Dietary Dilemma

Written 10/8/2015

Two weeks before collecting Frank from the breeders I had entered the search term “what is the best food for a Newfoundland puppy?” into Google, entirely ignorant of the gastronmic labyrinth within which I would spend the next ten days lost.

It quickly became apparent that there were various factors influencing what constitutes a good food for large breed puppies, but the one I kept readig about was protein level. A high protein level will make your puppy’s bones grow too quickly, was the message. His joints will become stressed, and he’ll get hip dysplasia.

But vitamin D, I learned, is also vital. Too much will make your puppy’s bones grow too quickly. His joints will become stressed, and he’ll get hip dysplasia.

I knew the food the breeder had my puppy on (Purina Pro Plan) wasn’t as good as she believed, so I wanted to find a better alternative that I could transition him onto. I became nothing less than obsessed with finding a dry puppy mix that had the correct protein level (nothing higher than 26%) and not too much vitamin D.

My local petshops championed brands like Burns and James Wellbeloved, but I took one look at their websites and sneered at their off-target analytics. There were so few options! Even the most expensive foods which seemed only available online, such as Orijen and Acana, had outrageously high protein (38%?!).

I plumped for Arden Grange. The customer service rep was really helpful and sent me free samples. Their protein and vitamin D levels matched those I had begun to envision in my dreams. A sack the weight of a boulder arrived a few days before I collected Frank.

But my obsession would not sleep. I couldn’t stop mulling over my choice. As I fed Frank the Pro Plan, and longed for the day when it would be safe to start making the switch to Arden Grange (at least a week after first getting your pup so his stomach can settle) I kept doing research, to confirm that I had made the best choice.

It was during this stage that I discovered Arden Grange contained…GRAINS. I read how grains were the blight of commercial foods, and how dogs’ digestive systems cannot tolerate them. They are cheap fillers to bulk out low quality food. The sack of Arden Grange went back to the retailer.

Panic: I was at square one. No idea what food to give Frank, and very little time before he would be ready for weaning off Pro Plan. A conversation I had held with a petshop clerk echoed: “Symply is our best food – the protein comes from really good quality meat sources.”

It was much more expensive than the Arden Grange, but I knew by this point I was willing to shell out anything for Frank. I did a quick check of protein and vitamin D online – both a little high, but there simply was no other choice. I drove to the shop and handed over forty quid for a six-kilo bag.

Frank started having increasingly large proportions of Symply in his Pro Plan, until the switch was almost complete. But – I kept researching. Symply is a British brand, and is not so well covered on the web as more well-known dog foods, so it took longer to really learn about its merits or weaknesses. My knowledge of dog foods was still growing, too. But I did eventually learn that Symply was not the holy grail I had imagined it to be. There were fillers, and the rice in it wasn’t a prime source of nutrition.

I dug deeper into the web and read and read and read. I discovered that the factors I had based my early research on – protein levels – were fallacies. Suddenly, Orijen became a viable option. Its protein was from great natural sources and would be nothing but beneficial for Frank. Its ingredients were far better than what ended up on my own plate in the evenings. I was going to spend more money on dog food than I had ever considered possible, but I had finally found the perfect food for Frank.

Cabin Fever

Written 21st July 2015

Plenty of dog owners think it is a mistake for your puppy to sleep in the same room as you. It can exacerbate separation anxiety, or give the pup an inflated sense of its status in the household hierarchy. I, however, can’t remember feeling more content with the world than when I am falling to sleep with my puppy curled up against me, or when I am being awakened with an over-eager tongue.

We fall into a pattern that moulds around Frank’s naps. The house becomes like an egg, Frank the growing foetus; we count down the days until he will be ready to break free.

There’s a risk that for the single, live-alone dog parent like myself, this period could become maddening. Whole days are spent at home with occassional brief escapes to Tesco while he sleeps. There is a struggle to find new ways of keeping him exercised and stimulated within these confines.

We hold back tedium by having friends and family visit – within his first week, Frank encounters adults, children, and other dogs on his home turf, and make friends with them all. I take Frank out for short drives. I walk through town with him in my arms. We sit on the bench in the park. Most of all, though, we find pleasure in the simple happiness of each other’s company.

I notice that he doesn’t show excessive interest in his toys, despite having most of Pets at Home’s range at his disposal. He prefers to shadow me about the house and garden, getting involved with whatever I am doing.

I am digging a swimming pool for him, and he likes to play with the shovel or the rake, holding up construction like some sort of adorable little environmental anarchist. He discovers everything first with his mouth; I follow his explorations, raking stones, dirt, weeds, and all other detritus out of his jaws.

His house-breaking is going exceptionally well, having been virtually completed by the breeders. In the evenings, we sit together on the sofa, forging our inseparation. The idea of it being any other way becomes a joyless, unpleasant thing.

Parental Paranoia

Written 13th July 2015

Today we go to Frank’s puppy check. I collected him on a Saturday, so this was the earliest opportunity to get him checked over. I am already resigned to bad news.

I have seen something more than puppy wobble in his gait; I’ve watched him scratch and nibble at his limbs; I’ve done my best to make him comfortable but he can never settle for long. Two words hammer in my mind – the two words I’ve been reading about fearfully ever since I decided to get a Newfoundland. Hip dysplasia. Already, Frank seems to be showing the symptoms.

