Our puppy Brewster was born on April 11, 2013, and we took him home on June 21 that year, when he was just 11 weeks old. He’s been such a fun addition to our lives, and he has inspired these stories below. Note that we are just average puppy parents who aren’t trying to give specific advice on dog training, health, etc. (that’s what your vet or trainer is for); these are simply anecdotal stories about our life with a dog in the city.
Our puppy Brewster used to be the WORST on the leash. He would get distracted by everything, pulling in every direction, and trying to eat anything he could find off the ground. And then sometimes he would just lay down mid-stride, bringing the walk to a sudden halt. We would have to constantly encourage him to keep going, and it would get so frustrating at times that we would leave him at home, even though we’d rather be taking him with us.
We learned some good tips in our SmartyPup 201 class to train your dog to be better at loose-leash walking, which we’ve been putting to use; and although it’s taken a long time and a lot of practice (and patience!), we’re finally seeing improvement. The trick is to pick a side that you want your dog to walk on (we chose left), and hold a treat near that leg to keep your dog walking by your side. Our favorite is jerky since it’s easy to break pieces off and hold them out for your dog to grab. This is definitely harder with a small dog, since you have to lean down a lot, but I’d say worth the back ache if it will eventually train your dog to walk right!
When they start doing a little better on the leash, you can then try weaning off to periodic treating, so your pup will want to walk close to you just in case he gets a piece of jerky. And eventually, the goal is to be able to stop treating altogether, and your dog will just naturally walk by your side.
We’re still in the periodic treating phase, where he chooses to walk by our side most of the time, and we periodically reward him for that good behavior. He even looks up at us sometimes while he’s trotting along to see if we’re noticing what a great job he’s doing and are going to give him a treat. It’s pretty adorable, and although it’s still a work in progress, we feel much saner being able to walk more than two blocks without wanting to rip our hair out.
Since our dog Brewster is completely potty trained in our home, it’s nice to be able to let him hang out on his own while we go about our business, and not to have to watch him every second of the day. He’s very good about not chewing on furniture or items like shoes, because we trained him early on by making a disapproving “ah ah ah” sound when he’d do something we didn’t want him to do, and then giving him a treat if he stopped. He used to sneak off with a flip flop or slipper at any chance he could (and you’d know when he was up to something because it would suddenly get very quiet), but now I can leave my Tory Burch flats around without worry of our innocent little puppy destroying a prized pair of $200 shoes.
The one thing we do have to watch out about are boxes and bags, because we let him play with those, so he doesn’t know the difference between a bag that’s ok to rip up and one that isn’t. He recently attacked a Bloomingdale’s bag my fiancé had just brought home and left on the floor with a new straw fedora in it, crushing the hat to the point that it could not be popped back into shape. We make sure not to leave those on the floor anymore, unless they’re fair game.
If your dog is capable of doing more damage than just ripping up a bag, it’s a good idea to carefully puppy-proof your home. He could not only do damage to your stuff, but to himself as well, if he were to get into something dangerous, like chewing on an electrical cord. I read a good article on houzz.com on pet-proofing your home, which is worth checking out. They give tips from room to room, and some of the things you may not think of are eye-opening, like keeping toilet lids and laundry bins/machines closed, lest a small pet get stuck in there.
“Leave it” was one of the best tricks they taught us in our SmartyPup 101 training class — and I should put tricks in quotation marks because it’s more of a basic life skill for dogs than something you just want to show off to your friends. It’s when you practice putting a treat on the ground, but teach your dog to leave it there instead of eating it. This involves a lot of gnawed-on fingers to start, as you cover up the treat with your hand while saying “leave it”; but once he gets it, it’s impressive to see how much restraint a puppy is able to exhibit.
At first, we just thought it was fun to practice “leave it”, marveling at how our puppy Brewster could resist a huge piece of beef jerky on the ground (soon to be rewarded, of course, with another piece of jerky that we would feed him while saying “take it”). But then we started realizing that “leave it” came in handy in all sorts of situations that could be potentially dangerous to him — when walking outside and passing by a piece of food or trash that he otherwise would have tried to pick up and eat; while cooking in the kitchen, dropping random pieces of food that aren’t good for dogs to ingest; anytime we dropped some random object that was bite-sized like a plastic bottle cap, a screw, or a vitamin.
