This is likely going to be a long post, so I’ll make sure to put a bunch of photos within it to keep things flowing!
Welcome to the dog’s world.
It’s a place many are in and many continually go. It’s a spot where dogs frolic and play; where they snuggle and nap; and where they live a life of pure bliss among their humans.
It’s really quite a place.
The thing is – it takes time to get to that place. It’s not automatic. It’s not something that is easy to get to, though I’ve been assured that once you get there, everything before it is fully worth it.
I’ve wanted a dog for a long time. Like several years. The reason? I wanted a companion who I could walk and hike with; one who could go with me to many places; and one who I could explore with, take lots of photos, and also give them the best life I could possibly give.
For those who know me, you know any major decision usually requires lots and lots of research. And in the years leading up, I read so many things on different breeds, and their temperaments, and everything in between.
Remember, too, I’ve never owned a dog.
In the end, it came down to a few different breeds, but the winner was a golden retriever. Everything I researched pointed me to this breed, so I set forth on the journey.
I started with shelters and didn’t find much. Most were mix breeds. I was hellbent on a purebred pooch, so I kept looking. I looked at golden retriever rescues, but the amount of hoops I would have to go through made it really hard, especially because of the following: The rescues were a long distance away; and it was in the middle of a pandemic, so it made it even harder to try and get certain things completed.
Many breeders, too, were so far out of my price range it wasn’t even funny. I couldn’t then, and couldn’t now (especially knowing how much I’ve spent since getting a pup) justify $2,500 and above for a dog.
Eventually, I found a local breeder who had some high regards from people I knew. Her prices were affordable, and she had the papers for everything as well. So I got excited. Alas, months and months went by. Her pups weren’t getting it on, so no pups. One thing I didn’t want to do was to get one in the late fall/early winter as I didn’t want to have to learn to train when it’s cold or snowing out.
Eventually, after many searches, I found a breeder about an hour and a half from me. They were affordable. The litter was from AKC registered dogs. They had a female, which I had wanted. So I settled in on visiting, picking one out, and then going forward. I got to see where the dogs were kept, and I met the parent pooches, too. I felt secure in this breeder.
Now, I picked my dog up at nine weeks. In a perfect world, it would have been 12 and she would have had some basic training already in place. But this is how it happened, and we move along. She’s now almost six months old and coming along very well.
That being said …
No amount of research in the world can prepare you for something like this – especially when it’s your first dog. I had people tell me … be ready, this is a lot more than you think. The training etc. Be prepared. And though I felt mostly prepared, I wasn’t fully. And it showed (and still does) in a lot of things.
Keep in mind she’s not going anywhere. But, if I could reset time and know then what I know now, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have gotten any puppy or dog. I likely would have stayed with cats. I have had them most of my life and know how they work.
That being said, my name isn’t Marty McFly, and I don’t have a friend named Doc, and he definitely doesn’t own a DeLorean. I’m not going to be hitting 1.21 gigawatts to morph back in time. And as the weeks go on, this feeling isn’t in my mind as much.
I realized the only way to face it was to move forward the best I could.
Bundle of fur
On July 2, I picked up Harper (AKC name: Harper Dublin).
She’s a beauty and she was so adorable and friendly. I took her home in a laundry basket and 15 minutes into the ride, she puked. So, I stopped, cleaned it up the best I could, and then tried to settle her in. Within about 10 minutes or so, she was sleeping and did so for most of the ride home.
The first night, I didn’t crate her.
The second night, I did, and I used the divider. The third night, the divider came out. After four or five days, I stopped sleeping downstairs.
She’s become way better with the crate over time. It’s attached to a playpen as well. If she’s in the pen for a timeout, or for relax time, she’ll often go into the crate and curl up. She doesn’t really do it normally on her own otherwise (she has a few times). I do wonder if the playpen wasn’t attached… if she might go into it a bit more. That said, when she goes in for naps or the night, she doesn’t fight it.
More on that later.
On day 2, I met with a trainer for two hours. We were shown several things. And though I know who the trainer is, I didn’t feel a vibe. Maybe it’s the philosophy or style. But I didn’t feel Harper dug it, either. It’s much like anything else — sometimes you just don’t match up with somebody. So for the next several days, we were blind. We didn’t know what to do. I read and read and read. Then I reached out to a co-worker who had told me about another trainer. I got the contact information and I spoke with her on the phone for 45 minutes and loved her philosophy. At the end of the week, we had our first meeting with this trainer.
