Last November, I brought home an 8 week old Welsh Terrier puppy named Zella and she’s changed my life in ways I never knew were possible. I decided to get a dog because I love dogs and wanted a loyal furry companion to keep me company. I knew being a dog mom would be a lot of work but I was ready to take on the challenge. We’ve had some unexpected ups and downs but having a dog has improved my life in countless ways. I immediately made about a half a dozen new dog parent friends. Having a support system of people close by who have already raised a puppy was really helpful. Although I was tired and sleeping less, I noticed that having a dog made me feel happier and less anxious. I became a lot more active and lost about 10 lbs. within the first few months. I still get at least ten thousand steps a day with my puppy and spend more time outside than I ever have. My dog has allowed me to see the world in a different way. Now, talking to people in my neighborhood about my dog or their dogs is a regular occurrence. I feel more connected to the world around me and have reconnected with many friends because of my new furry family member. Dogs have the ability to bring people of all backgrounds and views together.
Zella’s challenges included some difficult health issues from being exposed to germs in a large city. Zella was exposed to Bordatella (a respiratory bacteria) at 3 months most likely from puppy daycare and needed a 2 day stay at the animal hospital for pneumonia. She also had had Giardia (an intestinal parasite) several times which can cause vomiting and severe diarrhea. The veterinarians told me all major cities have lots of Giardia and over 50% of puppies will develop it at some point. Potty training can be especially difficult when you live in a high rise and don’t have a back yard. I also adopted Zella at the end of November so potty training her during one of the coldest winters in Chicago also made things a little tougher.
Most puppies need to get up in the middle of the night for a potty break so I had to learn to deal with interrupted sleep for about 3 months. Some things I didn’t know were that puppies prefer certain surfaces to go potty on. It’s important to train them to go on various surfaces (grass, concrete, gravel) early on so that they don’t get used to only going on one type of surface. It’s also best to avoid dog runs because most of them are teeming with harmful parasites and your dog may not learn to go anywhere else if they only use the dog run every time.
I eventually was able to stretch Zella’s potty breaks overnight and take her out just before bed and first thing in the morning (thank goodness!). Typically, puppies will have fewer accidents on a regular feeding schedule and also if you are supervising them 24 hours a day while they are awake. This may require you to use a leash inside in the beginning and also to use the crate when you can’t directly watch your puppy. I had to re-arrange her crate a few times before I got the right set up for her. What worked best for her was a crate mat that she couldn’t chew, making the crate just big enough for her to turn around, and also using a crate cover to keep it cozy. I found Zak George’s You Tube videos really helpful with all aspects of raising and training a puppy.
I also learned to lure her into the crate with some interesting toys to keep her distracted while I snuck away. I recommend a small Kong toy with about one teaspoon of peanut butter or soft food inside. Freezing the Kong toy with peanut butter in it makes it last longer. I still never leave stuffed toys in the crate unless I was home because Zella chews and destroys all stuffed toys when left alone.
Ingesting these toy parts can be dangerous as not all things pass through the intestinal tract of small puppies. They can get a condition called intestinal obstruction if they swallow something big, so make sure to take them to the vet if that happens! I used a puppy safe, bitter tasting green apple spray to keep her from chewing things like the carpet or furniture. Puppies also nip a lot when they are younger. Zella would constantly nip at hands and ankles and I eventually found little holes in all of my pants. Chew toys are really important during this phase when puppies are teething. They eventually stop nipping but it’s up to the dog owner to teach them that nipping hands and ankles isn’t ok but chewing on toys is. Puppies usually nip to initiate play. I would give a little yelp when she nipped too hard to let her know that it hurt.
Another option to help potty training instead of the crate is using a gate to keep your dog in a small area such as a hallway. Puppies will use a large space to go potty in one corner and sleep and play in another. It’s better to keep them in a very small area of the house at first to avoid messy accidents on your favorite carpet. I used potty pads in the beginning because we live in a high rise and couldn’t always get outside fast enough. I would take Zella to the potty pad and say “go potty” until she learned to just go on them instead of the floor.
I covered a good part of my hallway with them first and then slowly made the potty pad area smaller and eventually got rid of them. All of the dog blogs and websites I visited would say that dogs do not go potty in their crates because they know they shouldn’t go potty where they sleep. I found out that this not always the case. My puppy also unfortunately liked to eat her own poop. This is something that is relatively common and stops happening once they are older. I still am really careful to make sure Zella doesn’t eat her own or other dog’s poop as this is a sure fire way to get a parasite like Giardia.
I also kept her on a strict schedule of potty breaks every 4 hours (even in the middle of the night), within 30 minutes of eating, after a lot of activity, after drinking a lot of water, after long naps, or right before guests came over (some dogs pee from excitement when people visit or if they are greeting someone they really like). I use an enzymatic cleaner for the hardwood floor and my carpets to destroy any leftover traces of potty smells after accidents. Dogs like to go in the same spot if they can smell their own or other dogs’ waste. I also use a carpet shampooer when needed to keep the carpet clean. In between grooming and baths, hypoallergenic dog wipes are really helpful to get rid of odors and dirt. I keep towels, wipes, and poop bags in a little box by the door to wipe her down after messy walks.
