deciding to get a new puppy

Puppy Diaries #1: Deciding To Get A New Puppy (0-8 Weeks)

Welcome to the Puppy Diaries! Penned by a respected published author and first-time pup mom Laura Tiebert, the Puppy Diaries series chronicles the ups and downs of pup parenthood: from deciding to get a family dog to celebrating the pup’s milestones, health scares and even a ruined cherished rug. Revealing new pup-parent mistakes and unexpected successes, leading to advice, tips and plenty of humor, the Puppy Diaries will take the reader through the first year of life for Sommer, her pup. Sit, Stay and Enjoy!

Dear Diary,
Today we made the commitment we’ve been tiptoeing around for years. I called the dog breeder and asked her to put our name on the list for an upcoming litter. True confession: My emotions are careening back and forth like a ping-pong ball. I’m scared. And excited. And scared again. What have I done? I’m giddy with anticipation and more than a little anxious. Because I know our lives are about to change – forever.

Going into Puppy Parenthood with Eyes Wide Open

The unvarnished truth about the day I called the breeder? I was a reluctant puppy owner-to-be. Over the years, I’d witnessed friends and family going through all sorts of challenging experiences because of their dogs, some of them expensive (emergency vet calls at 2 a.m., anyone?) and others gut-wrenching (as was the case when my brother’s Sheepdog/Poodle mix was nearly mauled to death by a bulldog in daycare). The puppy love blinders were off, and I was well aware of the reality of dog parenthood.

In fact, two years before I made that call, we’d put down a deposit and had our names on the list to get a puppy. We started picking out names: Scarlet if our pup’s fur was red; Coco if her fur was brown. Months later, with the pups newly born, I got a classic case of cold feet. Although I felt like the world’s biggest curmudgeon, I followed my gut. I called the breeder and backed out, saying the time wasn’t right.

Breaking from the Script

The kids were disappointed, to say the least. It didn’t help that we’d even received photos of the pups in the litter – teeny tiny fur balls of pure adorableness. Cuteness aside, I simply had too many misgivings. My family had a dog when I was growing up, but as an adult, I was looking at puppy ownership through new eyes. I already felt burdened with enough responsibility for one lifetime. I had a full-time job, my husband was commuting three hours a day for his job, and we had two young boys. Add to that the fact that I can hardly keep a plant alive, much less a living creature (ask Richard, our short-lived hamster who died an untimely death due to a cracked window. Who knew gerbils were so sensitive to a draft?).

And then, life happened, and my husband received a job offer in another state – a job offer that was so good, we couldn’t refuse. My gut feeling was vindicated. That night, with our family sitting around the kitchen table, my husband broke the news to our boys: We’re moving. Our boys broke down in tears. Through his tears, our older son sobbed, “After we move, can we at least get a puppy?”

“Yes!” my husband responded, “Yes, we can.” I looked at him in alarm. “What did you just say,” I screamed inwardly. “You’re going off script! A puppy isn’t part of the deal!” But it was too late. A deal had been struck.

Fast forward a year and a half in our new home later. The family was settled in, and it was time. A deal was a deal — even if I didn’t make the deal.

As it turns out, I was right to seriously consider the timing of taking on a puppy. As my mom sagely put it: “Your life will never be the same.” As much as I hate to admit it, Mom was right. Our family’s life has forever changed – but in the very best way.

Next Entry: Bringing Our Puppy Home

“The 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 is an experienced nonfiction writer and first-time puppy parent who lives in Minnesota with her husband, two sons and a new puppy.

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What We Learned: How to Make a Good Decision About a New Puppy

Do your homework when determining whether to get a puppy (yes, there’s homework involved, if you do it right). My research boiled the decision down to two key factors that determined our ability to be good puppy owners: the availability of time, and money. My advice? If you are short on either, proceed slowly and with caution.

