Let’s just get this out of the way early on: There is nothing cuter than a puppy. But just like the Sirens who lured in sailors until they dashed their ships on the rocky shoreline, a new puppy is not at all what it seems. Never in my life have I dedicated so much time to something so aggravating.
As a public service, I offer five secrets you need to know before getting your first puppy. On that day, you will sell your soul to Satan himself, and Winston’s nickname of choice seems to be “Devil Dog.” So good luck and please read on.
1. A daily walk, or even two, is not the same thing as training. The other day, when I was riding my bike with Winston alongside, we passed a pug on the loose. Even without a distraction like a fellow stinky dog, taking Winston for a run is not easy. He pulls and tugs and stops whenever it suits him. But this time and with this pug, it was different. He yanked so hard that he pulled me off the bike and dragged me across the lawn.
Suffice it to say he is not well behaved. Even though we run him twice a day, he doesn’t know how to act—exercise just helps him be happy. So if we are to achieve the behavior we want, we have to spend additional time with him, walking him slowly around the block to practice heeling or playing in the yard to learn “tricks.” I have given Winston more one-on-one time this summer than any human in my family, and he still has a lot to learn.
2. Potty training was the least of my concerns. I worried about poop and pee on the floor, but after the first few weeks, that became a nonissue. Winston hasn’t had an accident inside for months. But I’ll tell you what drives me crazy: Winston jumping on people and jumping up to put his paws on the kitchen counter. Despite our consistent effort, we haven’t gotten a handle on this bad habit, and I’m not sure when we will. People say puppies calm down at age one or maybe one and a half. He’s only seven months old.
Yes, I bought that Union Jack wool sweater for him and made him wear it (for just a few minutes) in July. It’s the perfect sweater for an Airedale.
3. Puppies come with a cost—make that a lot of costs. Besides shots and spaying or neutering, our dog eats more than expected, so I’m always stopping by the grocery store for yet another bag of food. And dogs are not cats; if your family travels, you’ll need to arrange some kind of care for your dog. We’ve hired dog sitters a couple times this summer, which has cost several hundred dollars. And we’ve got more trips ahead.
4. Don’t disregard common traits of the breed. On Sunday, my girlfriend and I watched as Winston furiously dug a hole near our flowerbed. He’s an Airedale terrier, a breed designed to dig out vermin like rats, so digging comes naturally to him, and that spot is the ONLY place in our yard where he can dig without getting spanked. My friend said, “I always think it’s dumb when people get a dog that’s made to do something, then get mad when he does it.” Sure, all those fancy breeders say you can train anything out of a dog, but why fight against nature? Get educated before you pick out a dog.
5. An older dog might be a better option. Even if you love the idea of starting with a puppy because, well, see Paragraph One, an older dog means no puppy stage for you. And if you can bypass that, you might want to do it.
So what’s the redemptive element here? We seem to have fallen in love with Winston, despite items one through five. And so we’re in this for the long haul. I’ve discovered there’s a difference between a dog person and a person with a dog, but I hope eventually I’ll transition from a disgruntled caregiver to a dog mom who dotes on her pooch.
But that day isn’t today. •