Teddy loves a newspaper. I like to think we have that in common. And while it can be slightly frustrating to have the Sundays shredded while I am in the kitchen making coffee, I have decided to choose my battles, and leave the newspapers on a taller table.
Training gathers apace. Before we start Puppy Class, Kevin-the-Trainer has listed all the things that a puppy needs to be exposed to sooner rather than later. There is a short window of opportunity (before 16 weeks) when puppies are receptive to all things new, and you have to make the most of it before fear kicks in. So the race is on to introduce Teddy to, among other things, trains, buses, roadworks, loud noises of any description and people – all different types, but particularly squeaky, unpredictable children.
We can’t take Teddy out on foot until his jabs kick-in so we take him out in a bag. Challenge number one: children. I make my way to school with Teddy’s head poking out of an ancient, towel-lined Herve Chapelier nylon tote. Few register Teddy’s head bobbing up and down in his customised carrier, but when my children come out of their classrooms and race towards our dog-in-a-bag, I realize that their talk this week must have been of little else: a swarm of classmates follow and we are swallowed-up by small hands eager to feel some fur. Teddy is remarkably un-phased but we cut his immersion therapy short as frankly it’s all a bit too much for me.
But at least it’s all positive. Going out and about with a new puppy reminds me a little of life with a new baby. Not only do I seem to be spending time lingering in bookshops (too long, clearly: an assistant at our local Waterstones now hails me from across the shop floor, “The Woman with the Dog-in-a-Bag!”) but like a baby, a pup brings out the best in people: they smile, they coo, they stop and pat. Teddy laps it up and I feel all warm and fuzzy.
Until we start Puppy Class and Teddy begins to bark. And bark. It’s a very specific, high-pitched yowl. As every other dog there seems to have tacitly agreed on a strict no-bark policy, Teddy suddenly looks out of control. Despite our best efforts to do as Kevin-the-Trainer tells us and turn Teddy around in order to break eye contact with the dog he’s barking at, Teddy continues. We start to imagine a future continually punctuated by Teddy’s raucous yelps.
A friend comes over with Fudge, her sweet and biddable Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The dogs start off well enough – we keep them on leads, they check each other out, they seem to be okay. Their leads are relaxed and then Teddy goes for the older dog. We start to imagine a future continually restraining a fluffy attack dog.
We visit my in-laws and their elegant, docile old Greyhound, Jess. Teddy enters their sitting room and, like a smudgy lightening bolt, he goes for her.
And then he moves on from barking and starts to go for other dogs at the Puppy Class. What’s happened to our calm little pup? “He’s a bit of a bully boy,” is Kevin-the-Trainer’s opinion. “We’ll have to nip it in the bud,” he says, warning us that he is going to tell-off Teddy the next time he acts up and that his method will sound worse than it is. In fact it’s nothing harsher than Teddy is meting out – all noise and but a small flurry of action which involves sending Teddy towards the other dog before pulling him away. It’s effective. Teddy recovers his jauntiness in seconds but behaves himself for the rest of the class. Kevin-the-Trainer is pleased with the results but I am left with a worrying feeling that we may have to get the hang of this complicated maneuver ourselves.
I probably should have trusted my instincts regarding the dog trainer. Her telephone manner was stern, verging on the bossy. And in person? Well, let’s say she clearly considers herself top dog. “She prefers canines to humans,” is my husband’s view.
We gather around as she curtails any questions, puts us firmly in our places and issues instructions that sound a lot like commands. When my son endeavours to do as he is told and give Teddy a treat while at the same time trying to avoid sharp little teeth, her remark: “Are you left-handed, cack-handed or what?” seals the deal. Not the trainer for us. We say goodbye.
My friend with a Cavalier King Charles suggests Kevin-the-Trainer. I telephone him and explain that we need a dog trainer to give us some pointers, like what to do when play bites get a little too real (every book gives a different suggestion) and how to involve the children in training. I also want to know what he thinks of Teddy’s temperament. We have welcomed this sharp-toothed little sweetie-pie into our family and yes, he’s gorgeous, but I’ve read the books, I’ve heard the stories: what’s the chance that he will turn our world upside down, but not in a good way?
