I've been accepted by a breeder of German Shepherd dogs to buy one of her puppies. She made me fill out an on-line application and have a personal visit before she would agree to sell me a dog. And in this arrangement, she picks the puppy from the litter for me - all I know ahead of time is that I'm getting a female. The breeder is in complete control, and God help me, I'm paying a lot of money for this pure bred puppy so I pray she gives me a good one.
The breeder is very cheerful, very humorous, and has been raising German shepherds for decades. We get 8 obedience lessons from her with the purchase of the puppy, and I would like to take the offer, but she lives 1 hour and 20 minutes from our house. This distance is an annoyance to my husband. When we went to visit the puppies and the breeder for the first time we were traveling after my husband came home from work, in the dark. Driving in the dark was very stressful for my husband and unfortunately we got lost, even though I had mapquest directions printed out. Our downfall was a road that had no marking sign on it, so we did not recognize the turn. Happily Emily (the breeder's name) picked up the phone when I called on my cell, and she talked my husband through the twists and turns to her home.
The first thing the breeder did was show us the dog kennels. She has many German Shepherds kept in kennels housed in a barn. Amazingly the dogs hardly barked. She let out of the kennels our puppy's grandfather and grandmother, and some other relative. These dogs happily greeted us, and then scooted back into their kennels on a command. Very impressive. I think the breeder was trying to demonstrate the character of her dogs, and what would be hopefully inherited by her puppies. She said that people called her nuts for going all the way to Canada to find a male for her female to mate with, but she was very picky. I think about how careful she was in selecting us as owners, I imagine that to breed her dog she was even more careful. I described to her in my application Plum Pudding as being nervous and dominant and needing a lot of training and she replied in the next email that both the parents were easy living with dogs, and that the puppies should be very "tractable" and less difficult to raise than Plum Pudding.
At last we met the mother with her puppies. The mother was sensitive and looked very worried upon our arrival. However she didn't bark or growl. She allowed herself to be led away. Occasionally we would hear her leap at the closed door that separated us from her. The puppies were just a little over two weeks old and they were starting to open their eyes. In addition to being mostly blind they didn't really crawl or walk yet. What they wanted to do was to snuggle into one big puppy pile. The breeder encouraged us to pick up a puppy. What I did while I was sitting on the floor was to lay out the puppy on my arm, cradled against my stomach, and simply stroke it. No puppy whimpered, no puppy struggled. The breeder said with a smile that when they were born they looked like rats, and then moles, and now they were at the woodchuck phase. She said that they did all kinds of "mean" things to the puppies, like turning them over on their backs, to get them used to being handled by humans.
I'm a little bit scared at how expensive this puppy is. Before finding this breeder I emailed a whole bunch of breeders that were in a two hour radius from our home. I explained that my German Shepherd had died the previous week and that I was now doing research on puppies. One breeder answered me with an estimate, high and low, of how much the average breeder will ask for a pure bred German Shepherd puppy. What we found has a cost that falls in the middle. I didn't even consider the breeders who did not start their answering email without a line of sympathy for my lost dog. If a breeder said, "I'm sorry for your loss...." I wished to work with them. If a breeder just sent a business email I didn't want to work with them. Funny how sensitive I am about Plum, expecting other people to be sensitive as well. And of course, if the puppy was on the high end estimate of expense, I rejected that breeder as well. One breeder I rejected because on-line they had a picture of their huge house, very rich people. I'm silly.
My best friend and my therapist both thought I should get a mutt or at least a rescue shelter dog. I wondered at myself why I didn't get the easy breed Labrador Retriever puppy that is so popular right now. They are friendly dogs who wish nothing more than to please and they don't cost nearly as much as a German Shepherd. I can only come to the conclusion that I am trying to replace Plum Pudding. She was difficult to raise and had flaws (one trainer said she was a good dog but not a great dog) but I loved her despite being difficult. The fault must have lain with me not being a good enough trainer. For the past two days I have spent my mornings on-line reading articles about dog training. I'm not a natural dog trainer, and as ignorant as I am, I know my husband is even more ignorant. But we are both committed to doing better with this puppy than we did with Plum Pudding. I agree with what I've read; loving the dog is never enough. They have to see you as the leader of the pack and an authority figure. Any weakness and the dog feels insecure. Dog minds are no way near like human minds and it is important to know the dog perspective.