Walking Zella was almost impossible right away and it took her about 3 months to really be able to go on a productive walk. She likes to pull a lot so the trainer recommended a front clip harness instead of one that clips in the back. Front clip harnesses naturally help make them pull less compared to back clip ones that actually encourage pulling. I avoid using a regular collar for longer walks, as prolonged pulling on a puppy’s throat can cause their trachea (wind pipe) to get damaged if they pull excessively. I also learned quickly that pulling, picking her up, or negative reinforcement didn’t work as well as positive reinforcement and treat based training. I slowly started to give Zella commands and reward her with very small pieces of treats. Using single word commands and training often and in various situations with distractions is a good way to start.
Training and potty training take immense patience and reinforcement and I had to learn not to not lose my temper when Zella has accidents or doesn’t listen. Treats that are small and have a strong smell are the most effective. Also, the trainer recommended a clicker which helped to let Zella know when she did something right. The clicker also helped to get her attention. Zella still is tempted to eat everything she sees on the ground so I have to make sure she doesn’t scavenge dropped food or other items off the sidewalk. This is why using treats and a clicker to keep your puppy’s attention is so important early on in training. Learning “drop it” and “stay” along with “sit” are probably the most important commands to teach your dog. We try to stick to a strict feeding and water schedule when possible. Limiting water and food between meals helps to get on a regular potty schedule.
At 6 months, Zella got spayed and I reduced her feedings from 3 times a day to twice a day. I recommend using a high quality, or even prescription food to help with the consistency and frequency of stools. I’m finding out a lot of puppies have frequent diarrhea in the first year – cleaning up messes inside gets old pretty quickly. We use a prescription food and also a probiotic from the vet daily to keep diarrhea in check. Puppies have certain important nutrition requirements and should not be kept away from food and water very long. Also, they need a lot nutrients so using human food as a substitute isn’t ideal especially for longer periods of time. If you work away from home, finding a trustworthy dog walking company or puppy daycare is an absolute necessity. We used a local company that made sure to do a meet and greet and only walked one dog at a time.
Daycare can be tricky and I don’t recommend one unless your dog has completed all of their vaccinations and you can make sure that your daycare uses the best sanitation methods and safety standards. It’s important to make sure the daycare also checks that every dog is vaccinated and free of parasites before joining. Doggy daycare is a great way to allow your dog to get used to being around other dogs. Zella is naturally very friendly but we do encounter some dogs who may be less enthusiastic or just downright unfriendly. I usually ask the dog owner if it’s ok to say hi and if their dog is friendly before allowing her to greet them. Socializing your dog with other friendly dogs and people early on will really help walks go smoothly. In general, I avoid dog parks because they can lead to infections and sometimes unfriendly dogs.
I also started taking Zella in the car at a young age to get her used to it. I have her sit in her carrier with the cover open. She loves to sit on my lap while driving but this isn’t always ideal on longer trips. I had Zella work with a good trainer early on to really solidify training and leash walking. Other things to start doing early are teeth brushing, going to the groomer, getting a bath at home, and being around kids. We are still working on not jumping on people while getting petted. I think it’s important for puppies to start learning to stay home alone for short periods. I started to leave Zella at home for short trips like the grocery store around 3 months. I bought a dog camera to keep an eye on her for some extra peace of mind.
Some things to consider when choosing a dog breed are size, temperament, exercise needs, grooming needs, and also compatibility with children. Some dog breeds like Welsh Terriers need a lot of exercise and also mental stimulation. If you aren’t someone who wants to spend a lot of time exercising your dog then a terrier may not be for you. Zella also needs to be groomed every 6 weeks. This can be expensive depending on how much you want your dog to have a breed specific cut. Zella doesn’t shed, bark much, or drool but she does react by growling or barking when the neighbors are outside the door.
Even though Zella is a small dog, she doesn’t do well being at home all day, especially by herself. Doggy daycare can be really expensive so this is an important factor to consider when choosing your dog breed. Zella does well with older kids but gets over excited and can scare small kids. Compatibility with children is also an important factor to consider especially with terriers. Whichever dog breed you choose, know that raising a puppy is very challenging but well worth the hard work. Having a dog will increase your overall wellness, decrease your stress, and most of all, will make you enjoy life more. Dogs are a huge investment in time and money and they aren’t for everyone.
Make sure you are really ready to commit to taking care of your dog for the next 10-15 years before you get one. And, as an allergy doctor, I recommend making sure you aren’t severely allergic before getting a dog (there is no such thing as a truly “hypoallergenic” dog.) The last thing you want is to have to re-home your dog because of allergies, mismatched temperament, or lack of time. Dogs love structure so it’s better to stick with the same schedule every day. They also love to please their owners so make sure you are extra generous with praises when your puppy does something right. Have fun with your puppy in between training. Start an Instagram account, dress them up with fun bandannas and clothes, and most of all spend lots of time playing with your puppy so that you can bond and understand their needs better.