If I had known how much hard work a puppy was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have got one. A bit like having children, you tend to only visualise the strolling in the park part beforehand. I take heart from the fact that my children have turned out well and given me so much back. Nora’s got a lot to live up to, not that there’s really any comparison.
She’s certainly adorable, but she’s also destructive – she ate a piece of the sitting room wall while I was trying to be a bit more relaxed about letting her go around on her own. And, of course, she’s utterly self-absorbed, but she is learning and I’m proud of her smallest achievements at the moment. She’s only nine and a half weeks.
For example, dogs need need to learn to use their mouths and not their teeth when they are playing. So I’m teaching Nora bite inhibition, as her mother would have done. When she gnaws my hand too hard, I yelp and end the game by getting up and walking away. The next time we play, she’s gentler. I’m still working on her nipping my ankles. Ouch! She just loves my flappy pyjamas.
Her coat is starting to change from soft puppy fur to the coarser adult coat on her back, although the rest of her is still almost as soft as the cats. She has also grown quite a bit apparently, although I can’t really see it because I’m with her all the time.
The hardest thing is our ‘incarceration’ and I’m really struggling with this. There are two reasons for me being stuck in the house: one is simply that you shouldn’t leave a young puppy alone for very long as they get upset. (On the other hand, of course, you need to be careful to balance this so that they can stay on their own for increasing lengths of time.) For a person who basically lives on their own, there is no sharing of the dogcare. The Girl works full-time and socialises as you’d expect a 22-year-old to, so she’s not really part of the equation, although she does puppysit sometimes.
It also isn’t easy to take Nora out with me, unless I carry her because she isn’t fully vaccinated yet and won’t be for another two and a bit weeks. She weighs about seven kilos already, so carrying her isn’t really an option for very long. (I felt very envious of a woman with a tiny dachshund puppy of the same age at the pet shop yesterday.) Of course, I do leave her in her crate while I got out for short trips – I even made it to the gym for a quick go on the rowing machine the other day – but you have to pick your moment, as the last thing you want to do is make her hate her crate by shutting her in when she’s unwilling. So that means waiting until she’s sleeping or catching her in the right mood to be in there awake. Actually, she’s pretty good at this and positive reward training really works, i.e. you say ‘good girl’ when she’s quiet, rather than telling her to ‘be quiet’ when she’s noisy.
The other reason is that puppies used to leave their mothers at 12 weeks, by which time you could get their second vaccinations done and they could leave the house without being carried. These days, the Kennel Club recommends puppies going to their owners at 7–8 weeks, so that valuable ‘imprinting’ time isn’t lost and they adapt to their new homes more easily and quickly. However, the vaccination schedule doesn’t seem to have caught up, meaning that the new owner gets more or less stuck in the house for three to four weeks until the puppy is fully vaccinated. I heard that guide dog puppies start being vaccinated at six weeks and go out soon after, which makes much more sense. But schools of thought about maternal antibodies vary on this point and for us any change is too late.
The other thing I’m finding hard is that my poor cats have retreated to being upstairs most of the time. At 12 years old, they spent a lot of time asleep on one of the beds anyway but now this is forced on them by their wariness of this energetic newcomer, and I’ve taken to feeding them in my pottery studio/spare room/laundry hanging-up place upstairs. The braver of the two comes down and goes out in the garden more often. He will also sit in Nora’s crate when she’s not in there. I’m still optimistic that they’ll settle in well together when she stops charging after them thinking they’ll play with her. But it might be a long wait.
Also, you’ll have possibly gathered that I’m not at Spring Cottage but hiding out in London. This has been essential because I’m surrounded by friends and family here, while in Somerset I’m slightly more isolated. This is one of its attractions, of course, but I’m not sure I’m up to that hurdle just yet. Maybe next week.
P.S. Forgive the poor, blurry pictures but Nora barely sits still and my mind’s always on something else!