Puppy Diaries, Entry 1: Coming Home

Sleepytime

I’m tired of everything you see about dogs online being “PUPPIES ARE SO CYOOOOOTE!!” These posts will be a warts’n’all account of getting a dog. I’ve always been of the opinion that people who want puppies are not ready to have one, because they’ve conditioned themselves to think of dogs in terms of a cute, fluffy creature from pictures and videos that never portray the reality of housetraining such a creature. Of course you also want the puppy, but your goal should be to get a DOG, which is the state it will end up in.

I have incredible love for all flora and fauna. I would never do anything to hurt (most) animals, be it human or dog. Some bugs get the short end of the stick with me. I apologise for that to the universe. What I mean to say is that while I’m open about the negatives in this diary, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I care SO MUCH that it matters to me beyond anything that people don’t go into owning pets blindly.

Balrog and Me - Day 1
Balrog and me, on the way home from the breeder on Day 1

After years of pining and thinking and discussing and pining some more, me and Marit finally decided to get a dog. We are at a place financially and personally where we feel we are ready to give it all it deserves and needs. Many breeds were discussed, but we finally settled on the Bernese Mountain Dog, a pretty durn big breed, but one that’s amiable, eager to please and fairly calm. On average, at any rate. Also, it’s a gorgeous breed that Marit has been in love with for years. In my family, I’ve had two golden retrievers growing up, so this isn’t new to me, but this is the first time we housetrain a pet on our own. Exciting times!

To prepare, we have a breed-specific book, two books on puppies and we’ve read several articles on the subject online. We’re going into this heavily armed with various theories and ideas on how puppies should/ could be raised.

Since Marit is working offshore right now, me and my good friend Liz picked Balrog – because that is his name now – up from the breeder in Montrose (always adopt from assured breeders or rescues. DO NOT ADOPT THROUGH GUMTREE OR NEWSPAPER ADS! Those breeders are almost exclusively speculative people who don’t really care about the dogs at all.).

Balrog in the window
Balrog in the window

On the way back, the only position in which he got comfy was in the window, stuffing his snout into the back, upper corner of the window with a slight crack open. This information has no bearing on anything. He’s just adorable.

Well, I say “just” adorable. That’s not quite true. More on that in a bit.

At home, he has a cage, or “crate” as people who feel “cage” denotes captivity. We’ve cordoned off most of it so it’s an appropriate size for a puppy. Part of the challenge ahead is to make him comfortable in the cage and to accept it as a bed for himself. I’m keeping nice things in it for him, and occasionally invite him in by offering food or treats or particular chew toys in there. Hopefully, this’ll work out. In the first night, he would go into it to sleep every now and then.

I tried to do what some have said and lure him into the cage with a treat or chew toy smeared with a puppy-formula squeezy cheese. Once he was preoccupied, I closed the door behind him and left him to it. Once, I left the room for a few minutes to train him to accept separation. He howled a bit, but that’s part of what you expect. When I came back, he’d defecated on his bed, on top of one of his toys. First accident! Crap. I was told this one thing I was following was an “errorless” plan. Still, only one, it’s fine.

Vera spies a Balrog
Vera spies a Balrog

After sleeping and after meals, I take him outside to go to toilet on some turf I’ve laid outside the house. I don’t have grass of my own, so I stole it from a public bit up the road. Yeah, I did. I want to teach him to go on grass and gravel, not asphalt and stone slabs.

Balrog loves grass, it appears. He just seems to have an aversion to peeing on it. I think the softness reminds him of a bed. He keeps going OFF the grass and THEN do his bidniz, which is annoying. I’m almost tempted to pee on it myself just to show him…

At the end of the day, I got tired of trying to get him to go on the grass, so I moved him to the public green just across the road. Now, I -know- you’re not supposed to get the dog near other dogs or their faeces until vaccines are done with, but it was late and I was frustrated. He did a tiny bit of smelling around and defecated almost immediately. SUCCESS!

With that bit of business over and done with, it was time to go to bed. I made a cardboard enclosure for him earlier in the evening with some grass in it, some newspaper and water. I knackered him out and let him fall asleep outside his cage, and then snuck off to bed.

Now, ABOUT BEDTIME…

There are loads of theories on this, and they all sound reasonable in and of themselves. Half of them are some variant of “sleep in the same room”, be it with the dog in your bedroom or you on the sofa in his “home room”, or even you in the bedroom with a finger on the cage so the puppy can wake you easily!

The other half, predictably, suggest that this only worsens separation anxiety and that – even on the first night – you should get them used to being alone at night and pronto. I know that my parents had trouble getting their spaniel, Ronja, to settle down alone after having her in their bedroom for several nights. She’s also very anxious about either of them leaving at any time of day, so I was keen to avoid that.*

I was going to set my alarm to get up two or three times during the night so I could check on him, but figured I would hear him from the bedroom with the doors open, should he get anxious and whiny. I wanted to leave him there as much as possible so I don’t give him the impression that he can just whine and I’ll be there, so I resolved that I’d be only too happy to get up and soothe him should he get seriously agitated. With that idea, I set my alarm for the next morning and went to sleep…

What happened in the night and the next morning? Stay tuned…

*Note that Ronja is a LOVELY dog with a fantastic personality in so many ways and my parents do a LOT of things right with her and their previous dogs. No dog owner is perfect, however, so I wanted to try to learn from what might have not worked that well for others.