What books should you read before you get a dog?

You can read a hundred books or zero and your dog will probably be fine. If you love him, feed him and throw the ball sometimes you’ll definitely be on solid ground. People have pretty much had dogs since the stone ages and I don’t think they were etching pictograms onto cave walls about how puppies need three meals a day until they’re six months old and should be taken to the Neanderthal dog park twice a week but only after getting their rabies shots.

That being said, you can get a dog and try everything until you find some tactics that work, or you can read about other people’s trial and error and at least take it under consideration. So while you don’t need to read any books, you might as well use your resources. Even if cavemen weren’t sitting down to write Marley and Me, they probably chatted about how CaveLady with ChinWhiskers down in number four smacks her dog when he’s bad and CaveMan with TinyEyes over in cave eleven gives his dog pieces of wooly mammoth liver for good behavior and TinyEyes has significantly less urine mud in his cave than ChinWhiskers does. I figure cave ladies had some serious whiskers, they can’t all be Wilma.

Wilma puts a bonnet on Dino

Reading book after book calmed me. I didn’t think it would, I thought I knew how to handle a dog, but once I started (Nate forced me to before agreeing to letting a slobbery mongrel into our hearts) I couldn’t stop. It just helped me feel prepared, like I knew what I was getting into. I totally had no idea what I was getting into, but reading and re-reading the books made the weeks leading up to Bender’s arrival much more manageable.

I loved the The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. These monks live in a monastery in New York state and do monk things like make bread and pray and contemplate stuff. They also breed german shepherds. Really, really awesome german shepherds. They keep them for a long time to do some preliminary training to make sure their obedience is started off right. Their dogs just lie down at their feet at dinner, even the puppies! Bender is not so polite…but, before we got him, this book gave me a lot of hope. Now that I’m thumbing through it again I still think there’s a chance.

dog and monk

The monks say “obedient” comes from the Latin root meaning “to listen wholeheartedly’.

The monks, as you might imagine, are more philosophical than other dog training books, this one is less of a manual and more of an education. They go into a lot of detail about your puppy’s life before she comes to live with you, the meaning behind behaviors, and wolves and their pack mannerisms that have been passed down to dogs. It helped me understand Bender despite the whole language/species barrier thing.

They don’t get too pushy about the religious agenda, they mention grace and meditation and throw in a few “divines”, but that’s about it. They say dogs are fundamental and necessary building blocks of the human experience. I don’t know about all that. But I highly recommend the book.

Bender the Golden Retriever on a bed full of clean laundry.

Don’t mind me, I’m a necessary part of the human experience.

I read a few other books too, Good Owners Great Dogs (a little dated), How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, and 14 Days to a Well Behaved Dog (short and sweet, slightly misleading). These were all manuals on training and care. My favorite was How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With but generally they were all helpful.

There is really only so much you can do to prepare and then you kind of just have to cope. I definitely recommend reading the monk book, but, because it’s very philosophical and not really a manual I’d recommend a second “bringing a puppy home” book as well. There are lots of great options out there and I’m sure they are all full of good advice. I say read the books, then see what works for you and go with it. I also can’t say enough good things about training classes. Books are all well and good but a real live trainer can’t be beat.


By their very make up and need, dogs draw us out of ourselves: they root us in nature, making us more conscious of the mystery inherent in all things. We become more compassionate and less arrogant, more willing to share our lives with another life…..Think of a dog greeting her owner after several hours of separation, her body showing effusive yet controlled signals of joy….Could we ever merit such affection? Its sincerity draws the best out of us, encouraging us to respond by trying to live up to such love.

– The Monks of New Skete

Golden Retriever Versus the Balloon

Today Bender was being his angelic little self – bounding from the windowsill, to the couch, to his bed, throwing his rawhide around the house like there was no way it could scratch our floors, and whining as he did these things. It’s my fault. I didn’t walk him and Leo has been gone all day. So he’s been bored. But I’ve got a lot of work on my plate this week, plus the six inches of snow outside really makes me want to hunker down under a comforter and avoid the outdoors. So I kept telling myself I’d walk him soon, or that he’d finally fall asleep.

As Bender ran inside for the millionth time, the heat came on and the balloons we have leftover from a birthday moved. It was slight but it caught his eye and gave me an idea. Bender was terrified of balloons when he was a puppy. I figured I should see if he was clinging to the fear now that he is older and wiser.

ballons adn bender

“Bender weighs his options now that the dreaded balloons have captured his food dish…in the end he decides the threat is too great and, embarrassingly, retreats” – September 2013

I cut one down and tied it to his collar. He was still terrified. I had just gotten it double knotted when he took off at a run out the dog door, balloon hot on his tail. After realizing that the balloon would not give up its chase Bender summoned his courage and decided to face his fears. The next twenty minutes were priceless.

