Owning a puppy isn’t always a walk in the park. Sure, any time you look at social media, you’ll see the cute, well-behaved dogs sitting politely for another photograph. What you don’t see is the hours of midnight toilet training, the chewed up shoes or the clean-up operation following a muddy walk.
After looking at the cost of owning a puppy previously, today it’s all about the less glamorous side of having a young canine friend.
Again, let’s get the caveats out there early on. This is about one dog, Ted. He’s a terrier, so he brings his own set of challenges. And I am not a vet, animal expert or behaviourist. Every dog has their personality, small quirks and different energy levels. Let’s get into it.
Work, Rest & Play – not necessarily in that order
Puppies are like human babies, they don’t sleep to your timetable. Don’t get me wrong, they sleep a lot, but your convenience isn’t a high priority. Also, they have very small bladders, so if you’re hoping for a full 8 hours in that first week or two – you may need to think again.
With Ted, it was a trip outside every 3 hours. Even after this initial stage, he still has occasional requests to be let out – he can be very insistent. It’s not just toilet breaks, sometimes it’s a bad dream, restlessness or an itch that needs to be scratched. Basically puppies can be noisy, when they want to be.
As with many new puppy owners, we’re working from home and trying to keep little Ted out of trouble. Most of the time, he’s happy entertaining himself. But sometimes, like a toddler, he’ll get restless and do whatever it is he wants to do. Sometimes he’ll shout at a squirrel, at a reflection or just for the fun of it. Strangely, he’s not overly concerned whether you’re on a call or not.
Then there’s the other type of unpleasant surprise. Yes, puppies have accidents. Sometimes, you might even think it’s a deliberate act of defiance. Either way, it happens. But no matter how many times it happens, nothing ever truly prepares you for that unpleasant feeling of stepping in something warm.
Fortunately, Ted has a system of going to the door and letting out a whine or tapping on it with his paw. Cute, yes, but you better be ready to let him out. Because whatever he wants, it’s coming out one way or the other – you’re on the clock.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
When we got him, it was late summer. So he got used to warm days and light evenings. Then in rolled autumn, with shorter days and worsening British weather, it threw him off his game for a while. It’s understandable to a certain extent, being picked up and put outside in the pouring rain can’t be much fun. But you’ve got to teach them and keep going, no matter what the conditions or time of day it might be.
There are dangers at both ends of course. Like most dogs, Ted has been sick a few times. There was mild panic when he threw up some bile one morning; it turns out they often do this when they have an empty stomach. Sure enough, it wasn’t repeated (obviously if it happens regularly, worth a call to the vet). As he explores everything with his mouth and nose, it’s inevitable that he’s going to have a few bouts of sickness – as unfortunate as that is for everyone.
Expecting long walks in the countryside? Think again.
Then there’s exercise. Puppies love to play, but they’re also still growing. In our ignorance, we were surprised that the guidance is to only walk a puppy for around 5 minutes for every month they’ve lived. Ted is pushing 7 months, so we’re still only up to 35 minute walks.
In those first few weeks, when they are still having their vaccinations, you can’t take them out at all. The limit of our explorations in the early days was the end of the garden and back.
So if you’re expecting to include your puppy with a fitness program, you may want to think again. As mentioned last time, Ted packs a lot into his time, but we still have to take it easy in terms of outdoor exercise. Of course he doesn’t just stay still and quiet the rest of the time, but long walks in the countryside may have to wait.
On the flip side of that, it goes without saying that they do need some kind of exercise. So even if you’re not in the mood, you’re feeling unwell or strain your calf for no obvious reason, you’ve got to get out there.
Unique Issues of Having a Puppy in Lockdown
One of the unique issues of having a puppy during lockdown is that we’re rarely apart. Ordinarily, dogs would get used to comings and goings, being left on their own for long periods. Separation anxiety won’t impact all pets, but Ted is definitely not a happy camper when left alone.
There will be thousands of puppies and kittens in the UK with the same issue. Like most dogs, Ted is a creature of habit; even on a Monday, after a full weekend of attention, he usually plays up as we return to our laptops and resume video calls. But we won’t be in the home forever. So at some point, that separation anxiety will become very real.
We’ve been lucky with Ted and socialising. It’s not easy for everyone, particularly with lockdown rules. He’s getting used to other dogs on our regular routes, our neighbours as they walk by and his favourite postman. In fact I’m a long way down the pecking order of favouritism, so be prepared for that too.
