Choosing when to bring a new puppy or dog into your home is a deeply personal choice that will be different from person-to-person and situation-to-situation. However, it is important to understand the variety of emotions you will experience when you do make that leap...especially if it is after losing another cherished canine friend.
I've been pretty open and transparent about how awful life was immediately following the passing of my sweet boy, Valor. He was our only dog, so that meant the house was incredibly quiet after he passed. It seemed as though all the joy had vanished along with him. I tried to dive into my work to keep the darkness at bay...that attempt failed spectacularly. I slipped instead into a deep depression. I was lonely. I was heartbroken. I had no reason to get up or do anything. It was a dark time to say the least.
I do not recommend anyone going through what I did. The empty house was too much to bare, too hard to face, too stark a reminder that he was truly gone. That emptiness brought along with it all the emotions of missing him, anger that our time together was cut so terribly short, regret that I didn't do even more with him in the time we did have together, sadness that it was all over and I would never see his sweet Doberface ever again.
For all intents and purposes, I was falling apart. The emptiness was too much. My husband and I both knew this was exactly how it would play out when he was first diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was for that very reason we had started to look for a puppy to add to the family to avoid the emptiness to last too long...it was critically important that the emptiness not be allowed to linger for too long.
Making the Leap
What were we looking for in a new puppy? Well, to put it bluntly, we were not looking to go backwards! This puppy would have ENORMOUS paws to fill. Valor, for all intents and purposes, was perfect. He was great around people. He was great around dogs. He was sweet, smart, willing and game for anything. He traveled well. He could be go-go-go one minute and then settle the next. He never destroyed anything. You would not guess that a close to 75lb active dog lived in our house for 5 years. That meant the order was going to be quite tall for whatever puppy we added to the mix.
So, in the final weeks of Valor's life, we began the search and found an available Doberman puppy who was gorgeous, had an amazing upbringing with the breeder using the Puppy Culture Program and was reportedly sweet, affectionate and was even the pick of the litter.
The breeder was contacted, a telephone conversation was had and an application was submitted. Before we knew it, we were scheduling a trip to Idaho to meet the puppy in-person and if all went well, he would be going home with us after Valor passed.
Not even a week after those plans were cemented, Valor was gone.
It was two more weeks before we made our trek to Idaho. Could we have moved the trip up? I suppose. But there was the grappling of another important emotion that prevented me from doing that: guilt.
Valor was my life. Every second of every day revolved around him. Yet, there was I, in his final weeks and days, looking at puppies! Could I BE a more terrible person?!
But you just read the above. We NEEDED to have a puppy in place for my mental sanity.
Who cares?! How can you just replace him like that?! Out with the old and in with the new, I guess! How much could you have REALLY cared about him if you are just latching onto the next best thing?!
Understand those statements weren't made by anyone else. Who in their right mind would be so cold, callous and simply cruel?
Well...myself. I was saying these things to myself.
I hated the fact that I was looking at puppies. I loathed the fact I would start daydreaming about what having a puppy would be like. I was disgusted with myself when I would start to get excited about it.
This guilt is nothing to be cavalier about. It will eat you alive.
It only got worse when Valor passed.
And then really got ugly when we met the puppy.
What a horrible human being I am! I guess I didn't really love Valor at all, right? Here I am, not even two-weeks out from him passing, and I am playing with this new Doberman puppy in his puppy class. All smiles and giggles. Stupid wench!
Every millisecond I would start to feel happy, my mind would throw another insult, another slight at me, trying to convince me I was the worst person ever. It was torture.
All of this was WITH two-weeks to process losing Valor, going through the emotional stages and preparing myself to meet this puppy. Imagine how spectacularly horrendous it would have been if I had done any of this sooner?! Is any of this normal? I think to a degree, yes. Not to the extent my mind took it to, but I think it is normal for people to grapple with some feelings of guilt.
Yet it is important to recognize that you are not, and cannot, replace one canine friend with another. There was only, and there will only ever be, one Valor. Still...it is so tempting to compare what you had with what you have now. That is another part of saying hello that is fraught with pitfalls.