Bender the golden retriever jumps for the balloon Bender the golden retriever gives the balloon a dirty look Bender the golden retriever stares longingly at the balloon the balloon attempts to cross the fence and Bender hops up to chase it IMG_20140128_112548 IMG_20140128_112601 IMG_20140128_112604 IMG_20140128_112607 IMG_20140128_112617 IMG_20140128_112623 IMG_20140128_112643

How do you choose a puppy?

My mom would tell you that your puppy will pick you. That you should just sit down and see which one wanders over to you, or which one curls up for a nap in your lap. Or say the name you want to give your dog and see which puppy responds. She’d also tell you that a puppy that lets you flip him over and hold him in your arms on his back is a great dog. And that, if your puppy is a golden retriever, he will grow up to be the same color as his ears. She would tell you to talk excitedly, whisper quietly, shout happily or speak sadly and see which pup tumbles over to hear what you have to say.

I was decidedly less zen about the choice.

cute puppy

Pick me!!

I would tell you to determine the type of dog you want. Active? Calm? Assertive? Submissive? And then use the Volhard test to narrow down your selection BEFORE employing my mom’s soul-mate/puppy-fate instructions. The Monks of New Skete (these awesome monks who have written a few great dog training advice books) use this test to place the german shepherds they breed. You basically put a 7 week old puppy through a series of activities, calling him, opening an umbrella near him, dragging a dishcloth around him, etc and rank his reaction on a scale from one to six. His scores will define the personality you can expect from him when’s he grown up. (You can also use a truncated version of this test to see the personality of older dogs if you are adopting!)

monks of new skete puppies

The Monks of New Skete

For me, determining the dog I wanted was easy. I wanted a big guy. A lazy guy. Easily trainable, non-aggressive, block headed, dopey and lovey. Mostly I just wanted a good dog. Honestly, I wanted Suds reincarnate. If you knew him, you would too.

It seemed to me that a puppy who consistently slept a lot, more than his litter-mates, and scored a lot of fours on the Volhard test would be the one for me. I say “consistently” slept a lot because I know that sometimes you’ll see a bounce-around-the-room puppy right when she’s winding down. Or calm puppy who just got up from a nap and is ready for 15 solid minutes of frolicking. It is definitely important to visit the litter a lot, and be sure each pup has on a different colored collar to make sure you know which one is which. They DO have VERY telling personalities at that age!

how do know what kind of dog your puppy will be

This puppy, Gordon, with the black color, was an observant little man. And still is.

I couldn’t visit the litter until I took my puppy home, they were in New Jersey I was halfway across the country, so I enlisted a crew to investigate the litter for me.

My mom, my dad, my mom’s friend Gail, her daughter Emily, my aunt, my cousins, my cousins’ friends, etc. (I had a pretty huge puppy picking brigade) visited the litter at least once a week for me. We’d video chat while they played with the puppies.

picking a puppy

Face-timing with the puppies

Around week 7 they did the Volhard test for me. They weren’t really steadfast believers like me, and hadn’t done all the reading I had, so they weren’t 100% on the ball. For instance, I don’t think anyone brought an umbrella to Volhard Testing day. But both of the big males in the litter scored well, so, in the end it was just up to my mom’s puppy choosing techniques. And I just had to choose, which one would be the one we would love for the next decade or so?

The hardest part about choosing one puppy is that, in choosing one, you reject all the rest. That’s how it feels. And, really, that’s how it is. All those watery little eyes look up at you and you can’t help but love each and every one of them. It makes it almost impossible, but you just have to accept that fact and make the choice. You are allowed to love them all. But only one can go home with you. (Ok maybe two…)

how to choose just one puppy

Here are the three boys with our puppy picking brigade! (We picked the one looking away)

And there’s always that question in the back of your mind, what if that other puppy would be a better dog? But don’t worry, I have the answer: there’s no such thing as a better dog. There is only your dog, and everyone else’s. Once your puppy is yours he’s yours, and just that makes him the best dog for you. So you just have to make the choice, and once you know he’s yours it gets a whole lot easier. That’s a big fat lie. It gets really really hard. But at least choosing will be over and you can get down to training and 3AM potty breaks.

Ultimately Bender just ended up being the one my aunt and Gail fell in love with on choosing day. I guess your heart just kind of tugs you slightly more in one direction than the other. He was the calmest, snuggly-est one. And once they felt that tug they just went with it. The next day my parents visited and felt it too.

adorable dopey puppy

Dopey puppy? Yes.

Is he big? Yes. Lazy? Somewhat. Easily trainable? When you have treats. Non-aggressive? For the most part. Block headed? Yes. Dopey? Yes. Lovey? When he wants to be. Is he Suds reincarnate? Not yet. Is he a good dog? Of course!

He’s not exactly what I was expecting. He’s a lot harder to live with than I thought he’d be. But he’s still a puppy, and puppies are energetic and stubborn. More importantly, he is teaching me to be selfless, patient, fiercely loyal, and more cognizant of the world around me and around him. He’s making me redefine my parameters for unconditional love. Would a different puppy have been a different experience? Of course, but Bender is my dog. And he is the best dog there is.

