I’m coming out of obscurity for you this week, readers. I manage Pet First’s social media communities and I’m an avid pet lover. The reason I’m opening the curtain this week is to tell you about a personal experience that I believe needs to be shared with the world.
Recently my family adopted a tiny beagle puppy to add to our already large herd of four dogs, one cat, and six humans, bringing the total number of legs in our house to a staggering 32. Our dogs range in age from eight years to five, and we brought home 5-week-old Olive two months ago.
I had not forgotten the challenges of house training a puppy. The several weeks of total hell that followed when I brought home my first puppy when she was five months old still haunt me every day, although she now has a bladder of steel and would sooner chew off her own tail than have an accident in the house. So I knew that the puppy would come with its own set of challenges, but this experience has been a stark reminder of why adopting a puppy requires many, many, many hours of reflection and consideration. Aside from the usual “get a good leash,” and “feed them quality food,” here are some tips about living with puppies that are a bit… different.
1. They have no idea what they’re doing. Seriously. Puppies are the confused, lovable drunks of the canine world. They evolved those irresistible “how can you be mad at me?” eyes for a reason; they have no idea what they’re doing. They don’t know why they aren’t allowed on the couch, but the kids are. They don’t understand why they have to go outside to pee. They’ll keep trying things over and over just to see if the result changes, and the second that you let them on the couch, they’re never going to NOT jump on the couch again. It’s their couch now. And they don’t know why you’re angry when they pee on the floor. They don’t even understand why they need to sit down sometimes, they just know they get a treat when they do, so they sit when you say “Sit.” There’s so much to teach a new puppy, and if you’re not dedicated to helping them learn everything they need to know about the world (and understand, this can take quite a bit of time), then perhaps adopting an adult dog is a better option.
2. They “explore” everything. Just like our human children, everything in the world is new to a puppy, and they want to understand it all. Unfortunately for us, whereas toddlers have hands and understand the English language, the only mechanisms they have for exploring are teeth, tongue, and paws. They don’t know what “No,” or “Leave it” means at first. They can’t differentiate between a squeaky toy and a Louboutin pump, or reason why they should chew one but not the other. It’s easy to get frustrated at your precious baby puppy for shredding your favorite shoes… or clothes… or furniture… but understand that they only know they need to chew on something because it’s a biological imperative. The only way to teach a puppy what’s appropriate teething fodder is to remove the wrong item and replace it with the right one. Every time. Until they understand. That means you have to have eyes on puppy basically every second of the day for about six months.
3. Puppies are unpredictable. When we brought Olive home, she slept for about 19 hours a day. We thought this was going to be the easiest dog in the world to raise. We were wrong. She quickly developed a bladder infection, and a certain affinity for the Cat Litter Box Snack Bar in the same week. Almost immediately after resolving that, she chewed her way through a baby gate we used to keep her in a potty training-friendly area at night. Then, suddenly, she decided to stop eating anything edible. She was on a hunger strike for two days before she, just as inexplicably, began eating again (I understand there’s likely a medical reason for this, but trying to figure it out stressed me out for a full 48 hours). The good news is, once they’re older, dogs are very predictable: Wake, out, eat, play, sleep, wake, out, eat, play, sleep. So if you can get through the “What on earth are you doing now?” phase, you’re golden.
4. All puppies are not created equal. Luckily, Olive seems to be a great fit for our family. For the most part, she’s very good with the kids and seems to get along with the other dogs (the cat is still on the fence about her), and everyone is invested in taking care of her and teaching her how to properly “dog” like she should. However, some puppies may not thrive in an environment with lots of other pets or toddlers who are really just trying to help but end up pulling their tails. Don’t make the decision to bring home a puppy impulsively; we recommend you visit with the puppy you’re interested in a couple of times, try to bring the kids to one visit, and evaluate how they behave in different situations.
5. It’s worth it. There have been times we have seriously wondered if Olive was right for our family. With big kids, little kids, big dogs, little dogs, and full-time jobs, it’s been difficult sometimes to keep up with everything Olive needs from us in order to learn her way. But through it all, she’s been a very sweet, responsive, and enjoyable addition to our little clan. She cuddles with the kids (and adults; she’s an equal opportunity cuddler) at nap time and plays with our senior dog who is very patient with her even when he doesn’t feel like playing. She greets everyone at the door with excited kisses and a tail that wags so hard it seems like she may actually start flying. Aside from the occasional accident, she’s getting much better at house training and really wants to please her humans. She still hasn’t quite figured out how her legs work and stumbles up the steps occasionally, which is the cutest thing that I’ve ever seen. Her oversized, floppy ears are soft and comforting, and she loves to fall asleep while someone rubs them. She’s brought so much joy to our home that it outweighs the stress and chaos of puppiness.
Olive will grow into a well-behaved, very good family dog. Someday we’ll miss the times when she could curl up on our tummies or how cute her puppy bark is. The destination is always worth the journey, and we’re so glad she’s a part of our herd.
But next time, we’ll adopt a house trained dog.