Hallie has been with us for 2 years now. We got her during ‘lockdown’, and I thought it might be useful for me to reflect back on our last 2 years and share our journey.
Whoever said getting a puppy is easy has either been really lucky with their puppy or have totally forgotten how hard it is! Having a puppy is a shock to the system. Your life has to adjust to this new furry family member whether that’s coping with existing pets, or work patterns or simply just puppy proofing your house. For some the lack of sleep as you have to get up during the night for toileting is enough to make them question their decision, not to mention the ‘land shark’ that now inhabits their house and wants to rip all their clothes and chew on their fingers.
Hallie is my third pup and sixth dog (not including dogs I grew up with) so surely I knew what to expect? Yes I did, but didn’t stop it being hard work! Hallie was a very bitey pup! Jon and I had to get changed into old clothes when we were interacting with her to save some of our trousers. A true herding dog! She didn’t want to stop, and therefore finding the balance of activity and downtime was hard to discover. Toilet training took several months to be 100%. Night times she slept in our room for the first month and then she easily moved to her downstairs area once she was confident to be alone. Bria loved her from day one. I was worried about this as Bria had back issues we had to manage, but this pup seemed to win her over. Cuba was interested but definitely gave me the look of ‘what have you done?’ on many occasions! However, the dogs did settle well together quite quickly. I do my best to make sure existing dogs don’t miss out too much and still get their own special time. Adding another dog to your household requires lots of extra time; it doesn’t make it easier.
As the country was in and out of lockdown during her first year, I knew I had to make sure I focused on getting her confident, as she will hopefully be able to help me with clients in the future. The only thing we couldn’t practise during lockdown were visitors in the house, but everything else was available to us, it just took some planning. I know I have written about this before, but there is a big misconception that raising a confident puppy involves loads of off lead romping with lots of dogs and people. It doesn’t! It involves gradually exposure to the world in the whole; noises, places, yes dogs and people, but that’s only one part. Puppy classes weren’t running, so we made sure a few times a week we drove to new areas and saw different locations as our rural village would not have given her the right level of exposure to the human world. She was a confident pup so took most things in her stride. Her breeder did an excellent job during those first 8 weeks to start her journey right.
Adolescence is a hard time for most pet parents. This is when your pup is pushing boundaries, having an increased desire to explore, less likely to listen, prey drive starts to develop (e.g. bird/rabbit chasing) and their desire to be social increases yet at the same time they have fear periods which need to be managed. I actually enjoy this time in a dog’s life. I love getting to know who they are as their personalities are showing through. Yes it can be hard, but I really want to encourage you to enjoy it! They grow up so quickly.
One of Hallie’s big challenges is that she loves to jump, straight up in the air, at any passing person 😊 So we had to a manage her on walks so she didn’t get to rehearse this very Aussie trait. Her guarding behaviour also increased which was timed with her first season. We had to manage the house with regards to the other dogs as she directed her guarding behaviour mostly towards them.
My constant aim is to ‘set my dog up for success’. Management is required for all dogs in some areas whilst they are learning. If your dog is doing something you don’t like/want, then you need to think how you can change something so they cannot practise it. That might mean using a long line on walks or keeping kitchen counters clear or using stairs gates etc. With Hallie she is loves to work, so training any skill she was brilliant, but Aussie’s are sensitive souls, so I always have to be careful with our plans.
Fast forward 2 years of fun, play, mistakes (we all make them!), learning and building trust, she is now a wonderful girl. Is she perfect – definitely not!! Do we still have things to work through? Yes absolutely! Learning is happening 24/7 throughout their lives so the opportunities to improve are always there.
To those that have a youngster, I want to say well done with where you have got to. Keep going. Keep focusing on the small goals and keep moving forward. You will get there. Plus, I want to say enjoy the ride. Our dogs aren’t around long enough so even if you feel like progress isn’t happening, if you focus on building a brilliant relationship of fun and trust with your dog, then you are going in the right direction.