Ok buddy, you're mine. And we're in this for the long haul.

Ok buddy, you’re mine. And we’re in this for the long haul.

So anyway, my advice is just to do all you can to determine the puppies’ personalities but, really, you can’t go wrong.

Merry Christmas!! Or Feliz Navidad?

It’s Bender’s first Christmas and he couldn’t be more excited. Actually I don’t think he knows how awesome 12/25 is going to be, but when he unwraps the giant comfy dog bed and HUGE rawhide I got him he’ll know what’s up. He certainly is very interested in the world’s largest dog toy/many-branched-stick that we brought inside, wrapped in lights and hung smaller chew toys from.

Anyway, I think this video will help boost his Christmas spirit. Leo, Bender’s BFF was not too happy to join the dance crew (you can see it in eyes, especially at 0:10 – so grumpy!) but he obliged because he loves Bender so. Gilly, Bender’s sister, makes her guitar debut and Uncle Captain and Grandma Bailey can be seen cutting a rug together as backup dancers. Happy Holidays!

Things to know about getting Puppy

I recently got an email from someone who had stumbled across this Bender blog. She had a few questions about getting a new puppy. I’m sure she had scoured the internet for answers but honestly the web is kind of a terrifying place when it comes to puppy questions. People get really really really opinionated and self righteous on the internet, with no room for discussion.

For example, we got Bender a dog door and now he goes outside whenever he wants. He has taken to sleeping on the couch in our (un-insulated) sunroom, even last week when it was less than 10 degrees outside.

Golden Retriever puppy, Bender, lying down in the snow

Excuse me? It’s too chilly? I’ll come down with a cold? These things mean nothing to me!

So I googled “how long will my dog be ok outside in really cold weather?” I found one slightly helpful article from a sled dog vet. And a slew of comments like this on Yahoo Answers (for the record, I heartily advise against ever going on Yahoo Answers, it’s a terrible terrible place):

“Livestock lives outside. Dogs and cats are called house pets for a reason: they live in the house. Tomorrow take him and your cats to a shelter so they can be adopted by someone who actually wants to take proper care of their pets.”

“If I was your neighbor, you’d already have animal control over at your house ticketing you. That’s how serious this is.”

“If it’s too cold for YOU to be out, it’s too cold for the dog.“

Similarly, I googled “Ways to keep my dog off the couch” here are some choice answers:

Golden retriever puppy, Bender, on the couch practically clinging to it

This couch is comfy, and I REFUSE to move

“Dogs mean more to me than the sofa. I also ditched fabric in favor of leather. Much easier.”

“My dog has free reign of the house. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Why would you want to keep the dog off of the sofa? I enjoy my dog sitting next to me with her head on my lap.”

“If I didn’t want a dog on my furniture I wouldn’t own a dog.”

First off, I’m not LOCKING Bender outside in when it’s 2 degrees, he goes out there and plops down on the couch! I’m just wondering when I need to go out and scoop him up because he forgot he can come inside. And “just let him on your couch” is not good advice for “how to not let him on my couch.” Come on people.

Not to mention the fact that, on a daily basis, the internet likes to tell me I’ve poisoned, spoiled, harmed, or otherwise ruined Bender forever. “You fed him a whole almond?! He’ll be dead by morning!” “You gave him a dog door?! Too much independence, he will never love you!” “You let him outside by himself?! Say goodbye to at least one of his legs!!” People are bonkers.

Golden retriever, Bender, poking just his head through a dog door

Just checking in but I think I’ll stay outside this time.

I think in general everyone’s best bet is just talking to a trainer or a vet, and, like I said, staying far far away from Yahoo Answers. Anyway, the questions this reader had for me were as follows:

1. How did you choose your puppy?  I know the part about the lineage of the pup, but when you went to see the litter, what made you chose Bender?

2.What reading can we do to help prepare for bring our puppy home?

3.What supplies are absolutely necessary and what do you feel like you bought but did not need?

4.What kind of dog food do you use and why?

5.Best advice?  What would you have done differently?

So I sent her back essentially a novel talking about my answers to those questions, probably way more than she bargained for. But I thought they’d be good blog topics, so this is your heads up, I’m going to write out my answers and share them with you all in some upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned.

12/18/13 ADDENDUM: Check it out! The company we buy Bender’s food from, Eagle Pack, (their food is awesome!) just wrote a blog post on dog safety in the cold. It is full of lines like this: “A St. Bernard will be thrilled with the drop in temperature.” and “While many dogs will be prefer to be inside during the winter, the cold weather breeds (and some cats) will want to enjoy the snow more than you.” (Don’t worry, they also include lots of love for pups who might not be digging the snow so much.)

Dear Eagle Pack, thanks for not thinking I’m a terrible, heartless pet owner for letting Bender hang out in the snow. Sincerely Yours, Matty.

