Bringing Home Puppy

First day at home.

Kona came to live with us on the Easter long weekend when she was 8 weeks old.  It was perfect timing for us, as it meant that I would be able to spend the first four days at home with her, and P was able to take 2 weeks vacation so that he would be around to assist with her house training.  We picked her up from the breeder mid-afternoon on Good Friday and our introduction to puppy-rearing quickly began.

That first weekend was a blur.  Our days were completely focused on making Kona feel comfortable, getting her used to the crate, and house training.  Oh, and hosting Easter dinner for both of our families!

I spent the first night on the couch in the Family Room, next to Kona’s crate.  A couple of times she would begin to whimper, but as soon as she saw me stretch or otherwise move, she would quiet down and go back to sleep.  We made it through the night without any need for a bathroom break.  After that first night, she didn’t whimper at all.

Before we brought her home we had great plans for P to do some house-related projects (building a shed, overseeing fence construction).  How naive were we!  Within a few days we realized that those plans were not likely to happen.  Her bladder was tiny and she needed constant attention!  Luckily puppies also spend a fair amount of time napping.  In those short nap times we managed to try to get as much done as we could.

Sleeping with her tongue out - a puppy pose that Kona has since grown out of

One of the first things we learned was to take training books with a grain of salt.  As I’ve mentioned before, we did a great deal of reading before bringing Kona home.  The book we relied on the most, by Dr. Dunbar, led us to believe that house training would be a breeze, we’d never have an accident and if we did it would be our fault.  That is a lot of pressure to put on first-time dog owners. We were very hard on ourselves and very frustrated when house training didn’t go smoothly that first week.

Looking back, now that Kona is successfully house trained, I realize that the book is unrealistic and misleading on this topic.  Yes, we had accidents and they were due to mistakes we made (not reading her signals properly, or not taking her out immediately after sleep or exercise).  But unlike the book implies, it is not the end of the world.  It is normal and expected to have an accident or two.  Once we stopped stressing about preventing accidents and we learned Kona’s schedule and signals, the process of house training became a lot simpler.

Those first few weeks were pretty intense.  Puppies under 4 months of age are high maintenance!!! By the end of the first week we feared she wouldn’t be ready to be left alone for the workday after P’s vacation ended a week later.  Thankfully puppies mature very quickly and by the end of the second week she was used to being crated for up to 4 hours at a time.

There are a few puppy things we miss from those first few weeks.  The way 8-10 week old lab puppies run and pounce toys is unbelievably adorable.  Plus, Kona was small enough to be a lap dog, and very cuddly when she was napping.  All the cute-ness aside, we’re now enjoying having a maturing puppy, whose obedience and manners grow day by day.

Kona and her alligator - still one of her favourite toys

Choosing Our Girl

As I’ve mentioned in the past, P and I did a lot of reading up on dogs and training prior to deciding to get one.  One of the downsides to this approach, is we both thought that we’d be completely prepared for training a puppy (haha! more on that another day), and that we became paranoid about picking a dog.  The experts warn you against picking a puppy based on cuteness / looks alone.  You don’t want a dog that is shy, but you also don’t want a dog that is aggressive.  All we wanted to know was how we, as inexperienced dog owners, were supposed to know which puppy had the right temperament?

Thankfully, during our search one of the breeders told us about the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test.  This particular breeder of portuguese water dogs would bring in a person who would test all of her puppies.  Based on the test results, the background of the future owners, and the future owners’ top 3 picks from the litter, the breeder would assign puppies to each of the owners.  The less dominant dogs would go to inexperienced dog owners and so on and so forth.

Our breeder, like most, simply let people pick their own puppies from the litter on a first reserved, first pick process.  Luckily, the Volhards provide a detailed description of the test on their website as well as plenty of other valuable information on selecting breeders and choosing puppies.  The complete test isn’t necessarily feasible for an individual selecting their own dog from a litter, but the Volhards also recommend three tests you can do to get feel for the temperament of a puppy whether you are at a breeder or a shelter.  The tests evaluate the puppy’s response to restraint, social dominance and retrieving.

