Reading short stories about other people’s crazy experiences with puppies or dogs can be entertaining. I hope you enjoy my stories about our first golden retriever and collie puppies. I’ll include tips for dealing with a new puppy in your home without losing your mind (and your new pair of shoes) now that I am a seasoned, professional dog trainer.
It was six o’clock in the morning, and I awoke in a blitz of excitement. Today was the day. I rolled over and shook Joel’s shoulder. He groaned.
“Wake up. We’re getting our puppies today!”
“Later.” he rolled over and covered his head with a pillow. “I’m tired.” We had returned from England the night before, arriving back in Seattle exhausted—fenced yard in place, dog beds nestled in the kitchen—ready for our new puppies. Our first and second puppies as adults.
“No, Joel. The morning paper is here. I heard the delivery boy. We need to get up and check it out. Now!” My voice was urgent, bordering on frustration. For weeks we’d talked about this day. For years I’d imagined it—all the way through high school and nursing school. Ever since the death of my sheltie when she was twelve and I was twelve. I had grown from toddlerhood to pre-adolescence, while my beloved canine sister had grown from an elegant, beautiful adolescent to an arthritic and fragile old lady. My parents had euthanized her while I was at school–I never quite forgave them for that.
So today…today was monumental. I staggered out of bed, pulled on my robe, and made a beeline for the front door. The Seattle Times was on the doorstep. I rushed back to the bedroom, scanning for the classified section en route. There were only a couple of listings for golden retrievers. And one listing for collies.
We were in our thirties and had decided at some point not to have kids. But I wanted dogs so much I could taste it, and two dogs would keep each other company while we were at work. We had figured that out with the help of friends. Joel wanted a golden retriever. He liked floppy-eared dogs and had always admired goldens. I didn’t care for floppy-eared dogs. I wanted a big dog with standing-up ears—a big sheltie really—which morphed into a collie.
We were set. We knew what we wanted, we had a fenced yard, we had bags of dog food in the garage, two dog beds, dog bowls, and names for the puppies. And Joel, with his OCD tendencies, had practiced for the chaos we had been warned that puppies would create by leaving his jacket hung casually on the back of the dining room chairs for a couple of weeks before we left for England. We had even read a couple of books on dogs from the library. In 1986 there was no internet.
How do you choose a puppy?
“Golden Retriever puppies for sale. Eight weeks old.” Eight of them. Four hours after studying the want ads, we were driving through a suburban neighborhood of Seattle toward our first destination. We were shown into a garage by a young woman and her two kids, and when they opened the enclosure that held the puppies, we were suddenly swamped by eight fluffy, squiggling bodies. They jumped up, careened around us, yipped, peed, pooped, grabbed our clothes.
“Which one do you want?” I asked Joel. But how to decide? I had no idea. We had read about it a few weeks before, but in my confused, jet-lagged state, I couldn’t remember. And there were so many of them. “This will be your puppy so you decide,” I said.
One puppy ran up to him and nipped his fingers, but apparently not hard enough to hurt because he grabbed it, held it close, and said, “This one! She just chose me!” She squirmed in his grasp, her snub nose, sweet black eyes and small floppy ears completely entrancing.
We paid for her, put her in the box in the back of the car we had thoughtfully lined with a towel, and set off for home. She promptly vomited, climbed out of the box, and cavorted around the back seat. We had a carsick puppy, but Sascha was on her way home.
In retrospect, we had stumbled into a fabulous puppy in spite of our naivety. It never occurred to us to ask about her parents, or to spend some time with her mother to look for traits like fear, anxiety and aggression—even though she was present somewhere in the house. We didn’t spend time alone with the puppy we had chosen, nor test her reaction to us. We didn’t evaluate how she’d react to being held and gently retrained, or how she’d respond to an object being tossed for her. We didn’t know if she would follow us when we moved away from her and we didn’t think about her sensitivity to touch, to noise, or to new stimuli. At that time, we didn’t have access to resources such as Dog Star Daily’s articles on how to choose a puppy , or the many books, e-books, DVDs, and CDs available on Dogwise.com. We just fell in love with her.
We did ascertain, however, that she was bold enough to approach and nip Joel, a man—though at the time we didn’t think about the significance. Nor did we consider the bonus that she’d had plenty of socialization with young children, and lots of litter mates to play with—both very important with regard to bite inhibition and her socialization period during the first twelve to sixteen weeks of life. Otherwise, we simply lucked out–Sascha turned out to be a dog among dogs—smart, creative, independent, a magnificent retriever, and a very good teacher.
Our education had begun.
When choosing a puppy:
- plan ahead, read about what type of breed will work best for your lifestyle–all breeds have certain characteristics.
- Find a responsible breeder.
- If you can, meet both parents. Many traits, such as fear, anxiety, shyness, and high energy can be passed on genetically. Shy puppies are sweet, but require a lot of work to socialize them to the world around them. Without extensive work, they can end up with aggression issues or be crippled by fear.
- If you adopt from a rescue or shelter, find out as much as you can about the parents, and spend time with the puppy alone before you adopt him. Find out how long he’s been at the shelter. Puppies who are born or kenneled alone have a much more difficult time adjusting to the world at large. Litter mates help, but all puppies require a lot of handling to get used to people–kids, men, and women.
- Testing how a puppy responds to you is important to get an idea of who he is:
- Does he move toward you to take a treat?
- Does he settle when you gently place him on his side or cuddled and stroked?
- Does he relax quickly and get on with his activities if you clap your hands?
- Does he play confidently and bite and jump? If a puppy bites, you can teach him to control his bite before adulthood, if he doesn’t bite, it’s difficult to teach him this awareness.