Bringing Puppy Home
Our sweet, not so little Saint Bernard Puppy Gatsby turned 6 months old last week which means we've had him for just about 4 months now. It's funny because he really just feels like he belongs here. He never has felt like a "new" dog to us. The transition bringing him home was relatively smooth, but obviously not without their challenges. I mean... we did bring a puppy home into a home with another dog, twin toddlers, a split level entry (not exactly the easiest for frequent potty breaks), and during the middle of winter, and the holidays. Like I said - not without challenges. Gatsby is still very much a puppy but we have gotten a really good routine down, he's completely potty trained, and we really feel like he's part of the family. So I thought maybe today I could lend some advice to those of you who might be thinking about adding a furry member to the family.
1. My biggest tip - and I mean most important is this - whoever is going to be doing most of the work should be the one who wants the dog the most. As much as we want to believe that a family dog is the whole family's responsibility, the responsibility almost always lies on one person's shoulders way more than everyone else's. For us, that was me. I knew our kids would love having a dog. And my husband really wanted one too. But I'm the primary caregiver for Gatsby. I'm the one who lets him out all day, I feed him during the day. I schedule his vet appointments, I'm the one who vacuums and sweeps up dog hair. And I'm not saying the rest of the family doesn't help. My husband is very actively a part of the dog duties. But because I'm home most of the time, it's my burden to bear most of the time. And I'm honestly 100% okay with it because the dog was my choice, and was something I wanted for me primarily so I don't feel burdened by his care. It's all about perspective, and trust me - if a puppy wasn't something you necessarily signed up for, it's really hard to stay motivated to stick to the training.
2. Research research research. We have loved Saint Bernards for years and years. Their sweet disposition, large stature, and lazy nature was always something that appealed to us. But even though we were pretty sure we wanted one, we made sure to research the breed beforehand so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Things like temperament, activity levels, common health problems, coat and maintenance, food requirements, etc. These are all things that will heavily affect your lifestyle. We chose Saint Bernards knowing that they tend to not live as long as some dogs, that we'd be feeding basically another human being's worth of food, because we got a sweet and loyal disposition, and minimal to moderate activity level. Meaning he's down to play, but he's not high maintenance. And we like that.
3. Be sure you have the time to dedicate to a puppy. I know this seems like a given, but puppies require a lot of attention and care, especially in the beginning. Rescued adult animals (like our last dogs) require a lot of transitional help and time too. Because I stay home with our boys, it was a bit of an easier decision for us because I have the flexibility in my day to spend with the puppy and we're home a lot anyway. And even though things like crating and dog walking services are available, they're not always reliable. Dog walking is expensive, first of all. And crating isn't always a sure thing. Gastby, for example, absolutely loathed his crate. He had nervous accidents and shook for hours afterward. When we leave him free, though, he does great and we don't have accidents or incidents. This is fine because we're rarely out for more than a few hours at a time. If I was going to work full time, though, my hands would have been tied.
4. Train for the kind of dog you want, not the kind of dog the books say you want. I have certain things that are zero tolerance with our dogs. Incessant barking, jumping, snatching food, and storming guests to name a few. These are things that I work tirelessly with Gatsby to make sure he knows what he is and is not allowed to do. And I don't use any special training techniques. We don't treat train, we don't hand signal. He has a few basic commands we use frequently, but for the majority of the time, we just make sure he knows to listen for our cues and go-ahead before acting. This is something we've done with all our dogs and it's something that works really well for us. I know it's not for everyone and that's totally okay. Training a dog is as subjective as it gets. As long as it works for you, that's awesome. But don't feel like you have to use any one method or any one trainer or technique to have a well behaved dog.
5. Don't worry too much about it. I know I've spent most of this post telling you how time consuming and tough it can be to have a puppy and yes, it is and it can be. But the training, chewing, hyper phase passes quicker than you might think. And with two toddlers in the house, it really just kind of all blended into the same chaos I'm already used to so it didn't even really feel like more work. The joy Gatsby brings us, our kids, and our home, was well worth the extra effort for those first few weeks. It's perfectly fine to wait if you're feeling overwhelmed already. Obviously - don't do anything you're not comfortable with. But I'd have 8 Gatsbys if Tomas would let me because we really do love him and he really is part of the family. He's a joy, a wonderful companion, and he also really likes to sing along to Adele with me. So he's definitely a keeper.
So - do you have doubts about bringing home a puppy with kids? Do you have questions or concerns? How about advice for other moms wondering whether it's really a good idea?