But not having the structure of puppy classes and getting by on the various pieces of advice we’ve grabbed along the way is less than ideal. Ted is as trained as an independent terrier can be trained. But working on recall and doing anything on command without a treat is fun.
See it, Chew it, Eat it
There’s another, more obvious issue with puppies we’ve been pretty fortunate with so far. They love to chew. Anything you drop will immediately become the most interesting thing in the world. Whether it’s valuable, delicate or even toxic – Ted is on it.
We’ve gone through multiple toys, three remote controls and a drawer of socks. Like most puppies, when opportunity knocks, Ted is happy to answer. Along with educating him about right and wrong, we also find ourselves progressively putting things on higher surfaces. But there are plenty of horror stories about puppies chewing skirting boards, heirlooms and entire boxes of chocolates; touch wood, we haven’t had any of that just yet.
But those puppy teeth are like needles and, despite their size, their jaws are still strong. So what might be playing to them, can be extremely painful for you. We had our fair share of accidents, we’re all learning together. But in a fight between sharp teeth and skin – there tends to be one winner.
And those puppy teeth do come out, which gives you one more thing to take off your dog before he can swallow it. Ted did not enjoy his teething phase, with everything and everyone becoming a chew. We resorted to giving him an ice cube to soothe his gums and to destroy something replaceable. But this was definitely a time when he played up the most (so far).
When Pet Grooming Goes Wrong
Now for a shameful admission on my part. As you’ll probably know, all dogs need regular grooming. Whether it’s just their nails and paws, or their whole coat, you need to keep them trim. Although we visit the groomers every 5 or 6 weeks (just when essential at the moment though), sometimes Ted’s nails grow a little quicker.
We gave it a go once, probably clipped about 2mm and felt fine with it. Six week later, I gave it another go. Big mistake. Ted has black nails, not a terrible thing, but for the uninitiated like myself, it’s difficult to spot where the nail ends and the quick begins (the quick being a vein in the nail). Needless to say, I went a fraction too far.
There’s no avoiding it when you clip the quick, Ted yelped and then the blood flowed. Fortunately, dogs’ blood clots relatively quickly, but there was a fair mess and that only compounded the guilt. Anyway, all cleaned up and bandaged overnight, he was almost ready to forgive and forget the next day.
Needless to say, I’m no longer on dog grooming duties. But if you want to really hate yourself for a week or so, give it a go.
The Dreaded Zoomies
Then there are those times when dogs have boundless energy and don’t really know what to do with it. We call it ‘zoomies’. The easiest way of describing it is that Ted runs as fast as he can, in any direction and won’t stop until he’s done. It happens after every shower and at various random intervals.
He’ll jump on furniture, bound up the stairs, do a few laps of the garden and then hop over the sofa. Just like a wind-up toy, directionless and bouncing off everything until he runs out of steam. Or an indoor tornado. Either way, when it happens you just have to stand out the way and hope for the best.
That’s a wrap
There aren’t many things more rewarding than bringing a new dog into your home. As I’ve already mentioned, they provide unconditional love and endless entertainment. But there are challenges and very literal growing pains.
Our house is probably fully clean for around 30 minutes a week. The garden is now mostly dead grass and freshly dug holes. Ted will inexplicably start barking for a while at some point most days. He still sometimes needs a trip outside at 3am. He’s gassy. There are a million solid reasons why he’s called ‘nothing but trouble’.
Despite all that, he’s a perfect fit for us. If we had kids, didn’t have a garden or couldn’t dedicate an hour to playing tug of war with him – it might not be the case. But we did our due diligence, and knew (very roughly) what we were getting ourselves into.
Lakeland and Patterdales (of which Ted is a cross) are what you might call characterful. By nature, he should be out in fields digging and chasing rabbits. He’s a country dog with high energy and a mind of his own. But even as I’m writing this, he’s laying between my feet – so they are incredibly loyal also (unless the postman turns up).
Sure, he does embarrass us, he will hump your leg and he doesn’t pay his share of the rent. So in many ways, he’s the worst kind of housemate. But for better or worse, we’ve got a lot of years ahead with Ted. And, as I always tell him, it’s lucky he’s cute.
Are you a new puppy owner, or maybe you’ve been there and done it all before? Share your stories below, maybe it’s something that surprised you, a behaviour unique to your pooch or a tale of shame (better or worse than my cutting the quick).