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About a year ago, our life got flipped on its ear – a furry little floppy ear, to be exact – by a tiny bundle of energy in the form of a dog. And almost overnight, we had to figure out how to survive our already overwhelming lives while also trying to train a puppy.
I don’t think we’ll ever be the same.
Let me start off by saying that we are not naturally “pet people.” You know what I mean, right?
There are those people who dream of having six dogs, eight cats, and four (going on fourteen) rabbits. My husband and I are not that kind of people. Not at all. We like animals, but we had no desire to own one.
None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. That’s the end of it, so stop asking us already!
We tried owning a dog a few years ago, and it was a disaster. He barked constantly and ate things he wasn’t supposed to, like pencils…and toys…and our kids’ food off the table…and expensive headphones that nearly made us lose our ever loving minds.
We were continually frustrated and finally decided it was in the best interest of both our family and the dog if he found a new home. He went to live with a sweet family who treated him like the prince he always wanted to be, and we promised to never try anything like that again. Never. Never ever.
Then, last summer, I got the crazy notion that having a puppy would be “fun.” (I don’t know what I was thinking!)
I spent several days praying that if this was something we should do, Brian would be on board without any begging or pleading (not a likely response). I also prayed that if it wasn’t a good idea, my wise husband would give his usual “no” to the can-we-pleeeeease-have-a-dog request the kids had brought up from time to time (most likely response). Then, I prepared myself to happily accept whatever was decided.
Imagine my shock when he didn’t even hesitate to give his approval. (I don’t know what he was thinking!)
Within a couple of weeks, we were driving home with our very own itty bitty cockapoo. He was so little that he could almost fit in the palm of my hand. He literally had a hard time walking through our freshly-mowed lawn. He couldn’t be any smaller or cuter!
Two Keys to Enjoying a New Puppy
This little dog of ours has melted our hearts. I am so very thankful (and still shocked) that he joined our family. He’s definitely my sweetheart.
In my very amateur opinion, the two keys to successful puppy ownership, especially if you aren’t “pet people,” are:
- Pick the right breed.
- Intentionally train from the very beginning.
How to Choose the Right Dog Breed
I’m no expert on dog breeds, but the Internet has a wealth of information. Search, search, search, and search some more. If possible, also talk to friends who have the type of dog you enjoy being around.
I would strongly encourage you to avoid places like pet stores or animal shelters until you have an idea of the type of dog you’re looking for. It will be hard to resist taking home a sweet, pitiful puppy unless you have a clear plan to get a specific breed or mix that fits certain criteria. You do not want to end up with a dog that won’t be a good fit for your family (trust me!).
Having said that, I’m all for rescuing a dog that needs a loving home. That is such a great way to go!
If you choose to go to a shelter, just be sure to walk in fully informed. Call ahead or look online to see what dogs are available so you have time to research if any would (or wouldn’t) be a good match.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Dog Breed:
Size When Full-grown
All puppies start out smaller than they’ll eventually grow to be. Duh, right? But it’s very easy to forget that the cute little puppy who trips over his own ears will one day be able to knock over your favorite lamp with just a wag of his tail.
We wanted a dog who could sit on our lap, but wouldn’t be squished by a little roughhousing.
I’m amazed at how each dog breed has its own set of characteristics. Different dogs are particularly playful, clingy, nervous, protective, lazy, on and on. Also, some dog breeds have temperaments and intelligence that make them easier – or harder – to train.
We wanted an easily trained dog that would love to play and would enjoy snuggling and being petted.
Amount of Exercise Required
Different dogs have different exercise requirements, and they’ll have the same needs regardless of season or weather. A dog that needs more exercise than you can provide may become destructive and disobedient.
Since I doubted we would be disciplined enough for lots of walks, especially in the dead of winter, we wanted a dog that wouldn’t need too much exercise.
Size of Your Home
A large dog may make a small house feel even smaller. Or, that same large dog may add a bunch of fun to your big farmhouse. It’s worth considering how much space you have and how many people you’re already trying to fit into your living situation.
Our house isn’t huge, so we searched for breeds that make good apartment dogs.
Size and Type of Yard
Do you have a fenced yard? Do you live on a farm? Do you have nothing more than a small patch of grass? Are your neighbors really close or really far away? All these things need considered.
With no fence and very close neighbors, we needed a dog that could be hooked to a cord when outside and would not bark an excessive amount (still working on that last one – ugh!).
Ages of Your Children
Some dogs hardly notice if a child pulls her tail or pries open her eyes every time she dozes off. Other breeds are very snippy and might even become aggressive if they’re messed with. Don’t set yourself up for a potentially harmful situation by getting a breed that could quickly become a danger to your kiddos.
Our children are old enough to know not to tease a dog, but we didn’t want a breed that might easily turn aggressive if we have guests, especially children.
In the end, we decided to get a cockapoo. While there are a variety of sizes of cockapoos, and we chose one that was a Cocker Spaniel and Toy Poodle combo so he’ll always be fairly little.
He likes to snuggle up next to us on the sofa, and he also loves playing with anyone who will give him attention. He is extremely intelligent, eager to please, and easy to train. Overall, he is the perfect puppy for us!
Training Your New Puppy
Regardless of what breed you decide to go with, having a new puppy is fairly exhausting, often frustrating, and definitely time consuming. There’s just no getting around it.
A puppy will test your patience and most likely drive you slightly crazy. You might even cry a time or two and question your decision to bring this chewing-pooping-biting machine into your home.