A Lesson on Dog Doors (and how to install them)

You know what sucks? Waking up at 7AM to let a whining puppy go outside. You know what REALLY sucks? waking up at 3AM to let a whining puppy go outside. The latter only happens when he’s not feeling so good 🙁 poor guy. But the 7AM thing is every day. Not that waking up at 7 is the end of the world. But not getting to decide when you get out of bed is pretty much the worst. Especially when you let him out and crawl back into your warm bed, only to hear him barking and whining to be let back in 10 minutes later, and let back out half an hour later, and back in three minutes after that.  It is for this reason that some genius invented dog doors (aka portals for raccoons to come in and ransack your house – but we’re not worrying about that).

Raccoon coming through a cat door

This is my nightmare…

A little background on the modern dog door for you (cat door actually but who’s counting?). Apparently they’ve been around for quite some time. Google tried to tell me that Isaac Newton invented the concept but I feel like that guy just gets credit for any unattributed awesome idea so I dug a little deeper. Some painstaking investigation into the matter (I read the wikipedia page) led me to find that, in fact, an anonymous guy was trying to posthumously prank Newton by publishing a very embarrassing story about him inventing the pet door. The story went that Newton’s cat had a litter and so Newton cut two holes in his door, a big one for the mother cat and a smaller one for the kittens. The kittens showed Newton what a dummy he was by walking through the adult cat hole and snubbing his kitten-sized hole.

What a good joke, anonymous author! Outsmarted by kittens! And Newton never even had a cat! Sweet fabrication. You really showed that Newton jerk.

Isaac Newton, inventor of the dog door

Newton is not impressed by his future prankster

Further reading however led me to this passage in some dude’s diary from 1827 (this guy may have been overly obsessed with Newton, the evidence is inconclusive).

“Whether this [cat & kitten door story] be true or false, indisputably true is it that there are in the door to this day two plugged holes of the proper dimensions for the respective egresses of cat and kitten.”

This stalker’s testimony may have just been some kind of revenge for his unrequited love for the long-dead discoverer of gravity. Or maybe Newton did invent the idea but was SO embarrassed by the kittens outsmarting him that he denied ever having done such a thing and tried to hide the evidence by boarding up the holes. We may never know.

Depiction of a snobby kitty walking through a cat sized door

In case you needed a visual of this snobby possibly-fictional kitty.

Reputed historians note that, for centuries, farmers in rural areas have cut holes in the walls of their grain storage buildings to invite in feral cats to keep the rat population down. And we all know how much Egyptians loved their cats so I’m guessing they had diamond gilded cat doors made of gold in their pyramid shaped houses. People have probably been fed up with letting their pets in and out for thousands of years, and ever since there have been doors, there have been holes in them for animals to come and go freely. Even cavemen hated getting up from the couch to let the dog in.

Two mummified cats

Cat mummies….Egyptians were bonkers.

So that was a just a roundabout way of saying, we installed a dog door! After a very frustrating Friday I drove to Home Depot and bought the biggest dog door they sell (the size is SUPER Extra Large for dogs up 120lbs). I immediately ran into some problems when I got home. Basically the back door has panels in it. So the dog door can’t lie flush. This DYI article told me that was no big deal. We just had to buy some pieces of molding to shove in there and caulk it. So we set off!

The first thing we did was trace the dog door cover onto the door (that’s the size hole you should end up with) and measure the spaces we’d fill with molding later (where the panels are on the door). We went to Home Depot, spent like an hour sawing off the 10 pieces we needed and headed back home. We realized that we hadn’t measured how thick the wood should be so we eyeballed it at about 1/2 an inch. (It turned out 3/4 would have been better but we just caulked it all together.) Then we took the door off the hinges and got started!

Using a hammer and screwdriver to take a door of its hinges

Due to many makeshift beer pong tables in my past I’m pretty adept at this particular skill.

Me drilling holes at the corners of the hole where the dog door will fit

Then we drilled holes at the corners of the opening tracing.

We took an electric saw and cut the hole out of the door.

We took an electric saw (lent to us by our awesome neighbors!) and cut the hole out of the door, then lined up the filler pieces to make sure they fit.

Bender looks on as we do construction out on the deck that sunny afternoon

Bender was very helpful. And not afraid of the loud construction sounds!

Door with the hole cut into with glued on filler pieces

We used caulk to glue all of the filler pieces onto the door.

Door with the pieces all screwed together and dog door installed

Then screwed the inside and outside pieces of the dog door together and caulked all the holes to seal out any winter breezes!

Nate demonstrating how to use the dog door. He is halfway out with Bender looking on from the sunroom skeptically

Nate demonstrated proper dog door use to Bender.

Bender is not quite sure how to handle this development in his independence. He’s pretty good at going in and out when we encourage him. But making the decision on his own has been an adjustment. He does a lot of sticking his head through and whining. But I think he’ll get it sooner or later.

