A journey through the ups and downs of puppyhood, to the confident young dog we have today.
On the 19th of April 2019, we did something that would change our lives forever. We brought home a dog. A black Miniature Schnauzer puppy who we called Millie. Just 12 weeks old and a little bundle of fluff and cuteness at the time, we were blindly in love… but also, completely oblivious to what the coming months had in store for all of us.
We honestly thought we were going to be all equipped for puppyhood. We had our crate. We had our baby pen fencing. We even had our bag of chicken kibble ready to go. And then 3 days before we were due to bring little Millie home, we stumbled across The Complete Pet Company. Mum and I originally went into the shop to buy a dog toy, after searching online for natural pet toys. Needless to say, we ended up staying a lot longer than planned as Julia began to take us through everything we should know and have in place for our new pup. And we realised that the things we were going to do, and had been advised to do, such as crate training and feeding her kibble, were not the way to go…
We returned a few days later for a 3-hour initial consult with Jenny, this time with Millie in tow. We learnt about the need for dogs to sniff and how to provide lots of enrichment for Millie, and about the language dogs use, Calming Signals. We also learnt that we would need to make a few changes to our home, like covering all of our slippery timber floors.
Not only had our perception of having a dog been turned completely upside down, but so was our house. When we first brought Millie home, we rolled our living room rugs back to prevent any unnecessary toilet accidents, and we giggled at Millie sliding around on the wooden floor. But not anymore. In the space of a few days our house turned into a Harvey Norman rug showroom, as we brought home carpet rug samples and attempted to cover up as much floor as we could. By the time we had finished Dad had been round all the Harvey Norman stores in Brisbane and we had 45 carpet samples lined through the house! Our living rooms were transformed into enrichment zones, with leaves and toilet roll tubes and egg shells. This is coming from a family that were previously quite particular about the house being clean and tidy…
Originally, we thought that Millie would sleep all night in her crate. Well, Millie ended up sleeping quite happily in an old cardboard fruit box lined with blankets, until she eventually outgrew it! For months Mum slept on the floor next to her, providing essential comfort and getting up for toilet trips during the night. Yes, Millie was child number 3. And for both Mum and I, who were the ones primarily at home, it was like having a new-born baby. Because we chose not to put Millie in a play pen to keep her “out of trouble” like we had initially planned, we had to take it in turns to be on puppy-watch duty.
Quite a few things that we did with Millie we did in stages, as we slowly opened up her little world. Looking back, I think this is something that helped her adjust to her new, unfamiliar environment. At first, Millie only had access to a little strip of garden down the side of our house, as the rest of the garden was not yet ‘puppy proofed’, and Mum and I would sit at a little camp table outside the laundry keeping an eye on her. Each time we puppy proofed, we then let her into the next patch of garden, until finally she had free reign of the back yard and could trot in and out as she pleased.
We also decided to restrict Millie to the downstairs of our house, after realising that constantly carrying her up and down the stairs to be with us and for toilet trips was causing her stress and frustration. We made sure that one of us was always downstairs with Millie, and at night-time Mum and I sat at our little camp table in the downstairs living room, eating dinner. As time went on, we started to leave Millie on her own downstairs if she was asleep, for a short time at first and then longer periods. Millie was never left on her own at home until much later.
If we thought puppyhood was going to be smooth sailing, Millie had us in for a rocky ride. The next big thing was Millie’s “attacking” as we called it back then. She would launch herself at our legs and have a right go with her teeth. Bare feet became a serious no-no if you wanted to keep your toes, and we all took to traipsing around in tall gumboots from Big W. My younger brother Lewis was prime victim and used to leg it from his room to the other side of the stair gate in the mornings; he couldn’t go near Millie without being under attack. He was quite sad at times as all he wanted to do was give her a cuddle and the excitement of having a new puppy to love and play with was dwindling. We all certainly had our moments with Millie as we tried to shake what seemed like this savage animal off our legs. We were constantly assured by Jenny that it was just a phase, that it would pass, but at the time, all of us thought it would honestly never end. Nonetheless, we did come out the other side, and now we look back and laugh. Lewis and Millie are now best buddies, and gumboots are no longer part of the daily attire (thank goodness!).
Living in a Queenslander certainly posed its challenges, as we realised that our house was just not built for a little dog. We have open steps at the front and back of the house, outside decks with balustrades just wide enough for Millie to fit through, wooden floors throughout and stairs inside, and our primary living space is upstairs – not ideal. There were lots of make-shift barriers and baby-pen fencing, in addition to the copious number of Harvey Norman rugs, and the doors to the outside deck remained closed for many, many months. There were points where Mum and I would say, “we’re just going to have to move to a new house!” But, with some careful thought and modifications, we have been able to make our home comfortable for Millie, without making too many compromises ourselves…
Our carpenter has made and fitted gates to the front and back steps outside, so that Millie cannot get herself into trouble, but we can still go up and down easily as we need. We also made the decision to carpet the inside stairs for Millie to come up and down safely without slipping and seriously damaging her joints. Functional stair gates finally replaced temporary baby-pen fencing at the top and bottom of the stairs, which is much safer for everyone, but also means we can still confine Millie to either upstairs or downstairs if need be. As Millie got older, she began to race around less, so we replaced all the carpet rug samples with jute floor runners from IKEA. Millie can now still comfortably walk around without sliding on the timber floors, but the house looks normal again! Unfortunately, Millie never grew big enough to not be able to fit through the balustrades on the front and back decks, so Dad had to do a little handiwork and run black plastic fencing in front of them. It does the job and Millie loves being outside upstairs. She has claimed her spot on the front deck as queen of the castle and is quite content to lie there and watch the world go by.
We have all come such a long way since we first set foot inside The Complete Pet Company, and are so grateful to the team there for setting us on this path and all their support and advice along the way. We cannot begin to imagine what kind of dog we would have now if we had gone down the conventional dog training route and Millie had not been allowed to grow up just simply being a dog. Thanks to Jenny and The Complete Pet Company and the amazing work they do, Millie is one happy, healthy and confident dog, who eats a nutritious raw diet, gets lots of enrichment, wears a comfortable Haqihana harness, has never worn a collar and loves her sniffy walks to interesting places on a long 10-metre lead.
This journey that we started on, and are still on, has changed the way that we look at all dogs and has made such a difference to the life of the puppy that we brought into our home last year.