If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen a lot of photos of our golden retriever puppy, but I realised that I haven’t really written about our experience in full, so I thought I’d share what we’ve learned since bringing Ivy home.
We started discussing the possibility of getting a dog last year. I’ve had our two cats, Nala and Kiara, for 11 years, and I was always scared of dogs after a few encounters as a child (one of which was with a golden retriever!), but I’d slowly warmed to the idea after several years with my in-laws and their menagerie.
I’ve been working from home for a couple of years and this year decided to make it full-time, and then my partner’s office decided to close due to Covid-19 in February. Since we were both at home for the foreseeable, we decided it was the right time to start looking for a puppy. We’d settled on a golden retriever for a number of reasons, including their temperament and their ability to get on with other animals. Through the Kennel Club, we found a dog in Kent who had just had a litter of 10 (!) puppies, and drove down to meet the owners. There were 3 girl puppies left when we arrived, and it really was a Goldilocks situation! One was quite timid, another really forward, biting our hand immediately, and the third was in the middle, cautious yet curious. We fell in love with her, and that little smudge became Ivy.
We were due to collect her in early April, but of course lockdown happened in March and, rightly or wrongly, the owners decided to let the puppies go a couple of weeks early, so she arrived at almost midnight on the day of lockdown – after a mad dash to Pets at Home for emergency supplies! I can’t lie, that first night I struggled to sleep. I was so anxious, wondering whether we’d done the right thing. It was such a huge change for us; were we going to be good pup parents?
My partner slept downstairs with Ivy as we’d decided against a crate (don’t @ me, it’s a personal choice) and she didn’t get on with her puppy pen either, so instead we blocked off part of the living room to stop her getting into mischief. Those first weeks are a bit of a blur. I took some time off work and spent my days training, playing, and being bitten. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have said Ivy was part-shark. There were many times we had to hide away on top of the sofa while she tried to nip at our ankles – that is, until she grew too big and could get to us. She was so full of energy, it seemed like no amount of playing or training or walking would tire her out for long enough for us to have a proper break. There were many nights when I went to bed early, exhausted and frustrated and wondering whose bloody idea it was to get a dog. People told us it would get better, but we didn’t believe them. Instead of a puppy, we thought we’d brought home a demon. Lockdown was hard enough, and adding a puppy into the mix made it even harder.
And getting crappy advice from our vet, who had decided that puppy vaccinations weren’t crucial so we couldn’t let Ivy outside, not even in the back garden, for possibly a few months, didn’t help! Thankfully we found a different vet quickly who did see vaccinations as crucial and fitted us in. That’s another thing about getting a dog – everyone has an opinion, and they’re more than happy to force it upon you. There’s so much conflicting advice out there, particularly regarding crates, but we did what we felt was best and we have zero regrets on that front.
We definitely made our fair share of mistakes though. We often stayed up late reading articles and forums, desperately seeking advice. We tried new training techniques and bought every type of treat and chew imaginable. Ivy’s teething months were awful, though to be fair she wasn’t overly destructive – apart from where our slippers were concerned – and we spent a long time teaching her bite inhibition, gritting our teeth as another new cut opened up. We really did try our best, but we often got frustrated or upset when she misbehaved (or when I thought she’d broken my nose after she headbutted me!).
As for the cats, Nala was mostly indifferent to Ivy, staying upstairs as he usually does and simply ignoring her if she got close, and Kiara just started spending more time with our neighbours. She’s always lived between houses, pretending she’s never been fed in her life and taking advantage of a nice warm bed. She’s a very disloyal cat, but it’s always been her way.
Then, one miraculous day, things changed. We started letting Ivy have the run of the house during the day and then the night, which meant she socialised with the cats more often and learned her position in the pecking order (supervised at first, of course). She was growing at a ridiculously fast rate, and though challenging, she has always been such an intelligent dog, and she soon began to make great strides in her training. The biting decreased, the good times started to replace the bad, and our blood pressure went down.
And then, things changed again. Did you know dogs often go through adolescence? I didn’t. Ivy developed an attitude to rival my teenaged self, purposely ignoring us and playing up. At 20kg, she was getting strong enough to pull me over on a walk, and she started ignoring every single bit of training we’d worked so hard on. Her recall became non-existent, every walk became stressful, and she started to bark to get attention. It felt like a gigantic step back.
And then, things changed again. At nearly 10 months old, Ivy is almost the dream dog. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it’s true. Her recall is really improving, her bite inhibition is fantastic (and she even knows how and when to say sorry if she hurts us!), and she is wonderful with people and other dogs. She’s even learning to be gentler with children – she just loves them too much, and doesn’t realise how big she is! – and she’s getting better at sussing out which dogs actually want to be approached. She is generally just a pleasure to be around, and I know some of that is down to the hard work we put into her training. It was super tough at times, but it really was all worth it in the end.
We do still have a few issues, mainly her incessant pulling on the lead when she sees another dog or human, and her frustration with being on the lead at all which makes her jump up and bite it (or us). To help us iron out those niggly bits, we enlisted the help of Louise Bater at Happiest Hounds, who is honestly worth her weight in gold. We’ve only had one session so far, but Ivy has already come on leaps and bounds, with the help of a pocketful of paté and a tube of Primula!
So here we are, in November 2020, with a mostly wonderful dog, and what have we decided to do? Get another puppy of course! Yes, we are mad. But Ivy loves dogs just as much as she loves people (and cats, and birds, and water, and…), so we’re confident she’ll love having a sibling to play with. My in-laws recently got a new puppy after one of their dogs passed away, and Ivy has been excellent with him, letting him pinch her toys and chase her around the garden, even though his head barely reaches her chest! We met the owner of a pregnant (and beautiful!) working golden retriever last weekend, and we’ll find out in December if she’ll have a girl pup for us. So Ivy might be getting a sister for her birthday in February. We’ve a couple of names in mind – keep an eye on my Instagram stories for (p)updates!