Once in a blue moon a pup comes along who is more needy than usual. By this I mean that they do not adjust well to making the transition from the nest to solo living, and accordingly cry and protest a lot when expected to sleep on their own or even be left on their own during daylight hours.
New puppy owners share this at times tricky transition period with new human baby parents: some babies are more settled than others. In fact my parting words to new puppy owners are often a cautionary, ‘You have a baby in the house now,” because that’s precisely what they are. Babies. And if you have any doubt about how challenging a baby can be, just talk to anyone who has had to cope with a non-stop crying baby for months on end.
As a breeder I have grappled with this transition phase with regard to trying to make it as smooth as possible for the puppy and human parent.
To this end, we introduced crate training whereby we would gradually (from 6 weeks onwards) wean the puppies down to sleeping with fewer litter mates until finally it was just them alone. My rationale was that we (as breeders) are better equipt to cope with any puppy hiccups than people fresh to the whole business.
Not long into this I had a rethink. It occurred to me that the litter experience of all those little siblings bundled in together and functioning as-one was a critical period in their development. For me to start segregating them off at such a young age would be to deprive them of this unique time, if only by a few days or so. It’s a time of rough and tumble, of socialising, playing, and learning manners and boundaries (yee-ouch! it hurts when you bite my ear!!).
And so it is without much apology that the transition to puppy-of-one pretty much takes place from handover. Some pups adapt very well. Others not. And then – less common still – some don’t adapt at all.
Enter Digby: the little wirehaired dachshund
Digby would be our stand out pup for one not to make the transition well.
Interestingly, this was not an aspect of his personality that I picked up on while with us. He didn’t strike me as shy in any way and developed nicely as expected alongside his litter mates.
In fact my first inkling that he was a bit shy only came at handover. It was obvious, in fact. All the new owners were gathered at my daughters’ place in Carlton. It was the usual exciting time as puppy parents and pups were united for the first time for some, second time for others.
The siblings were keen to play on the floor and amuse us all with their antics while I went through the puppy handover information; risks of parvo, importance of second and third vaccinations, feeding and so on.
One puppy stood apart at this time: Digby. Everyone noticed. The little wire haired pup from the litter (only the second we have ever bred) was not only reluctant to play with the others on the rug, he snuggled into his new Dad’s lap and didn’t want to know.
We all laughed at how quickly he had bonded with Russell. For that’s certainly what it seemed to be: he had met Russell and that was it; instant glue.
A word about blaming ‘mum’ before I progress. Too often with unsettled human babies the mother is blamed for the situation. “Oh, you’ll be fine when you learn to relax with the baby,” or “You’re just anxious because she’s your first,” or “You’re spoiling her too much: let her cry,” or “She’s hungry,” “She’s too full,” “Don’t stop breastfeeding,”, “Stop breastfeeding” and so the horrendous blame list goes on, wearing down whatever bit of self esteem an exhausted new parent might have had left.
So, on that note, it is without any doubt that new-Dad Russell was not a factor. In fact Russell was among the most accepting puppy parents I have met, bearing in mind how he received the news (at about four weeks of age) that his little smooth haired pup was sprouting some wiry whiskers.
“He might be a wire haired pup,” I broke the news to Russell by phone. I explained they are very rare and we have only had one born before, but knew this was neither here nor there for someone wanting a smooth coat.
Russell’s reply? He said: “Digby is what he is. It doesn’t matter; I just want him.”
Within two days of being home, Russell rang very concerned at Digby’s failure to adapt to his crate alone. In fact, his failure to cope with any alone time at all. In the distant background I could hear the hysterical puppy as we spoke.
I asked Russell to fetch him, which he did. Ahhh…silence.
It was pretty clear that Digby just wanted to be with Russell or, if Russell wasn’t around, other company.
It was pretty obvious also that this was no naughty puppy (not that any puppy can be deliberately ‘naughty’, just as a human baby can’t). He was so distressed by being left alone that he would have diahorrea and howl his lungs out.
What to do?
Russell and I spoke quite a few times over the next couple of weeks. I explained to Russell that I felt – for whatever reason who knows – Digby was more needy than other pups. I explained that I believed that he would need special raising if he was to develop into a happy and secure adult dog. This would not be easy and, accordingly, I offered to take him back immediately. I was keen to get him back soon though, as I felt him being distressed could develop into long term neuroses if allowed to continue.
I also stressed I believed he would be an extremely rewarding dog if raised with this input. He was displaying the ingredients of bonding and sensitivity that would make a wonderful life companion, albeit magnified in his case.
In for the long haul
Now it’s all well and good to take on a project, such as ensuring a needy puppy is not allowed to become frantic, but the fact is that most people do need to go out at some stage to the shops and to work.
Russell was no different.
Such was Russell’s dedication to this little scruffy haired pup that he had him sleep on the pillow beside him at night (I recall Russell saying he was unaccustomed to breathing in puppy breath all night!). Then when it came to Russell going to work, Digby was delivered to a relative’s home where he played with the family dog there all day until Russell would collect him again.
Spoil to not spoil
The reasoning behind all this attention was to allow Digby to grow into adulthood as a secure pooch. It was my belief that if he was allowed to be stressed and fearful as a puppy, these characteristics could continue into adulthood, manifesting as separation anxiety for life.
In other words, it was a case of spoiling him with respect to attention as a baby that he might develop inner resilience and mature into a happy healthy unspoiled adult.
Separation anxiety in adult dogs is no joke. A friend had a standard poodle who would vomit with stress if ever apart from her owner. This big dog had to go everywhere with her for her 10 plus years on Earth. Even a quick trip to the shops saw her tagging along for the ride.
It’s eight months down the track now and Russell’s commitment to raising his puppy with special needs has well and truly paid off. Russell has raised a confident and happy little tacker and I finish this story by pasting Russell’s recent communication below.
I suppose the take home message is that a pup must feel secure as a baby if you want him to be a secure adult. And never blame yourself if the road is tough: every baby is different.