Sommer has been home for a few weeks and we’re getting into a groove – she’s teaching me as much as I’m teaching her! I’m noticing a distinct rhythm to our days. The schedule revolves around eating, playing, exercising, chewing (with any luck, on a bully stick and not the furniture or carpet), peeing, pooping, and napping – lots of pup naps! What a relief it was, after a couple of weeks at home, she finally started sleeping a seven-hour stretch at night. Getting sleep helped my mood considerably! Potty accidents are still a problem, and I try not to lose patience with her as well as myself. I know that when she has an accident, it’s my fault for not paying attention to how long it’s been since she last went out. But in my defense, it can be hard to keep track of the dog, the kids, my work, dinner, laundry and every other thing that’s going on in the three-ring circus we call life. Even with the challenges and occasional frustrations, there are moments each day that make the hard work and craziness worthwhile, such as the eager greeting we get not only when we come home from being out, but when we leave a room and re-enter it two minutes later. There’s nothing like a puppy’s “welcome home”!
Acclimating to Life With a Pup
Our first weeks home with Sommer were a rollercoaster ride – highs, lows and everything in between. Every morning we’d wake up to her little barks. Something is barking! What is it? Oh, wait! WE HAVE A PUPPY. Yay! That was certainly a daily high point that made every morning feel like Christmas morning. Then we’d scramble downstairs to release her from her crate, and she’d be so excited, she’d pee on the floor. Ugh. A low point!
We soon learned though, that in a world of high-tech, there’s was a lot to be said for the simple pleasures of owning a pup. Cuddling, tossing a ball around the house, creating homemade obstacle courses (she was surprisingly nimble at Army-crawling under furniture) became favorite family pastimes, and lured our boys from their iPads and phones. For our boys, who are ages 12 and 15, Sommer provides a means to release pent-up energy after school, and an emotional outlet for their love and affection, two things that can be hard for kids to demonstrate as they get older.
The main challenge as Sommer acclimated to her new environment, with no littermates and a new pack leader in me, was sleep. Her first two nights at home were the worst and were accompanied by loud crying. I gritted my teeth and did not let her out of her crate, because I felt it would teach her that loud crying would result in her getting what she wanted. That was one behavior I did not want to encourage! It was tough, and I gritted my teeth and had to restrain myself from running to her crate to pick her up, but we got through it.
In addition to trying to discourage crying, we also tried hard not to reinforce negative behavior by responding to her when she jumped up for attention or nipped. I made sure that no one in the family petted her, picked her up or paid any attention to her when she jumped or nipped. A firm “no” and a turned back was enough to stop her in her tracks. Fortunately, Sommer instinctually needed to be near me as her pack leader, and any time I rebuffed her for negative behavior, she quickly corrected in order not to be exiled. It was amazing how quickly she developed habits, and I tried to make them good ones!
As we acclimated to each other, I also made an effort to pick up on Sommer’s signals and body language. What was she trying to tell me? Her pounce-y and bouncy self was right at home with our family, but if another dog came near, she would jump on me to be picked up, even when we were in our own yard. Every person on the planet has something that causes them stress, and apparently, other dogs are Sommer’s stressor. Ha! So, I signed up for a Puppy Obedience class in order to socialize her and help her be more accustomed to being around her “peers.”
Caring For Our Pup
Within a couple weeks of bringing her home, we were at the vet’s office for vaccinations and a check-up. Weeks later, on the second visit, she had a couple more vaccinations, and after I brought her home, she became listless didn’t want to get off the couch or eat a treat. Alarmed, I called the vet, who directed me to bring her back for observation and treatment for a reaction to the vaccination. Sommer was admitted to the animal hospital for a few hours for treatment and observation. As I handed over my credit card and watched the vet tech carry her away from me, my stomach was in knots. Fortunately, I’d signed up for pet insurance, so that was one less worry. Still, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief when I got the call that she had recovered well and was ready to be picked up.
Routine care included daily brushing, as a precursor to her first grooming appointment. As a poodle mix, Sommer has hair which can mat quickly if not brushed out. We did the occasional bath if she got muddy from playing outside (baths are not a favorite activity of hers, as it turns out) and started a routine of daily exercise. Oh, exercise! I soon discovered that exercise was key to a happy life with a pup. Every time I became irritated at her for barking, or constantly wanting to go outside, I realized she hadn’t gotten enough exercise that day. Point taken! We began a routine of going to the park to run in an enclosed field because at this young age, she still wasn’t adept at walking on a leash.
Our puppy training and socialization class were one of the best things we did in Sommer’s first months home. We learned everything from “sit” and “down” to come when called, and how to teach her to calm herself when the inevitable puppy energy got out of hand. Mostly, it was fun to observe other pups and their owners, and all the different temperaments. We learned how to redirect her away from destructive chewing with do-it-yourself projects like a paper towel roll, filled with some treats and sealed with masking tape. We learned the “drop it” command, by placing a treat on her nose. Worked like a charm every time she took a sock!
Next Entry: Puppy Firsts – Summer’s First Firsts
“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.
Are you puppy crazy or considering adding a puppy to your family? Sign up for our Puppy Diaries email newsletter and get the next entry directly to your inbox.
My Top Tips: 8-12 Weeks: What to Expect When Acclimating to and Caring For Your Young Pup
- During this age span, your pup is still in the process of being housebroken. Keep to a predictable schedule to ensure your success! Your pup will be able to hold her bladder about four hours, meaning you need to take her out at least that often (and perhaps much sooner, if she’s recently been eating or drinking).
- Her daily focus remains eating, drinking, sleeping, eliminating and playing. She will sleep about 18-20 hours a day.
- Pups this age have their baby teeth but will begin to lose them soon, to be replaced by their adult teeth. The teething process will drive an even greater need to chew, so as your pup enters this age, make sure to have lots of safe chewing toys available.
- Make sure to stay on the schedule of vaccinations recommended by your vet, and give heartworm and flea/tick medication as directed.
- Join a puppy training class and practice at home daily. Pups thrive on the mental stimulation of working together on training, and the praise they receive for a job well done will build their confidence and your bond together.