My pup has become the single greatest joy in my life; to say that I’m obsessed with her would be the understatement of 2018. She has taught me about patience, love, living in the moment, parenting, changing habits, finding joy in the small things, and a million other small things about people and the world — all just by existing.
This experience has also been the single most challenging experience I’ve encountered, but obviously (as I’m sure you’ve guessed already) it’s totally, absolutely, 100% worth it. If you’re at all considering adding a pup to your home, I’d encourage you with every ounce of my being! Not only is it fantastic mental health therapy, but a dog adds so much purpose to your day to day life. As you consider bringing a new baby fluff ball into your life (or perhaps you’re in the process of doing that already!), here are some things I wish I knew, but didn’t know, despite reading every piece of dog owner literature imaginable.
1. Vets Hate Cesar Milan
Listen, you’re gonna go on Amazon and search “dog training book” and the #1 best-seller is going to be the Cesar Milan book. He *is* the dog whisperer after all, right? So you buy the dog whisperer book and read it or listen to it and then watch all the Cesar 911 on Netflix and you’re like wow, this dog is just gonna read my MIND just like Cesar said, as long as I have the right energy and vibe I won’t even have to speak to my dog it will just know what I want.
Dogs are not mind or energy readers and it didn’t matter in the first two months how angry my energy was when Stella peed in the house or when she shredded a magazine or pulled on her leash, it wasn’t until I implemented actual training tactics that she understood what tf was going on.
Also, surprise! Vets hate Cesar. Apparently trainers do, too. In fact, every dog-related professional I’ve come in contact with over the past three months has been like “yeah eff that guy he’s the worst.” Apparently his methods and approach to training aren’t rooted in animal behavioral science and are too aggressive/rooted in bunk theories. Look I’m not a vet but maybe like ask your own. What can you read up on instead? Try the free Paul Owens “the original dog whisperer” video on Amazon Prime and download Puppy Start Right on Kindle.
2. puppy-parent is a job made for extroverts
I’m not saying that introverts should avoid getting a puppy, but beware. I’ve talked to more strangers (or rather, been talked at/approached by) in the past 2.5 months than I have in like the past 6 years. It’s f*cking insane. The amount of people who are like “OH MY GOD PUPPY” the second you put one foot (and paw) out the door will literally blow you away. With social energy.
Your puppy will be super cute. People want to touch it, love it, be around it. Share the love, just be prepared.
3. There is a serious level of perfection expected
Something I’ve personally struggled with is how literature, trainers, and vets low key expect you to be doing all the right things all the time. They don’t always overtly say it, but they imply it. Just trust me on this one. You have to be feeding them the right food, training them in exactly the right way, etc etc. And if they’re doing something “wrong,” the blame is placed on you, the parent, for doing something or not doing something that inevitably left your pup with no choice but to misbehave/ruin something/soil themselves/etc etc…..
It doesn’t feel great. Your pup peed in the house? You weren’t paying attention to cues. Chewed something up? You weren’t playing with them enough. Puked out the side of the crate? You left them for too long too soon. Won’t come when you call them? You’re not practicing enough.
I get that trainers, vets, and authors are trying to protect pups from blame (rightfully so), but it’s unrealistic and frankly pretty ridiculous to put that kind of blame on a new pet parent. I had to do a gut check when a trainer told me I wasn’t practicing “come” enough with Stella, and that was the reason I was struggling, when in fact I was practicing every day. Every. Single. Day. Just keep in mind that the default is to blame the owner.
4. You will buy organic lamb and salmon treats, and your dog will still eat leaves And trash.
It’s a dog. I’m sorry. Good luck with the treats.
5. You’ll Have Mystery Bruises Everywhere
Be prepared for your body to have purple spots and for you to have no recollection of how/when/where they happened. Also don’t wear anything that you’d be upset if it were ruined.
6. The Puppy Phase Lasts Literally Two Seconds
The tiny, bouncy, smushy little fluff ball you’re envisioning? Savor every second of it because it lasts approximately two weeks. Tops. They’re itty bitty for such a short, short period of time — it’s honestly really sad. I wish I could slow down the process! Stella tripled in size in two months. I got her at 7 weeks and she was just over 10lbs, and she was 32.5 at her 16 week check-up.
7. The early stages are really, really, really difficult — but it gets better
This one goes out especially to my fellow single dog mamas out there. Despite being ecstatic for your new precious angel, you’ll potentially feel helpless, overwhelmed, and stressed to the max when you first bring home your baby. It is a LOT. My hope is that you can know that it WILL get easier so quickly, so that you don’t let the stress distract you from the lightning fast baby stage (see: #6). They’re going to pee in the house. They’re going to poop in the living room. They’re going to cry when you crate them. They’re going to bark when you put them to bed. They’re going to bite your face on accident when they’re playing. Please, please know that it is all so temporary and that it’s a small price to pay for how beautiful and adorable they are at that age.
8. Pet insurance is clutch
But bills are still expensive.