Before that, we were doing everything we had been told. Harper went outside often. After every meal. After waking up. After playing. Outside. Outside. Outside.
She still had accidents.
Now, it usually wasn’t too bad. But they were there. I was pulling out my hair because we always made sure she was outside and would go. (psssst… remember… first time dog owner)!
But then? It seemed like she was magically reformed. No accidents for a few days. That turned into a week. And then weeks. And then months. She tells us if she needs to go out. She sleeps through the night. She was fully potty trained by about week 12 or so, which I thought was a major step.
Emotional roller coaster
I was not (and, at times, still am not — though it’s extremely rare now) in a good spot emotionally through the early going. Realize that, for me, this was a huge commitment. I was used to doing what I wanted … whenever I wanted. If I wanted to go to a game, I went. If I wanted to go geocaching, I went. If I wanted to just go somewhere on a whim, I could. This changed things.
Now I have another being to worry about.
Look, the idea was still there. The hope was still there. But I found the constraints very tough. I broke down numerous times. I debated calling the breeder to see about returning, or even re-homing.
These weren’t just thoughts – they were, at one point, legitimate options and choices.
Could I imagine life without Harper in it?
The answer, as you may have guessed, was no. The decision to get Harper wasn’t lightly done. The decision to keep her also was not lightly done. Because, and let’s be honest, I also had to think what was best for her. Was me owning her actually the best for her?
In the end, I decided it was.
That doesn’t mean I am perfect with things now. I’m not. I still have my moments. I still second-guess my decision. And remember what I said above about time travel. For several months, I truly suffered from the puppy blues (Google it, it’s real). In the end, though, she’s home. And she knows it. And she saddles up to us. And she knows she’s safe, even if she does make me boil over sometimes.
Growing with one another
I’ve never had kids.
I’ve never had a dog.
Mix those two together and I’ve never had to worry about training, or teaching, or anything like that. I used to just pet and play with other people’s dogs. When it comes to kids, if the crying started or anything like that … hand them back.
Not any more.
This dog needed to learn. And more than that, I needed (and still need) to learn.
My temper sometimes gets the best of me. I’ve had to learn that putting her in her exercise pen sometimes as a timeout is needed. But in the end, she’s a puppy. She’s learning, too.
One thing I can’t stress enough, though, is having a trainer. Not just a trainer, but somebody who you trust and understand and one who also understands you and your dog. I have that and I’m thankful for it.
That has helped us grow.
Our trainer, Nanci, has an amazing way with dogs. She’s highly positive and puts things into perspective. That’s not to say I’m perfect – far from it. Harper drives me absolutely nuts at times and I still haven’t been able to reclaim certain aspects of my life that I hope to do at some point when she’s out of the puppy stage. That will come over time.
But we’re making ground.
I’ve done individual lessons, and I took a six-week puppy class. At the end of that class, she passed her AKC S.T.A.R Puppy test! I look forward to other AKC achievements. It’s also helped that Nanci is big into dog sports. I’ve joined the local club, and I’ve had the chance to do some disc, a lure course, and our first dock-diving lesson, which Harper loved.
If you are getting a puppy, I can’t stress enough how great it is to have a trainer, especially if you have no idea what you are doing. I would almost guarantee that if we didn’t have this trainer, there is no chance Harper would be where she is and also I’m not sure I would have survived it.
One of the best things we did was mandate nap times. It’s helped her relax and calm because she gets some needed sleep. If not, she’d likely push it as far as she could, and that ends up being bad for all involved. She’s much better at chilling when she’s tired and I also now know how to read her better in that regard.
Dealing with me
“You have to make sure Harper is on your schedule; not that you are on hers.”
I’m paraphrasing here, but that was basically the sentiment we were told in one of the lessons. My biggest issue was feeling like I couldn’t do a thing while she was a puppy.
That’s far from the truth.
I’m now starting to realize that I can do other things. And I shouldn’t feel bad about it. In time, I hope Harper can do a lot of those things with me. But for now, I have to be able to break away. If she needs to be crated for a while, a frozen Kong keeps her occupied for a bit, and then she usually falls asleep. As she’s grown older, she can be left in the playpen without worry, which gives her room to move around and also slip into the crate for a comfy nap.
