Hannah MacMillan

I am a puppy mum

I have always had a dog. From a young age we were surrounded by animals. Horses, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens – living the life of the big man, Old MacDonald himself.

Growing up in the countryside, we often lived by both meat and dairy farms. Every spring, all the little calves and lambs would roam out into the paddocks, and we would venture out to play with them. My brothers and I would name them each one by one, and always pick our favourites. Spot, Moo, Leaper, all the typical adventurous names a 6-year-old would dream up. My favourite was Lucy. Lucy was a lamb who introduced herself at my childhood home in the paddock next door. She was extremely friendly, and always came running up to the fence when she heard me hollering her name out of the car window when I was coming home from school. She would always meet me in the same spot full of bleets. I loved her.

One day when I came home, she was nowhere to be seen. I’m sure you can guess what we had for dinner that evening. As I tucked into my favourite meal, my dad asked me an unusual question. “Hannah, do you know why Lucy didn’t show up today?” I shrugged and guessed maybe she was tired, or been moved to another field. “No, no, that’s not it. Actually, she’s on your plate.” I can’t say I remember how I responded at first. All I know is that by the end of the conversation my plate was clean. Don’t worry, it wasn’t actually Lucy!

My grampa had the most brilliant sheepdogs. He would take us out in the fields when he was working with them. Even when the dogs were surrounded by shouting toddlers mimicking their grampa’s instructions, they would only listen to the whistles and commands from him. Under my parents’ careful watch, every time the dogs produced a litter, they would proudly show off their pups to us kids and let us scramble and play with them in their pen.

After that, our first indoor dog that I remember was a Staffy called Tess. She had a beautiful nature, as did every Staffy we owned (three in total, two of them rescues). They have such a bad reputation but I love them, and I couldn’t recommend a better family dog than a rescue Staffy. But I’m also quickly learning that just because I have fond memories of perfectly behaved dogs, doesn’t necessarily mean that all dogs will be the same.

My partner and I dreamed of owning a dog, we were just waiting for the right opportunity. His furry friend had passed away a year earlier, but we felt we were ready to take on the task of a new pup together and before we knew it, we had picked up our little fluff ball, Milo.

Milo isn’t shy about showing his full character. He knows ‘sit’, ‘wait’ and ‘paw’. He knows his toilet training, and he can ride comfortably in all sorts of transport. Overall, for seven months old, he’s doing extremely well. But there’s the bits you forget about easily when faced with an adorable puppy. The puddles in the spare room, finding his bark and using it to alert us to everything in sight: dogs, people, knocks on the door. Even when I’m in the shower he likes to let me know that I am in the shower! There are days where it feels so easy, as though he has been with us for years rather than a mere five months. The top dog, you could say.

Then there are the bad days. The other days where you can’t understand their behaviour, that every successful day of training seems to have been completely blanked from their minds. I have found myself almost regretting my choice. Almost wishing I had never got myself into this situation. What am I doing wrong? Doesn’t he deserve better? It’s a horrible feeling and I’ve cried for hours over it. The guilty thought of maybe you weren’t ready, that this was all too much to handle. Then I discovered ‘puppy blues’.

I stumbled across it one morning on a bad day (when no amount of treats or training seemed to work) and discovered that everyone goes through it, but no one talks about it in fear of being seen as a bad pup parent. Amongst the advice in ‘What’s Best For Your Pup’, ‘3 Best Tips For The Most Well Behaved Puppy’ and ‘Dogs Behaving Badly’, they don’t tell you that every dog is different. They don’t tell you that if your pup isn’t doing any of the ‘naughty’ things, then you should be worried. You have to remind yourself that these are all natural behaviours. Your dog is going to push boundaries, but they will learn. The world is new to them and full of excitement. They’ll express it in a number of ways until they are used to it. A naughty pup is – in ways – a happy pup.

Like every friendship, it will take time to understand each other and build your bond. You always hear of the dream dogs that have ‘instant connection’ or that every dog owner has that gut feeling that their dog was meant for them. But even the best of friends can have issues. Once these tribulations are over, there’s always a sense of coming back together even stronger. Don’t compare your puppy to a fully grown 5-year-old dog with those extra years of experience. Don’t compare your dog’s behaviours to the terrors-turned-miracles on the TV. You will only make yourself feel worse. Instead, celebrate the small victories. You recognised the signal that he needs to pee, and you were right, he peed outside! He finally understood ‘let go’, even though he ran around the house with your trainer for five minutes first. He had a whole night’s sleep. He’s stopped barking at the door bell. You’re doing it! Eventually, you will be the dog owner that everyone envies. Just keep up the good work.