As you’ll probably have discovered by now (largely because we plaster him across ALL of our social media channels – guilty), back in October, David and I welcomed a new family member into the household – our miniature dachshund puppy, Ralph.
The story of how we came to find Ralph is quite a long one, so I’ll save that for another time, but it’s fair to say that as soon as those teeny tiny paws trotted into our front door for the first time, our world was turned upside down.
In fact looking back, it’s quite unbelievable how much time and turmoil a tiny puppy takes up. I’d had my heart set on a dog joining us for several years, but the reality is very difficult to the cute photos you see on Instagram.
So I thought I’d put together a list of things to remember when a new furry friend joins the family. Because boy, I wish I could go back and reassure myself…
Have a little (or a lot of) patience
I think we put a lot of expectation on Ralph from the get go, which just wasn’t fair on either him or us.
We knew we wanted him to sleep downstairs.
We knew we wanted to train him to cement the bond and develop his recall.
We were pretty certain we’d want to ensure he wasn’t jumping off furniture (unfortunately Dachshunds are prone to have back issues – IVDD, so you have to be super careful with them).
Toilet training him was a must.
And of course, we wanted to make sure the old age favourite ‘he’ll chew the hell out of all your furniture’ wasn’t a reality for us.
But of course, nothing happens overnight and we put far too much pressure on ourselves and him to do all of these things at once.
And like people, all dogs are different. Running at their own pace, developing in their own time.
In actual fact, we ended up with a puppy who was fabulous at learning tricks quickly because he was very food motivated (we should probably change his name to ‘chicken’ because he arrives at our feet within 2 seconds of the word being said), who hated being on his own and who was quite possibly a mountain goat in his former life because his climbing abilities frequently leave me screaming ‘NOOOO, stay, stay, stay‘ from across the halfway room as he is balancing on a pile of wobbling cushions, 2 feet off the floor.
Have patience and faith that your little puppy will learn the things you want him to, it just takes time.
It took six months of sheer patience and persistence, hundreds of wet wipes and many, many packets of treats for Ralph to finally realise that pooping takes place outside.
As above, it’s very easy to compare your experience to others and feel panicked when you’re not developing at the same pace.
I joined several Dachshund specific facebook groups when we brought Ralph home, which admittedly has proven invaluable a few times at reassuring us that certain things are totally normal and nothing to freak out about (like reverse sneezing, YouTube it – it’s terrifying, especially when your dog starts doing it at 2am).
But it can also have the opposite effect, especially when you notice posts about puppies who have mastered toilet training in a mere 12 weeks and yet your bundle of fluffy joy is almost triple that age and STILL pooping in the corner of the room and then eating it (oh yes, the eating poop stage is a fun one).
Try not to compare your puppy to others. All he/she needs is positive reinforcement and lots of love and patience from their parents.
They’ll get it, it just may take a little longer. And that’s totally ok!
Sleep is for losers, right?
I know many puppy owners whose new arrivals have slept straight through on the first night.
But I know many, many more that have had several sleepless nights (even weeks of sleepless nights) of barking, whining and crying, as the puppy adjusts.
This is probably the most heartbreaking thing, because all you want to do is scoop him up and comfort him, but this develops a pattern of learned behaviour, where he thinks all he has to do is cry and then he has your attention.
It’s important the puppy learns to self soothe and lots of the advice we were given was ‘just let him cry it out, he’ll soon calm down and go to sleep’. Well, it’s fair to say that this didn’t apply to our Ralph.
For the first two weeks, poor Ralph barked for 9 hours straight every night. It was exhausting. We felt terrible and I cried worrying about Ralph and whether we were doing the right thing.
We were going downstairs every 1-2 hours each night taking him out to the toilet and meeting his needs in the hope he’d drift off to sleep. We tried every trick in the book, clothes that smelt of us, a ticking clock, a hot water bottle, blankets, a night-light, music, tv, audio-books.
The approach of sticking it out and letting him bark (and hopefully self-soothe in the process) had been recommended to us by dog owners and dog trainers that we knew and with no prior experience ourselves, we thought we were doing the right thing in following it.
In hindsight, we should have just followed our instinct – which was to bring him upstairs to sleep next to us (not in our bed, I must add – but in his own bed next to us) to help him get used to going to sleep in his bed.
Then we very very gradually (I’m talking over a period of months) moved him downstairs, getting him comfortable in his own space.
He now loves it and sleeps soundly every night, but there were so many times at 3am when we were so exhausted and beside ourselves with worry. I was frantically Googling solutions (never a winning combo) and hoping each suggestion would be our miracle cure. Newsflash Scarlett – there is no miracle solution, everything just takes time! Be patient.
