A dog wags its tail with its heart – Martin Buxbaum
Easter weekend 2022 rolled around on the calendar
and we jumped head first into a choice
that brought both chaos and love into our lives.
Six months earlier we’d lost Kira, our beautiful, fluffy, long-haired, rescue German Shepherd, and now Vince was looking at adverts for another dog. He found two that weekend; one was away for the week, and the other had reduced the price of their pup due to her being the last of the litter to go. Vince asked if we could go and see her, and I replied, “If we go to see her, you know we’ll be bringing her home.”
And so it was that when we pulled up to a farmhouse, the owner stood with a four-month-old puppy by its mother’s side.
The pup sat upright grinning at us with floppy ears, lolling tongue, and confidence oozing from every pore! “She looks like a Lexi!” I said, before we’d even got out of the car.
And that was that, we became puppy owners again, and we could barely remember Roxy’s puppyhood fourteen years before! We threw ourselves right back into the deep end…
Lexi had only ever lived outside with her mum and siblings, and had spent the best part of a month on her own with mum after her litter mates had been sold. She had bags of confidence and energy outside, climbing all over us with bouncy fun, but was pretty anxious indoors. We didn’t have space to crate train a dog that would grow so fast, so planned to let her sleep in one of Kira’s old warm beds in the dining room with a non-carpeted floor. That first night I stayed up with her most of the night as she cried once left alone, then she settled and I went to bed. In the morning we discovered she could open doors already and was in the lounge when we got up. We needed to go back to basics, puppy proofing everything!
Within days she was ruling the roost at only sixteen weeks old…
She was fully toilet trained within the first week, promptly and indignantly ripping up puppy pads if we dared put them down after that! She was a blank page, but one with a biting, chewing, and stealing habit. Everything was fair game. What she could reach was obviously hers. Blankets, jumpers, cardboard boxes, remote controls, mats, cushions, her bed… she was a mini demolition monster! We spent the first month chasing her around, prising things out of her jaws, trying to distract her, while she found everything that we’d missed during puppy proofing!
She loved walks, but carried her tornado of energy with her. She took the local museum grounds, Ferryside beach, Brechfa Forest, and bluebell-carpeted Green Castle Woods in her stride.
A month later we started puppy classes. A small class with Lexi, who was already a large 44lbs (19.5kg) compared to the other puppies that were less than a quarter of her size: a teeny-tiny black spaniel pup, small border collie, two cockapoos, and a tiny golden Labrador. We were slightly terrified of Lexi playing loose with the puppies, part of play during training, I think we all thought she’d hurt them by mistake because she was so big, but she was so gentle and careful with them! The most important thing to work on was creating a strong bond with Lexi, getting her to check in with us as much as we could. She was so alert and keen on exploring it was difficult to keep her attention, made even harder because she wasn’t food or treat oriented. I took her on lots of short walks up and down our cul-de-sac, concentrating on keeping her attention and trying to tempt her by dropping small pieces of cheese in front of her, to keep her walking right by my side.
Then she started teething and losing her shark teeth… and we’re not joking, puppy teeth are like needles! We got stuck in with training, all the basics, sit, lay down, come, stay, and recall. She learned to go to bed in the dining room. She discovered she loved dumping her water bowl upside down, but even with a heavy bowl she still managed to regularly tip it up! She loved playing piggy-in-the-middle with her tennis ball! I constantly repaired her soft toys and beds as she attempted to destroy them. We searched for the holy grail of indestructible toys. We laughed at her mad zoomies, tried to distract her from things she shouldn’t have, and put up with constant puppy love bites!
We made sure to introduce Lexi to our postman when we first got her, and he became one of her favourite people! He always brought a dog treat with him when he had to knock on the door. Lexi would wait at the window when she expected him!
At seven months we were watching her ears; one was up, the other still floppy. German Shepherds with floppy ears are the cutest thing!
