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The Story of Our New Puppy, Toast (Plus 11 Essential Tips and Products)

Welcoming home our chaotic bundle of joy.
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The love of my life was my childhood dog, a blind German Shepherd named Belle, so there was never any doubt that I would adopt a dog as soon as I was able to. About a week after Jonah and I moved to Portland, solidifying our plans to work from home in a city with access to plenty of parks and trails, I began researching dogs. I quickly learned that there's a dog adoption shortage in Portland (one silver lining of so many people spending more time at home this year!), so we extended our search on Petfinder to other states. Our only qualifications were that our dog be small enough for apartment life, but large enough to go on hikes, and that they would get along with our cat, Meesh.

We didn't set out to adopt a puppy (famous last words), and nearly brought home an older dog that ultimately had needs we couldn't meet, like access to a yard. But as soon as we landed on our puppy's profile, we knew he was the one. He was the runt of a surrendered litter in Texas, each named by their foster mom for different ghosts from Harry Potter. The fact that Nick, as in "Nearly Headless," had survived Parvo—a disease that kills up to 80% of puppies unlucky enough to get it—made his name all the more auspicious.

After FaceTiming with Nick on a Thursday, and being impressed with how he interacted with the foster mom's cat, we learned that he was already scheduled for a transport arriving in the PNW on Saturday! We quickly signed the paperwork, and spent the next two days fully immersed in puppy prep and education (queue Jonah and me literally running around Petco, with a cart filled to the brim). On Saturday evening, we put his old name on our dashboard and lined up behind other cars receiving their new dogs from the transport. Volunteers popped him into our car for a distanced pickup, and I crawled into the backseat to sit with him, solidifying our new roles as dog parents, and Nick as "Toast"!

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The past few weeks have been filled with so much joy, chaos, and a very steep learning curve that feels similar to what I imagine parenthood to be like (I know, I know, raising a dog is much easier than a baby—but still!). Jonah and I spent the majority of our first few days in our building's elevator, coaxing Toast into "going potty" every fifteen minutes until we could extend breaks to once an hour. He's sleeping through the night now, but I wake up as soon as he stirs at 6 AM, and fly out the door with him seconds later. While he naps, I sometimes look at photos of him on my phone—a funny habit I've observed in friends of mine who are moms. 

We're getting to know each other and all of his little quirks: Toast hates moving between floor textures (he won't budge from carpet to tile), absolutely refuses to pee in the rain, howls at sirens but loves to watch them on TV, and will only fall asleep on my lap if he has a place to burrow his nose into. He's also playful, sweet, and makes us laugh constantly—when he isn't driving us completely nuts. Of course, every pup is different, but over the course of the past two weeks—and a bit of trial by fire—Jonah and I have discovered a few invaluable products and tips:

I've had dogs, but never raised a puppy so Jonah and I had exactly zero idea where to start. Luckily, I have a friend with a year-old pup who had so many tips she was happy to share: the first one being Zak George videos on Youtube. Jonah and I watched his new series, where he trains a dog named Kona, using almost exclusively positive reinforcement. While many of the lessons have gone over Toast (and honestly our) heads, it's been an extremely helpful place to start. 

I also read The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell, which was highly recommended to me and validated most of Zak's advice. It also included an extremely helpful list for when they need to go pee that was helpful to memorize and reference. 

We also plan to attend a distanced, one-on-one puppy training course as soon as Toast gets his final booster, and are considering this local trainer, as well as both Petco and PetSmart's classes—all of which came highly recommended to us! Other resources recommended to me by DM: @dogminded, @walkingdogtraining, @packleaderhelp, @dreamcometruek9, and a Consider the Dog membership

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There are plenty of times when Toast is hyper, but Jonah and I can't play with him—which is where having an interactive toy is so incredibly helpful. Any time Toast whines, we take him outside, run him around the block, and play with him before putting him back in his puppy pen. If he continues to complain, which usually happens around twice a day, I'll fill a Kong with this pumpkin and liver treat from West Paw or cut him a piece of a pig's ear. We discovered it through trial and error—he doesn't like peanut butter, but goes nuts for pumpkin! It'll usually keep him engaged for twenty minutes or so, until he falls back asleep. It's a total game changer, since the alternative for a while was me playing fetch with him with one hand, and trying to type emails with the other. 

Before we discovered the pumpkin-liver paste, Jonah and I were giving him Puppy Greenies which—we didn't realize until reading the package more carefully—are not suitable for young puppies, and can cause intestinal blockages. While I don't recommend going down the Puppy sub-Reddit rabbit hole I did (the equivalent of WebMD telling you everything is cancer), I do recommend checking labels a little more carefully. 

