New puppy? Here's what I've learned as a pet owner over the past few months

Many people have added a puppy to their household during the pandemic. EIMEAR HUTCHINSON was one of those - here she gives an honest account of how they are getting on
New puppy? Here's what I've learned as a pet owner over the past few months

"A dog is undoubtedly a lot of work, especially in terms of training, but as I grow to know him more it feels less like work and more like an enjoyable learning experience," says Eimear Hutchinson

I WROTE about our new puppy a few months back and I thought it might be useful to do a follow up so people who are considering getting a dog can get a good picture of what it is like to have one, not just in the beginning but as time goes on too.

Our red setter is now 10 months old and to say he is a very, very friendly dog would be an understatement!

It has been an interesting experience for us having never had a dog of our own before, so it has been a learning curve in terms of managing his behaviour and getting him to behave.

My husband and I have adopted the same approach in terms of the words that we use, the instructions we teach him and how we walk him on the lead, but our inexperience (mine more so than my husband’s) with dogs started to show. So recently we have started with a dog trainer, it is putting us both on exactly the same page and proving hugely beneficial.

I’ll start by saying he is the most placid dog with the four girls and a genuinely fantastic addition to our home. They all curl up with him in his bed (under supervision, I think I will always be marginally wary of him which may seem unfair but a healthy amount of suspicion is probably not a bad thing) and he is so gentle, he never gets cross or even bouncy anymore with them and they adore him.

It has also had the hugely beneficial knock-on effect of creating children who are not afraid of dogs when we walk down the street or go to the woods. 

It has made them aware all dogs are different, they behave differently so that has instilled and reinforced the idea that other dogs should be approached with a certain degree of caution and the permission of the owner.

Our biggest challenge to date has been meeting people and other dogs when we go on walks with him. Red setters are lovely, friendly dogs, and attract lots of attention from people who love dogs too, the result being he has come to understand that people love him and therefore he loves people. And that is a great thing, only that he likes to jump up on people to give them a proper hello and now that he is fully grown that just isn’t acceptable - if he did it to a child he would knock them clean off their feet. He is strong and he can sense a person approaching almost sooner than I can.

We are doing a huge amount of training in terms of distracting him to dissipate some of that energy that starts building when he sees people approaching.

We give him treats as we approach and pass people so that, over time, he is coming to realise that the treat we have in our hands is more attractive than meeting another person.

Meeting dogs on the street is still very much a work in progress. It’s been interesting to see how what we originally thought was the right thing to do was not the right thing to do for our dog at all. We used to always stop in the street if we met other dogs and let our boy have a quick play with them. We naively thought this was a bit of socialisation or a way to help him get on with other dogs, but in reality what it has created is a dog that is now simply mad to play with other dogs.

I’m not saying that he shouldn’t play with other dogs, but when he is on the lead and being walked it becomes quite stressful now when he sees another dog and he starts lunging and jumping to get to the dog and play. 

We are working hard on distraction and reward but it is something that needs a lot more work.

Personally, there has been a huge shift in my attitude towards dogs. Before this, I would not have called myself a dog person, but oh my, how I have changed. He is such lovely company, he’ll run straight up and snuggle in for a cuddle, he is always so happy to see me and he is full of mischief in a lovely way. Previously, I wouldn’t have done much other than pat a dog’s head, now I love a welcoming lick and I have no problem retrieving something from his mouth.

A dog is undoubtedly a lot of work, especially in terms of training, but as I grow to know him more it feels less like work and more like an enjoyable learning experience. I adore our walks together and I’m probably fitter than I have been in a long time thanks to him!

 getting on

Red setters are lovely friendly dogs, and they attract lots of attention from people who love dogs too, the result being that he has come to understand that people love him and therefore he loves people.

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