So, You Think You Want to Get a Puppy!
You are isolating at home with a pandemic raging and it seems like a good time to adopt a furry companion to keep you company. How many people made room for a canine companion only to discover that going back to work—even part-time-presented challenges about the pup’s care. Even if you figured out where he could stay in your home and got someone to walk him in the middle of the day, you learned a valuable lesson about just how much a puppy can get into when not supervised!
But that’s yesterday’s news, you may be saying. You did not succumb to the temptation of a covid canine companion, but you have thought it all out, and now seems like a good time to enter puppy parenthood. Think some more before you take that leap!
I am one of those who did succumb to covid-isolation-pup-adoption, but not because I was home and had nothing better to do. It was instead because I lost my beloved sixteen-year-old ShihTzu, Dandi, my companion of fifteen years on Labor Day weekend 2020. After Dandi’s death, my husband suggested that we wait to get another dog. Okay, I agreed. I need time to grieve.
The next few weeks were brutal. I have never in my rather lengthy life been without a dog. I found that I awakened at the hour I used to walk Dandi. I still carried treats in my left-hand pocket. I imagined canine footsteps or the jingle of his collar and I began to question my sanity.
Knowing I wanted another Shih Tzu, I decided there was no harm in looking around at breeders. But many breeders had intentionally not bred during covid. My search was extensive (and probably could use up another blog) until I found a breeder in the next state who had a litter of pups. To make a very long story short, the week before Thanksgiving found my son and me traveling with great excitement--despite the torrential rain--to pick up my new pup who I had already name Gabriel.
It had been a long time since I had an eight-week-old puppy. In the pouring rain, the breeder emerged from her house with a baby blanket, putting it gently into my arms. Amid its folds I discovered a very tiny—3.5 pounds—dark brown puppy. If you worried that your tiny newborn would break when you first held him, just imagine if he weighed three and a half pounds!
Thinking he would be safer in the nest we had fashioned in the crate in the back seat, we started off. But we learned that even at three and a half pounds, Gabriel could make a lot of noise which is how he ended up on my son’s lap when I grudgingly agreed that I would drive. The first thanks he gave us for rescuing him from the crate was to throw up all over my son, necessitating quickly to find a rest stop.
At home, Gabriel was introduced to his puppy pen which dwarfed his small body. The next few weeks—or months I should say—were punctuated by puppy piddle pads and frantic trips outside when there seemed to be any indication that these might be used. During my childhood, we raised German Shepherds who were incredibly easy to house train. I read somewhere that Shih Tzu are not. Gabriel must have seen the same article for he proved it. Many a day I spent time in the rain and snow convinced that we had finally licked the ‘doing the business outside and not inside’ problem. And many a day I was frustrated when I came inside to a puddle – or more—on the newly mopped floor.
You have no doubt heard that puppies chew things. Indeed, they do. We once had a German Shepherd puppy who chewed only the left flip flop of every pair in the house. I live to tell that you cannot comfortably wear a right flip flop on your left foot. But Gabriel had no interest in flip flops, shoes or any other piece of clothing. His only interest was and still is – paper. An unlucky box of Kleenex fallen to the floor could be rendered confetti by my pup in minutes. As a writer, paper is an easily accessible chew toy and I spend my days trying to fish papers out of Gabriel’s mouth. Fortunately, he is a very docile puppy and allows me to do so with no fuss. Perhaps he is already plotting where he will find the next piece of paper.
Gabriel enjoyed his pen, where he slept in a cozy bed and ate his meals, until we made a fatal mistake. I took him to a professional trainer who was wonderful (that was definitely not the mistake. Be patient, I’m getting there). Gabriel sailed through puppy class, through beginner, intermediate and advanced obedience and several Trick classes. He proved to be eager to learn—a straight A student. In the warmer weather of his second year, the trainer offered agility classes in her outdoor enclosure. Great fun, I thought. So did Gabriel. He loved sailing over jumps, climbing the incredibly high A frame and agilely making his way across the narrow bridge. Little did I realize (get ready for my mistake) that my adorable dog who loved new challenges would become such an expert climber and jumper that he would crawl out of his pen and jump the baby gates deigned to keep him confined in areas that did not have those inviting paper chewing opportunities. It soon became clear to us that while we marveled at his agility, we were also watching the end of our ability to confine him. Now he enjoys sleeping in our bed and while he has the run of the house, I have to think more carefully about where I place my paperwork!
So a word of advice to any of you who long for the cuteness and companionship of a puppy: First be ready to jump at the slightest sniffing around that becomes an obvious “bathroom break” precursor. Be ready to speed outside no matter the weather while you convince him that outside is really better even if your chattering teeth suggest otherwise. Second, figure out what is dear to you and get it out of puppy reach. And finally choose your lessons wisely, considering carefully the end result. And then… just enjoy your puppy because—despite all the work, they are really lots of fun.