Getting a dog is a big deal for anyone. But bringing a puppy into a family is life-changing, and never more so than in the first few months, when everyone – including your puppy – is trying to get used to the new arrangements. We bought Rocket, our Maltese/Shih-Tzu cross (Malshi), when he was 13 weeks old. I’ve had dogs before, and I knew what to expect, but it still came as a massive shock to the system just how much of a strain a puppy is to begin with. It’s exactly like having a newborn baby. If you’re planning on a new puppy, here’s what you need to think about.
Why a puppy is like a newborn
Newborns are adorable and sweet; so are puppies. In both cases you’ll spend weeks before the new arrival planning what to call your puppy/baby, and trying to come up with an original name that’s cool, but doesn’t make you look like a fool when you yell it across the field/playground. Everyone wants to cuddle a newborn, except when they’re upset and angry. It’s very similar with puppies. A puppy will bring so much joy into your life, and I would never part with mine, just like my children (!), but it’s not all rosy. Here’s why:
They keep you awake at night
Not only that, but their crying invokes that exact same stomach-churning anxiety that has you sitting up all night desperately waiting for it to stop. It does stop, and you hold your breath, hoping to be allowed proper respite, only for it to start again thirty seconds later. Our puppy cried for 4 straight hours on his second night (on the first I think he was so overwhelmed by his new surroundings that he just zonked out – rather like a newborn). At one point I took him out in the garden to see if he needed to wee. He practically laughed in my face and asked me which ball game I’d like to play! I ignored him for the rest of the noisy night, and came down to a bed covered in poo, and dog who needed a bath…
You’re obsessed with every milestone
Oh look he’s lost a tooth! He ate more dinner tonight than he did yesterday. Look how clever my puppy is – he can sit when I tell him to! Just like the red book you get when you take your baby home from hospital, puppies come with a registration document and a vet record. You diligently stick the vaccination stickers into your book, making a note of when you’ve wormed him, and how much further he can walk each day on a lead before sitting down and refusing to budge. You take him to puppy training classes and sit there all smug when your dog achieves something another dog can’t yet do, and you’re practically jumping in your seat with your hand up waiting for the trainer to ask you how things went with last week’s practice. Your dog can do no wrong, and you are the perfect puppy mum.
You can’t stop buying things
I’ve said it before in Why diabetes is like a newborn baby, but oh my goodness the stuff you buy when something new enters your life. With newborns it’s colic drops, rockers, bottles and my personal favourite the Tummy Tub, designed to make bathing your baby feel more secure for you both. Yeah.. it’s basically a bucket, only 11 times more expensive. With diabetes it’s storage-related paraphernalia to house all the extra medications and snacks you suddenly need.
It’s the same with a puppy. When Rocket arrived in our lives we’d already got him a comfy bed, and bowls for his food and water. We’d even thought ahead and considerately chosen him a special teddy to welcome him to our home. We needn’t have bothered; he immediately stole a slipper and has refused to give it back ever since, steadfastly ignoring the adorable squeaky ted that we place religiously in his bed every night. Here’s a list of what we bought, thinking that it would help him settle, eat, poo, drink, wee, walk on a lead, not wee on the carpet, not poo on the carpet, not vomit on the carpet:
- A dog crate – the theory is your puppy needs a space to call his own, and in a crate he’ll feel more secure overnight than if he was given the whole kitchen to roam in. Also, he’s likely to want to keep his own space clean, so it should help to teach him where he can and can’t go to the toilet.
- A bigger crate, so we could put the puppy pads in there, because yes, he did wee in his crate. On his bed. So it had to be washed every day.
- A second bed, exactly the same as the first, because they had to be washed and dried daily on rotation.
- A book on how to raise your puppy. Because at 3am, when he was howling the house down, I took to twitter for advice. Never do this. As well as a book, you’ll be recommended that you let your puppy sleep upstairs where he can smell you and feel reassured. And then an argument will break out on your feed between people who believe in controlled crying, and others who think you should allow your dog to sleep in your bed.
- A radio. Because the book told me that puppies like background noise to help them settle at night and ours was used to a radio. Specifically, he enjoyed Classic FM.
- A cover for the crate. The book will also tell you that puppies feel more secure in an enclosed space, the smaller the better. Should’ve stuck with the smaller crate! To be fair, this did work, and Rocket settled much more easily once he had the radio, the crate cover, and whatever t-shirt I was wearing that day. Apparently if he could smell me, it meant I was still there. Dogs are daft.
- Another food bowl, because it matched the colour scheme in the kitchen. Even I despise myself for that one.
- A squeaky ball, because he needs exercise, and the garden is the only place until he’s had all his vaccinations.
- Another squeaky ball, because the first one was too big to fit in his mouth.
- An extra teddy, because awwww, it’s just so cute, we have to own it.
- Likewise a tiny pumpkin outfit for Halloween, and a bow tie to go on his collar at Christmas. He’ll remove both of them instantly, but you’ll still buy them again next year.
- Two varieties of dog food, to see what he likes best.
- A third variety of dog food, and a fourth, because the first two gave him poo that was disgusting to pick up.
- Various sprays: a cleaning spray to use every time he wees in the house, so that he doesn’t catch a scent there and do it again; a lavender detangling spray to use when you brush him, because it might relax him enough to sleep at night; and a pepper spray that you’ll learn to carry in your pocket at all times, just in case he does a poo, and tries to eat it. I’d advise avoiding all of these – none of them work.
- More rubber bones, toys, ropes, teething chews than you’ll be able to get through in the next 2 years. The desperation to stop your puppy chewing furniture, shoes, and hands drives you to the pet shop most days, but nothing really works. They just have to get it out of their system. One thing I would recommend is an antler chew – it’s the only think Rocket really spends time working on, even now.
All you think about is food, wee and poo
You become fixated on how much they eat, and how much poo they produce. I spent the first 6 months walking around town with one pocket of my jeans filled with poo bags, and the other with chicken-based treats. My handbag still contains a bag of dried sprats I once thought would be irresistible to my dog. They’re still there because they weren’t. I must get round to throwing those out – there’s a distinct whiff about me whenever I go out.
We tried 4 different foods before we settled on the one we use today. He often wouldn’t eat, or ate very little. His poo was sometimes green, sometimes sloppy, sometimes non-existent, and sometimes never-ending. Keep in mind that a puppy is like a baby and you’ll realise that all of these things are just normal puppy behaviour. I’m pleased say that now, at 2 years old, he eats all his food every day, drinks when he’s thirsty (although prefers dirty puddles to his water bowl), and has fairly ordinary poo. Just like most babies once they’ve grown up.
Let me finish by saying that getting a puppy was still one of the best things we’ve ever done. He makes us smile on a difficult day, he gets us out of the house when we’re feeling more like lying on the sofa, and he’s a complete conversation starter when we’re out. All I’m saying is – be prepared!