With only a month to go, it feels time for some proper puppy prep.
While the boys are up a tree on Hampstead Heath, I see a few dogs walking with an older Mini Schnauzer and ask his friendly-looking owner about her dog’s temperament: “Wonderful,” comes the reply. It gets better: it just so happens that she looks after other people’s dogs and is something of an expert. She recommends Dr Ian Dunbar’s book, Before You Get Your Puppy, as required reading.
I start on it that evening and it’s the most sensible dog book that I’ve read so far. It gives a clear idea of things to buy, and there’s a great section on crate-training. I blend the information with other bits I’ve read and come up with a shopping list that reads something like this:
Dog crate: The Vari-Kennel is not beautiful (none of them are) but it’s tried and tested. You buy it to fit the size your dog will become. A few strategically taped-down Amazon delivery boxes make it the right size for a puppy.
Crate liner: To make it cosy, first use old (washable) towels in case of accidents. Buy a Vet Bed fleece (washable and anti-dust mite) for when he can go through the night.
Puppy playpen/gates to help section off rooms while house training.
Water Bowl, Food Bowl
Chewtoys x 6 (Kongs, Biscuit Balls, Squirrel Dudes, Big Kahunas etc.)
Freeze dried liver to use as training rewards.
Collar and lead
Plastic dust-sheets and newspapers
We visit a huge, soulless pet mart that smells pet-food-awful and take home 80% of our list.
We take a trip to the local builder’s yard to buy artificial turf for our decked back yard (apparently it’s good for a pup to get used to using all different surfaces for their lav).
We make a vet appointment.
We make a trainer appointment.
We order a dog tag.
And then we head to Highgate for the nice bit – a trip to Hair of the Dog, a stylish pet shop that you might find yourself in even if you didn’t have a dog arriving in less than a month. We find some minimalist matt black food and water bowls that will look suitably low-key in the kitchen. We buy rather a prettily honed reindeer antler because I had once spoken to a woman cradling a new puppy who raved about them as the ultimate chew-toy. And I note for future reference that this smart shop sells Harry Barker, the American brand that is the bright, preppy dog accessory equivalent of New York fashion label Kate Spade. All set…
There seem to be two responses when you tell people you are getting a puppy:
1. Puppy envy: “The kids will love it! When can we visit?”
2. Puppy downer: “I never thought of you as a dog person. Do you want to be that tied down?”
Who knew that puppies were so contentious? I’ve had listings of low-points that verge on the malicious. Others ask me, maternally moist-eyed, if this will be my ‘third child’. (Let me be clear: I have never craved three children, and a dog is a dog.) Then there is the happy relief of friends who would quite like a pup to pet but prefer to hand it back before the need for a poo bag arises.
Honestly? It’s the scaremongers who have got to me.
Peeing, pooing, chewing, nipping, barking, whining: in order to learn to love (or at least accept) the dogginess of a dog, I am laying the groundwork and calling in a dog trainer. Too much, you think? Not if you’d read the training books I have ploughed through in the past three months. I’ve amassed a tidy stack (see above) on my bedside table. In the book shops there seem to be as many dog books as there are baby books, and they are equally as divisive.
While the family is agreed that we want a dog, I should probably say right now that I don’t like being licked by dogs, my sons get nervous around jumpy dogs, and poo bags? Well, they are going to be a learning curve for us all.
A mother at the school had success with The Dog-Mad Lady of Hampstead Heath. Not her bona fide moniker, but apparently an accurate description. On the telephone she comes over a bit Barbara Woodhouse. (Is this a good thing? Dog training has followed the way of child-rearing – these days it’s a whole lot more touchy-feely than Woodhouse and choke chains).
She barks questions down the telephone: Garden? Crate-training? Innoculations? Worming History? Vet? She asks me the name we have chosen – and approves it. (Would we have had to change it if she had not?)
She brushes aside some of the more prescriptive advice I’ve read with a ‘stuff and nonsense’ approach that I am willing to run with: maybe a dog calls for that Barbours and Agas approach. We’ll see.
When a dog walker with a small troupe of beautifully behaved mutts recommended Dr Ian Dunbar’s free, downloadable book, Before You Get Your Puppy as the best-ever, must-read dog book, of course I went home and read it. An excellent source of straightforward, sensible advice, it covers both the practical – choosing a puppy, crate training, toilet training, etc – and behavioural stuff you’ll want to get your head around before your pup arrives. I particularly like his suggestion that you make your dog a chewtoyaholic so that, a. they don’t get bored and go mad, and b. they end up chewing (and preferring) their own toys rather than your plumptious cushions / finely turned chair legs / prized Manolos.