“We get our puppy in 5 days!” read the calendar. What began as a countdown to the most anticipated moment in our family’s recent life had become a doomsday clock for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I was excited for our family, but as our July 4 adoption date loomed all I think about was the outstanding task list: fence repairs, house maintenance, decluttering and puppy proofing, and puppy planning. Then, to top it off, the basement flooded.
By the time puppy day arrived, I was holding it together… barely.
Having experience raising three kids, you might think I’d have better composure, but I was a wreck - physically and emotionally. How could I possibly be a good parent to another being, with everything else going on? What had started as a decision to bring some joy, excitement and grounding into our lives, with a new pet to love, had become for me incredibly stressful.
With COVID-19 and its impacts, many people are choosing this time to bring new life into their home. There are many obvious benefits - from bonding, to having a new life to concentrate on, to just the simple joy a pet can inspire. But it also brings with it a mountain of responsibility, and figuring out how to adjust to the presence of another life and all its demands, in current times, can be challenging.
While we have had rescue dogs in the past, this time we chose a breeder for a hypoallergenic breed and a temperament that would be good for kids. For more on the selection process, read Amber McLinden’s primer on adopting a dog.
But whether you are getting a breeder pup or a rescue, integrating a dog into your home takes time, patience and lots of education. We have made some mistakes already in our early weeks with our puppy, and cleaned our fair share of accidents off the rug. But we’re learning and growing, and continuing to research as we go, all of which has helped me climb back down the panic ladder.
Here are a few of our freshly gained insights.
Get some expert guidance
One of the nice things about going through a breeder is the additional mentoring we got. We had reading homework to do and on adoption day, we started with a 1.5 hour workshop session where we learned about puppy care and training techniques.
If you don’t go with a breeder, you can still read up on dog behaviour and training (for young or “experienced” dogs). There are tons to choose from but consider the philosophy behind different approaches - are they based on good research and practical experience, grounded in humane practice, with strategies that are suitable and achievable for you?
Finally, at the training stage, it’s worth looking at options for a good obedience or KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) class. These vary in style and availability, but a good recommendation from the Monks of New Skete is to sit in on a class, or visit, to get a sense of the trainer’s personal approach.
Look for fun ways to engage your dog
Like humans, dogs often develop trouble behaviours if they are bored or under-stimulated. Dogs (especially puppies) behave best when they are engaged, so plan to spend a good deal of time with your dog, building a relationship, establishing routines and finding creative outlets for your dog’s energy.
So far, we’ve put a doggie slide on our deck, introduced our pup to soccer, built indoor mazes and bought and introduced a variety of toys (his favourite being empty plastic containers from the recycling, of course). Having things he likes to chew has been super-important for us, to redirect when he feels like gnawing.
Socializing during COVID
Frankly, if you get a puppy, the first couple weeks are about home ritual establishment anyway. And until a puppy has its shots, you may want to avoid areas frequented by other dogs. But socialization is important too, so check for puppy get-togethers or ask friends with older vaccinated dogs for a backyard visit to bridge the gap. And start that leash training early so you can start getting out for walks!
Be patient and forgiving - with yourself, and with your dog
When we first had kids, we were so afraid that we would make one mistake and break them for good. It’s not true of kids and it’s not true of dogs. So relax.
It’s easy to get into the mindset that one little slip-up will create a negative association for your dog and encourage misbehaviour, but they are intelligent, adaptable creatures too, so if you find yourself realizing that your technique for training a particular behaviour isn’t working (or as if often the case, working the opposite of what you intended), adapt and start again. Dogs and kids both have an excellent gift for teaching us humility.
It’s true, in child-rearing and puppy training alike, the teacher becomes the student.
It’s now been a couple months since Benji joined our lives, and he is the kind of adorable scamp you might expect.
He mostly sleeps through the nights but wakes us early to go out. Potty training is hit and miss, but he is hitting more than missing, although the target is much bigger than we intended, meaning he mostly gets outside, but not always into the smaller area we are trying to designate as his potty.
He has a penchant for attacking and chewing the towels we use while trying to dry his feet.
He is at times nippy, but we’ve mostly got that sorted. On the winning side, he sits well, comes when we call (not 100% of the time, but enough) and is learning to play fetch.