I thought I’d write this post because I’ve found the last year to be completely life changing, all because a tiny little black bundle of gorgeous, boundless energy joined our family, and it was nothing at all like we expected. Sorry it’s very long…please don’t feel obliged to read it, but I’ve found writing this quite cathartic, if a little self indulgent and I thought I’d post it incase it helps any other novice puppy parent that’s struggling through their first year and waiting for the light at the end of a very long tunnel. Luna was a whirlwind of catastrophe right from the start. Broken paw at 9 weeks, hospitalised with Giardiasis at 12 weeks, ear infection at 14 weeks, campylobacter at 20 weeks, another parasite that I can’t pronounce at 6 months. Never have an animal’s bowel movements been observed with such anticipation and trepidation as Luna’s were. No one has known the definition of “this sucks” until they’ve been outside at 2am, with a head torch, using up 8 poo bags while trying to scrape up 4 deposits of liquid excrement from the long grass. …and so began our first ever experience of owning a puppy…..and I’ll freely admit that I did NOT cope admirably. Before this year I would have considered myself to be a very patient and resilient individual, able to be in control of most situations. Alas, the combination of a really busy job, a family, a bitey, broken puppy and her invisible parasite friends, meant that everything started to crumble. For the first 6 months I felt trapped by her and resented her presence in my life, but at the same time I just couldn’t stop worrying about her day and night. I lost my appetite completely, stopped sleeping and lost 2 stone in weight. It sounds ridiculous now, but it was very real at the time. For all my attempts to nurture a well trained, well balanced, healthy and happy family pet, things just refused to work out and I hated that I couldn’t control it. And then, all of a sudden, she’s turned 1 and it’s dawned on me that I’ve spent more of the last 10 months focusing on what she couldn’t do rather than on what she could do, and frustrated by her rather than laughing at her enthusiastic character, thinking about what I’d lost rather than what I’d gained. I’m not going to beat myself up about that - it’s felt tough and we’ve persevered in the best way we could, but if the last year has been about just “getting through it”, then this next year needs to be about “enjoying it”. So, I’ve written down 5 things to keep reminding myself, and I thought they might be helpful for anyone who’s currently feeling as overwhelmed as I did (and still do, albeit less often). Your dog is unique. We’ve all been there - you’re next to someone in class who owns “wonder dog” who happens to be the same breed and age as yours. Their pup is behaving impeccably while yours is writhing around on their back in the grass, chewing the lead like a thing possessed and smearing bird poo across their face in the process. You’ve not failed, you’re not unlucky, they’re just different dogs with different personalities and different approaches. “Work with the dog you’ve got in front of you” is the best advice I’ve heard. Enjoy what you have, don’t long for what you’d planned. Learn how to communicate with YOUR dog, in a way that works for them. Remember that their agenda is not your agenda. You want to get from A to B on a walk, or get her in from the garden because you’re late to do the school run, or maybe you want her to sleep because you’re exhausted, or lie down because you want to watch TV after a rubbish day. She wants to sniff the cat poo right outside your house because it’s honestly the BEST thing she’s smelled all day, she doesn’t want to come in because she’s just found the best stick EVER and it’s very important that she chews it, she’s ready to play and be with her people at 2.30am so where is everyone? Luna and I are just muddling through - both with totally different agendas, and I guess these first few years are about us getting to a point of understanding, and learning to talk each other’s language. Out of a million opinions, have your own. I’ve been given this advice recently. There is so much information out there, and even if you sift out the really terrible advice there’s still so much conflict of good opinions. You can get caught up worrying about what you should do, but ultimately you can’t follow every single piece of advice or you’ll go round in circles. Read some good books (In Defence of Dogs, Control Unleashed, Total Recall), follow some good trainers on YouTube (Kikopup, Chirag Patel, Zak George), go to classes, learn about canine body language and observe your own dog. Watch what makes them tick and become your own trainer. If someone disagrees with you, hear their opinion but ultimate do what you KNOW to be right for your dog. I’m not confident enough to do this consistently, but I’ll get there. It’s okay if you’re not enjoying every minute, but just do it anyway. For us, having a puppy was not the blissful, relaxing dream that’s portrayed on TV. In my case it’s been about relinquishing control, accepting failure and stepping outside of my comfort zone every day. Especially when they fall ill and you have to just let things take their course. For you it might be challenging in a totally different way. Or maybe you’re loving it and you’re reading this post wondering what all the fuss is about. Either way, just accept the journey that you’re on for what it is and don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding it hard. You’ve got enough to get on with… ….but don’t miss the chance for some fun. I’ve spent the last 10 months wanting to get everything “right” and trying to avoid her learning “bad habits”. And while there’s definitely a place for that, I neglected to let her just live and explore so we’re working on changing all of that now. Treat all training like it’s a game, make it fun, and if it’s not fun for her then stop and just chuck a frisbee about if that’s what she wants, or let her eat grass. Relax the rules a bit - it might just turn out okay. So after that very long essay, which I hope some of you (a) finished and (b) found helpful…….it just leaves me to say Happy Birthday gorgeous girl. Thank you for the chaos that you’ve created, and thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me in your own inimitable, ridiculous, hilarious, hairy and smelly way. I promise to be more fun from now on….