Vicky Ewan: Mixed-up pup make effervescent entrance into our lives

Torbay Weekly

Ah, the challenges of dog ownership!

With five children and several cats tucked under our belts, my husband and I were laughably complacent when it came to taking on a puppy.

The wealth of family experience at our fingertips suffused us with an irritating smugness in our assumption that we would be good puppy parents.

We were aware of prospective pitfalls but felt qualified to deal with them; year upon year of nappies and potty training had inured us to the unglamorous side of dog husbandry, and we were veterans when it came to sleep deprivation and interrupted nights - those trials held no qualms for us.

Willing to educate ourselves in canine know-how, we dutifully undertook what was perhaps rather optimistically described as a 'deep dive' into the nature of the breed we fancied, and emerged happily from the wallow convinced that we knew all we needed to know, and that we were roundly informed about what we could expect.

How I look back and laugh, now! How naive we were, how cavalier!

How I regard those dog-free days, if not with anything akin to envy, then with acute awareness of how unfettered our lives were, how unscathed our home, how unrestricted our freedom!

When we told our nearests and dearests of our newest addition, we experienced what is perhaps best identified as a mixed reaction.

A reassuring number of people were joyfully enthusiastic, heaping congratulations upon us unstintingly and admiring her puppy virtues with vigour.

Some were personally unmoved but pleased, for our sakes.

Others were disconcertingly reserved at our decision, and still others were cautionary to the point of disapproval - perhaps they, alone, could visualise the perfect storm that the combination of our ignorance and Miss Pup's presence would create.

Let me be clear: we adore Miss Pup, from the tip of her shiny nose to the tuft at the end of her tail, but we had no idea how drastically our family dynamic would be affected by her effervescent entrance into our home and hearts.

Things started off relatively well: she was a good sleeper from the outset, and had oodles of puppy charm that bagged her myriad admiring glances and cooing attention from all and sundry as we carried her through the streets in the period before she completed her full vaccination programme.

Unused as we were to the behaviour of dogs, we barely registered her reticence in the face of strangers - she had been the quietest of the litter, a quality we had valued, as inexperienced owners - and we put down her occasional accidents in arms to youthful excitement.

But as she grew, and her trepidatious tendencies were magnified, it became increasingly obvious that she is nervous by nature and may perhaps always suffer from a lack of confidence.

Puppy classes did help, in a limited way, but failed to bring her far out of her shell.

We approached a behaviour expert, who was enormously supportive with tips and advice, but too costly to engage for long-term consultation.

And she's still growing - one thing that is not yet obvious is what her adult size will be.

As a cross breed, the boundaries for growth are flexible, but at eight months, possibly only halfway to adult dimensions, Miss Pup is a sleek and powerful creature, obliging us to exert substantial effort to counteract her sheer strength and ferocious tenacity.

She is easily spooked when in a state of high alert, and, despite a protracted initial quietude, has developed a tendency to bark at anyone who approaches or enters the house - our social life has been somewhat compromised, and we can no longer pin the blame on the pandemic.

Lately, this vocal reaction has been extended to people who might be passing the front gate, or using the driveway at the back of the house.

One recent day, she caught sight of our neighbours returning in their car from a day out, and stood sentinel at the first floor window, barking noisily.

Once they had ventured into their home, she ceased her woofing; the uproar recommenced, however, at the back door this time, a few moments later.

I peered between the blinds, expecting to see a mass exodus from next door house.

There was not a soul to be seen, but, in the face of her persistent behaviour, I scanned the vicinity again, and my eyes eventually alighted upon a tiny grey wagtail bobbing about merrily a few yards from the door - clearly the audacious catalyst of the furore.

The bird hopped off a few seconds later... but the barking continued. In desperation, I fastened Miss Pup's lead to her collar and led her outside to confront her demons.

It was immediately obvious that the root of her discontent lay in a football that had appeared in the back drive - a ne'er-do-well if ever I saw one!

She threw a flurry of growls in its direction before my youngest son demonstrated its innocuity by giving it a gentle kick - at which point she recognised its harmless virtues and proceeded to pounce joyously upon it in a furious game of Attack the Ball.

And that is why we love her so: she is one mixed-up pup, but she is ours - warts, woofs, wags and all - and we wouldn't be without her for the world.