Well, we’re at our first milestone: we’ve reached one year of being dog owners! 12 glorious, life-changing months of puppy ownership under our belts. Ironically despite spending all day every day with dogs, the time had never been right for us to get one of our own. I had been waiting patiently (sort of) and last October- it happened. So as a commemorative mark for hitting the one year point, I thought I would write a post about things I’ve learnt along the way. It has been incredible and I have truly gained a best friend.
Gertie the Hungarian Vizsla. She is loyal, affectionate and does something hilarious every day. She is smart, sharp and makes us laugh. She has however also had me tearing my hair out. During the last twelve months, I have at times been at my wits end and have genuinely not known what to do- moments of total despair and wondering whether things will ever get easier! Of course, they do. Things improve and you look back wondering when your little puppy got so big and the bad times become cloudy. But don’t underestimate the amount of work that is involved in reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.
Everyone already knows getting a puppy is massively exciting. A puppy is in my opinion one of the cutest things on the planet! It goes without saying that we absolutely adore Gertie, and I wouldn’t change her for the world! So here are my thoughts on some other aspects of puppy ownership that sometimes get overlooked.
Do your research
This is absolutely vital. Had we not done this, there would have been times where I would have wondered if we had made a mistake. Prior to deciding to get Gertie, we did a LOT of research. We spent a good 6 months learning about the breed and trying to immerse ourselves in the breed as much as possible. We arranged to visit other Vizsla owners, and attended shows where we stopped people walking around with their dogs to chat. Books, Youtube, blogs… we did it all.
Be honest with what you want in a dog and realistic in what you can offer. If you have your heart set on a particular breed but are having some niggling doubts that they sound like a good fit for your situation, do NOT go ahead.
Choosing your breed does not choose your individual
Remember that like us human folk, all dogs are unique. Whilst certain traits will be uniform within certain breeds, you absolutely must be prepared to accept and love your dog for who they are. Just because you’ve chosen a breed that are known for being ‘cuddly’ doesn’t necessarily mean that your individual will be, and it is your responsibility to ensure your dog is accepted for who they are.
Take the first 2 weeks off work if possible
This is my top tip. James works from home so our circumstance is slightly different, but this is something I didn’t do and really wish I had. It may sound excessive but this is such an important time for both you and your puppy. It is a time for bonding, starting routines and trying to keep SANE! I have read many things suggesting that you need to get your puppy straight into the routine that it will have to get used to long term. However, I really feel that spending the first 2 weeks making your puppy feel confident and happy with its new surroundings and family are going to benefit everyone long term. No good can come from throwing your puppy in at the deep end and no harm will come from taking time out from your job to show your new puppy the ropes.
I strongly believe that positive reinforcement is the way forward with dog training. Our attendance at training classes with an excellent positive trainer has taught me some invaluable things;
- Regardless of breed, all dogs learn in the same way
- Work with your dog, not against it. Be patient and calm.
- Your dog doesn’t want to do the ‘wrong’ thing. If she isn’t getting it, it’s because I haven’t been clear enough in my instruction or offered a reason for her to do it.
- Rewarding the good behaviours is much for effective than telling off for the bad.
- Make training as fun as possible and put the effort in. I PROMISE it’s worth it!
Don’t listen to people who say ‘it’s just a dog’
If like me getting a dog is something that you’ve waited a long time for, you’ll want to do things properly. And so you should! I had to listen to people judging my actions with Gertie by saying ‘she’s just a dog’ as though I should make less effort with her than I should with a human. This just simply isn’t true. It was our choice to get Gertie, therefore I see it as our responsibility to ensure she is cared for both physically and mentally. If she is displaying anxiety toward a certain situation I will work with her to help her overcome it, not just ignore it because she is ‘just a dog’. I’m not suggesting you treat your dog as a human- they are DOGS and do not wish to be treated as anything but dogs. I am suggesting that being a dog does not warrant a lack of effort on our part.
Trust your instinct
The internet is full of articles telling you the ‘right’ thing to do and the ‘correct’ way to handle certain situations. For example, we are all told NEVER to go down to a crying puppy at night. It will apparently teach them to cry for attention and open up a catalogue of problems. Looking back at the last year, in certain circumstances I wish I had overruled what I had read by listening to my inner voice more. Despite what you have read and what others tell you to do, if something you are/aren’t doing just doesn’t sit right with you- don’t do it. Remember, everyone has an opinion but you are in charge of your own actions so do what is best for you and your dog.
Socialise- but be in tune with your dogs reactions
In a bid to expose Gertie to as much as possible, we took her with us most of the time. We made a big list of situations and items that we wanted her to come across and tried to cram in as much as possible during the first few months of her life. I also used to take packets of treats into town with me and stand with her on the street, inviting strangers to hand feed her treats.
However, it is so important that you stay in tune with your dogs reactions and do not push them out of their comfort zone. Ensure your dog has space should they want it and don’t ever force them to socialise with people if they are displaying behaviour that suggests they don’t want to. All too often we push our dogs forward to meet people or other dogs when our dog is telling us that they don’t feel comfortable. It is much more important that your dog learns that he can trust you and your actions than it is to force a meet and greet with a stranger.
Don’t beat yourself up if your dog still shows a dislike toward something (for Gertie, it’s bike helmets and walking sticks/crutches). I remember thinking ‘I’ve messed up here, I should have exposed her more to these things’. Remember though that your dog is an individual and you can only do your best! Equally don’t force these things upon your dog as a way of conquering their fear. If someone came at me with thousands of spiders it certainly wouldn’t cure my fear, it would probably make it worse. Talk to a professional behaviourist if you have concerns, they will be able to point you in the right direction.