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Bringing home a new puppy is like bringing home a newborn

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We became “puppy” owners for the first time four years ago when our kids were eleven and seven and I found many similarities to bringing home our newborn daughters… the research, the learning curve and being up all night with a sad puppy.

I had a dog as a child and as I recall, he was an outside pet and ignored most of the time. My husband never had a dog growing up and he would have been ok with continuing with that tradition.The problem was that we have 3 daughters who have always loved animals and continue to stop every dog owner they pass that they can pet their dog. They begged us for years for a dog of their own and finally I gave in thinking of all the benefits and not having a clue about what I was getting into.

We spent spent several months researching dogs and not just any breeds because we have two family members with allergies so we needed a “hypoallergenic” puppy which as my husband says translates into an “expensive designer mutt” or in our case, a labradoodle. We talked to other dog owners and learned how to determine what makes a good breeder. In the end, we never even met our puppy before we purchased him. He was the last in his litter and he came from Bakersfield and, to save a little time, we met the breeder in Los Angeles and brought our puppy home.

I had already gone online and done hours of research on which dog supplies I needed. Going to the dog store (or several) reminded me of the first time I went to Babies R Us when I was pregnant. There were about as many leash options as there were bottles and I had to decide if my puppy needed the top-of-the-line dog bed with memory foam. I, of course, ordered everything that I thought would make this transition easier – only to find one week into it that I could send almost everything back. It was a little like when your baby is born and 3 months later they no longer need half the equipment, toys and clothes you have purchased. The necessities that I kept included…

  • Bowls for food and water
  • Dog food – Puppies are fed 2-3 times a day. (No, we cannot get it at Costco – it has to be a special brand only sold at about 2 stores in Santa Barbara if we want our dog to be healthy or so we were told by the breeder.) And, like babies, you want to slowly introduce new flavors and brands to make sure they do not have a reaction to it. And for those of you that like to feed your animals people food, we learned dogs cannot eat grapes, raisins, chocolate and onions (large quantities of any of this can cause anemia, kidney failure, etc.). Xylitol, a product sweetener found in gum and sugar free cookies can result in seizures and liver failure.
  • Training treats (I learned it is not good for puppies to have rawhide.)
  • Collar and leash
  • Plastic bags for scooping the poop on your walks (Not fun but necessary and they clip onto the leash.)
  • Harness (This helps with training and does not pull on their neck.)
  • ID Tags (Microchips are also a good idea.)
  • Crate for training and sleeping at night (I wanted a pretty wood one that would go with our decor but I found out puppies chew through these and you are better off with the metal version.) Make sure to buy a crate your dog can grow into so you are not replacing it in a few months. Do not leave your dog in the crate all day!
  • Dog bed (There is a large variety of these and we found them to be the most reasonable at Costco and Ross)
  • Crate Pad (We spent too much money on these only to find our dog was chewing through them at night until a friend suggested I use a bath mat — excellent, affordable and easy to wash.)
  • Baby gates (There are good ones that do not have to be nailed into your wall.)
  • Chew toys – buy a variety (I was not going to spend any money on these items until I realized it was going to cost me a lot more to have him destroy my furniture.)
  • Skunk spray – We have been told Skunk Off is the best and the one that works. We have gone through several bottles over the years although my preference is taking him to the groomer and letting them get the smell off.
  • Pooch Bells – this was a great purchase. It hangs on our back door and the dog paws at it when he needs to be let out. This is a fantastic purchase and has worked so well! Our dog never barks to be let out.
  • Flea treatment – We already had to deal with lice with our children and now we have to worry about fleas? (Don’t take any chances – do this regularly. For every flea that you see on your pet, there are likely to be hundreds of eggs in your home and yard.) The Vet can also give your dog a pill to take once a month if the over the counter loses its potency.
  • Household Supplies – Carpet and floor deodorizers (These are at the pet store and help take away smells and stains from accidents.) Bitter Apple Spray to keep the dogs from chewing on furniture (cayenne pepper works well).
  • Grooming supplies (We found it easier to pay a groomer so we only bought the basics) Shampoo, conditioner, brushes and wire combs. Ask a groomer for advice because there are too many options!
  • Shock Collar (we did not get this until about 10 months when he was not responding to “come” and we have only had to use it a few times but just having the collar on has made a difference. He can go off leash for walks and responds better to commands.) Our dog does bark when he is outside so we had to get a bark collar so that he did not upset our neighbors.

Then we had to decide on a name that five of us could agree on. And yes, just like when you have a baby, there was lots of advice from friends about what we should name him. So after a few hours of discussion and after many rounds of voting… it was decided.