Bender peeking his head through the door. Not sure what to make of it.

You can do it!

Guys, I’m Getting Super Crafty

Handmade Fabric USC Wreath

Look at this wreathe (wreath?) I made BY HAND!

collage of making homemade pizza, upper left: rolled out dough, upper right: dough with pesto on it for sauce, lower photo: baked pepperoni pizza on a cookie tray

Also please investigate this pizza!

Ok so I know pizza is not, strictly speaking, a “craft” but come on, I MADE the dough! With yeast and everything! And it’s pesto-roni guys. This is serious.

When I decided to make a USC wreath (I googled it, wreathe is a verb) I went to Joann Fabrics and geeked out in there for like an hour. I ended up buying 3 yards each of Cardinal and Gold fabric, a styrofoam wreath (which Bender thought belonged to him), a ton of (read: WAY too many) pins, 3 wooden cut outs of the letters U-S-C and some paint. Thirty-seven dollars (and three days) later the trip yielded that beautiful fall colored football masterpiece. I could have bought the same thing for $35 on Etsy….craft fail…

But never fear dear reader I prevailed and moved on to my next craft: A Pumpkin Costume for Bender!!

So naturally on October 1st I woke up with one thought running through my head (sorry Dad, it wasn’t rabbit rabbit rabbit) it was what will Bender be for halloween?!

I thought about dressing up as a cat dressed as a shark riding roomba and making Bender be a duck.

Is this not the greatest thing there ever was?

Is this not the greatest thing there ever was?

But I realized I wasn’t going to take Bender dancing at the Walrus on October 31st (a school night!!) and my costume — cat dressed as shark riding a roomba — would just look ridiculous with out my duckling, so I went easier. I’ll make him be a pumpkin.

Doesn’t everyone’s first child dress up as a pumpkin for halloween?

Baby sitting in a pumpkin

Not like this, Kid. It’s supposed to be felt…

Anyway I started “researching” (I checked Target and Amazon) dog pumpkin costumes.

Small dog wearing a pumpkin costume.

I found a lot of stuff that looked like this.

Which is adorable! But guys, Bender weighs 57 pounds!!! Even the large size is going to be a squeeze. And the large size costs like twenty bucks! So I had a genius idea.

My idea stemmed from a few things. One, I don’t really care how great my dog’s costume looks. I’m not especially worried about my own costume (though I do LOVE to dress up I’m not spending $100 on a cat-dressed-as-a-shark-riding-a-roomba costume — that’s for sure) so I’m not really loosing sleep over how great Bender’s costume looks. He just needs to be wearing one. My second inspirational thought came from the fact that 3 yards of yellow (ahem, excuse me, GOLD) fabric was a little too much for my wreath so I had leftovers. Viola! I decided to make my own doggy pumpkin costume. Like a champ. DIY style.

Here’s the progression:

pumpkin costume step one: fold the fabric in half to make it two-ply

Cut the fabric into a 2 ply square-ish/rectangle

pumpkin costume step #2 Folded in the jagged edges and glued them together.

Folded in the jagged edges and glued them together.

Pumpkin costume #3: gluing the edges together

Look at that lovely edge! I know I could have sewed it but this most likely a one time use thing so I didn’t want to waste the energy. (I also drew the cutest jack-o-lantern face ever IMHO)

Pumpkin costume step #4: glue all the edges but leave a gap for the collar to fit through

Halfway there! Notice I did not glue the last 2 inches of the edge together so I can slip Bender’s collar through it.

pumpking costume step #5: draw a cute pumpkin face and add a green tuft

Now he just needs a little green tuft.

step five: trace out a green tuft on a thick piece of paper

My first try was not acceptable so I went simpler and liked #2 a lot more.

Step 6: slide collar through the finished project

Glued on the tuft (let the whole thing rest under the Joy of Cooking for 20 minutes to flatten and dry) and put the collar through the loop!

Bender wearing his costume

Just see for yourself how good he looks!

Zero to Sixty

Sigh. He’s sprouting like a weed. All of the sudden he has these legs that are way too long for him, he’s so tall he can barely lick the floor (one of his favorite hobbies), his bark is hilariously deep, and his puppy collar barely fits around his snout. He is almost 5 months old, and he weighs 49 lbs.

Bender, a golden retriever puppy, wearing a USC scarf and modeling his very long front legs.

Look at those legs! They don’t even fit in the picture!

On May 7th, 2013 my friend Tory was visiting for Derby Day (Derby is a big thing for us). We were chatting in the kitchen post-party when my computer dinged and I saw a gchat from my mom.

9:16 AM

Mom: Hey kid, I HAVE GREAT NEWS!!! are you there??

me: Hey mom, what’s up?

Mom: There is a grandmother in our family

me:  … what?

(No one in my family is the type to be popping out any secret babies.)