Comparing Old to New
I would see it happen all the time with clients. Their beloved senior dog would pass away and within whatever time frame worked best for them, they would welcome a new puppy into their lives. Almost immediately, they would start comparing the two.
"Sweet Millie never chewed up our furniture. This little brat does it all day long!" When you point to some worn chew marks that look quite ancient, they suddenly remember that sweet Millie was indeed a puppy at one time too, and she DID in fact have her fair share of chewing escapades.
It is incredibly tempting to compare your new canine friend to your old one. But doing so will only cause you stress and angst.
Expecting a 15-week old puppy to act the same a a 15-year old dog is simply not realistic.
I know all of this. I have seen it time and time again with my clients. I know better. Yet, there was I was, thinking to myself, "Valor never tried to eat all the mulch!"
Of course he didn't. He wasn't a 15-week old puppy!
"Valor was so much more focused!"
Of course he was! He wasn't a 15-week old puppy!
"Valor loved playing the box game...why doesn't the puppy love this game?!"
Because he is not Valor!
I had to accept that I had 5-years of routines, expectations and assumptions that might as well go right out the window. They would not apply to the puppy...because he was a puppy...and because he wasn't Valor.
Thawing Out Your Heart
As if all of THAT weren't enough, another part of the process of saying hello is admitting that you are being guarded.
You just lost a cherished friend. Your heart was ripped out of your chest. You experienced a pain you never want to feel again.
Being guarded is a natural way to try to protect yourself from getting hurt. But, it is very confusing to the puppy. They are little sponges who want nothing more than to bond with you. Keeping them at an arms-length, while understandable at first, is not fair to them.
You have to be willing to open your heart up to be hurt again. I know that sounds counterproductive and not super logical, but it is crucially important.
The first day, I was super guarded. From there, bit-by-bit, I found myself relaxing more and more. Allowing myself to really take in the puppy...I mean, Archer. He has a name. Archer.
I would just watch him, taking in what he did and how he did it. I would feel him breathing as he was snuggled up again my leg. I would watch his gaze as we sat outside together. I would smile when he chose to come to me over whatever "butterfly" thing had his attention not even two seconds before.
Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, the guardrails slowly came down and I could feel myself letting him in.
It made me nervous at first. What if something happens? What if this doesn't work out? What if he has to go back to breeder?!
Yet, those sweet little Dobereyes wouldn't relent.
"You WILL love me human woman lady."
So I finally stopped fighting it. I feel head over heels for this tiny new Doberpuppy who had taken over my life. And I was completely fine with that.
Allowing Yourself to Love Again
I am still missing Valor. I will miss him for a long time, if not always. Yet, at the same time, I love Archer.
I can marvel at how freakin' cute Archer is! How he putters around with those giant puppy feet. How he snores loudly when he is napping or sleeping. How he loves to go in-between your legs so you can pat on his bum. How he takes treats so gently and gives the sweetest of puppy kisses. How he will do a ridiculous snarlie face when he is frustrated or annoyed. How he will give happy snorts when there is a toy in his mouth and he is happy to see you.
I can love both of my boys and not love either of them less.
Saying hello to a new puppy or dog is not for the faint of heart nor is it a simple thing to do. The whens and whys will all depend on your own situation, your goals and what you need. Just know regardless of how prepared you are, how experienced you are, how many times you may have done this before...it may be fraught with lots of conflicting emotions. This is normal. Allow yourself the time and space to sort it all out. Grant yourself the time to realize that you love your dogs so very much, so intently, that sometimes it means all the emotions that go along with it will be heightened and more powerful than you may have bargained for.
It will all be worth it in the end.
I am looking forward to the new adventures that I will be going on with Archer. I am also looking forward to telling him all about his awesome brother who helped make me a better dog trainer and person. I think Archer will appreciate all the prep work Valor put into me.
Here's to having fun with Special Agent Archer.
Dianna L. Santos has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Family Dog University, Dog Sport University, and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined FDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of all these platforms and the increased learning opportunities they can provide.