One thing that my husband and I will do is keep a leash tied to our waists at all times and have the dog clipped to the leash. It was a method suggested in a book and seen again twice on-line. I've read nothing that indicates it does any harm. It is useful for instance if the dog jumps up on something, you pull the leash and the dog gets corrected, by seemingly, its environment. Hopefully we can also guide it on what to chew and what not to chew. We will also be crate training the puppy. So if we leave the house the dog is crated and it can't go on a nervous chewing rampage and destroy our furniture. In the crate the dog will feel safe and protected even if it is left alone. Also, the dog shouldn't go to the bathroom in the crate. I read that a dog either goes outside or it goes in the house, it is an either or statement. You can't have a grown dog a little bit house-trained, this is like being a little bit pregnant. While housebreaking the puppy accidents can happen but in our circumstance where there is a person at home during the day, the message should get through quickly. I've got the advantage that I can go outside every hour. Plum Pudding was housebroken in three weeks to a month's time. I read an article that said the average age for being trained was 6 months but I know that I can do it much quicker. Every time the puppy is put in the crate it is learning bladder control and strengthening its bladder muscles.
I have memories of Plum Pudding leaping up to take things off of counters and table tops. Just a piece of paper would be for her a find, she would grab it and tear it to shreds with furious glee. If you have the puppy clipped to your waist on a leash that type of behavior can be stopped immediately. I think Plum was given too much freedom. Eventually I did have a trainer say this to me. And the more I read the more I don't think Plum was crazy (as I had assumed) rather, she was just being a puppy. Correct, correct, guide, guide, play, play - this is what I will be doing all day long at first. Fondly, I remember too Plum's exhausted slumber. Trainers will say "a tired dog is a good dog" and I know this to be true. Happily puppies need a lot of sleep. This will save my sanity. And the fact that when my husband is home I can pass the leash to him and let the puppy be his responsibility.
Obedience training will begin immediately. Sit and come first. Come is really easy with puppies because they want to be with you. And before letting the puppy eat a meal it will have to sit, even for a few seconds, in front of the bowl of food. I'm not expecting a lot at 8 weeks. Just some familiarity with words. Saying "outside" every time we go outside. Saying "get busy" while the puppy is in the middle of going to the bathroom. It used to always tickle me how I would praise the dog to the sky for pooping. It was a habit I never stopped. Plum must have thought I was nuts. But boy, was she perfectly housebroken. The only time we had accidents was when she had diarrhea, and she couldn't help herself.
Irrationally, I'm afraid my new puppy will die like Plum died. I'm afraid my heart will be broken again. I'm scared of illness. I'm scared of cars. I'm scared of choking on small objects.
We had lunch guests last Sunday. An elderly couple from church and my mother and best friend Rocki. The night before I had to cook for four hours straight. But before I cooked, I had to go grocery shopping. In-between the shopping and the cooking I needed to rest. I do have a form of schizophrenia after all and my drive and focus is limited. I tried sitting and drinking two cups of tea to summon up the needed energy to cook. This didn't do the trick, so I retreated to the dark bedroom and laid down. A place where there was no stimulation, no distraction, and all senses are in retreat from the world. I pulled the bed comforter up close to my face. And then I smelled her. I smelled Plum Pudding in my bed comforter. I had taken up a corner that often lies on the floor, and Plum liked to rest curled up on the floor next to me. I smelled Plum and burst into tears at the pain of the loss of her. So anticipating a puppy is joyful, but I'm still grieving.
Our cat Frannie is almost constantly sitting on top of the couch with a clear view of our kitchen door. When Plum was here all Frannie wanted was to lie on the bed where it was soft and warm. I had to kick her out after 8 or 9 hours and say, "go pee, go eat some food". Frannie was raised with Plum as a kitten and it is clear to me, by her odd behavior now, that she is waiting for Plum to come home. I am amazed but I am certain, Frannie is grieving. She wants to see Plum come in through the kitchen door and be there to greet her. Her universe, the sense of what is right in this home, is in disarray because Plum is not here. And unlike me, she has no future thoughts of a new puppy to distract her. My mother said, "Tell her Plum had died" so I petted her and told her this but all she did was lean into me and purr.
We go back in a week and see the puppies again. The breeder suggested it, so we are not being a pain in her ass. And from what I've read, the more contact with humans, both sexes, the better the socialization of the puppies. So by visiting again, and handling the puppies, we are doing the breeder a favor as well.
I am looking forward to this visit with a joy that overshadows any other activity that is planned for this week. We are supposed to go out to a fancy restaurant with another couple, my husband works with the man. But I couldn't give a rat's ass for this opportunity to socialize with nice people. Nothing, in my world, compares with holding a puppy once again. I'm focused and driven, probably because there is so much pain lying hidden in the center of me.
I think, next time I hold a puppy, I'm going to smell it.