Mom: There is a grandmother in our family and it is not me 

(I’m an only child so, yes, I was pretty sure the secret grandma was not her)

me: Is it me??? Are there puppies?!?

Mom: YUP

me: Yay!!!!! That IS great news!!

Mom: but you would actually be a great grandmother

me: What’s the situation?!? Where are they?? How many??

(NOTE: I had been bugging my mom for years to orchestrate a litter of puppies from this family for me)

Mom: PUPPIES!!!!!!!! 3 male 3 female, born yesterday

(At this point I called her because she types like a grandma and I needed answers)

Puppies. 6 perfect little fuzzballs were squeaking around in New Jersey.

A very small puppy about 2 weeks old. He has just opened his eys.

This is one of the male puppies at just two weeks old. Possibly Bender!

In September of 2007 Bailey became a mother. The last puppy to leave our house was a little girl we’d named Champagne, when she was 9 weeks old she headed up to Hopewell, New Jersey.

Brady, an 8 week old golden retriever puppy in a red pick up truck headed to her new home.

Bender’s mom, Brady, on her way home

We didn’t hear from Champagne again until that day in May. My aunt ran into the man who had adopted Champagne (now called Brady) and he happily told her that Brady had become a mother the night before! My aunt called my mom, my mom gchatted me, and I devolved into a whirl of emotions.

Brady sits nursing her six golden retriever puppies in the whelping box

Brady with her litter of three week old puppies.

It started off with OMG OMG OMG I CAN’T WAIT TO GET A PUPPY OMG OMG!!! Then spiraled into holy crap I can’t handle a puppy, that’s a living being! What am I thinking?! I barely take care of myself how can I keep a puppy alive and healthy and well trained and happy?! My logical side was continually battling (and losing to) my emotional side (that seems to be a trend with me). Every time doubts crept into my head: how will you afford a puppy? do you know you’ll have to wake up every night to let him out? what will you do when he cries in the crate? are you going to leave him in Colorado when you go away for 2 weeks at Christmas? how will you ever travel again? what if you forget to feed him? what if he eats a rock and dies when you aren’t looking? what if he jumps on little kids and barks at everyone and humps the neighbors?

Bender at 10 weeks chewing on a bike pedal

Just the occasional chewing on a bike pedal

I thwarted these mostly logical (slightly sensational) arguments with one answer: I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I’m not very good at preparing for disaster. I do a lot of “winging it”. Nate is decidedly more of a preparation guy and forced me to at least create a budget. While I was dreaming of great dog names — Mason, Duffman, Porter, Lager, Spuds, Tank — Nate was having nightmares about $5000 a year vet bills and 40lbs of dog food a month (and chewed up computer cords, pee in the house, never getting to go to happy hours again blah blah blah — like I said, slightly sensational). Nate had never had a dog before so our friends’ stories about machine gun diarrhea around the living room and the complete destruction of their possessions really hit him hard. I assured him that our dog wouldn’t do those things (convincing myself it was the truth or whispering under my breath “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”).

Bender at 10 weeks in a basket of clean laundry

Searched for a few minutes and finally found him in here.

So after a lot of coaxing he agreed to bring a dirty, cuddly, chewy, loving, stinky fuzzbutt into our house & hearts. I woke up 3 times to let Bender out the first night we brought him home. We moved into the guest room the next night because we had less possessions in there for him to destroy. With no socks and hardly any furniture in the guest room he set about ripping apart the box spring from under the bed. We didn’t sleep a lot. In some of my gravest hours — 4am watching Bender pee and bolt around the yard with no chance at going back to bed — I thought maybe I’d made a huge mistake. This will pass I thought. This is me getting to the bridge and crossing it I thought. Soon it will be over I thought.

Bender at 11 weeks, lying on the floor in front of the fireplace trying not to sleep

4AM fighting sleep

That seems like a lifetime ago. Back then I was deliriously googling “how to get my dog to sleep in” in the wee hours of the morning. Now he sleeps through the night till at least 7 — sometimes 8 or 9 on the weekends! — and now we can let him out without watching his EVERY move. We have to watch a lot of his moves, but not every single one. Now he comes when we call him. He only chews on underpants he finds lying around (and has only successfully eaten half of one pair – which led to lots of purple poops).

Illustration of purple fabric stuck in some poop

I won’t include a real picture…this gives you an idea….

And in the last few weeks he has started losing his baby teeth like it’s going out of style. He had these huge purple mounds in his gums where his molars were coming in and they have finally burst out of his gums. It must hurt so much! It’s a wonder he’s not just whining all the time. Luckily this teething stage has not lead to any chewing on our possessions. Just a few bloody raw hides when his old teeth fall out.

Bender, open mouthed, with his new teeth poking through his gums

New teeth poking through his gums

Occasionally I miss the days when he could cuddle comfortably on my lap, (now he’s a tangle of legs and a tail too long). But mostly I’m excited to see what kind of dog he matures into. He’s an observant, calm, intelligent and loving puppy, I’m sure his adult self will be just as wonderful, and I’m excited to see him grow up.