I also had to figure out how to make myself enjoy this journey much more. I’ve come to grips with my world changing, but I had to deal with my head as well.
It’s safe to say, I lived a care-free life. I paid my bills. I did the things I had to do. But I am not married and I don’t have kids. If I wanted to take off for a weekend, I could. Go to a game? Sure. Just go disappear for a few hours? No problem. If I wanted to stay up super late for the hell of it? Do it.
The reality is, at times in life, I get lonely (which was part of wanting a dog) and when I felt that emotion, I’d find something to do. Maybe it’s playing on the computer. Maybe it’s caching. Maybe it’s baseball. Maybe it’s a long walk or a hike. But I would counteract it. While this was all starting, I didn’t do a lot of that because I felt like I had to be with the dog all the time.
Everybody I know who owns a golden has told me – stick with it. The payoff will be there. You just have to put the time and work in. I am doing that, but while I do that – I also work on me. As for the latter? Hopefully as I work on myself, that benefits Harper, too.
Finding the inner zen
This journey includes a lot of frustration.
From the nipping and the biting; to the zoomies and the growling at times; to the pulling on the leash or the digging the lawn; to the burn marks in the lawn from her pee – it can get very hard.
I can’t say my temper is always kept under control. I will sometimes scream, or I will shorten her leash to try and get her to simmer. I don’t hit Harper or anything like that, but I have realized those time outs I mentioned earlier do come in handy.
I’ve learned to not always make eye contact. That has also helped, I stand up and walk away. We’re working on her jumping on people and furniture. And we need to work on not begging for food if we are eating.. She’s a puppy after all. But these behaviors need to be curbed, so I want to make sure we are moving in the right direction. In the months as she’s grown, these things have improved. Especially with having adult teeth!
It doesn’t always make it easier on my mind, but we celebrate all the little things. And that really helps.
She sits on command. She pretty much knows her name, though I think I need to make sure I am doing some of the games for that to reinforce. She shakes. She lies down, sometimes with or without luring, but we’re still working on the magic word with that. We are still working on loose-leash walking. Her walks are getting much better and she doesn’t always go crazy on them anymore. We’ll still work on her actually walking more, though. It’s nice to be out with her and people seem to adore her.
What’s not to adore? She’s pretty even-tempered, doesn’t go attacking or barking, and is genuinely a gentle soul.
Walking has been a slow process. Part of the reason I wanted a dog was to take on walks and enjoy life with. I realized, too, that if I didn’t start getting away from the house, then how will she learn?
See, sometimes I read too many things. So many people think you can’t walk dogs until a certain age, or a certain condition, or whatever else. Every dog, much like people, are different. There are opinions on food, when to spay or neuter, and when you should do one thing or another. But you know your dog. You should, in conjunction with your vet (who, I hope, you trust) decide all health matters with your dog. Posting on internet forums or Facebook is going to get you nothing more than a plethora of opinions and probably more stress than you need or want.
So, where are we?
I got my dog because I wanted a companion.
I walk a lot, and I wanted a dog to join me. When I got Harper, my walking went down. I have worked back on that where I do get a morning walk by myself and then start the day with her. Her and I go on walks and adventures. I take her places to explore.
I also have been saying I think things will vastly improve once Harper is out walking with me. My mental and physical health has taken a bit of a negative toll because of how things are, but that has been steadily changing.
Harper also goes to doggy daycare, and she’s also done a couple of overnights at the same place. She loves it there because she has her dog pals (the owner has four goldens!) and there’s a small pool she gets to splash around in.
Did I mention Harper likes water?
She’s been involved with some dog events locally, and recently took her first dock diving lesson. That was a blast. She’s such a good swimmer!
The journey is long. She’s getting so big, too. But she’s growing into her own and she’s really smart and learning. I have a book of tricks (101!) that I am starting to look through and I want her to learn many of these. The AKC tests and achievements will be fun, too, and I continue to look at different things her and I can do together.
Sometimes, it’s just sitting on the porch together watching the world go by.
And that’s OK. Because she likes it. And it’s a dog’s world after all.