This may be hard to read if you are like most of the population and love dogs. I spent 30 plus years not liking dogs and never had the smallest desire to change that fact about myself. My mother claims it's because at a young age, I was knocked over by a big lab and was traumatized from there on out. The childhood fear of dogs morphed into an extreme dislike later in life.
The shedding, the slobbering, the smells, the yapping, I could go on and on. Fast forward to having children of my own and the requests for a dog amplified exponentially over the years. The ‘ask’ slowly turned into demands, crying fits, and guilt trips you wouldn’t believe a seven-year-old was capable of. As luck would have it, I had given birth to two animal lovers, and chosen a husband who grew up with dogs.
I knew something had to give and, being the democratic person I am, I realized I was out-numbered and had no leverage. The one saving grace was in agreeing to get a dog, I would get to choose the breed and set ground rules for shared responsibility. I needed a smart dog, a non-shedding dog, and one that wasn’t too* big. Baby steps, I reminded my family, who had their hearts set on a German Shepard. (Those conversations ended in something along the lines of over my dead body…)
After some cajoling we all agreed on a mini-poodle and set an early spring timeline for purchasing a dog. There is much debate over a shelter dog or getting a dog from a breeder, but with two young kids in the house it didn’t make sense to roll the dice. According to the ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey, pet problems are the most common reason that owners re-home their pet. Pet problems are defined as problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, growing larger than expected, or health problems. So we did our research, and with the help of the AKC website, found responsible breeders in our area with litters due in early spring. The AKC website also has a handy quiz to help you decide which breed is right for you, which I found very helpful in the early stages of choosing a breed.
This entire process took a couple months and, from the moment we put our deposit down around Christmas, to picking up our dog in late February, I became a ferocious reader. From dog training books, articles on puppies, to researching gear, you name it, I was obsessed. You can find the fruits of my labor in OOLA’s round-up of best products for a new puppy.
The day we drove to pick up our nine-week-old puppy was full of excitement and anxiety. You never know what kind of personality your pet will have or how well they will take to their new space and family. A lot of this transition goes back to doing your research into the breeder and also inquiring about the personality of the parents, and anything you can find online about the circumstances in which your puppy was raised. I'm happy to report the transition of getting our pup couldn’t have gone smoother. Poodles are known for being one of the smartest dog breeds, and our pup, although used to being around other dogs, took to our home and our family right away.
We had spent weeks narrowing down names and deciding what to call our newest family member. As soon as we laid eyes on the pup, it was clear, the name Leo was the winner. Leo is a red-haired mini-poodle, and I'm now smitten like all those dog parents I once loathed. Guilty!
The first few nights were rough as we adjusted to having a puppy. My biggest advice is to take a day off work if possible, either a Friday or Monday, so you can have a long weekend to start the puppy out with good habits around potty training. Being vigilant is the key! Take the puppy out to the same spot 30 minutes after they eat or drink, when they wake up from sleeping, and after playtime. As a family, we committed to those first few weeks and everyone took turns and shifts. My husband and I traded off getting up during the night, and the kids took turns during the days. Another piece of advice is waiting until your kids want to take some of the responsibility. Our daughter at age seven does much of the puppy work and makes the overall ‘job’ of a puppy less cumbersome.
I have thought a lot during this process about how I was able to go from being adamantly against dog ownership to loving my dog and having an overall softening towards dogs. In reality, I still don’t like all dogs, and many of the issues I had with dogs still remain. I simply chose a breed that negated many of the issues I was worried about. The secret is shared responsibility, doing your homework on the breed that's right for you, and making sure you are in a place in life where you can adjust to dog ownership. One of the silver linings the current pandemic can provide is the perfect environment to get a dog. All the time at home ensures you can instill good habits during the puppy stage, and help shape and nurture the personality of your new puppy.
Author's note: This article was written before the current COVID-19 outbreak in America. I updated to emphasize what a great time it is to take the plunge for a new dog. The ample time at home is perfect to train a dog quickly and efficiently. Also, puppy kisses are proven stress relievers in times like these.