The summer was so hot, reaching 40°C in parts of London, which is unbearable. Lexi’s walks were either early or late, to keep her safe during the heat. Her training was coming on so well. She enjoyed meeting her doggie friends at the museum, and loved people. The hardest thing that summer was leaving her in kennels while we went on holiday to Scotland. It wasn’t our usual kennels as they’d been booked up by the time we got Lexi. When we came home and collected her, we were wary. She was so excited to see us, which was to be expected, but she and her toys and blankets were soaked through. She stank, and we bathed her as soon as we got home.
The kennels hadn’t said there’d been any issues with her, but she was subdued and as soon as she met other dogs on her walks she was anxious and defensive. She was also scared of people for the first time. Lexi never knocked over her water bowl again though. We’ll never know what happened at the kennels, but we’d never had a dog come home from kennels as wet and dirty as she had, so next time, she’d go to kennels of our choice.
We were careful and she was soon happy with people again, but dogs still seemed to worry her. When we were alone with Lexi she was excited and happy. We had an amazing trip to a local castle, Llawhaden, where Lexi explored every inch of it, insisting on climbing up into the towers too!
At eight months she was still a puppy and acted as such, into everything. We came down one morning to a floor covered in milk from a stolen carton from the cupboard… but there’s no point crying over spilled milk! September, coming up to nine-months-old, Lexi went into her first season and we had to keep her at home for a month. She was agitated and frustrated, not helped by the late summer heat, and when she was allowed back out again, we had severe issues with her response to other dogs. She barked at dogs, even those who were her friends, and walking became more difficult. We got her on puppy training waiting lists, but they’d grown and it was going to be a long wait.
At Halloween we dressed Lexi as a pumpkin, and she stole a mini pumpkin as we attempted to try and take photos of her! As it got darker earlier Vince and I took Lexi on walks after Vince got home from work, as dusk fell. It was much easier with fewer people and dogs about. Lexi was still reactive and lunging, but we were concentrating on training her to walk by us, and not pull. We also trained her to sit on her place to keep her from under our feet in the kitchen.
Our son and daughter-in-law visited with their two dogs, Buzz, a tiny black pug, and Flynn, another GSD. We were concerned as to how Lexi would react to their dogs, but amazingly, she made friends quickly, but she was demanding with Flynn. She wanted to play with him and no one else and constantly barked in his face if he didn’t play with her. He rightly put her in her place a few times, but they did love playing rough together!
Winter saw a big drop in temperature and Lexi saw her first snow, and then her first birthday on Boxing Day!
For the last four months we’ve been seeing a behavioural trainer with Lexi, concentrating on distraction, attention gaining, bonding behaviour, and teaching her to go from excitable to calm quickly. She has a habit of attacking dogs on adverts on our TV… and barking at dogs walking by our house, so we’re training her to go to her place and settle when we tell her to. There are a lot of small treats and praise involved! Our trainer introduced us to a flirt pole to teach her to calm quickly. It’s a horse lunge whip with a squirrel toy (or any toy) tied to the end of it. We made our own, and we whip it around in an open space and Lexi chases the squirrel ’til she catches it. Then she has to drop it and sit and wait until we’re ready to let her play again, so she has to go from hyped to calm quickly. She loves the squirrel pole and has so much fun chasing and catching it!
It’s been a few weeks and we’re seeing positive changes in how many dogs she now attacks on television and how quickly she comes down from the window when we tell her to settle, so we’re getting there! The next part of training will involve dog walking with other dogs… and we hope that by the time she’s over her teenage months, she’ll be less reactive and better behaved!
All-in-all, Easter weekend has just gone and we’ve had Lexi for a year now. She’s filled that puppy-shaped gap in our hearts, and I imagine both Roxy and Kira are watching us with mirth, asking us what we think we’ve got ourselves into with Lexi! She’s exhausted and delighted us. She’s real pain in the arse at times, but when she gazes up at me with those huge brown puppy-dog eyes I melt. She cuddles close, gets excited and nibbles because she just has too much love to give. I don’t want a perfect pup… I’m very happy with our spirited, mischievous bundle of chaos!
When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away,
then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad
– Kristan Higgins