sniffing the grass – is more compelling than following my command. The command of “stay” is even more frustrating for both of us. It’s much harder to get Sommer to NOT do something than to do something. Her inability to “stay,” on the other hand, seems to be a function of her overwhelming puppy enthusiasm getting the better of her. In the year ahead, I think it’s likely that Sommer will grow out of some of her natural exuberance, and it will be easier for her to stay in place when asked.

Would we do it again, knowing what we know now? Yes. We are glad we got Sommer. One day, when Sommer is gone, will we ever get another puppy? I doubt it. By that time, with our kids also having left the house, I think we’ll prefer to have our freedom back and fewer responsibilities, rather than more. Our oldest son said the other day that Sommer was the best decision we’ve ever made as a family, and that’s endorsement enough for me. I remind myself that Sommer means a lot to our kids, and they will never forget the experience of raising her this first year. Yes, our lives have become more chaotic. There have been times when I’m juggling the kids and my own work and the household, and I’m frantic but holding it all together until the dog does something like throw up on the carpet or start barking at an imagined intruder. It’s the dog that puts me over the edge, every time. I do miss leaving the house with no worry about when I might return, and I miss the ability to travel without needing to find care for Sommer. There is a freedom in not having a dog, because dog ownership is a responsibility. At the same time, it’s so very rewarding to love a dog. You get one thousand times that love back in return.

Lessons Learned from My Vet

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Puppy Diary Series: Sit, Stay, Play

Join our resident Pup Mom on her puppy parenthood journey in our Puppy Diaries Series.

Puppy Age: 0-8 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #1: Deciding To Get A New Puppy (0-8 weeks)
Puppy Age: 8-12 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #2: Picking Up Our New Pup and Bringing Her Home (8-12 weeks)
Puppy Age: 12-16 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #3: Caring For And Training our New Pup (12-16 Weeks)
Puppy Age: 16-20 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #4: First Firsts For Our New Pup (16-20 weeks)
Puppy Age: 20-24 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #5: Our First Pup Emergency (20-24 weeks)
Puppy Age: 24-28 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #6: To Spay or Not To Spay (24-28 weeks)
Puppy Age: 28-32 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #7: First Year Costs – Myth vs. Reality (28-32 weeks)
Puppy Age: 32-36 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #8: Mastering the Perfect Puppy Social Interaction (32-36 weeks)
Puppy Age: 36-40 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #9: Mastering the Perfect Puppy-Human Social Interaction (36-40 weeks)
Puppy Age: 40-44 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #10: Mastering the Perfect Puppy Walk (40-44 weeks)
Puppy Age: 44-48 Weeks
Puppy Diaries #11: Mastering the Holidays with a Puppy (44-48 weeks)

About Puppy Diaries

Puppy Diaries is an ongoing series that explores the journey of pet parenthood, from making the decision to get a puppy, to bringing a puppy home, to the joys and struggles of training, and beyond. Laura Tiebert, our resident Pup Mom, is an experienced nonfiction writer and first-time puppy parent who lives in Minnesota with her husband, two sons and a new puppy.