Get it before you pick up your dog. The earlier you get it, the better your rates will be. Seriously, don’t wait.
Everyone I’ve talked to who has had some kind of accident or medical emergency and *hasn’t* had insurance said it’s their biggest regret. I personally got Petplan because my vet recommended it and personally uses it, but I also have a friend who loves Healthy Paws. Get some rates, make some calls, but please go for it so you can protect yourself from insane fees that inevitably come up when your puppy acts like a puppy and f*cks up everything.
Speaking of which, Stella ate something that was potentially a combo of tissues and hair out of the trash, because she is a literal trash monster, and got so sick and backed up that we ended up with a vet bill that covered our entire year’s deductible in one visit. Super sweet. (She’s fine now!)
9. Everyone is going crazy about raw food
I am not presenting a side on this, merely speculation. Vets will tell you raw food is dangerous and that you and your dog will get listeria, salmonella and e. coli. Raw-food-fans will tell you to watch Pet Fooled on Netflix, and that their dogs smell better and don’t get sick and have better coats. Vets will tell you Pet Fooled is garbage and one-sided. Raw-food-fans will tell you vets are paid by Purina.
See where I’m going with this? It’s almost impossible to navigate. You can’t win! But go with your gut and with what works best for your puppy. As with anything health related, always dig deeper. Ask your vet follow-up questions. Research what the dog mom on Instagram is saying before taking it as fact. Cross reference. Research. Don’t let anyone pressure you.
Also know that there ARE good dry foods out there, and that vets have highly recommended home-cooked meals as the healthiest option — but it’s time consuming, expensive, and not necessarily necessary.
10. Everything You Want to Buy Will Have at least one 1-Star Rating
On that note, everyone has conflicting opinions about every single pet product out there. Harnesses, crates, treats, toys, accessories, beds, grooming tools, shampoo — you name it. Obviously keep an eye out for super poorly rated products, but for the most part, embrace that nothing works spectacularly for every single person/pet who uses it, and you’re not a terrible parent/endangering your furry child if you feed them a treat that Sharon K. in Missouri said was “WORST PURCHASE I EVER MADE ON AMAZON OR ANYWHERE ELSE.”
11. water dogs don’t always like the water
I was low-key devastated when my golden retriever didn’t immediately fling herself into the pool or ocean at 9 weeks old. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LIVE FOR THIS, STELLA?!!!? I would yell. Sometimes, as it turns out, water-dogs don’t take to the water the second they arrive on this earth. It’ll take some coaxing, treats, and seeing adult dogs enjoy a swim to get them comfortable with the idea.
12. There’s a crazy community on IG
Apparently there’s a huge dog community on Instagram. Stella’s insta is full of friends from Belgium, France, Malta, Canada, Italy, and more. She’s “friends” with therapy dogs, dogfluencers, show dogs, and stay-at-home puppies. It’s amazing. There are so many resources, so much support, and tons of beautiful doggy photos on this platform and I highly encourage you to chronicle your baby dog’s journey with photos on IG.
When Stella got sick over the past weekend, there was a huge outpouring of love from families we’ve never even met IRL. I’m so, so happy I found these amazing people — it’s incredible to see the happiest side of the internet (and of people) through dog instagrams. Puppies make people happy!
13. Bring cheese sticks on walks
Seriously. String cheese. It’s the easiest treat to break off little pieces of, it fits in your pocket, and it’s the fastest way to train your dog proper leash walking.
14. Summertime is difficult for puppies
The timing is obviously up to you, but getting a puppy in the spring/summer will make training difficult. The heat stresses them out, so they’re distracted, don’t want to walk outside, and can’t focus on training. If you don’t have AC in your house, it’s even worse, especially with crate training.
It’s 100% doable, and we’ve made it work just fine, but it’s a challenge. I imagine a pup born anywhere from late summer to late winter would allow you to train in much better conditions with more pup focus :)
15. The AKC pupdates emails are seriously spot on
Sign up for those emails promptly. It’s like someone read your mind, wrote articles, and sent an email. The timing is eerie. It’s like they’ve been doing this for a while or something…
16. Front-clip harnesses are everything
Your pup may be docile and sweet and cling to you on walks, but if they’re anything like mine, they’ll be like a barreling, hurtling, slingshot-flung rocketship of energy projecting forward and dislocating your shoulder via leash.
You don’t want to clip the leash to their collar, as it can crush their thyroid. And you don’t want a back clip harness, because your dog will apparently go into Balto mode and MUSH to get the medicine to the children at a speed you didn’t think was possible to reach at after only living 12 weeks on this earth.
After learning this the hard way, I went for the Easy Walk harness and I swear to you it’s like the leash pulling disappeared instantly. Like an off button. Do yourself a mega favor and pick one of these up stat.
17. Everyone who says “don’t do it” is a fool
You may have encountered some well-meaning friends and family who tell you not to get a pup. Don’t listen to them. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.