10 things I’ve learned about puppies

If you’ve read my post ‘Dog’ you’ll know that I’m an armchair dog owner.

Or was.

Now I’m a real dog owner and the learning curve isn’t so much steep as vertical. For any new dog owners out there (and for the amusement of seasoned puppy parents), here are some things that our Daphne has schooled us on.

They are ninjas.

Thanks to those little leathery paws, puppies (provided they’re not whining or barking) make absolutely no noise when walking around. I can’t count the number of times I’ve nearly stepped on Daphne when I’ve turned around to find her sat right in front of me when I swear I just saw her go into the garden.

Encounters like this are usually met with me clutching my chest and expelling a one word expletive.

They get overtired very quickly.

Just like children, puppies only have so much energy and when the tank is empty they kick into overdrive. They loose the ability to listen and be gentle, instead becoming aggressive and destructive. When Daphne gets like this, I ignore her by siting down at my computer to write and when she’s finished rampaging around the garden, she’ll eventually give in, curl up by my feet and go to sleep.

They get the zoomies.

No, your puppy isn’t possessed although you’d be forgiven for thinking you need to call in a canine exorcist when you first experience the zoomies. Also known as the FRAPS or Frenetic Random Activity Periods, these are explosions of extreme energy that puppies get (usually in the morning and in the late afternoon) where they tear around in circles, flip flop around on the ground like a freshly caught salmon and grab the stem of your favourite plant between their teeth before shaking all the leaves off.

Don’t panic. The zoomies are a natural canine phenomena and although very frequent episodes can be sign that your dog isn’t getting enough stimulation, it’s more often because your puppy is so happy and excited, it simply can’t contain itself.

Which is kind of cute. Until a vase gets knocked over.

They don’t understand how to play fetch.

How does a dog not know how to play fetch? I thought it was one of those instinctive things that all dogs knew how to do but apparently not. Breeds like retrievers are more likely to understand the concept (the clue is in the name) but the reality is that ‘fetch’ is a multistep process that you have to teach one step at a time.

First I had to find something to throw that Daphne actually cared about enough to want to go and get, and that she could run with in her mouth. The bouncy ball was fun to chase but she couldn’t pick it up and sticks were too boring. This left me with Lamby (her squeaky and cuddly lamb toy) and a large cardboard reel from my macrame cord.

Then you have to feign enthusiasm (well at least I do at pre-coffee o’clock) to get them excited enough to want to run after your object of choice and use a sentence or word as you hurl the thing through the air so that you tie a command to the action. I say “Go get it!”

Apparently, the key at this point is close the gap between you and the dog and have a treat at the ready in preparation for the old ‘bait and switch’ trick. If your puppy brings the item back, you ask them to leave it. If they do, you give them a treat. If they don’t you distract them with the treat and then take it off them as soon as they let go. At the moment, Daphne will return the object to me about 30% of the time. The other 70% of the time, she’ll run straight past me, lie down and chew on her prize.

It’s a work in progress.

They can be racist.

And ageist. And pogonophobic. In fact, anything that is different from what they perceive to be ‘normal’ can be seen as a threat and they will act accordingly by growling or barking. So for example, someone in a wheelchair, someone with a beard, someone with darker skin than me or someone with older skin than me might cause Daphne to get upset. Exposing her to people of different races, abilities and ages is all part of the socialising process.

Since a dog’s sense of smell is so acute, just the scent of someone can be off-putting. Apparently, dogs don’t like the smell of mothballs, chlorine, alcohol or anything citrusy or minty.

Perfume and strongly scented beauty products can be particularly problematic because they mask the scent of the individual. Obviously to humans this is often desirable but in the dog world it’s the equivalent of trying to identify someone by sight who’s wearing a balaclava and ski goggles.

They can be afraid of the most random things.

Hoods. Sunglasses. Wheely bins. My neon-orange outdoor broom. These are all things that Daphne freaked out over. My son was trying out his new sleeping bag prior to his school camp-out a couple of weeks ago. When he came shuffling out of his room looking like a giant caterpillar, Daphne went into a frenzy of barking and hid under the table. The same happened when my daughter came in from sweeping the deck in the rain. She was wearing her grandfather’s old mac that came down past her knees and had the hood pulled up. Daphne took one look at her and nearly hit the ceiling.

This is why it’s so important to expose puppies to lots of different people, places and things as soon as possible so that they don’t go berserk when someone rides past on a bicycle.

Just don’t try and cram everything into one day or you’ll have an overstimulated, stressed out little ball of fluff on your hands.

A ball of fluff with teeth.

They bark at their own reflection.

Dogs have no sense of self-perception. The Aesop fable of the dog with the bone is not only a moral tale of how one shouldn’t be foolish and greedy but also demonstrates how dogs are incapable of recognising their own reflection.

Puppies in particular can get scared or excited when they see what they perceive to be another dog on their turf. Daphne wags her tail but also barks when she catches sight of herself in the patio door glass. Sometimes she’ll run inside to try and find the other puppy.

The look of confusion on her face when she finds nothing on he other side of the glass is priceless.

They don’t always want to be cuddled.

This was a hard lesson my daughter had to learn. She had hoped that at the end of the school day, she’d come home to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little pup who’d climb up on her bed and snuggle with her while she chilled out watching Tik Tok on her iPad.