How Much does a Puppy Cost?

So, not including the emotional wear and tear of worrying about him ALL the time (seriously, it’s like he’s a five year old walking by himself to the first day of kindergarten through lava fields and across busy streets), and not counting the time we spend on him because he literally gets into everything (we pulled a 2 inch piece of broken glass out of his mouth three weeks ago) I’m trying to figure out exactly how much we have spent on this mongrel so far. 

Piles of things for a dog, treat ball, leash, accident clean up spray, tennis balls, brush, kong, nail clippers and dog bowls

The first shipment of puppy stuff…not off to a good start

I tallied it all up and, excluding time, energy, stress etc, he has cost us $1601.99 in slightly less than 3 months of living with us.

Books Before we Got him – $45.19

The books I read were invaluable for helping me prepare for the B-Man entering our lives. Invaluable because it gave me an outlet for the stress of welcoming a puppy into the house. All that reading made me feel like I was doing something to prepare. I felt like I had a handle on what to expect, how to deal, what kind of parent I wanted to be, and some good insights to the  psychology of a dog.  But, that being said, I think the classes we took at the Humane Society helped me learn how to train him WAY more than any book did. So after reading the books I’ve listed below, I would recommend reading the monk book (The Art of Raising a Puppy) and finding a reward based training class to take a dog to. 

The Monks of New Skete the art of raising a puppy

The Monks of New Skete The Art of Raising a Puppy

The Puppy $158 ($808 without help and without presents)

Bender and his siblings cost $600 for some people, but since we had an in with Brady’s owner (her mom was my dog so we took care of Brady for 9 weeks!) her owner sold her son to us for $400. And my parents bought him for us! So that fee was waived. It also cost a lot to get back to the East coast and bring him home. A golden retriever puppy from the Humane Society would have cost $300, a grown up golden would have been $200, of course that’s without traveling to pick the little guy up too, but I wanted a dog from a line I know and love.  The dogs I have known from this family are calm, friendly, smart, and healthy. So I thought it was worth it to know those things, but obviously I totally support adopting pets!!

Bender sitting on the porch steps at his 2nd home, Gail's house.

Bender at his 2nd home, Gail’s house.

Medical $476 ($568 w/out help)

Obviously he’s going to need to go to the vet, and a lot of people advised us to get pet insurance, but at $30 a month it seemed (and seems) like a rip off. We did decide that $10 a month was worth it for accident insurance. That’s like if he gets hit by a car, gets in a fight, or swallows an entire sock and needs surgery. It kind of seemed like that was the most worthwhile thing to have covered. Other than that we went with a plan from our humane society that is a serious deal. It basically covers everything for a puppy’s first year of care including getting fixed and microchipping. 

Things he wears $30.12

Collars are necessary…bow-ties etc.? maybe not so much. But come on. SO CUTE!!

Bender, a golden retriever puppy, wearing a dapper bowtiw

Bender’s looking very dapper in his bow tie.

Things he Eats $111.68

I did a lot of research on dog food. Mostly because I do marketing for some premium dog food companies. It came in handy! I learned that the first ingredient in any good dog food is going to be some kind of meat meal. Chicken meal, lamb meal, beef meal, etc. That means meat that has been dehydrated and ground up and used at the main ingredient in the food. If the first ingredient is just meat, like “chicken” “lamb” “beef” it means fresh meat. Fresh meat sounds great! But in reality it means most of that ingredient is just water. So even if “chicken” is the first ingredient in a food, it doesn’t mean that there is a lot of protein and nutrients from that chicken in the food because when it goes into the recipe it’s mostly water. So look for foods with meat meal, but watch out for by-product meal! That means all of the inedible parts of the animal ground up to be the main ingredient. Not good. Also in general you want to look for potatoes or rice in favor of corn or wheat. Foods with high quality ingredients are more expensive, but your dog will eat less of it because it’s so packed with protein and nutrition, also his stools (that means poops) will be more sturdy and easier to clean up. 

Eagle Pack large and giant breed puppy food

We feed him Eagle Pack Large & Giant Breed Puppy dry food (6 cups a day!)

Things he Chews $166.37

The best way to keep Bender from chewing our shoes, socks, etc. was to get good treats and toys. I refuse to buy him squeaker toys. I don’t want to listen to it so he doesn’t get to partake — when he visits Tom and Beth he gets to squeak all the toys he wants though! And Leo has brought a few over for him. Other than that, tennis balls are obviously great, in a surprising turn of events he LOVES felt toys (I’m going to start buying felt and making them) and recently a great purchase has been the toys you can fill with treats. When he was little he didn’t have enough motivation to keep chewing on them and get the treats out. He’s learned though, and is really into them. We use them to stop him from barking in the yard and to keep him happy when he’s in the crate.  

