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10 ways my life changed when I became a first time dog owner

The date was July 10 2020 when I brought her home. It was a 3 hour drive. An 8 week old puppy on my lap, tears in her sad puppy eyes, occasionally crying, and so so tiny. She must have been frightened by the stranger I was for her, the movement of the car, and the sudden loss of her mum and siblings. As I write these lines, she sits on my lap, now by her choice, gently and very subtly signalling her disapproval of me typing instead of playing with her. I need 5 minutes, BRB.

In the car I was frightened, too. The complete world changed that day for the both of us. I thought I prepared for her arrival. During the 5 weeks I waited for her I read all the books, watched all the videos on Youtube, and bought every essential from the 'first time dog owner starter kit'. Yet, no amount of searching, reading and googling set me up for the time I realized I've became her family, and from that moment on, I'm responsible for her until her very last day. I named her Nara.

1,5 years have passed since and what I know for sure is this: raising a puppy is a full time and very-very-very demanding job. (Well, at least for me it was, given my high expectations of what kind of well behaved, educated and socialized dog I wanted to raise and have as a part of my family for the next 15-20 years. All this topped with the fact of I've nevere raised a dog). I had no previous experience, no one in my social circle with a dog raised by them, only my firm belief that I will do it, and I will do it right. In hindsight there are areas of my life I expected significant changes, but I must admit the experience brought a good handful of unforeseen, surprising ones along as well.

These are the 10 ways my dog brought change in my life:

  1. understanding unconditional love

  2. practicing gratitude

  3. social life and social interactions

  4. self-reflection and self-consciousness

  5. new daily habits

  6. dog language vs. human language

  7. dog training methods and tools

  8. all sorts of dog sports

  9. living space and car

  10. finances

Unconditional love

I'm an independent, strong, sometimes stubborn human. Guess what breed I choose: a tough, independent, sometimes stubborn hunting breed, a border terrier. As a small puppy she drove me mad, she showed very little affection towards me, and never ever cuddled. To say the least, it was a really small amount of love coming towards my direction. Bonding with her, building up the trust, the partnership wasn't easy, and a rather lengthy process. As always, the incremental, constant, hard work paid off. I will never forget the first time she came to lay next to me, resting her small head on my thigh. I was like "I can't believe this is happening". She was 13 months old. We learned to trust each other and became best friends. Hand in hand with the trust arrived her love.

Practicing gratitude

An easy way to learn to appreciate the smallest moments of joy in life is to watch a dog play. Nara loves to play with a whole, unbroken walnut. Most times she does so on her own (fully supervised obviously), she'd toss and throw it around, tail wagging like crazy, rolling over it and chasing it back and forth. And I'd just watch her in awe, smiling, my darling girl having the best fun.

Social life and social interactions

I knew from the beginning that once I have a dog, she will come - almost -everywhere with me. Work, hairdresser, farmers market, restaurants, IKEA, paddle boarding, vacationing... you name it. If my dog can't come, probably I won't go either. I had to familiarize myself with dog friendly places, rules that apply, and agree on conditions that suit everyone. E.g. I bring a crate with me while at the hair dresser, Nara can rest there while I'm in the chair.


Self-reflection and self-consciousness

One thing I had to learn the hard way is that the dog will always be the true reflection of me. My trust, behaviour, communication style, stress level, and guidance. This journey has taught me to align my non-verbal and verbal communications, to pay attention to my body language and to pay way more attention to the world around us.

New daily habits

This one alone deserves a whole new blog post. In hindsight I can see how crucial the first 90-120 days were, how much there was to learn-manage-teach-figure out in a rapid and ever shrinking set time window with so little knowledge about what the heck I was supposed to be doing. First, I had to implement a system to allocate appropriate time every day for

  • potty training

  • crate training

  • 7 basic commands training

  • leash training

  • socialization

  • lots of play

  • rest periods

  • puppy classes.

Then there are habits I've implement to make walkies better

  • always bring high value treats

  • find the opportunities to generalize commands outside

  • practice and always be consistent with the life saving skills (stop at the end of the sidewalk, stop before the corner, not chasing the ball/stick/walnut to the road etc).

Dog language vs human language

One of the many things that intrigued me during raising a dog was to learn a completely new language. But not just any new language, a language of a different species. It is just fascinating for me to be able to understand Nara's body language - and occasionally her barks, too - and to be able to effectively and clearly communicate with her. Don't forget that dogs learn to read us way quicker than we learn to read their body language. It's also quite extraordinary how much dogs understand from our verbal language. I speak both in English and Hungarian to Nara (majority in English).

Dog training methods and tools

I had no idea that there was this vast variety of training methods to choose from. My approach was quite practical, as early as the time I had to pick which puppy class to attend for socializaion. I just went and tried out 4 different ones, to see for myself which one suits my needs and objectives the best. Thankfully we found a good one and I'm very satisfied with all we've achieved together. It was not an easy ride with Nara, but they supported and helped me all along our journey. I've learned so much and now can safely say that I have all the tools, techniques and methods under my belt I need to keep teaching Nara.

All sorts of dog sports

We've tried all sorts of dog sports in the past couple of months. Agility, rally obedience, scent work, guard-protect work... you name it we tried it. I also became an instructor in 'puller' so that we can work with it on our own. My lesson learned here is the same as above: you have to try it for yourself and answer the two basic questions. Do you enjoy it? Does your dog enjoy it? If it's 2 yeses, then stick with it. We both like scent work the most.

Living space and car

3 different dog beds or crates in a room, non-slip mats on the floor, tons and tons of toys, balls and chews. Enrichment puzzles, sniffle mats, Kongs, lickimats. My living space definitely screams 'a dog lives here'. The back seat of my car has a huge transport box attached to it with the seatbelt, the whole row is covered with a seat protector. There are towels, an extra pair of boots for me for the muddy parks, balls, pet first aid kit. The one thing I can't stand is dog hair, so I vacuum a lot.

Finances

Here I just want to say, you should be prepared for emergencies, because once they tell you there's something wrong, you will do everything to make it go away and fix it. And most cases it will cost you a small fortune. We had one huge surprise when at 11 months old Nara got diagnosed with hip dysplasia. I'll tell the whole story someday, for now, it's enough to know that thankfully I was prepared to cover whatever it takes. Other than the emergencies fund, you should brace yourself for the fact that from the first day you'll buy anything and everything for your furry friend. There is this saying: "I work hard so my dog can have the lifestyle she wants." Sooo true. 😀

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