When I’m cooking in the kitchen and drop something, if it’s healthy enough (like a baby carrot or piece of spinach), I’ll just let Brewster be my canine vacuum cleaner, which works out for both of us. But it’s good to be familiar with which foods aren’t healthy for dogs, so you know when to employ the “leave it” command. Most people seem to know that chocolate isn’t good for dogs, but I was surprised to learn about a few of the other ones:
- Onions & Garlic (in any form)
- Grapes & Raisins
- Chocolate (the darker it is, the worse it is)
- Macadamia Nuts
- Cooked Bones & Fat Trimmings
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, etc.)
- Dairy Products (milk, ice cream, etc.)
- Xylitol, a sweetener found in candy, gum, baked goods, and sugar-free diet foods
- Bread Dough containing yeast
- Raw Eggs
- Raw Meat & Fish* (can contain bacteria or parasites)
- Salty Foods (too much salt can lead to sodium ion poisoning)
- Sugary Foods (can lead to weight & dental problems, and even diabetes)
- Medicine (never try to self-diagnose your dog)
- Baking Powder & Baking Soda
- Nutmeg & Other Spices
- Raw Potatoes
*Some dog professionals will recommend certain raw bones, like chicken wings or marrow, to keep your dog’s teeth & gums healthy. But it’s best to speak with your trainer or vet to find out which would be right for your dog.
I’d always thought that dogs just innately loved riding in cars. In every image I’ve seen of a dog in a car, he’s always sticking his head out the window, tongue flailing to the side, with a look of glee on his face. Not our puppy Brewster. He’d stiffen up when we’d try to put him in the car, then cower in the passenger’s seat for a few minutes before getting up the courage to bridge the median and climb onto my lap while I was driving, where he’d then try to claw his way up to my face until we made it safely home.
At some point, he must have just gotten used to it (or maybe it was the promise of all the treats we’d give him to help him feel more at ease), but he finally settled down and rode in the passenger seat like a normal dog. Eventually, he seemed to become totally comfortable with it, and even started looking out the window from time to time.
Now when we take him on road trips with us, he is a perfect companion, just chilling or sleeping, and not competing for shotgun or the radio. He never even bothers us to make a bathroom stop, although he will take advantage of one when given the opportunity, much like his mom. So far, we’ve taken him to Nevada and Los Angeles. Next up…Oregon?
One of the greatest things about owning a dog must be the unconditional love they give you. They are just as excited to see you after 5 minutes apart as they are after 5 hours apart, and there is nothing better than walking in the door to get smothered in kisses.
I do get some of this from my fiancé, of course, but nothing compares to the carefree innocence of a dog’s love. They don’t have bills to pay or jobs to stress about. They don’t have think about what to make for dinner, or whether they’re running late for an appointment. They just get to eat, sleep, play, and love you.
And in return, it’s easy to love them unconditionally. Even if they pee on the floor or wake you up at 6am, it’s hard to stay mad at them for long when they run up to you with a toy to play fetch, or cuddle up next to you on the bed.
So this Valentine’s Day, I am lucky enough to have two loves — and I could not love them more.
When our puppy Brewster was about 3.5 months old, I discovered the most wonderful thing: I could take him to wine country. It turns out there are tons of places that are dog-friendly up in Sonoma & Napa. And even better, we were told that the grass at wineries can probably be assumed “safe” for young puppies who are still awaiting their last parvo vaccines (read: it’s unlikely that dogs who’ve been untreated for the parvo virus are running rampant among the lush vineyard lawns).
So off we went on one sunny Saturday morning — me, Brewster, and four of my girl friends — to enjoy a day of puppies and wine. It’s always worth asking if a winery is dog-friendly, because even if they aren’t on an official list stating so, they will often have an outdoor area where they allow dogs. (And I’ve found that with small dogs who are as cute as Brewster, they will sometimes even make an exception inside, especially if you can hold them.)
We started our day at Domaine Carneros, a place that I never would have expected would allow dogs — but sure enough, they do on their patio (as long as they’re on a leash). Brewster hung out under the table in the shade, gnawing on a dried pig ear, while we adults gnawed on a cheese place and champagne flight. Truly the perfect way to start a day in wine country.
Next stop: Ram’s Gate Winery, where they do not allow dogs inside, but do welcome them on the back patio overlooking the lake. And even better, you can take your wine down to the grassy area by the lake, where there are a few Adirondack chairs set up, and let your dog explore. Each time we’ve gone, there have been at least a couple other dogs there, so it’s social hour for both you and your pup.