All I can say is to hang on. This time will pass. Enjoy the cuteness and trust that it won’t always be so hard. (Hmm…a lot like raising children!)
Also, being in the mindset of constantly training your new four-legged friend will make a world of difference – not overnight, but eventually you will see fruit from your efforts.
Just like I’m not an expert on dog breeds, I’m also not an expert on dog training. Thankfully, there are lots and lots of experts who have made videos showing exactly how to lovingly train your newest family member (our favorite expert is Zak George).
Set aside time to watch and learn from the experts before you get your new little pupil. Watching dog-training videos from time to time is also a great way to stay motivated to train and to be reminded of the benefits of positive reinforcement with your pet, even though he is testing the very limits of your patience.
Favorite Training Tips
Here are a handful of things we did in those first few days and weeks that were incredibly helpful in making life with our Mikey more livable.
Use a leash.
Keep your new puppy on a leash at all times, unless he is in a crate. Even in the house, keep one end of a leash on the dog and the other end attached to a person. (To avoid injury, always remove the leash before putting your pet into a crate.)
This keeps the puppy from getting into trouble because he is always just a couple feet away from someone who can catch him trying to chew on a shoe or eat something harmful. It also increases the likelihood that you’ll notice if he starts to go potty on the floor, and it’s much easier to rush him outside without wasting time.
This type of leash training will help solidify the bond between you and your pet. When we first got Mikey, I was the one who was usually holding his leash. He became so attached to me that he would cry if I left the room without him. And while he’s outgrown that separation anxiety, he is still a mama’s boy.
Use a potty timer.
Potty training is probably the biggest issue that new pet owners face, and it’s probably the least favorite part of having a puppy. In the beginning, take the dog outside every hour. Set a timer and go without waiting for her to express a need.
Tell your pup that you are “going potty” and then plan to stay outside for at least fifteen minutes, unless she relieves herself sooner. When she does finally go, praise her for “going potty” (or whatever phrase you choose to use) while she is going and give a treat when she’s done. This helps her associate the action with the words and with praise.
Use a bell.
Instead of dealing with a dog who scratches at the paint on the back door or whines and barks to go outside, hang a bell by the door you’ll use for potty trips and teach him to ring when he needs to go out.
We hung a Christmas jingle bell from a string that we tied to our back doorknob so Miley can ring when he needs to go out. Every time we took him outside, we rang the bell and used the word “potty.”
When he started getting curious and rang the bell for himself, even if it was an accident or he had just come in, we took him outside. Every single time. It didn’t take long for him to realize the bell equaled a trip outside.
Use a towel for training.
Instead of using an expensive store-bought doggie bed (which our dog dug at, chewed up, and…well…got a little too “friendly” with), use old towels from the car-wash-stash for your little guy to sit on or snuggle with.
The great thing is that it doesn’t matter if his sharp claws snagged it or if his dirty paws track on it. Either throw it in the washing machine or the trash can. No big deal.
I also trained Mikey to sit on his towel on command. Since he was attached to me by a leash most of the time, and since I spend about 92.6% of my life in the kitchen, I put a towel on the kitchen floor and tempted him onto it with treats and toys.
I often told him to “sit on the towel,” and I gave rewards when he obeyed. I rarely gave him a treat when he wasn’t on the towel. Eventually, I could call to him from anywhere in the house to “sit on your towel,” and he would sprint to the spot.
I no longer have a towel on my kitchen floor, but he still obediently sits on the spot where it used to be. It is very helpful when I’m working in the kitchen or peeking in the oven door to know that he will sit still and be safe (of course, I still use extreme caution).
Use cheese for treats.
I hate the smell of dog treats. Apparently, my dog does, too. I gave him a soft training treat, thinking I was offering something special. He sniffed it, put it in his mouth, promptly spit it on the floor, and got a drink of water. I’m not even joking.
Thankfully, I have a much better alternative. My absolute favorite dog treat is cheese! It’s fairly cheap, is nearly always in my refrigerator, and doesn’t make my hands smell like dog food (always a plus).
My puppy will wake up out of a sound sleep if someone in a three mile radius mentions the word “cheese.” He LOVES it and will eagerly do just about anything we ask for even a tiny taste.
Use the opportunity to touch his paws, ears, and face.
While your little doggie is still little, spend time playing with her paws and messing with her ears and face. Rub her paws, gently play with her nails, and give her an “ear massage.” In the future, it will make grooming and medication (for ear infections or ear mites) much easier to administer.
Also, while you should never tease your dog or make him fearful that you’ll take food from him (that leads to “guarding” and aggression), it’s good to show him it’s okay for you to be near him when he’s eating or chewing a favorite toy.
From the beginning, pet your puppy while he’s eating, even dropping food or treats into his bowl to make it something he looks forward to. You also can make a game out of taking toys from him and throwing them back or playing tug-of-war. Teach him there is no reason to growl or bite if you or your kids are nearby when he’s eating or enjoying a treat or bone.
Never in a million years did I think I would feel “love” for a dog. Are you kidding me?!?
But I absolutely love our sweet puppy. Sure, he eats every one of our dirty socks he can get his teeth on, and he drives me slightly insane by barking at imaginary cars driving down the street, yet I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
He has added a special kind of joy to our home. I can’t imagine our lives without him.
Do you have any tips or tricks for picking a puppy and training him right?