Kevin comes the next day: “Let’s start you off right”. He scoops up Teddy, handles him confidently and explains in a straightforward manner how to play and train him at the same time. He gives the children some kibble and has them stand apart from each other. One child calls ‘Teddy, look what I’ve got,’ and Teddy rushes over to get a treat and his collar felt (to stop him getting edgy if caught by the collar later on), then the other child does it. Within seconds Teddy is ricocheting from one child to the other, getting to know his name, getting to recognize that the children can dispense treats and are therefore to be respected, getting to know that a touch on the collar often means a reward. And, having slipped over and scrabbled about on wooden floorboards for the best part of 10 minutes, he thoroughly exhausts himself. Excellent. We sign up for puppy classes.
I was pulled up short the other day when I heard the children matter-of-factly discussing how old they’ll be when Teddy kicks the bucket (a typical Miniature Schnauzer lifespan is fourteen years). It didn’t take me long, though, to follow their lead. The excitement of getting a new puppy is underscored with the faintly daunting understanding that this dog will be for life: all of his, hopefully, and a large chunk of ours. Whatever happens in our family in the next hopefully-fourteen years, Teddy will be a part of it.
My husband and I head off to pick up our new family member with many towels, some chew toys, a cardboard box lined with newspaper and in my stomach, a fair few butterflies.
When we arrive there’s paperwork to be done, routines, diets and pedigree dog charts to be discussed. We find out Teddy’s kennel name is, rather charmingly, Sunshine. We make a payment (ouch). And then Teddy is brought to the front room. After silently admiring him tussling with a stuffed toy, we leave with Teddy in my arms, the breeder’s wife discreetly sniffing into a tissue, and the promise of email updates to come.
On the journey home, Teddy conks out, folded onto my lap in a lurid old pink beach towel. I should have thought about that – like a child’s attachment blanket, I suspect this towel is going to be with us for life.
Once we get home Teddy wobbles about a bit and we try to go by the book (Dr Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy). We put his pink towel and a treat in his dog crate in the kitchen and he totters in after it, settling down but keeping his dark marble eyes open. Thereafter we begin the ‘watching like a hawk’ part of the process, alert for any circling, nose to ground, upon which moment we take him straight outside for a loo break. The first time he goes outside – with no end result – he sweetly saunters into the kitchen and pees by the cooker. Turns out I should have done as the book said and popped him back in his crate/pen straight away. This happens a couple of times before I learn my lesson.
The children are delivered home by school-friends who clamour to come in and say hello. Teddy takes four enthusiastic youngsters in his stride, happy to be shuttled from lap to lap. And then conks out. The children are thrilled with Teddy who looks remarkably like a stiff little brush-furred Steiff toy – and are doubly delighted when they are put on loo watch for the next pee/poo accident.
Having heard that the first few nights can be fraught with crying and homesickness I prepare for hours of sleeplessness and, as I station myself next to the crate with a book and a cushion, I feel as though I’ve regressed to new-motherhood. I take him out regularly until about 11.30pm then, when he’s dropped-off, I slowly creep next door to sleep on the sofa, within earshot of any cry that might mean he needs the loo and/or reassurance. I figure it’s worth investing the time now: the sooner he’s housetrained, the better. And honestly? I was never any good at letting my children cry themselves to sleep, so I won’t kid myself that I can do it any better with a motherless doe-eyed puppy.
I wake up at 5am with the sound of Teddy rustling about in his crate. I let him out for a pee. He does his duty. Result!
I sleep on the sofa the following night and my husband takes his turn the one after that – all good. No reassurance needed, and no wet crate. Perhaps that’s something to do with getting a pup at 10 weeks, but more probably everything to do with our lovely breeder, who did assure me not to worry, Teddy would soon settle in.
Apparently, when people buy a puppy, there are those who like to visit their pup pre-pick-up, and those who don’t. Something about the breeder having picked out the pup for us makes us even more intrigued by the pup we are going to get. We couldn’t not go and check him out on his 6-week birthday.
When we get there, we spend a long time with the breeder and his wife observing many fuzzy pups roaming about and/or falling into sleeping piles of paws and noses, under the watchful eyes of their gruff-looking (those eyebrows, those beards) older male cousins, uncles and fathers.
The suspense is nearly killing me. I ask which one is for us. The breeder’s wife picks up one little grey bundle and introduces us to Teddy: “A lovely little boy,” she says, handing him over. “Good coat, good temperament, good bone,” says the breeder, confidently. “I would really like to hang onto him, but we can’t keep them all and his ears don’t fall properly.” With Teddy sturdily ensconced in my arms, I tear myself away from admiring the coat around his plastic button nose that appears to have had the perfect blow dry, and try to work out exactly what is sub-standard about his ears. Unfamiliar with the exacting criteria of the show ring, we happily remain oblivious and instead, fall under the spell of one calm, and terribly thoughtful-looking little dog. Am I imagining the recognition in those slate grey eyes?