We ended our day at the greatest diner on earth, Fremont Diner. Seriously, if you haven’t been there yet, stop whatever you are doing, get in your car, and head straight there for an oyster po’ boy or some spicy fried chicken. They have a large outdoor area with picnic tables that are great for a bite with your pup, who will undoubtedly be pacing underneath the table looking for any scraps that might fall his way. Just be sure to grab a malt shake for the drive home, and your day will be complete.
See the Dog-Friendly Wineries page for more suggestions on where to wine with your pup.
There is this whole thing called “socializing” your dog that I never knew existed before we got our puppy. The ASPCA defines it as “helping them learn to be comfortable as a pet within human society”. Basically, when your puppy is still very young, you want to have introduced him to as many new things as possible, so he doesn’t suddenly see an umbrella for the first time at 6 months and freak out. And even more important than being ok with umbrellas, it’s a way of helping to ensure that your dog will be more relaxed/friendly and less fearful/aggressive as he gets older.
[Side Note: This is a little harder to do in a city where you may be told not to take your puppy out before he’s had all of his parvo shots. We’d heard that areas like dry sidewalks and the sand at Crissy Field were low risk for parvo, so we weighed the trade-off against the higher probability that our dog could turn out to be a scared meanie if we kept him too sheltered early on. But before making the decision for yourself, you should talk to a vet or another dog professional to see what’s right for your puppy in your area.]
It was very helpful that we had our dog Brewster going to puppy daycare every day with the dog walker & trainer Pamela Wyman of DogEvolve, because with both of us working full-time and only having weekends to take our dog out and about, we never would have been able to introduce him to nearly as many things by the time we’d had him only a month. We focused on a lot of things around the house — introducing him to the vacuum cleaner, giving him a bath and using the hairdryer on him, rubbing his paws/ears etc. to make sure he was ok with “handling”, etc. — and treating him the whole time so he would create positive associations with these new things.
When we’d go out, we’d look for anything new that we could introduce him to — dogs of various breeds and sizes, children of all ages, strollers, balloons, shopping carts, wheelchairs, canes, drunk frat boys. We started joking that we were using positive racial profiling, looking for people of different ethnicities who might want to pet or hold our dog. One day we thought we’d hit the jackpot when a group of Black, Latino and Asian school children surrounded Brewster at the park. We just kept treating him, petting him, and letting the kids give him treats to teach him that kids (of all ethnicities!) were his friends and he shouldn’t be afraid of them. I was joking that I should have called the title of this blog “How Not to Have a Racist Puppy” — but seriously, the last thing that we liberal San Franciscans wanted was a dog that only liked people who looked like us.
At 10 months, our puppy Brewster is one of the friendliest, best-behaved dogs, and I think that’s largely because of the effort that we and our trainer Pamela put into socializing him early on. He runs up to new people to greet them, plays with big and small dogs alike, and even let my fiancé’s 3-year-old nephew give him a hug after he had earlier tried to hit him on the head for about an hour straight.
There’s a lot of training that you have to start in on right away after getting your puppy, which can feel somewhat stressful. Sleep training, crate training, potty training. All while you are probably short on sleep yourself in the first few days of coming home with a new baby.
Crate training was definitely one of the hardest things we had to do with our puppy Brewster — listening to him scream his little head off, worrying if he was ok, feeling like bad parents and even worse neighbors. One week into having him, we left him alone to go to dinner one night when my fiancé’s father was in town, and halfway through appetizers, I got a text from our downstairs neighbor saying that he had been barking nonstop and sounded like he was “distressed”. This upset me so much — both because I was worried about our little puppy home all alone, and because I felt badly about disturbing the neighbors — that I actually started crying at dinner.
We learned that this was normal and even necessary for training your dog to be ok by himself, and that I didn’t need to have a meltdown just because Brewster was. If you’re able to stay strong and have understanding neighbors (who also understand that the noise is temporary), it pays off big time in the long run. There were a few tricks we tried to help Brewster get more comfortable with his crate, like feeding him all of his meals in there, making sure he always had a chew or toy to keep him occupied, and lining the bottom with fleece blankets to make it a cozy place. After a couple weeks of this, one of our happiest moments was when he wandered into his crate all on his own one evening when he got tired. It became his little sanctuary where he could relax in a warm, safe spot. Now we can leave him in his crate anytime, day or night, with no barking or anxiety — which is much more comforting for him AND for us.