Getting no sleep night after night heightened every emotion too and before we knew it, we were stuck in a vicious cycle of us getting anxious before putting him to bed, which he picked up on.
Just do things gradually and don’t put too many heavy expectations on you or him/her.
Puppy-proof your life
We puppy proofed the obvious threats to a 1.3kg ambitious adventurer, such as the stairs but we didn’t anticipate some of the more niche ones – such as cutting the eyes or labels off any toys, blankets or beds.
And blocking off any secret corners where puppies love to sneak into to deposit what I like to call ‘mystery poos‘.
We found it really helpful to give Ralph a small area of the house to explore initially, before gradually introducing him to other rooms.
It’s quite overwhelming for a puppy to visit a new house and he’ll want to give it a good sniff and explore before he feels settled.
So don’t let him have the run of the house too soon.
Fence off a small area and make it super inviting and comfortable for him. It also helps if said area isn’t carpeted.
Because you know, poop.
Toilet train from the get go
It felt like a huge accomplishment to have bagged the last two packets of puppy pads from our local PetsAtHome but in truth, we wish we hadn’t of bothered.
They are expensive and puppies love to chew them up and run off with the remains. Which often means that you’ll find yourself on a scavenger hunt involving bits of pee stained pad. Which is SO much fun!
We decided just to take Ralph outside every 30 minutes and slowly, we began to figure out his ‘tells’ for when he needs a wee. Usually for us this involved extra sniffing, licking or zooming about frantically in circles.
In fact the very first thing we did when we arrived home with them (after giving him a drink of water) was plop him on the grass and excitedly congratulate him with treats when he went to the toilet. We also repeated ‘wee, wees’ loudly at the same time.
We were consistent with this approach. Even at 3am. Of course we were loved by the neighbours! Set an alarm on your phone for every thirty minutes to take them outside and make sure you’re rewarding them.
If they do pee or poop inside (and it does happen, a lot) don’t tell them off. If you do, they might try to hide their toileting from you in the future and engage in more secret poops and wee’s, which is even worse!
If you notice them doing it, don’t make a fuss, just scoop them up and take them outside. And clean up any accidents with a product that breaks down the chemicals in the wee/poo, otherwise their detective noses will pick up on where they’ve been before – and head back to the spot next time!
Let them have a little independence
Puppies are so bloomin’ cute, so this next step is going to be a real struggle, but it’s really important. While it’s tempting to cuddle them ALL day, every day, don’t. If you’re constantly cuddling, picking them up, handling them, fussing them and cooing over them, they will struggle to be on their own.
We made the slight mistake of cuddling Ralph all day, before then expecting him to be ok on his own at night. We didn’t let him have any space for independence and this is so crucial to their development.
Once we realised our error, we began leaving Ralph for very short periods (5 or so minutes), before returning and trying not to make a huge fuss. We did this so that he wouldn’t see our coming and going as a big deal!
Dachshunds are prone to separation anxiety and of course as with all dogs, they are pack animals and they love company (and we love their company too), but it is worth building up their independence so that you can pop out to the shop without him/her being upset.
This was even more important for me to do, as I work from home and so Ralph is used to being around me 100% of the time. Independence is still something we’re actively working on!
Puppy classes and socialising your pup is super important, as it’s an integral part of their training and development. We signed up Ralph to a local puppy class to coincide with his last injection and it proved to be a great decision.
It’s safe to say the first class basically consists of one hour of incessant yapping, barking, chaos and pooping on the floor (and don’t get me started on the dogs, too!), but slowly – week after week, little by little – you begin to pick up new tricks and tips for keeping your puppy safe (recall and lead training is harder than you think) and for bonding with them (training is such a great bonding exercise).
It’s incredibly important that your puppy gets used to being around other dogs when they are young, to prevent any issues as they get older.
They learn from other older dogs and take social cues with regards to how to behave. This is especially useful for when they hit puberty (which is a whole other ball game as some pups – Ralph included – suddenly regress on their training) and they look for real-life examples!
I can’t believe Ralph is now nearly 9 months old! We’ve loved every single second since we brought him home and he’s the source of joy and entertainment every day in our household.
He’s given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning (even if he does bark at me until I come and say hello) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It was a huge decision for us to offer a dog our home – and I will emphasise here, it’s certainly not something to take lightly as they are a huge responsibility.
But having a furry friend in the house has given a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘dogs are (wo)man’s best friends’.