If I’m being honest, I am pretty exhausted.
I am happy, in love, surprised, excited, feeling accomplished, feeling like a failure, full of awe, grateful, and tired. So…very…tired.
A bit of a catchup
It’s amazing how much can change in a few weeks, or even a few months.
Last year was full of disappointment: COVID-19 restrictions cancelled several ski trips, kept me from seeing my family, and caused me to miss important family milestones and, after having waited for more than a year, I missed out on getting a puppy again. The start of the new year came with the promise of most new years that things would improve. Then, three days into 2022, I got COVID-19 and I braced myself for what might be another 12 months on disappointment and heartbreak.
Then everything turned around, and in a matter of weeks!
South Australia no longer required international arrivals to quarantine (meaning travel was both allowed and affordable), work approved my last minute leave request and, before I knew it, we were flying to Chicago to see my grandmother and cousins. We followed this short stop up with a visit to Colorado to see friends and immediate family and ski.
Five days after returning from the States we were camping in the South Australian Riverland for the March long weekend. While relaxing along the River Murray, I received a text message that we were getting a puppy – the next week!
Bringing home a furry bundle of joy
My excitement was quickly followed by a slight panic. Despite years of knowing that I wanted a dog, I had only done minimal prep because I didn’t want to prepare for something that might not come.
Two years ago I came across a Bernese Mountain Dog and it was love at first sight. Around the same time, my work/life schedule had changed and we were finally in a position to welcome a dog into our home so I started looking for puppies with purpose. Turns out the pandemic made puppies very popular and very hard to come by. On top of that, there is only a handful of Berner breeders in South Australia and they don’t take official waiting lists; interested puppy parents are expected to simply keep in touch in the hopes of getting a puppy from the next litter.
After so much time waiting and missing out, I suddenly had less than a week to finish unpacking from two trips and get some essentials to bring a puppy home, all while working full days back in the office. Wanting to make sure we got off to the best start possible, I also quickly read a heap of puppy books and blog posts. We had a family dog when I was young, but essentially I am a first-time puppy parent.
So far, it seems there is a lot of stuff that is easier said then done.
Day 1 – Welcome Home
The day arrived and we went to the breeder to pick up our girl. Based on the advice from the books and the breeder, we brought with us a toy to get her littermates’ smell and a towel to get her mom’s smell. Both these things we hoped would keep her comfortable and help her settle in to her new home.
The breeder gave us all sorts of wonderful and helpful information to make sure we gave her the best life and kept her healthy. Her first night went pretty well. She slept a lot while I watched TV. When it was time to actually go to bed, she whined when we put her in the laundry and her crate for the night. It was hard to hear but she tired after a bit and it wasn’t too bad.
Our First Month
Following all the advice, we took her straight outside as soon as we got home the first day and she had a pee, which I praised with enthusiasm.
The first day and a half were very successful; we had no inside accidents. However, the humans may have gotten a little overconfident by this early success.
On Monday, we all tried to settle into a new routine while hubby and I attempted to work from home. I was paying her attention then turned away to finish a sentence in an email. Suddenly, she was looking at me while piddling on the carpet. I swear she was smiling.
We’ve now had a couple of accidents inside during the days (luckily only the liquid kind.) The first week or two this was a combination of her learning the expectations and us learning the signs that she needed to go outside. The second and third week things got better and we had one or two incidents but managed to catch her right at the start and she was able to stop and finish outside.
At night, I have been getting up once in the middle of the night to let her out before a morning wakeup at 5:00am. I started at 2:00am and have been slowly dragging that towards 3:00am. This has prevented any night-time accidents and helped us all to settle into a bedtime routine. (Which also means no more night time whining.)
The night time wake ups are a large part of why I am so tired. It is simply difficult to function at your full capacity after several weeks without solid sleep. I keep grabbing micro-naps when I can. The past few Saturday’s I have fallen asleep on the couch for an hour while she had a post-brekky nap. As in flat-out, comatose, don’t wake me for anything deep naps (me, not the dog).
We have started going to Puppy Kindy and have learned a few useful tips. For starters, I need to be a bit more commanding.