Like any new (dog) mom, I had a million questions for a vet right away, primarily around booster vaccines and safe ways to socialize Toast before he got his third booster (something you'll spend a whole lot of time thinking about as a new dog parent). We also bought pet insurance immediately. I worked at a vet's office throughout high school and know firsthand how devastatingly high pet bills can be, especially for expensive surgeries like broken bones or blockages. Pet insurance is often inexpensive, and a safeguard against a surprise bill!

As a note, a vet might be hard to find right now. Many aren't taking new clients, so we had to find one a considerable drive from our house.

An early Instagram story I posted of Toast showed a bag of kibble in the background, which incited many DMs encouraging me to replace kibble with homemade food or "real" food from a company like The Farmer's Dog or Just Food for Dogs. After doing ample research (and panicking briefly that I was poisoning my pup by kibble), I learned that making dog food can be beneficial for some dogs, but isn't necessarily better for all dogs, and plenty of high-quality kibble is just as healthy as "real food." 

Jonah and I compromised our time and budget restrictions by getting Toast food from Spot and Tango, which has a product called Unkibble that used human-grade ingredients and dehydrated whole foods. We calculated that our store-bought kibble (we used Royal Canin, which is highly rated) came to $40 a month, and a service like Farmer's Dog would be $120—but Unkibble would cost around $80 a month, which felt like a good in-between for us!

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Part of the art of having a puppy is carefully controlling where they can, and more importantly, can't go. We made sure to crate train Toast from day one, so that he has a safe space to sleep at night and when we're both out. We doubted we needed a puppy exercise pen until a friend insisted—and it is worth its weight in gold. I keep it next to where I work in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on him, and he can keep an eye on me, which means less whining! We also keep a baby gate at our bedroom door, after learning he's obsessed with our bed.

It only took one destroyed pillow for us to realize that Toast can't be trusted (yet!). We tried using safe dog chewing deterrents like Bitter Yuck, which he loved so much, I tasted it to see if it actually did taste bad (I'm pretty sure I still have the horrible flavor in my mouth, and it's been a week). The only way to really, truly keep him from chewing at this point is to watch him like a hawk. Any time he turns to chew on something—our vacuum, the rug, a couch leg, cushion, or arm—we immediately offer him a toy he can chew instead. So far, no more pillows have been hurt!

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I used to think dog DNA tests were silly (I've never even been tempted to get myself one!). Joke's on us, because about two days after we got Toast, we bought the Embark Dog Breed ID Kit, which was on a deep Black Friday discount. Dog DNA tests still have some flaws, but this one came highly rated! It'll be another week or so until we get the results, but my money's on pitbull and beagle. (I was attacked by a pitbull as a kid, but hold no bias against the breed, which is actually incredibly sweet and caring, despite the bad rap they tend to receive!). 

Socialize, socialize, socialize! One of the most poignant lines I read in our puppy book was, "Fear in puppies is often exhibited as aggression in adult dogs, so now is the time to create positive experiences..." In addition to making an effort to introduce him to every dog in our building—who are all vaccinated—as well as their owners, so he gets use to people who don't look like Jonah and me, I've made a list of activities I want to do with him as younger, so he's comfortable as an adult: go to the beach, paddle board, hike, and kayak (water is clearly a theme).

Like kids (and most grown-ups), dogs benefit from having a routine. We try to take him out at roughly the same time each day—which helps guard against accidents—and put him to bed, and wake him up, at roughly the same time each day. Routine is also a good way to learn what works for him. We kept track of his energy levels and "potties" in a shared notes app for the first week, which helped us realize that small tweaks (like a longer walk in the morning) can make a big difference in managing his energy levels and moods. 

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I quickly learned that, like mom-judging, dog-mom-judging is toooottally a thing. I get it! People have strong opinions about raising living things, which makes sense ("dog mom guilt" is a thing too, in case you were wondering). Recommendations are SO useful—and I want you to share yours in the comments, please!—but for everyone to recognize that, at the end of the day, you know your pup best. 

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Some doggo links...

1. Muttropolis has some really cute pet tags and toys, like this ramen—but we obviously ordered this one from Etsy and are eagerly awaiting its arrival!
2. We really love our local dog store, Good Dog PDX
3. The Foggy Dog designs really cute pup accessories. 
4. A lot of owners love biothane leashes, but I've been using this rope leash and harness

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