Despite my best attempts, what she most often gets when she walks through the door is a spawn of Satan who is completely burned out because she refused to nap at lunchtime, who jumps (and possibly pees) all over the bed and who wants to chew on everything in sight, including her iPad. Attempts to pick up or cuddle the demonic doggy are met with nips and sometimes growls as the poor pup struggles to manage her exhaustion, unable to make the distinction between playful and aggressive.

As cute and fluffy as puppies are, they are animals and not plushies. Just like people, puppies might not want you in their space sometimes and unless they’re doing something particularly naughty, it’s important you respect this.

If you don’t, well on your bed be it.

They don’t know how to walk on a lead.

Just like the fetch thing, this one also threw me. How does a dog not know how to walk on a lead? This is dog behaviour 101 isn’t it?

Well, no it isn’t. Just as dogs aren’t born with collars, neither are they born with the innate ability to walk in a straight line beside you, match your pace or sit down nicely at the kerbside while you wait to cross the road.

Even clipping the lead on to the collar can be a trial as your puppy will most likely try and grab the lead with it’s teeth. We followed some good advice we found online of distracting Daphne with a treat while we put the lead on, making sure she was in a sit position and then let her wonder around the garden with the lead trailing behind her. She didn’t like it a first but it only took a few days before she barely noticed it.

Occasionally, Daphne will trot along nicely next to me but more often than not as soon as we hit the pavement she tries to run in three directions at once.

Anyone looking out of their window on Muri Road at 8am on a weekday morning will first see a small bundle of apricot-coloured fluff come haring down the pavement in a manner akin to a greyhound chasing a rabbit, followed by an unkempt and puffing, slightly pink-faced woman (who may or may not have remember to remove her apron before she left left house), with one arm locked out straight ahead as she clutches the lead for dear life and shrieks in a voice uncannily like Barbara Woodhouse, “Daphne, heel!”

Another work in progress.

They will eat anything.

The question puppies ask themselves when faced with something they’ve found on the floor is not “will this taste good?” but “will this fit in my mouth?”

Puppies will attempt to eat or chew on anything they find and just like with toddlers, you have to grow eyes in the back of your head to make sure that they don’t swallow anything they shouldn’t.

Stones, sticks, bird poo, string, leaves, paper, anything is fair game as far as a puppy is concerned. Having had two children, I’ve learned that you have to pick your battles so I’m not overly concerned if she’s swallowed some paper or is chewing on a stick.

Things that would raise a red flag for me are chocolate, garlic, onions, grapes, raisins and xylitol all of which are poisonous to dogs. I also take away anything that is sharp or presents a choking hazard. Apparently, there is a Heimlich maneuver for dogs but since my first aid skills are limited to administering Calpol and putting on a plaster, I’d rather try and avoid that situation altogether.

Daphne did manage to snaffle a tiny iced biscuit that my daughter had inadvertently dropped on the floor while her and her friend were carrying out an Asian food tasting project for their Chinese lesson. My daughter fell to the carpet and wailed as she tried unsuccessfully to pry it from Daphne’s mouth.

“Don’t worry,” said her friend kindly, crouching down next to my daughter who by now had tears rolling down her freckled cheeks. “My dog eats biscuits all the time. She’ll be fine.”

And she was.

They take away your freedom…for a while

Ok, they don’t take it away forever but you’ll find that for the first few months you’ll be tied to a schedule of sleeping, feeding, toileting, and playing and the reality of how restrictive and repetitive that schedule is will hit you HARD. It’s not even as if you can strap your pup into a high chair in the local café or stuff them into a trolley at the supermarket.

This sudden loss of liberty that you most DEFINITELY took for granted coupled with the extra workload can bring about a case of ‘puppy regret’ or ‘puppy blues’. I experienced this about two weeks in and very nearly threw in the towel when it became apparent that I was going to be the person who was going to have to look after the dog the majority of the day. I was also hit by a freight train of anxiety about how I would cope with another entity to worry about, having felt sure that my children had already pushed me to my emotional limit.

Puppy blues can hit any time between 2 days and 2 months of having your pup, and usually comes after you’ve had 3 hours sleep, have cleaned pee (or possibly poo) off your floor for the third time that morning, and found that after a second round of vacuuming your beautiful Turkish rug is now covered in leaves tracked in from the garden and chew toys covered in dog spit.

You sink to the floor, put your head in your hands and say “Oh my god. What have I done?” Trust me, you’re not alone.

Something I was also not prepared for was the unconditional love a dog gives you. And it’s this that allows you tap in to emotional strength you never knew you had. Before you know it, your pup will no longer be a burden but will feel like a source of support. Your puppy will never judge you, call you names or shout at you. They’ll be happy just to be in your presence no matter whatever mundane task you’re carrying out, will curl happily on the sofa while you watch TV and when you wake up in the morning, you’ll be greeted in a manner usually reserved for soldiers retuning home from a tour of duty.

All I can say is, hang in there.

Eventually, you’ll housebreak your pup. Eventually, you’ll crack the sleeping. Eventually, you’ll be able to go to the toilet without a small furry animal watching you from the doorway (always slightly disconcerting). Eventually you’ll find a café where dogs are welcomed inside and that has it’s own doggy-menu comprising gourmet dog biscuits and meat platters (Beach Babylon in Wellington, in case you wanted to know).

It will get better.

For me, I realised that all my hard work was totally worth it when I found my daughter singing You Are My Sunshine to the tiny puppy, sleeping on her lap.


2 responses to “10 things I’ve learned about puppies”

  1. Daphne is seriously cute! I’m so glad you’ve expanded your family to include that little ball of crazy fluff.


  2. I think you’re smitten!


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