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If you’re a millennial who has managed to get through the last 18 months without bringing a dog home, getting engaged, or having a baby let’s all take a moment to admit you’re probably in the minority. And when it comes to adorable dogs, I mean really, how could you resist? Spending more time at home has meant that dogs have been the true winners of this situation, having access to even more of our time and undivided attention.
If you’re yet to bring a puppy home, or thinking about getting one, I’m here to tell you it will be one of the best decisions you will ever make. There’s nothing quite like their companionship, especially when it comes to helping you through a tough time. And if you’re in the position to give a rescue dog a forever home, then even better.
Almost five years ago I brought our miniature dachshund Maple home and she very quickly had me wrapped around her little paws. When your dog fits in the palm of your hand, you don’t really stand a chance. She’s well and truly the baby of the household and she takes full advantage of this status. But bringing her home was a steep learning curve and I quickly found there were lots of things I hadn’t thought of.
So in the interest of ensuring you have a smooth transition, I’m going to share all of the things I have learned as a fur parent as well as share some advice on this stage from veterinarian, Ben Schuster, who’s the resident pet expert at Budget Direct Pet Insurance. Here are some of the things to consider when deciding on a dog, and how you can manage the first few weeks with them at home:
You’ve Decided You Want a Dog, But Which One?
You’ve committed to becoming a fur parent, congratulations! But what sort of breed do you want and most importantly, what are some of the things you should think about when deciding? I’ll admit when I got Maple, I was completely sold on her cuteness. But I probably should have considered some other factors, particularly around her temperament.
As a miniature dachshund, Maple is incredibly needy, fiercely loyal and not at all social despite my many attempts at trying. This has meant lots of awkward intros when she’s around people she doesn’t see very often. We love her and wouldn’t change anything about her (maybe…) yet considering what your breed is like prior to bringing them home will help prepare you in adjusting them to your lifestyle.
Dr Ben says this is one of the most important things when deciding on a dog breed. You need to consider if they will fit in with the way you live as well as your living situation.
“For example, if you’re living in a small apartment without a yard, avoid getting a large or energetic breed of dog, instead choose one that’s happy to laze around on the couch. Don’t have the time to commit to daily coat care and grooming? Opt for a dog with a shorter, low-maintenance coat,” he said.
“Overall, ensure that you’re dedicated to having this dog as a beloved member of your family for their entire lives, which sometimes can be more than 20 years depending on the breed. It’s a big commitment that shouldn’t be decided on a whim.”
We all want our dogs to live long and happy lives, which may unfortunately include unexpected trips to the vet, so you might also want to consider if pet insurance is right for you. Budget Direct offers Pet Insurance with 15% off your first year’s premium when you buy online (T&Cs apply). Find out what they cover and if it’s right for you by heading to their website.
What Do You Need to Do Before You Bring Them Home?
Bringing a puppy home is without a doubt one of the most exciting things you will ever do. They’re sweet, adorable and you want to spend all of your time with them. Yet they’re a lot of work at this stage so if you’re working full-time and not at home much, you may want to consider taking a few days off (pawternity leave anyone?) to help them adjust to their new surroundings.
You should also make sure you’re all set up with everything you’ll need before picking them up. I’m talking about food, bedding, toys, bowls, a collar, tag and lead, and a kennel if you’re planning on adjusting them to sleeping outside. Also, make sure you consult with your vet about any medication they should be receiving like monthly flea and tick or worming tablets.
“Before bringing a new puppy home, make sure you’ve got everything ready to make their transition as comfortable as possible with minimal stress. Plenty of soft bedding, chewing and enrichment toys, and a quiet, secure area that’s completely dedicated to them,” Dr Ben said.
“Also make sure to remove any items around the house that may be harmful — electrical cords and small items that can be swallowed should always be kept out of reach.”
How Do You Approach Mealtimes?
When Maple went to puppy school, one of the first things we learned was never to feed her from the table and separate her mealtimes from ours. As a puppy, she never ever begged. That quickly went out the window as she got older when other family members (read: Dad) started giving her scraps after dinner.
So if you don’t want to deal with those sad little looks or dancing at the dinner table, make sure you’re not giving them food at the table from the get-go. Also, consider how often you will feed them and what sort of a routine you want to get them into around mealtimes. We typically feed Maple twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
Dr Ben says, “It can be hard to resist those adorable puppy dog eyes, but the key to ensuring your dog doesn’t pester you during dinner time is not to give in. If you reward them with a titbit or table scrap, this is positively reinforcing begging behaviours.”
“Instead, consider rewarding them for ideal behaviours — getting a treat for going to their bed is far better than getting a treat for pestering you.”
What About Toilet Training?
When it comes to toilet training, it’s definitely a long game and there will probably be hiccups along the way. The trick here is staying strong, reinforcing good behaviours and not getting upset with your dog when they do the wrong thing.
“Punishing your dog for poor behaviour is a common mistake — this can often make things worse, and lead to more significant behavioural issues later in life. Instead, reward positive behaviour to encourage your dog to enjoy toilet training,” Dr Ben said.
We initially tried to train Maple with puppy pads but found moving them in different positions left her feeling confused and on occasion, she would wee on mats in the house. So we bought her a dog toilet with astroturf and put this outside. When she used it, we would reward her and eventually we transitioned her onto the grass in the backyard.
If you have limited space, Dr Ben also suggests specialty puppy pads can be a great idea when used effectively. “These can be a great tool for encouraging your dog to toilet appropriately, especially for dogs that live in apartments or might not have access to a spacious yard,” Dr Ben added.
Should You Enrol Them in Puppy School?
One of the first things I did when we got Maple was enrolled her in a puppy school run after hours at a nearby vet. Puppies can typically join puppy school from eight weeks of age to six months of age, though it is recommended the sooner the better. They also usually need to have their first vaccination prior to attending and Maple’s classes ran for one hour, once a week, for five weeks.
Our trainer Shelley was not only a wonderful support during sessions, but she was also great for asking those questions you wouldn’t typically go to see a vet for. We were also given a folder with lots of useful information that we could use to refer to at home.
Puppy school helped Maple to pick up the basics like sitting, waiting for food and how to reward your dog for good behaviour so you could try more advanced tricks. At the end of the session, we also had ‘puppy play’ which allowed the puppies to socialise with each other in a safe and controlled environment.
Plus, having your dog get a graduation certificate at the end of it is definitely one of the most rewarding aspects of being a fur parent. Make sure to be prepared for the cute photo op.
Dr Ben agrees. “Puppy preschool is for a puppy’s proper development,” he said. “It’s not only an excellent opportunity to bond with your pup and develop proper training and obedience, but also the perfect situation for your dog to bond with other pups and develop some lifelong friends.”