We have to wait until Teddy is 10-weeks-old before our breeder will let him go. So after getting in some decent cuddles and watching him fall asleep with his family, we journey back to London, IPhones stuffed with images supposedly for the children.
If you are considering owning a dog and mulling over the right dog breed for you, take a walk across Hampstead Heath to the café at Kenwood House. Apparently it’s the Sunday morning jaunt of choice for every dog owner in North London. Recently we counted 126 canines in the 20 minutes it took to get there.
Having spoken to (‘accosted’ says my husband) various dog-walkers and asked them about their hounds, the resulting consensus is that we should have a Cockerpoo. The popular Cocker Spaniel/Poodle cross is meant to shed less and therefore nix the potential for allergic reactions. Our eldest son has asthma and is supposed to be allergic to dogs. But when sleeping at his grandparents’ house, their gentle old Greyhound occasionally comes to share his bed with no ill effects.
Being sensibly cautious, a non-shedding breed is probably a good idea, but because my heart leans towards a sleek, clever Lurcher, I’m not naturally wild about a dizzy-looking Cockerpoo. Apparently, if you are concerned about allergies, a pedigree dog that allows you to meet the parents also allows you to assess the allergy potential. So, no trip to Battersea Dogs Home for us.
We browse dog encyclopedias over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite our youngest son campaigning for a Chihuahua (it’s the size of the cat that he really has his heart set on) and our eldest for a Pyrenean Mountain Dog (all that drool, all that fur and how many poo bags?), we settle on a Miniature Schnauzer: bright, hardy, non-shedding, odourless (really?), can cope with little or lots of exercise and good with kids. And then there’s the clincher: a pair of the most ridiculously expressive, large, twitchy eyebrows. Even the child with the cat fixation approves.
We come across My Name is Moose, a book by Martin Usborne: the story of a photographer and his Mini Schnauzer in groovy East London, it is sweet, funny and incredibly winning. Having found another tome that is clearly the Schnauzer bible on Amazon, I Google the author and after a 45 minute telephone conversation with him about the merits (so many) and downsides (but a few) of the breed I make an appointment to go and see his breeder partner and have 14 of the little darlings jump all over us. Ventolin at the ready.
I cannot remember the crux of the matter – nor can he – but our son was upset. When I tried to talk it through, he muttered, rather hopelessly, “If I had a dog, he would understand.” And the seed was planted.
Several months later and the distress has disappeared – as it does when you’re 8-years-old – but the dog remains firmly on the agenda – as, of course, it would. Just 5 weeks, in fact, until one carefully picked pup arrives under our roof.
Only now, it appears I am more excited about it than anyone else in our house. (Perhaps I should mention that I have really, really wanted a dog ever since I can remember.)
I have always been more enthusiastic than my husband, who grew up with dogs, and has recently been inclined to offer comments such as, “We don’t have a proper garden,” and, “It’ll need to be walked, even in weather like this”.
Yesterday, our 6-year-old breezily informed us that really, he would much prefer a fluffy marmalade cat. And having heard about a puppy who bulldozed, then chewed over a friend’s highly prized Lego Star Wars fleet, even his big brother is now a little less gung-ho.
I admit to the odd doubt-filled moment, but only because I have high hopes of our new family member. I don’t want the puppy that my dog-owning friends delight in warning me about. The dog that cries all night, poos everywhere, chews everything, soils sofas, nips ankles, steals shoes (or just vomits into them), whines incessantly, makes the children vie for attention and inevitably turns me into a crashing dog-bore does not appeal.
It will take some effort – and as I work from home, largely by me – but our puppy will keep off sofas, stay downstairs (people say it’ll end up in our bed – they cannot know my aversion to dog’s bum on pillow), walk obediently off-leash, manage not to terrorise children, ours included, and most importantly, learn to bark and poo on command. (You think I’m joking? Apparently it’s possible and I am so signing up for that.)
Now I’ve just got to make it happen. And I will. Our puppy will be a positive addition to the family. The idea of it provided light relief for my son, and for me at the same time, when my father was ill. Shortly my children will have a faithful friend who listens without prejudice (and hopefully the youngest will learn why dogs rather than cats that are considered man’s best friend); my husband will get to train a dog the way he feels that his parents never did with their sweet but lunatic Beagles; I will finally have the dog I’ve always wanted and my dad, he would have been tickled that we are going to name our puppy in his honour.