Everything I have read about the breed talks about how gentle they are and how much they simply want your affection. As such, all the books and blogs suggest that any harsh words and training will cause Berners to become very timid. Because of all these warnings, I may have taken an overly cautious approach.
After watching us, one of the trainers at Puppy Kindy suggested that perhaps the humans weren’t in control of the household. She suggested that the way to fix this was to control her food access, showing Aster who is dominant and that she will respect us a lot more when that happens. Taking her suggestions on board, we started to make Aster sit and stay until we tell her ‘release’ and she can go for the bowl.
Aster has learned this really quickly and now sits patiently until being told she can eat. Other aspects of training like sit, drop and stay have started to fall into place now as well.
Nipping and Jumping
One thing that has been a real struggle during the first month is the nipping. Of course this is because she’s a puppy and she’s teething, but she is also part baby shark. Worse, she seems to be nipping at me more than anyone else. On one hand, I’m grateful that she’s not biting anyone else or, as yet, the furniture; on the other, I’m confused as to why she keeps nipping at my ankles and wrists.
I’ve done all the tricks, I’ve yelped like a puppy playing, given a strong reprimand, and had toys or treats in my hands to give her instead. None of those things work to stop her from going for my ankles. I’ve given up on my Sketchers, they’ve been torn and are now the dog walking shoes.
I was given the tip to use a spray bottle with water, this seems to be helping, so long as I remember to have it on me.
Because she is a large breed prone to hip dysplasia, we are also supposed to keep her from jumping and running down stairs. This would be a lot easier if she wasn’t also part kangaroo. It’s not that she’s jumping on people (which she is, but that’s a different issue), she just bounces and jumps for anything or no reason, or at the start of play. I’ve even seen her bounce on all fours. The nights when the kangaroo combines with the baby shark, it is kind of terrifying.
Books vs Reality
I do get frustrated that all the books and the trainers make it sound so easy to stop the nipping and learn some of the basic training skills. Even when I do all the things the books say, it doesn’t seem to work, which just makes me feel like a failure.
Sometimes the advice is really contradictory. Some things talk about how important it is to socialise your puppy early to set them up for life, while others talk about the dangers of your puppy leaving the house before it’s fully vaccinated. The breeder told us to take her for short walks around the block to make sure she’s exercised and socialised, while the vet told me that was a really bad idea (after we’ve already been for walks of course) and she might pick up parvo.
The first month has been really hard. There is the contradictory advice, the fear that I might not be setting her up with the best start, or worse, doing something that could hurt her, the lack of sleep and the nipping, which is annoying and takes away some of the fun of having a pet.
But after all of that, when she’s finally calm and looks at me with her beautiful face I love her so much. I know it will get better and be totally worth it.
Weeks 5 and 6
The last two weeks have been good. We are starting to see some real improvements and that is really encouraging (and a lot more fun).
There have been no accidents inside for a while now. This has been helped in part by the addition of a doggy door, which she learned to go through in about three tries. She’s also getting bigger and can hold her bladder longer. In fact, we’ve slept through the last three nights!
While she was a bit of a problem child the first few weeks of Puppy Kindy, she was a star the last week (just in time for graduation). We’ve also gotten a lot better at knowing when she is not paying attention because she needs to go outside. When this happens, we take a quick break outside to toilet, then we are good for the rest of the class. (It seems the humans are learning too.)
The other fun thing is that she is now fully vaccinated and allowed to go on some more adventures. We’ve been for a few new walks and she got to spend her first day at doggy daycare, which was a real treat. She met new dogs, got to try new things and learned how to settle after play. She was exhausted at the end of that day.
Now that we are allowed to explore a bit more, I can see how much fun it is going to be when she’s big enough to go on longer walks. I’m looking forward to taking her on some socialisation outings in the next few weeks, such as down to the café to meet friends, down to the beach and out to the national parks that allow dogs.
So far, having a puppy has been a real learning curve, but I am really looking forward to the future adventures we are going to have.
You can follow Aster’s adventures @aster_bernese and I plan to write about them when she joins us humans on our adventures.