Sharing the responsibility… So our sweet puppy comes home and as luck would have had it, my husband was gone for the first week of his homecoming. I found out that your puppy, like your baby, needs to be socialized, but you don’t want them out around other dogs for the first 12 weeks until they have had all their shots. Our breeder gave us a puppy schedule that included everything from feedings to play time to nap time. I made up a schedule for the family so that we didn’t have any arguments on who got to spend time with the puppy and walk the puppy since I knew all the girls would want to be with him all the time. What was I thinking? The novelty of the puppy ended quickly and then it was, “I am tired, do I have to walk him?” or “He bites me all the time, this isn’t fun.” And so I found out that the puppy that everyone wants soon becomes mom’s puppy and mom’s responsibility. I also found out that all my close friends and family members with dogs that were encouraging us to do this left out many of the details of owning a pet. Hmmm… a little like when I was learning to breastfeed and nobody had shared how challenging it could be in the beginning.

Finding a Veterinarian, Vaccinations & Pet Insurance… Did you know that your puppy has to be vaccinated or  that you must register your dog with the city or county or you can be fined? We found a wonderful vet recommended by friends. I did not know that we would immediately be signing him up for the $200 puppy program to cover all of his shots. The bonus was that our dog could stay there all day so those four visits also meant a break! A few months after the shots were finished, we were back for an ear infection. There are no co-pays, we pay for full office visits and then the prescription that goes with it. And the comment from the vet, “this breed is known for chronic ear infections so be prepared.” This motivated me to look into pet insurance and after reading many reviews, I learned that the coverage is not always that great. The best advice I got was to open a separate bank account and put the same amount in every month that we would if we were paying for insurance and then we would have the reserves for any major medical expenses.

Potty Training & Crate Training… I quickly learned you do not bring a puppy home during the winter when you are dealing with non-stop rain. It hardly ever rains in Santa Barbara, yet for some reason, that year it did not seem to stop, which meant I was standing outside getting soaked in my pajamas every hour while I begged my puppy to go to the bathroom. We even got the indoor potty pads and let me tell you, they do NOT work! Our puppy thought it was more fun to shred them. It can also help to tie the leash to your body the first couple weeks so they are with you at all times and not likely to wander off and have an accident. I learned that you do not give food or water after 7pm if you don’t want to wake up to an surprises. The crate was a big help with potty training because dogs do not like to soil their sleeping area. He would stay in his crate all night in the family room and sleep for the first six months.

Dog Training… We do not have a bad puppy, just a very energetic puppy who likes to nip when he gets excited. I borrowed and purchased about 10 different “how to train your dog” books and I started watching Cesar Millan and Victoria Stilwell to make sure we were doing everything right. I think I did more research on how to raise a dog than I did when I was pregnant. I quickly realized dog training does not work if your whole family is not involved. So we signed up for a series of dog training classes and all five of us went so we could learn how to communicate with our dog. This was great socialization for our dog and he even got to go through graduation after 5 weeks. We learned…

  • how to use treats to reward with training (a little like the potty training reward system for toddlers)
  • to teach him to sit & lie down with a simple hand movement
  • to teach the come and stay on command (this was a little harder)
  • to teach him not jump on people (this is a challenging one since our puppy loves to greet new people)
  • how to socialize with other dogs and people… “100 people by 12 weeks”
  • how to teach him to walk at our side
  • that he should not have full access to the house and to introduce him to a few rooms at a time
  • that dogs need boundaries and that owners need to take charge

Grooming… I never thought I would be saying that I have showered with a dog. It was so much easier as a puppy to put him in the shower, close the door so he could not run away and use the hand sprayer to clean him. Make sure you put towels down on your bathroom floor though or you can find out the hard way like my daughter, that it gets slippery when they shake themselves off which landed her flat on her back. Now that he is older, we will sometimes bathe him outside with his leash tied to the play structure. We are lucky because our dog does not shed so there is not any hair in our house. However, the flip side is that everything sticks to our dog and with a curly coat, he is challenging to brush. We found a great solution for the grooming – although it is more expensive, it is worth every penny every 8 weeks to have a professional groomer take care of the trimming, nails, shampooing, ear cleaning, etc.

Dog Boarding and Sitters… We found out this summer that traveling becomes very expensive when you own a pet that needs to be cared for while you are gone. There are many options including great dog boarding facilities and dog sitters that will come to your house. Unfortunately, this does not alleviate the guilt you feel leaving him behind.

Around town… We live in a pet friendly community, especially for dogs. I have never been comfortable taking our dog into restaurants or stores but it seems these days there are very few places that don’t allow dogs. We did have to learn what beaches, parks and hiking trails allowed us to take him off leash so that we did not get in trouble.

So to summarize our first year… I now understand why people adopt older dogs and that the puppy phase is a commitment. I have also learned that as a dog owner, we have a responsibility to train our dogs so that they are not a danger to people or other animals. Adopting a puppy was challenging, expensive and messy but it was a great learning experience.

Our four year old puppy has become part of our family. I still find similarities with raising a dog and raising children… our dog, like my kids, still have a few bad habits we continue to work on. Even though our kids begged for a dog for years and promised to be his caretaker, I find that I still need to remind them daily that they have a dog and that dogs like to go on walks. He has become my companion that sits with me while I work and waits on the stairs for me to come up at night. And just like I find with raising my daughters, there is never a dull moment and he is always full of surprises.

[Author, Rachael Steidl]

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August 21, 2014

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