Understanding the Costs of Getting a Puppy

According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent an estimated $62.75 billion on their pets in 2016 (and that number is estimated to grow to $69.36 billion in 2017!). Estimates for the cost of a puppy in the first year range from $770-$1,285. There is great variation in cost, depending on whether you’re getting a puppy from a breeder or a shelter.

If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder, that estimated first-year cost can easily double once you add in the price of the dog. From the beginning, I leaned toward working with an ethical breeder, because our family has allergies, and knowing the puppy’s pedigree would be crucial. Once, we’d gotten our son a parakeet, only to have to return it when I found myself horribly allergic to feathers. And this, after I’d had a parakeet for 13 years while growing up! Fortunately, the pet store took pity on me and found a new home for the parakeet. I couldn’t imagine how agonizing it would be to go through something as emotionally wrenching again, this time with a puppy! With the decision made to go with a breeder, my friend’s dog immediately came to mind. I’d fallen in love with her dog. Because my friend’s family breeds Labrador retrievers, I knew that she’d done her homework in selecting a breeder. I filled out the puppy application and awaited a phone interview.

Next up was considering how to estimate a budget for everything from doggie daycare to puppy obedience classes. If you expect to travel, don’t forget to include boarding expenses (although many kennels will not accept puppies until they are at least six months of age), and the occasional dog walker. For our family, the single largest cost beyond that of the puppy was the fence that we’d need to install around our property, to the tune of $1,700. Even setting those one-time costs aside, we came to an estimated budget of about $3,000 a year on an ongoing basis.

While a fenced yard and vaccinations might be budget necessities, many discretionary costs can be curtailed. Your puppy can enjoy a fabulous life without you spending a fortune. A puppy’s life doesn’t have to be filled with constant entertainment or a constant supply of new toys, chew sticks and bones. For example, extend the time between puppy grooming sessions with a daily brushing session. Commit to burning off that natural puppy energy and enthusiasm by taking your dog to the park for 30 minutes every day. You’ll save costs on dog walkers or doggie daycare while building a strong bond of trust and love between you and your pup.

Health care is another key piece of the budget puzzle and a cost that can quickly escalate, while at the same time being difficult to anticipate. In addition to the regular schedule of checkups, vaccinations, neutering and more, puppies, in particular, tend to chew, eat anything in sight, and are often exposed to new treats and foods, which can result in GI tract issues. My sister discovered this the hard way after multiple vet visits revealed that her puppy was allergic to peanut butter. Just in case, we considered the cost of pet insurance a necessity – not an option – and factored it into our budget.

Understanding the Time Commitment

Puppies need discipline, routine and training, and the only way to establish these is to invest time in your puppy. Puppy obedience classes are one great example of a way to spend quality time together in a way that’s fun both for you and your puppy. Watching as a dozen enthusiastic puppies in a room are all trying to do whatever it takes to consume as many treats as canine-ly possible is hilarious and endearing, and seeing your puppy make friends is priceless. Plus, the boost you’ll get from being around other new puppy owners and helpful tips from the instructor will help bring sanity to your life. Regular classes also add much-needed structure and routine to your weeks.

If you want your puppy to grow up healthy and happy (not to mention sleeping a good long stretch each night), she’ll need plentiful exercise. Consider honestly whether you’re willing to forego your relaxation time on the couch after a long day at work in order to take your puppy to the park to throw a ball or for a good long walk around the neighborhood, no matter what the weather. Exercise can make the difference between having a happy, well-adjusted puppy, and a puppy that barks incessantly, digs in the yard and chews up your rugs – all signs of pent-up energy in search of an outlet.

Speaking of time, are you willing to sacrifice your sleeping time? Many pups are early risers, and when they are very young, aren’t physically able to sleep through the night. Preparing mentally to have some sleepless nights and frustrating moments during housebreaking and training is essential. In the beginning, you’ll need to sacrifice your own personal time and sleep while you train your puppy how to make it through the night.

Next Entry: Bringing Our Puppy Home

“The 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 is an experienced nonfiction writer and first-time puppy parent who lives in Minnesota with her husband, two sons and a new puppy.