P and I went to see the litter the day they turned 7 weeks old, as this is the ideal age for testing a puppy, as recommended by the Volhards.  We had a lot of fun, and were given the chance to spend time with all the puppies as well as the mother, Serena.

Meeting Serena and two of the boys

Let me first say that 7 week old puppies are adorable!!!  Do NOT go see puppies until you have already decided you want an adult dog…

The litter had 7 puppies; 4 boys and 3 girls.  We played with the boys for a bit, and then we got some time with the girls.  It was so hard to choose since they were all happy, social, friendly puppies.  If you sat on the ground it wasn’t long until there were several puppies climbing all over you!  The hardest part was playing with the puppies with their mom (Serena) around – she really wanted all the attention to herself.  In fact, at the end of the night Serena kept disciplining our puppy when I would pay the puppy more attention than I did to Serena.

Two of the girls - Kona, is on the right.

In the end we let the cuddle-factor make our decision.  We were having a hard time deciding between the girls, and our breeder pointed out that they had almost identical temperaments and features.  P and I separately took the girls away one at a time to do the Volhard test and see how each puppy responded to us.  When P was with one of the girls, a second puppy went to join them.  Our girl just stayed with me and cuddled – she was just a bit more snuggly than her sisters and paid us a bit more attention.  Yes, despite all of our serious testing intentions, we were suckered by a cuddler.

Officially picked - our girl at 7 weeks

After we had picked her we gave it a few days to decide whether our preferred name, Kona, would fit.  In our opinion it did, and we began counting down the days until Kona would join us in our home.

Now, 3 months later I can look back on the experience and realize that our concerns about picking the right one were not needed.  Kona is a wonderful dog – smart, responsive, sociable and loving.  From the time we spent with the litter, I don’t doubt that her siblings share these personality traits.  Unfortunately, the litter arrived at a time when the breeder was quite busy (she was involved in campaigning for a candidate in the federal election) and as a result, she didn’t have time to find homes for all of the puppies.  As of June 1st, one of Kona’s brothers and both of her sisters are in need of homes.  Contact Markwell Labradors for more information.

What’s in a name?

One of the many fun perks of getting a pet is the naming process.  It’s so fun, that P and I were suggesting names to one another long before we had decided on a breed.  Which was a little premature, since the name needs to fit both the personality and the appearance of the dog!

A wise dog-owner advised us to be cautious of the name chosen, as dogs tend to live up to their names (i.e., if you name your dog Trouble, that is what you will get).  With that in mind we had many debates.  Our one stumbling block was that P tended to like names that are also used for people.  I was strongly opposed to using people names.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that – there are many people names out there that I think are great for dogs.  It’s just that before I met P, I ended up dating someone with the same name as my cat, Keegan (to be clear, I had the cat first).  Yes, it was very entertaining for my friends (and continues to be so) but I didn’t want to pick a human name and end up having a neighbour that shared it with our dog.

As any good spouse knows, the trick to getting what you want is finding a solution that fits your criteria, and appeals to your spouse.  So with that in mind, I started brainstorming potential names that would have significance for us.  Initially I was thinking of places that we had travelled together.  While on the geography concept I also gave thought to our interests and hobbies.  P is a very active person whose current sport of choice is the triathlon.  The Ironman is the Ultimate triathlon, and it originated in Kona, Hawaii where the Ironman World Championship are held each year.  P was keen on the suggestion, and Kona went to the top of our list for girl dogs.  We waited until we had picked out our puppy before we decided on it for sure.

Since bringing Kona home we have discovered that Kona, Hawaii is also known for its coffee.  Very appropriate for our dark brown labrador retriever!

Couple Seeks Puppy

Once we had decided on Labrador Retrievers, the next step was finding a breeder from whom we would get our puppy.  While we had considered adopting an older dog, we both really wanted the experience of training a puppy from the beginning.  We thought that it would make us better at training.  3 months in, I truly believe it was the right choice.  In the past I have been intimidated by adult dogs.  With a puppy there is no intimidation factor, and as a result I have become a lot more confident with dogs in general, because I’ve learned to respond to our puppy.  As she grows, I continue to learn more about dog behaviour which increases my confidence and comfortability around dogs of all ages.

