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  • Madeline Topf

Should you get a puppy in graduate school?

I recently adopted an 8-week old Shiba Inu puppy. Grad school seemed like the perfect time to get a puppy. I have a flexible work schedule, I have the income to pay for food and training, and I wanted a companion for emotional support. Having a dog would give me a responsibility that depended on me, which keeps me on top of my mental health.

1. Do you have friends and family that can help you?

This is actually the most important point to consider. It truly takes a village. I KNOW, it’s just a dog. Having a dog is still a lot of work, and I quickly realized that this “single mother” “do-it myself” attitude I had was not going to get me far.

Mia playing in sand

There are going to be times when you can’t take care of your puppy, when you are stressed, have to work, or just plain don’t feel like it. It is imperative that you have a support system that can help you, and if not, money to pay people to help. I prioritized getting a puppy from a very reputable breeder (and of course, good rescues will give you plenty of information and guidance on the puppy) as well as training and socialization so that my puppy would be a delight for others to take care of.

2. Can you take 1-2 weeks off when you first get your puppy?

It takes a while for a puppy to adjust to a new home. That means there will be many sleepless nights in the first week(s) after bringing home your new puppy. Mia would whine loudly at night when she realized she was in a crate and when she had to go outside. I was very sleep deprived for the first weeks of caring for her.

Mia doing yoga

3. Do you have time every day to devote to training and socialization?

I picked one of the most stubborn breeds of dog to get, and I knew I would have to devote lots of time to training her. New puppies need a ton of guidance, what and what not to chew, how to stop biting, how to do basic obedience, and how to listen generally. Socialization is a huge deal for young puppies, especially Shiba Inu, just for them to get used to the world and prevent any behavioral issues. I spent 1-2 hours per day on training and socialization. This is a lot, I usually set aside a specific time every day at 5pm to work with her. It has, however, paid off. She is not afraid of any of the most common dog triggers, she loves other dogs, and she has learned tricks as well as basic commands. For tips, I recommend Zak George’s channel on youtube.

4. Who is going to take out your puppy in the middle of the day?

If not you, who? I have a flexible lab/work schedule so I can easily make time to walk my puppy.

5. Don’t shy away from desensitization.

Mia was horrible with baths when I first tried. She would scream, scratch, and try to run away. I asked the breeder what to do, and she said “If she doesn’t like baths, do it more.” I don’t want a dog who just “doesn’t like baths.” Having a puppy means you have ample opportunity to shape the behavior and personality of your dog! That is also a lot of pressure, too. By exposing your puppy to things it doesn’t like initially, like baths, you can set them up for a life of tolerating and even loving baths. Counterconditioning and desensitization over time will make this happen. By giving Mia a bath once per week instead of once every six, I can get her “used” to the process. By giving her lots of treats while I do it, I can condition her to (hopefully) like baths.

6. Be patient.

From getting the puppy to teaching it, things are going to take time and won’t always go your way. Patience is so key. I get frustrated with my puppy multiple times per week. I thought she had begun to finally sleep through the night, but suddenly she’s crying at 3am to go outside. I thought she would listen to me outside because she would inside, but she doesn’t. It’s important to remember that much like a PhD, there is going to be steady progress with major and minor setbacks along the way. Staying consistent will help. So will a reminder that a 5-month puppy is only 5 months old! That’s nothing! Imagine expecting a 5 month old

baby to remember what you said last week. Mia and her new friend

It’s hard, but it will work out over time. It’s encouraging to see progress and learning, but it’s not going to be perfect.

7. You’re reading this, so you’re going to get a puppy anyway. My final piece of advice? Save money!!

Vet bills in particular are very expensive. So are toys, treats, puppy class, and daycare. There really is no limit to how much you can spend if you want to.

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