Many people in my neighborhood have welcomed dogs into their families this winter, during the weeks of quarantine. Whether for entertainment, companionship or having a walking buddy, dog ownership has spiked. This generation of puppies has been labeled “COVID dogs.” A couple of months ago, one of my neighbors brought the family their first-ever dog. She felt with all that was going on, it was the best time to welcome a dog to the family. The family chose not to get a dog sooner because it seemed like a “scary” thing to do while raising a houseful of kids. She now realizes the experience of being a mother has taught her so much that adding a dog to her family is very natural. It is like having your first newborn again, because the household’s world revolves around the new addition. She stressed that it is all about “managing expectations” and adjusting as necessary. For example, this summer she and her husband now have the added task of finding vacation accommodations that welcome dogs. She praised her daughters for stepping up and taking a share of this large responsibility.
As we move into the next phase of COVID recovery and begin to venture outdoors, a sign that life is getting back to normal was getting a call from Pet Smart that their dog obedience training was back in session. My husband and I were excited that we’d be bringing Shepsi, our Berna-doodle, back for much-needed refinement. Classes resumed this past Sunday. Of course, we wore masks—the pet parents, not the puppies (wouldn’t that be funny)—and we kept our social distance. Nevertheless, we are back to in-person training with an expert. Granted, only one of us was allowed in the training room. I took the class with Shepsi and my husband stood by the partially open door so he could see and hear.
Welcoming a puppy into our empty-nester lives meant finding time in our day for her needs. How great is it that we got her right before the quarantine when we were home day after day, I was not working with clients and my husband worked 100% remotely! At first, she needed several walks a day while she was being housebroken. Now at nearly six months, we are walking her less frequently, yet I can’t say I have claimed back any time. That time is now devoted to working with her to do behavior modification for a more obedient, less, shall we say “spirited” dog. It is also devoted to practicing more traditional training behaviors. Regarding her traditional training time, this week the trainer wants us to work on the command to focus her eyes to meet ours, the leave it command, and the sit command. The last command is more complicated than it sounds. I am to instruct her to sit in each room or area. After several successes, I am coached to create some distractions and teach her to sit despite the distractions.
I am also instructed to schedule formal playtimes with a ball or a rope toy. I guess dogs need to learn good play skills when they go on their play dates or meet at the dog park.
Along with making time for a new puppy, we have made space for her as well. We are trying to identify Shepsi’s needs and keep one—or maybe two—steps ahead of her whenever possible. Her crate, which is like her bedroom, is in our living room. We made an unobtrusive spot for her. Carving out time for grooming Shepsi is really important because her coat is thick and curly. Her brush is kept near her crate and easy to grab so we can brush her after her last walk of the night. The brushing has a calming effect for Shepsi. We repurposed a hassock in our living room to store her treats and chew sticks. The trainer taught us that a dog gets tired of her toys if she sees them too often. With guidance from our knowledgeable trainer, we filled two crates with assorted toys, labeling one for the morning, the other for the afternoon, and placed them in our laundry room. Even though I am an organizer, I never would have thought of this. How did we decide which would be for when? Totally random, but my husband and I sure did have a lot of fun analyzing what looked like a morning toy and what looked like an afternoon toy. When we brought Shepsi home, she was about eight pounds and now she is about 25 pounds. Some of her original toys and chew bones are now too small. It is a good idea to frequently review a dog’s toys and weed out what is no longer working, just as you might do for young children. Our dog’s appetite is growing as she grows. On our “Shepsi Shopping List” is a large container specially meant to hold dry dog food. These containers are known to have tightly fitting covers and are a very smart investment for dog owners who want to do all they can to prevent ants and other unwelcome bugs from infiltrating the food, especially this time of year.
For Shepsi’s safety, we remove her leash and collar whenever she goes in her crate. Thank goodness our hall stand has plenty of empty hooks. (Up until now, I had been sad about that empty-nester lack. #Silver linings.) Next winter, we will probably buy a coat for her so she will stay moderately dry in inclement weather. Even a small piece of clothing needs its own place in the coat closet.
If we work diligently to train Shepsi, there could come a time, according to our trainer, that we can send her up to the bedroom to bring down our slippers. For now we will be happy if we can get her to release a mouthful of dirty tissues.
Ellen Smith is a professional organizer and wardrobe stylist and a member of NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Her company, iDeclutter, LLC was formed in 2012. Ellen is passionate about organizing and helping people restore order and calm in their homes and their souls. She can be contacted at [email protected]