Last night, when he wanted to play, I put him in his cage. Partly, I was concerned about over-stressing his delicate joints with more exercise, but I was also mindful of the growing possibility that Frank would have to be returned to the breeder. I didn’t want to do anything that would make the farewell more difficult.

We quietly drive into town. The vet is a new setup; the staff are young, enthusiastic, and they swoon over Frank. He makes friends easily.

I offload all the concerns I have excruciatingly gathered over the weekend onto the vet. She begins her examination of him – and it is like an exam for that poor dog. There will be very different consequences for him depending on whether he passes or fails.

Frank does neither. The vet explains his limb discomfort as panosteitis, which can temporarily affect large breed puppies. His inability to lay down comfortably is, apparently, probably due to the heat rather than the gigantic skeletal malformity I have been suspecting.

She thinks Frank is fine. “Fabulous” is the word she uses. She does, however, make very clear that the chances of a problem developing with this breed are quite high. The underlying message, I realise, is that I should never have taken on the breed if I hadn’t been prepared for the possibility of problems.

Suddenly I feel enormous guilt about ever accommodating the possibility of returning Frank to the breeder. I feel even worse about restricting my bonding with him over the weekend because I had predicted our relationship to be short-lived. I spend another car journey apologising to Frank.

The vet left me with some parting advice: “try not to worry. Enjoy your dog.”

We stop on the way home at a park, which is situated on a hill outside town. Frank can’t go for walks yet, because he hasn’t had his vaccinations. I lift him out of the car anyway, and sit him on my lap under a tree. The parkland stretches away down the hill. Frank gets his first look at the green world that will soon be his. He seems to like the feel of wind blowing his fluff.

He is my dog, from now on, and I will do everything I can to make his life a happy one.

Stealing Away

Written 11th July 2015

Today I go to collect Frank from the breeders in Worksop; it’s only an hour’s drive away but I am nevertheless nervous about how such a young dog will cope with the journey home. It is one of a thousand worries which kept me awake the previous night, and which mix inextricably with my excitement.

I have the whole summer free; I have puppy-proofed the house, I have purchased everything Frank will need and more, I have found the best food and researched the best puppy training techniques. I am ready – tired but energised by imminent parenthood.

On the way I stop at Asda to pick up all the things I soon realise I had forgotten – rolls of kitchen towel, antibacterial cleaner, my breakfast. I arrive at the breeders’ house early, and park down the street in case they’re not ready to say goodbye.

It’s a busy suburban area, with kids kicking a football in the street and builders hammering at bricks. The terraced houses all look small and don’t seem to have much garden, and my inner snob starts, again, doubting my choice of breeder. But I remember that first visit, two weeks ago. Frank, inbetween his excited sniffs and explorations of the breeders’ living room, had raised his eyes to meet mine. That was all it had taken to feel committed.

Jim meets me at the door and brings me inside. This time, there is no sign of Frank’s mother. Jim says she has already said goodbye, and that it’s best this way. We go into the kitchen where Mandy is putting the finishing touches to Frank’s puppy pack, and there he is. A great pillow of fluffy dog, stretched out in peace on the hard floor.

I am taken aback by how dog-like he looks, how much less like a puppy since my last visit. His size, at eight-and-a-half weeks, is already a shock. I hear again, mentally, all the voices who have recently warned me, “you do know how big a Newfoundland will get, don’t you?” and who I had dismissed. His brown nose twitches with the sleepy awareness of a new arrival – the stranger that I still am to him.

It takes some time for Mandy to fill in paperwork and to answer the questions I have been preparing for the last two weeks. I want to know what type of wormer he’s had, exactly how much food they have been giving him at each meal, what sort of toys he likes. I put down a lot of money on their kitchen counter. Then it’s time.

She picks him up, holds him up against her chest, and say, “it’s always sad.” It’s a brief farewell but there’s a sincerity to it that surprises me – an indication, perhaps, of my doubts about these breeders. She hands Frank to Jim, who will bring him out to my car – I have not held him yet.

Jim puts him in the cage and acknowledges the generous provisions I have provided Frank for the journey. There is a short converstaion between us about the best route of out town, and Jim’s ’on comes to see Frank off, but I am in a hurry. I don’t want Frank in the car longer than necessary, so I thank them and say goodbye.

Frank is briefly restless as I inch off down the road, terrified of any jolt. He’s moving about in the cage, wondering where he’s been put. I feel like I have done something wrong…like I’ve stolen something precious that doesn’t belong to me, that I don’t deserve.

I try to drive at a good speed, so the journey isn’t longer than it has to be, but slowly enough to avoid bumps and jolts. On the way, I talk to Frank. I want him to become used to – and comforted by – my voice. I warn him before corners. I tell him about the house and garden he is coming to, and about some of the walks he will enjoy in a few weeks. I explain that I have decided to cancel the halfway toilet stop because I think it is best to just get home. I tell him how handsome he is.

When we’re about two-thirds of the way, he cries a little bit. All I feel like doing is apologising.

We arrive home. He is laying down, but eyes open and alert. I carry his cage around to the back garden, wondering whether he will ever want to come out of it. I put it down on the grass, open the door, and sit a little way away.

After a moment, he rises and comes out of the cage, comes toward me with his tail wagging. We say hello. He starts sniffing about the nearby area of grass. I say to myself, because I’m the only one who needs to hear it, “I think it’s going to be okay.”

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