As labs are such a popular breed there was no shortage of breeders.  I compiled a long list of Ontario breeders using Canada’s Guide to Dogs as well as the Labrador Owners Club.

We decided to narrow our search to breeders located within a one hour drive, as we intended to visit them at least twice before bringing home the puppy.  The first visit to decide if we liked the breeder and parents, the second to choose our puppy from a litter.  As we live in the GTA, this still left us with many options.  Typical for any of our projects, we created a spreadsheet that listed breeder location, their next expected litter (and projected home date for the puppies), and cost of the puppy.

After reading Dr. Dunbar’s book, it was important to us that we find a breeder where the puppies would be kept in the home for the first 8 weeks (until they went to their permanent homes).  This would expose them to typical household sounds, and hopefully to more people for early socialization.

One of the first breeders we met with had a large kennel outside of the house.  They had 24 adult dogs, which they rotated between their house and the kennel.  They also had several leftover puppies from recent litters.  While they were very nice, knowledgeable people, the place felt a bit too much like a puppy factory.  After that experience, we began ruling out any breeder with more than a dozen dogs.

In the end, focussing on timing and proximity helped us find a wonderful breeder.  Fanny Edwards, who runs Markwell Labradors, had a black/yellow litter and an all-chocolate litter ready for homes in mid to late April.  We met with Fanny and the two litter mothers, Serena and Mariah at the end of March.  Both dogs had a wonderful temperament and were just beautiful labs.  Serena won me over as all she wanted to do was to cuddle with me while we were there.  Although I did see them, I forced myself to ignore the puppies during this visit, as it was most important to me to like the adult version!

Fanny was very helpful and understanding of all of our questions as first time dog owners.  Meeting with her, we quickly gained confidence that she was someone we could comfortably rely on after the puppy came home in the event that we had questions or concerns (and we certainly did).

During our search for a breeder P and I had often debated which colour we liked the best.  We had differing opinions on this matter.  He was (and still is) a fan of the yellow lab.  I’ve always been partial to black labs, although chocolate is a close second.  Ultimately though, it was more important to us to find a litter with the best timing, and if there was a colour choice in the litter we would debate it then.

In the end, the all-chocolate litter had the best timing for us, as it gave us a few weeks to prepare for the puppy’s arrival.  We also decided that we would prefer a female.  This was mainly due to me.  While I have always liked dogs, I have never been completely at ease around them and I was concerned with our first dog being the size that many male labs can reach.  The females just seemed like a better, more manageable size for me.  That being said, Serena, our puppy’s mother, is on the bigger end of the female size range.  So we’ll see what we end up with!

So many breeds, so little time

There are hundreds of dog breeds out there and after we decided to get a dog, it was very important for us that we chose a breed that really suited our lifestyle.  There are too many stories of people bringing home a dog because it was a cute puppy, but as it grows up are surprised to discover the temperament of the adult dog, even though their dog is reflective of the breed’s standard traits.

Neither P nor myself gave much thought to smaller breeds.  P was looking for a dog who could join him in many of his favourite outdoor activities: running, hiking, swimming.  I just couldn’t imagine bringing home a dog that wasn’t larger than our cat.  We both vowed to keep an open mind and look into as many breeds as possible, but deep down we both were leaning towards labs from the start.

I don’t know why, but I have always had a soft spot for labs.  They’re just such happy, friendly dogs!  My family had a black lab, Domino, when I was born and although he didn’t make the move to Ontario with us, we would visit him every time we went to PEI during our summer vacations.  Perhaps this had more of an influence on me than I thought!

In researching breeds, we put a lot of focus on ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs as well as dogs that are good with children and with other animals.  While no dog is truly hypoallergenic, there are many out there that do not shed, and as a result many allergy sufferers are able to happily co-exist with them.  As a kid P did suffer from dog (and cat) allergies, and we weren’t sure how he would respond should we bring a dog into our home.

