We're all quite familiar with the fact that many new mums suffer with post natal depression or anxiety – dad's do too but it's definitely less talked about. Well, new puppy or dog blues is something which you rarely hear about.
I've been talking to Helen Edwards, pooch mama to Archie the Zuchon and now author of a number of books about her experience which she penned to try and assist dog pawrent's on their journey, from pre-puppy and beyond.
"I found that trying to tell anyone that life with a puppy was anything but wonderful was a no go. They didn’t get it. Either that or I came up against the attitude that I’d decided to get a puppy, so I had to lump it. My greatest support came from my husband. He was finding life with a puppy tough too, but he wasn’t anxious about it. I could talk to him about how I was feeling. It really helped. As the days passed, I found I was coping better, and the gloom started to lift."
There is so much information out there for new dog pawrents, it's an absolute minefield for people to navigate. From the start of your journey looking at which breed you choose, whether you get a puppy from a breeder, a rescue; puppy, older or overseas rescue to training and behaviour throughout their lives, it can be very overwhelming. And being overwhelmed can leave you feeling anxious, angry, irritable or tearful.
We are desperate to give our dogs the absolute best, we want them to be happy, healthy and well balanced. We want them to be a companion who can live alongside us and often we envision this being quite a natural thing to be able to achieve with a little training and consistency. But what is the reality?
I asked Helen what made her want to welcome a dog into her life.
"I wanted a dog because I had fond memories of the dog I had when I was a child. Dogs are great companions. My husband wasn’t keen though, having only been used to cats. I put it to the back of my mind, hoping he’d change his mind at some point, and he did. We felt it would be good to have a dog as part of our family, something else for us to focus on besides ourselves."
And what made you choose Archie?
"We chose to look for a Zuchon because we wanted a small dog and one which didn’t shed too much hair. I discovered Zuchons through a Google search. I’d never heard of them before. Zuchons (or Shichons as they’re also called) are hypoallergenic. And on a superficial level I have to say I fell in love with the teddy bear look of Zuchons."
And what was the reality of bringing Archie into your lives? What surprised you and was perhaps more difficult than you had expected?
"The mess. I knew there’d be accidents during the toilet-training stage, but I hadn’t factored in watery poo which sometimes looked like Korma sauce, nor sick! And when Archie started marking everywhere, inside and out.
The chewing. I knew we had to puppy proof our home for Archie because I remembered how the puppy I had when I was a child loved to chew cables. I hadn’t counted on Archie being interested in things like books and CDs though. He nibbled away at them despite them being on a shelf (he gnawed at the shelf too). He also chewed blinds and curtains, in fact, there was a long list of things he chewed that I hadn’t expected him to be interested in.
Disrupted routines. More often than not I’d have to stop reading or writing because I’d find myself having to prevent Archie from eating something he shouldn’t. TV programmes were also interrupted. Archie wanted to go outside all the time, whatever the weather, often just to lie on the grass. It was exhausting. We could have crate-trained Archie, but I didn’t like the idea of him being in a crate. We did have a puppy playpen, but Archie did not like being in it and he was very vocal on the subject.
Boring walks. Dog walks were something I’d looked forward to prior to getting Archie, but he often didn’t want to walk and would just sit in the middle of the pavement and that was that. He wouldn’t budge and I had to carry him home. When he did walk it was at a slow pace because he just wanted to sniff everything.
The humping. Thankfully, Archie only wanted to hump a towel rather than a person’s leg, or another dog.
The anxiety. I worried about whether we were doing things the right way, and whether Archie was happy with us. Some days I felt really low."
Welcoming a dog into your family is a truly wonderful experience, but it is hard too! So many people have advice for you on what to do, what not to do, what to expect, and it can be incredibly full on. Working with a brilliant dog trainer or behaviourist from the very beginning, even before you get your puppy can really help to alleviate the overwhelm. You have one expert who can guide you on how to handle all the different little nuances that come at each stage in your journey together. Choosing who you work with carefully is key. At Be Dog Wise we very much advocate for force free training and would suggest you give anyone who talks a lot about being alpha, being the pack leader or encourages you to leave your dog in distress at any point is given a very wide berth!
You can start by looking at membership bodies such as The APDT for a list of trainers who commit to kind, fair and effective training methods.
Of course whilst there may be times of struggle, exhaustion and anxiety having a dog in your life can be truly wonderful. Helen also told me about her puppy highs.
"I loved the way Archie would dive onto my lap and bury his face in the crook of my arm. Also, the way I’d leave the room and all of a sudden feel a little nose nudging my ankle. He followed me everywhere. It was funny to see him romp around in the grass like a little lamb. It was nice too, to see how people reacted to him whenever we went out. Dogs are definitely a conversation starter! It was lovely to come home and be greeted so enthusiastically by Archie."
.Finally I asked Helen to tell me about Archie now and how their lives together have changed!
"Archie’s four now. He is a delight, truly. He’s full of personality and still has his mischievous moments. He makes me laugh every day. I love him so much and can’t imagine life without him. Walks are much more enjoyable, although Archie still likes to stop and sniff a lot. Now we play ‘go find’ and I throw treats for him to find. He inspires me to write as well."
Helen has written two books about her life with Archie, with his diary coming soon plus some children's books about his adventures are in the pipeline! You can find all of Helen's books on Amazon and you can also follow Archie on Facebook and Instagram to see what he gets up to!
I'd like to thank Helen for sharing her Dog Tale and being so open about how anxiety in those early days can really hit you, with the experience being nothing like what you expected.
If you have a tale to tell which may help other dog lovers then please do get in touch to share your Dog Tale!