Puppy Diaries #3. Caring For and Training Our New Pup

Dear Diary,

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.

Training

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.

 

 

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. 

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.

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.