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The Alex Chronicles - Week 1

After saying goodbye to Winter, my Golden Retriever of almost 14 years, if was not long before I knew I needed a new puppy. In fact, I had not been without a dog for more than 3 weeks my entire life! The silence in the house was deafening, probably exacerbated by the fact that my only son was in his 2nd year of college and my husband was beginning to travel more for work.

I was fortunate that my 1st choice breeder had a litter on the way AND there were still puppies available, but waiting 10 weeks felt like a lifetime!

I will admit to going a bit ‘round the bend’ on preparation for the new puppy. Yes, I can be a bit silly that way sometimes, I bought 3 harnesses of all sizes, just in case (all of which ended up in my donation sack at work), not one but 2 collars – again one was way too small, and of course there was the ‘oh it’s just too cute to pass up’ toy or two that made it into my buying binge as well. Basically, I did all the things I try to caution people against when they are expecting a new puppy, once again revealing we are all human.

Meet Alex

After waiting for 10 weeks, got to pick my new puppy on a Friday, her name is Alex and she was 8 weeks old when we brought her home. I had planned to have Friday – Monday off so that I could spend as much time as possible with her, getting her acclimated to her new surroundings and all the other things I tell people to do. That part of the plan went well, particularly in light of the fact that I came down with a monster virus just 24 hours after bringing her home! Despite my illness and in no small part due to the helpfulness of my husband we made it through the next 48 hours without any major setbacks.

By Monday I was feeling better and pretty proud as we had made it 4 full days with no indoor accidents, she had slept through the night starting with the 2nd night and had transitioned to her new food without any stomach upset. Proving that if you just follow the ‘rules’ of house training, crate training and feeding transitions it all works. Until it doesn’t!

The first failure was a lack of communicate between me and my husband, he started to play with her and instead of telling him to take her out first (I was trying to get dinner ready) I just kept cautioning him to keep her in sight. Not surprisingly, she slipped away from him and as he approached her she squatted on the living room rug right in front of him. To his credit there was no roar of disapproval just a startled ‘Ooops’ and ‘Hey honey, you need to bring some paper towels in here!’

Ok, so much for errorless learning!

There have been 3 other house training transgressions as well this past week, all of which have been related to my getting distracted and not paying attention to the TSLE (time since last elimination). I have now starting setting the timer on my watch!

I can’t really take credit for the puppy sleeping through the night, the first night I was up with her pretty much every three hours, every time she whined I would pop up and take her out to pee. The second night I was so sick I was sleeping in the guest room and not aware that after getting up with her once, my husband had put the puppy in bed with him and they slept soundly together the whole night, although he did tell me he didn’t really get a good night sleep as he was worried he would roll over on her. By the third night, she was back in the crate, and I was in no mood to get up in the middle of the night with her so, every time she whined, I would drop my hand down give her a pet and tell her to go back to sleep – and she did! Last night (night #8) she went in the crate at 9:30pm and didn’t wake me up until 7am!

Alex has gotten used to being in a crate by necessity, and with practice. Her first ride home was not a happy one, but she was safely ensconced in her travel crate in the car with a soft toy and a finger to chew on she made it with only minor complaints. At home, for the most part she has had the run of the kitchen/office area after she’s eliminated and there is a large airline (plastic) crate available in my office, which she largely ignores. For the most part, she falls asleep in the font hall on my coat tail, hung on the door knob for quick access, and surrounded by my Uggs – all within sight of my desk. So for the first few days the crate was really only utilized when traveling in the car or at night.

When we got to the training center on Tuesday, that all changed. She has a penned off area in the training center with a wire crate in it and while I’m teaching she has the option to sleep on the floor or the comfy pad in the crate, she pretty quickly realized the crate was a better option! In between classes she goes out for a bathroom break and then gets to run around as we set up for the next class, she also gets to play with Luna, my assistant’s dog. Luna is an exceptionally gentle dog who plays exceedingly well with little puppies, being especially careful not to stomp on her!

Next week we will begin leaving her in the crate for a bit while we get errands and such done, particularly since the weather is now too cold to leave her in the car for any length of time.

As I reflected on Alex’s first week, I was struck by how relatively easy it seemed to be, I was prepared for much worse having witnessed the tears of new puppy owners many times. Obviously, part of that is the dog, but I think it’s also because I knew what to expect and I’m not terribly quick to intervene when she’s doing something or hover around her waiting for her to do something. In fact many times, she is gated in a safe area and left to her own devices! I also consider all her behaviors to be good, some are less desirable than others, but I know it’s just her way of figuring out her world.

Here are some specific examples of how I believe I react differently than what I see some of my client’s doing?

  • I’m pretty chilled about what my puppy puts her mouth on or what goes into her mouth. Unless it is clearly dangerous (electrical cords come to mind) I’m content to let her be or casually approach with a treat to ‘trade’ if need be. That said, I’ve already moved all the hazardous plants, picked up the shoes I care about, know there aren’t any poisonous plants in the yard and generally puppy proofed the house so there’s not a lot she can get into that is bad to begin with.

  • I redirect the biting rather than react to it, actively engaging with her when she is active and managing where I have to eg: I had breakfast eating with one hand this morning, while tugging a tug toy with the other hand. I understand that biting is a phase that will eventually go away. When she launches at my feet, I stop moving, grab a treat and start training for a bit, one or two ‘puppy pushups’ are generally enough to distract her.

  • I know what’s coming so it’s not a surprise, it’s just the next phase. I’m sure it’s a bit like your second and third child, some things are different but you’re not so worried about it.

  • I see her every interaction as the exploratory joy that it is, not as an attach from a destruction machine! I love when she gets excited and barks and play bows with me, laugh when she chases me so hard she runs into me when I stop and understand that when she latches onto my arm it’s not her trying to hurt me, just trying to play.

  • I also know that each phase she is in will pass and that I will miss the uber-exuberance, the little puppy play bows, the pretend bravado, and the little wiggle but as she proudly carries off her ill-gotten gain to the other room!

So for those of you with a brand new puppy, my new piece of advice is going to be take a BREATH and ENJOY this phase, it will not last forever!

Next Week preview – it’s not a dog, it’s an ALLIGATOR!

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