Potty training was a whole different challenge — especially when you live on a top-floor city apartment, and have a pre-parvo-vaccinated puppy who is only comfortable peeing on grass and not sidewalks. We tried to tackle this by using one of those patches of fake potty grass on our roof deck as a temporary solution until we could take him out to real grass to pee. The only problem was that he seemed to prefer peeing on our floor than on the potty grass, and apparently thought the potty grass was just a good spot for a nap. We had read in a puppy training book that it’s much harder to break bad habits than cultivate good ones, so we realized that we needed to be much more attentive and proactive about taking him to the potty grass and avoiding any more accidents on the floor. We tried to be as encouraging as possible about the grass, even sopping up some of his pee from the floor and wringing it out onto the grass to let him know this was an acceptable spot to go, and when he finally tried it out for the right reason, we practically showered him in treats.
It was a lot of work to stay that vigilant all the time about the potty training, but as time went on, the accidents became much fewer and farther between, and Brewster would start to wait by the back door when he had to go. One day, there were just no more accidents, and he would hold it as long as he needed to until we could take him out. Now we never have to worry about him, and can leave him alone in another room while we go about our business, or even take him on vacation to a new house, where he quickly learns which door to wait by when he needs to go.
If your dog is your first child, you will probably end up with an obscene amount of stuff like we did. We hadn’t yet learned the lesson that less is more, and that you can get by on just a few items vs. the entire store. We have no fewer than 15 toys for our puppy Brewster, at least 10 of which stay in the drawer at all times. There are squeakers, pull toys, balls for fetch, rope toys, and toys that seem to serve no purpose other than looking cute in photos. At first, we wanted to stay away from the squeaky ones, because we thought they would drive us nuts. But when we realized how happy they made our dog (and how happy it made us to watch him squeak them), we couldn’t wait to buy him more.
We also discovered that instead of spending $10+ per toy, we could find much cheaper playthings at home that he seemed to like just as much as the fancy ones. Paper bags and cardboard boxes go a long way, as long as you don’t mind cleaning up the mess afterward. Water bottles is another favorite – not only do they get the crunch factor, but it’s fun to chase them all over the floor (take the top off first so he doesn’t swallow it). And the favorite: a crunchy plastic water bottle stuffed inside an old sock with the ends tied. We’re talking HOURS of entertainment.
But that crate filled with toys is not it when it comes to stuff for our dog. There are treats, chews, bags of food, water bowls, kongs of various sizes, leashes of various lengths, collars, harnesses, dog tags, grooming items, paw wipes, poop bags, travel supplies…not to mention multiple dog beds and crates spread throughout the house.
I’m not sure what we’re going to do when we have a human child someday.
There’s obviously a lot you need to do to get ready for a new baby: find a good space in your home for the nursery, buy the crib, set up the crib, make it homey and inviting, buy a boatload of other stuff you’ll need for said new baby. Did you know that you have to do the same things for a new puppy? Granted, there’s less hardware required for a dog, but still a lot more than we were expecting.
At first, we thought we’d just have a crate, a dog bed, a few toys, and maybe a baby gate to section off our hallway where the dog could hang while we were out. Good thing we met with a trainer (and our future dog walker, Pamela Wyman of DogEvolve), who told us that it would be a while until our puppy would be ready for a whole area to hang out in. First, we should start with a crate inside an exercise pen. And in that ex-pen, we’d also need a patch of potty grass (for those long stretches when he’d be home alone between his playground and us getting home from work). And a water bowl. And some toys. And some chews. And a piece of linoleum under all of it for when he misses the potty grass or has an accident on the floor.
All of that stuff can make a city apartment feel small fast. The good news is that you probably only need the ex-pen and potty grass for the first 4-6 months (depending on how long you plan to leave your pup alone at home at a time, and how easy it is to take your dog outside to use the bathroom). And when you move into the crate-only phase, that takes up a lot less room. The bad news is that this stuff is pricey, and it really adds up. After our first shopping trip, my fiance asked how much I thought we would spend total, once we were done buying all this stuff. I estimated $300 and it was upwards of $500. Once you get the initial items, it’s less ongoing, but you still have to put in a chunk of your paycheck each month to food, treats, chews, new toys, dog walking, vet bills, etc. So you definitely have to be sure that you’re ready for a dog, emotionally, physically, and financially. The upside, of course, is a loving companion who will make you smile every day.