So you've decided to welcome a furry friend to share your life. But now what?
"It's just like having a baby" is the most common reaction I hear when I share our furry baby news to friends. This week we will welcome an 8-week-old Labrador puppy into our home. And we haven't underestimated the work involved. It's been the culmination of years of being worn down by the children who swear they will pick up every poop and walk it 'a hundred times a day'. Poor puppy.
But the truth is that it is going to be my baby, that I want it more than them. And I couldn't be more excited. Our family circumstances mean that we have to buy a puppy rather than the better option of rescuing or fostering a dog which is usually encouraged. This life-changing event has been on the cards for a long time — we wanted to wait until our youngest was almost six years old. Her birthday is in November.
There has been a lot of criticism for the surge in pet ownership during lockdown. Some rescue centers believe that once people's circumstances change and they return to their "normal life" or back to working outside of the home, that pets are the ones who will be left confused or worse, given away.
Do your research
There are a lot of unreputable puppy sellers out there delighted to overbreed and take your cash. As you embark on your puppy journey, make sure you choose a breeder that is registered with the IKC (Irish Kennel Club) and who is happy to let you see how your forever friend spent his or her first few weeks. A good breeder will give you tips about the personalities of the puppies in a litter and match you to one that suits your needs best.
If you like nothing more than hiking every weekend, a more energetic puppy might be for you. A curious but self-assured puppy might be more biddable when it comes to training. A family pet might have different needs.
"Look for a puppy who is happy to engage with you but also happy to move away".
Cathy Matthews is a dog trainer and CEO of WonderPaws. She encourages people to take the time to observe the litter before choosing. "I would speak to the breeder who knows these pups and how their personalities have developed in the first few weeks. Ask him to recommend a calmer, more thoughtful puppy rather than a shy or boisterous type. When you meet the pups, look for a puppy who is happy to engage with you but also happy to move away. Avoid a shy pup who does not approach you/hides away or a boisterous pup who may bark or cry for constant attention.
Ask the breeder what socialisation he has specifically done with the puppies from birth to 8 weeks. Has the litter been exposed to different environments and noises, a wide variety of people, people in masks, car journeys or similar? Has the litter been introduced to different experiences, handling by strangers/children? Has the litter started a toilet training routine? Has the litter been introduced to a crate to help them make the transition to their new homes? It is well established that early experiences have a profound, often permanent impact on the developing animal."
The gear that comes with a new pet can be overwhelming too. You'll need a crate if you are crate-training, a harness, lead, puppy toys, bedding, food, identity tags, a grooming brush, nail-clippers and have a vet trip booked to keep vaccinations up to date as well as keeping any parasites under control.
But preparing yourself mentally is also important. This is a huge commitment. It is a little life that will depend on you. Ask yourself if you have enough time to take care of a dog? Do you have the money? There will be health emergencies, exercise commitments, smelly carpets (for a bit). Too many dogs end up in rescue centers because owners didn't ask themselves these very questions.
Clear your diary
The first few weeks are arguably the most important. Try to have a few days in a row to settle your new arrival into his new home. Puppy’s first few days away from mum and the gang is a big upheaval. So when you bring them home, you’ll need to give them your undivided attention. If you can spend time showing your puppy around, feeding them, and letting them have a good sniff about it will make their first night a little easier.
Puppies, also like babies, need their sleep. If you have young children, they can easily play with the puppy too much and overtire them. Make it a rule that they must never wake the puppy up. Don’t get annoyed with your new little friend if they poop or pee indoors — just ignore and redirect. Be ready to give a lot of praise when they do go outside. This will all take time.
Make sure you have support
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But a cute little puppy might just need an entire city of helpers. What will you do with puppy if you are away? Where do you go to get help with training? Having a plan, no matter how basic it might be, is a good start. Align yourself with a trainer or class or puppy socialisation group to find that support where you can. And lastly, enjoy every moment with your new ball of cute. Animal ownership brings endless benefits, relieves stress and reduces anxiety.
It will also hopefully get me out and about a little more. Updates to follow...
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