While my Keeshond puppy, Toby, is an adorable bundle of fluff who I love so much I want to squash him, he is also an absolute nightmare. In fact, looking after Toby has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever experienced and it still isn’t over. With housetraining, ABI training, obedience training and teaching him how to behave around other pets, I understand why people compare their puppies to human children.
Except the puppy can move around a lot faster a lot sooner…
In the first three or so weeks of owning Toby, I had numerous breakdowns. Within two days of owning him I was on the phone to Matt wailing about how this was a huge mistake, how can I manage this, I’m going to ruin the dog’s life….and this repeated almost hourly. Toby liked to chew everything, Toby would sometimes wait until we’d come back inside before doing a wee even though we stood outside for 15 minutes, Toby eats stones, Toby pulled the garden archway done. I’d read about all these things, I’d put so many hours of research into puppy ownership. I knew these things would be issues, but combining them with no sleep for two days made them almost unbareable. In fact, if we hadn’t have nipped that in the bud before Matt went away, I couldn’t have coped. Anything less than 5 hours triggers migraines for me.
But the biggest upset of all was the biting. Jesus, nothing can prepare you for puppy biting.
Despite how many accounts you read, nothing will ready you for the razor sharp puppy teeth that are going to be all over you. Once, while I was crouched down putting washing in the machine, Toby somehow snuck under me and bit my inner thigh. “He’s just a puppy” people say, “it’s what they do.” It might be, but it still bloody hurt. I’d rather have a colonoscopy again than go through Toby in full mouthy mode. But then you look at his fluffy face, and his big eyes and wonder how you could have ever been cross with him; it’s a constant cycle of conflicting emotions.
And all of this can lead you feeling hopelessly overwhelmed, and in turn that overwhelming emotion can lead to Puppy Blues. Puppy Blues are a very common experience, but no one openly speaks about them. Puppy Blues are the feelings of regret, sadness, tiredness, fear, anxiety and hopelessness you might feel after getting a puppy. Some people blame the sudden lack of freedom, you have to keep a watchful eye over your puppy at all times, but not too much in case you encourage separation anxiety later. Others say it comes from the crushing disappointment; you thought you were getting a small bundle of fluff that loved you and wanted to play all the time, but what you actually got was an angry toddler with twice the amount of legs and a mouth filled with tiny needles.
For me, it’s the pressure of being a good dog owner. The Internet is a terrible place to learn how to train a dog, with so much conflicting information. YouTube videos only show the good side of puppy training, with dogs picking up commands in seconds leaving you wondering where you’re going wrong. Dog training forums become a competition of who has the greatest dog. Reddit is full of people who just want to tell you you’re a bad person and you shouldn’t be owning a dog. Puppy classes are good, if you can get into one. Home visits from dog trainers are good too, but your puppy is probably so excited at the new face in his territory that the bad behaviour is hidden. And yes, it is my job to wade through this sludge and teach my puppy. I accept that.
Toby looking lovely and fluffy and wonderful. It’s all lies.
Admitting you can’t handle a puppy has an enormous stigma around it, like you’re a terrible human being because you’re not 100%, sure how to train the young of a totally different species you can’t yet communicate with. But there are many days where I cannot handle Toby. I do technically handle him, because I brought him into my family and he is my responsibility, but it’s a drain. On the surface I am patient, and confident; a master at puppy training. Internally I’m screaming, begging him to shut up and give me time to sleep, and then we can play.
Last week, I thought I was getting somewhere. Toby was turning into a model dog who followed my commands, and didn’t bite, and was a pleasure to be around – but this week he seems to have forgotten all of that. Two days ago he was particularly bouncy on a walk, and kept grabbing his own lead. What I didn’t realise was he was slowly chomping his way through it. Halfway down the street, I was suddenly no longer attached to my dog. That taste of freedom he got seems to have taught him some bad habits.
Once, my mum and sister looked after Toby for a few hours while I went to work. My mum, desperate to get away from him for half an hour came to pick me up after the show, and told me how bitey he’d been.
“It’s not normal,” she said. “I think he might be aggressive. I’d hate for you to have to get him put down because he bit a child. That’s not normal for a puppy.”
But my mum has never had a puppy, so I told her that Toby’s behaviour was totally normal, and he’s just a baby at the moment. A teething baby, who happens to communicate and explore through his mouth. A week earlier, though, I’d had the same thought. I’d cried myself to sleep at the idea that I might train Toby incorrectly, and he might bite someone, and he’d have to be put down. I still worry about it now. I think I’ll always worry about it.
Toby is a 4 month old baby, I know that, and Toby’s going to grow up into a great dog. I’m going to make sure of that, because that’s my responsibility, and I love him and want him to have a happy life. But it’s not a responsibilty I will ever give myself again. I’ll stick to training hamsters.