Well today is Mother's Day and next month Father's Day will roll around so it brings me to thinking about some of my experiences with new "pet parents". As a dog trainer, what I hear most often from new pet parents is how having a puppy is so much like having a new baby in the house. I don't have a little human myself but I have to believe that these folks know what they're talking about after having welcomed both an infant and a puppy into their homes and over and over again I am told how similar the experiences are for them. I cannot disagree with them as they describe to me what they are going through.
The phrase I hear most often from pet parents who bring home a new puppy months or years after having lost their previous pet of 10+years is this, "This dog is nothing like my old dog. My last dog was perfect. He/She came everywhere with me. They never left the yard. They listened to and did everything I told them." Etc. Etc.Etc. My response? There are a couple of things to consider in this situation:
- The previous dog was likely 10 - 15 years old when they passed away and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Their pace was slow, they loved to sleep and they were predictable.
- The pet parent is now 10 - 15 years older now than they were the last time they had a puppy. They have aged and they too have slowed down.
- The pet parent's focus is likely torn is many new directions than it was 10 - 15 years ago. Maybe last time there was a puppy in the house, it was just you or you and a significant other. Now you have a career, human kids, soccer/hockey games and a bustling minivan that's always on the go.
The pet parent grew older right along with their last puppy. The pet parent had more energy and patience 15 years ago. Time has a tendency to allow us to forget the initial puppy years that we had with this first dog. Those memories of being kept awake at night, having your shoes shredded into a million pieces and cleaning pee and poop from your carpet have been replaced with memories of long walks together at a slower pace, "Fluffy" lying peacefully at your feet as you flip through a magazine or strolling over calmly to greet a visitor to your home. A decade or two will do that to people. When Fluffy passes on, there is a hole in our heart and a vast emptiness in our home. Dog dishes that are no longer needed are placed in the cupboard, long abandoned dog toys have been removed from the home and pictures of a well behaved Fluffy adorn the walls. Fluffy was "perfect". But the emptiness and the yearning to have that hole filled by a four legged best friend persists so we get a new puppy! What an exciting time for a family!!! But wait.... you have to be ready for what's about to happen!
Along with their irresistible cuteness, puppies bring lots of energy, enthusiasm and behaviours that come from simply not knowing better. They aren't trying to be "bad", they are just babies. They don't come home at 8 weeks of age knowing how to entertain themselves or sleep through the night. They may cry or whine throughout the night keeping all family members awake for hours. They want you to play with them all of the time. They might chew or break your most valuable items in the car or home. They might pee, poop or vomit on your hardwood floor, carpet or furniture. They will likely jump up on you or your guests with their wet or muddy little paws. I could go on and on and on.... but it is SO worth it!!
They need boundaries, structure and routine that the pet parent needs to establish and follow. They need to learn and do new things with the support an encouragement of their humans. They need their human to know how to properly care for them, nurture them and teach them to be great dogs. And they need for their humans to understand and remember that despite growing at an alarming rate, they have only been consuming oxygen for as little as 56 days. As their little fluffy bodies grow so quickly, we assume that by the time they are 6 months old, they should "know better"... wait... at six months old, they have only been breathing for about 180 days. When we can keep that it mind and know in our hearts (as we look at their little faces after they chewed our new eye glasses that cost $400) that there was no intentional malice behind the act, then we can better understand that they still need our guidance and direction.
As an example, here's "Winnie's Story". Winnie came to me back in 1999 as an 8 month old rescue from the SPCA. She was the most lovely black lab mix who had been placed in a crate at 8 weeks old and never let out. Well she was out at least once because her tail had been broken from being slammed in a door but aside from that, her previous owner just moved the crate outside and she would eliminate through the bottom of the crate. It was a sad case of animal abused but someone had saved her and brought her to the SPCA. When I laid eyes on her, I knew she would be the perfect friend for our older dog, Calvin! I have always said that Winnie was hand made by the devil himself and sent straight to me. I love dogs but Winnie was almost unbearable. I couldn't possibly begin to fully explain the damage that Winnie did to our home. She chewed the vinyl flooring, took all of the carpet up from the stairs, escaped out of her crate despite our most creative efforts to contain her, chewed through the wainscotting to the crawlspace, ate the couch - nope, not the cushions, the pieces of lumber that constructed the frame of the couch, kitchen cupboards, etc etc etc. When I got home from work, she would jump at the door to greet me even before I entered. She would jump and jump and jump on the other side of the door for 5 - 25 minutes in an excited frenzy. Through it all, I just kept asking myself, "When is she going to grow up? Calvin is so laid back and chill. When will she get to be like Calvin?". Short answer... Winnie was not Calvin. I wanted her to "grow up" and be a dog, learn her manners and be well behaved. Just be a good, mature adult dog! I didn't know it at the time but I was wishing away her puppyhood. She wasn't Calvin. Wasn't going to ever be Calvin. She was Winnie!
Winnie passed away on December 19 2012, the day after my own Mother's funeral, at the age of 14 years. In those fourteen years, she managed to find her groove, her job and her manners. I learned so much from Winnie. I never gave up on her although admittedly tempted at times. I learned that Winnie was the product of the effort that I put into our relationship. Most of all, I learned to never ever wish away puppyhood because I would give anything for her to be in my house chewing apart my couch today.
Whether you have a puppy, an adolescent youngster, an adult furkid or a senior dog living their golden years in your home - enjoy them! Enjoy every minute that you have with them. Learn to take the time to enjoy their unique personalities at every single stage of their lives. Their puppy antics, their new found love of exploring, their enthusiasm, their loyalty, their playfulness and their appreciation for whatever is happening in that very moment are all things to be celebrated. Don't be caught wishing any of it away. We could very well learn something from our furry kids about slowing down and soaking in the moments of life that we all too often wish away only to be sought later with the regret that we missed them the first time around.
When adding to your fur family take the time to consider what you're looking for.... it might be a puppy or it might be an adult who already has the basics of life figured out with some learning left to do or it might very well be a senior furkid who wants to show you how to slow down and soak it all in.
Until next time, keep those tails waggin' and those tongues flappin',