There are so many resources on the web for researching dog breeds that it can be a bit overwhelming.  Some of the ones that we found useful were:

A few interesting tidbits that we discovered in our research and influenced our decision:

  • Larger dogs deal better with being left alone during the day than smaller breeds.
  • Non-shedding dogs require grooming on a frequent basis that can cost you $600+ a year if you have someone else do it, or 3+ hours of your time each month if you do it yourself.
  • When not sufficiently entertained / exercised, smart dogs become bored dogs which can equal destructive dogs.
  • Regardless of the breed’s common traits, your dog’s behaviour will be most influenced by the amount of effort you put into their socialization and training when they are a puppy.

In the end, we narrowed our search to Portuguese Water Dogs and Labrador Retrievers.  We arranged visits to breeders of both so that we would have an opportunity to spend time with each breed and see if their temperament was a good fit for us (and whether P had an allergy).

While we liked both breeds, we decided that labs were the breed of choice for us.  Their temperament and energy level was a good fit for our lifestyle and they are known to make wonderful family dogs.  Plus, P survived an hour in a room with 8 adult labs, 6 puppies of varying ages, and 2 cats and didn’t sniffle once.  He was confident that he would be able to live with a lab, we were both smitten with the breed.

While we did not get a PWD, I would like to take this moment to tell you about Lorraine Wilson of Big Bay Kennel and 4 Paws Training.  While she is a breeder of PWDs, she is also a trainer and groomer and a wonderful resource on dogs in general.  We had the opportunity to meet with her and her dogs in her home.  She gave us invaluable advice on not just PWDs but also on dogs and training in general.  If you are looking for a PWD or a trainer in the Richmond HIll area, I would highly recommend contacting her.

Let’s get a dog!

Growing up, I was often pestering my parents about getting a dog.  When I gave up, my younger sister took up the task.  The breed of choice always varied, but ultimately my parents never relented and in retrospect they made the right decision for our family.

As an adult, I understood the reality of what it meant to have a dog, and rather than put in all of the necessary work I chose to bring home a people-oriented lap cat.  After 11 years with Keegan, I considered myself more of a cat person, although I always enjoyed being around dogs.

P, my husband, is a big fan of our “dog-like” cat, but deep down he is truly a dog person.  He is that guy, that as soon as a dog sees him, the dog becomes happy, excited and puppy-like, regardless of the age of the dog.  Anytime we went for a walk in the park and met a golden retriever, lab, or other similar breed, P would turn to me afterwards and say, “wouldn’t it be great to have a dog?”.  While I understood the enthusiasm, I always acted the role of the pragmatist and quashed any dog-related conversation.

It’s not that I didn’t want a dog, but we both recognized that our lives at the time were completely unsuitable for having a dog.  Each of us work and were gone for 12 hours a day, without any chance of coming home at lunch.  I thought that one day in the distant future, when we had kids and they were older, it would be nice to get a dog if it worked out.  But life has a funny way of throwing you curve balls…

Over the past few years we have learned the lesson that while you can make as many plans as you like, sometimes life doesn’t follow the path that you intend for it.  This winter a new job opportunity arose for me, which would mean less hours, less stress and working 15 minutes from home.  As the possibility of this job came up, our friend M mentioned to P that his father’s boxer had recently had a litter of puppies if we were interested.  He even offered to do the initial puppy training for us (what an AMAZING offer!).  As the job wasn’t 100% for certain we didn’t really consider the offer, but it did get us daydreaming.

I don’t think P ever really expected me to take the dog idea seriously.  For some reason though, it really stuck in my head and once the job offer was official I raised the subject of getting a dog as something we should “think about”.

We tried to keep the decision process as practical as possible, and not be an impulsive or emotional-driven decision.  We talked about our lives, issues that we had dealt with over the past few years, where we wanted to be in the future, and how a dog would fit into all of this.  At the end of the day, we both felt that this was the right decision for us.  And with that began a whole process of research and choices that had to be made before we brought home our snuggly pup.