Puppyhood: Lessons Learned
Hamish is 6 months old and, quite honestly, I can’t remember life before him. He is the first dog for both Nathaniel and I so it’s been a steep learning curve… but I’ve never been so happy. I thought it might be helpful for new puppy owners if I share 6 lessons learned so far. Lessons beyond the usual tips you find everywhere (use a crate to toilet-train, reward good behaviour and ignore bad, etc). Lessons that the Internet did not prepare me for.
1. Being Vocal
As a freelance creative who works from home, I often (and happily) go up to 7 hours without saying a word out loud. It’s been an adjustment having to speak to a puppy seeking attention all day. I’m rather sick of hearing my own voice but repetition is crucial for training.
2. Projecting Human Emotions
During the week I spend all day training, entertaining and cleaning up after Hamish… and then Nathaniel comes home at 7pm and the puppy goes wild with excitement. I convinced myself that Hamish loved my boyfriend more than me. Of course I was just projecting my own emotions, something that I still do with Hamish. It’s difficult not to when he stares up with his big brown puppy eyes but I’m learning!
3. Balanced Socialisation
All the books, blogs and YouTube videos stressed how important it was to socialise your puppy from a young age. We made sure he had plenty of playtime with adults, children, toddlers and all sorts of dogs before he was 3 months old. Hamish isn’t scared of anything but, ironically, I think he’s too socialised. Now he wants to play with every dog and human he encounters. The last few months have been about boundaries and restricting socialisation for his own protection.
4. Cheap Toys
Have you ever given a toddler a gift, only to find the toddler prefers playing with the wrapping paper and box more than the actual contents? Even before we brought Hamish home, I’d bought an alarming number of dog toys. I needn’t have bothered. On a hot day, he loves nothing more than a wet tea towel that’s been in the freezer for a few hours. We also use items from the recycle bin – for example a washed empty milk carton filled with some kibble becomes a mentally-stimulating game that keeps him busy for 15 minutes.
5. Fit Your Dog Into Your Life
This was the best thing our breeder taught us. Rather than change our day-to-day lives to suit what we thought was best for Hamish, we slotted him into our routines instead. This involved exposing him to busy buses, trains, restaurants and London crowds at a very young age. It has paid off as he is no bother at all in any of these situations.
6. It’s Never Done
At 4 months, we thought we were doing a great job. Hamish was toilet-trained and well socialised. He understood a range of commands, was gentle with children, and rarely barked. Now that he’s 6 months old, we are definitely entering the rebellious “teenage” phase. He ignores me whenever a dog or squirrel is in sight. He is stubborn as hell for most of the day. And he even peed on Nathaniel’s foot last week! It’s all normal puppy development, I have to remind myself, as I grit my teeth and start training all over again. Still I wouldn’t change him for the world.