For treats we are using “high value treats” which means they are soft, fragrant, and delicious (aka horrible). Basically the main ingredients are protein packed without a lot of extra sugar, wheat, and bullshit that you find in things like milk bones. We’re cutting up pieces of Natural Balance logs into treat sized bits. Bender freaking loves them. He goes bonkers for them. So they have been great for training.  One day we will probably swap to milk bones, but for now while he’s growing so I like to be giving him stuff that’s really beneficial for him. 

Things to call Home $135 ($195 with gift)

We wanted to crate train him, it’s been great being able to put him in there when we leave. We won’t always, but it’s nice for now when he’s a puppy and we can’t 100% trust him in the house. And he loves being in his crate. As much as we feel ok leaving him there because we know he can’t get into anything or hurt himself, he also seems to feel safe and secure in there. Additionally his dog beds have been great. He loves them 80% of the time (the rest of the time he sleeps on cold tile).

Training Classes $200

These classes are amazing. They are way more informative than any of the books I read. It helps teach us how Bender is perceiving our actions. The main thing I love is that they tell us to wait for Bender to do what we want him to instead of telling him what we want him to do. That way he figures out how to anticipate what we want, without us continually commanding him. 

Other things he needs $274.63

Ok so I got tired of making categories for things he needs and just jumbled the rest into this section. I also included $100 for stuff I probably forgot to include below. 

Before we got Bender I asked a lot of my friends how much their dogs cost them. Everyone agreed that the first year was exponentially more expensive than the subsequent years, and that the main cost was food. That was helpful information. My mom replied  “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” that was decidedly unhelpful.

After compiling the info from my friends I came up with $800 the first year and less after that (this was a gross underestimation). I don’t think I spend exorbitant amounts of money on him. I’ve never spent more than $12 on a toy (and felt ripped off – thanks a lot Kong). For the most part I think I have only bought him things he needs (exclude the $5 bow-tie from that statement). I could have gotten him 1 regular bowl instead of two elevated bowls, but big dogs are prone to a fatal stomach condition that can be avoided by elevating their food. I got the cheapest giant crate I could find. All in all I think I was fairly frugal with my purchases for him. 

But still In total, in 3 months he has cost us: $1601.99 and if we had not had any help, he would have cost $2408.99. Of course that will taper off, even his food costs will go down when he isn’t eating 6 cups a day and he will need less and less new stuff as he gets old, but still it’s a pretty amazing number. 

How much does your dog cost you??

And for those of you who are wondering, here is a broken down list: 


Paperback Book – Good Owners, Great Dogs $15

Paperback Book – How to Raise a Puppy you can Live with 14.20

Kindle Book – The Art of Raising a Puppy (the Monk Book) 10.00

Kindle Book – 14 days to a well behaved dog $5.99

BENDER $158 ($808 without help and with presents)

He cost $400 (waived – he was a gift from my parents, thanks guys!! Best present ever!!)

Flight to New Jersey to pick him up: $50 (I had a voucher and miles, it was $300 w/out vouchers)

Cost to take a puppy as carry on on the flight: $75 on Southwest

Carrier for the plane: $30 

Pee pads for the airport (which he didn’t use) $3

MEDICAL $476 ($568 w/out help)

1st round of shots: $92 (Waived – gift from my parents)

Vet Puppy Package including 2 exams, parasite screening and all necessary vaccines, microchip & neuter: $310  at the Boulder Humane Society

Additional Vet Visit for cough: $66

Accident Insurance: $100/year

THINGS HE WEARS: $35.12 ($40.12 w/ gift)

1st Collar: $5 (waived – gift)

Name Tag: $8.12 at Petsmart

Harness for walks: $14 at Target

Training collar (that we’ve never used) $8 at Amazon

Bow tie: $5 at Target


Three 30lb bags Large Breed Puppy Food Eagle Pack: $111.68 on Amazon (with subscribe and save)

THINGS HE CHEWS: (bones, toys etc) $166.37

Himalayan cheese blocks $8.76 at Amazon

Treats (meat logs) 4lb $26.91 at Amazon

Raw hides and other chew toys: $22.67 at Ross

Kong, Chew Toy, Kong stuffers, $30 at Petsmart

5 Chew toys $20 at Target

1 felt chew toy, 1 cow ear $5 at Humane Society

3 Pig Ears $5 at Safeway

2 Kongs, 1 sm, 1 med $18 from Amazon

18 tennis balls $13.15 from Amazon PS did you know you can get these for free from tennis clubs?!

Chuck it $7 from Amazon

Treat puzzle ball $9.88 from Amazon

THINGS TO CALL HOME $135 ($195 with gift) 

Huge Dog Bed #1: $60 (gift, waived) from Costco

Dog Bed #2: $10 at Ross

Tall Elevated food bowls $55 from Amazon

Midwest Large Double Door Crate $70 from Amazon


Puppy classes at the Humane Society $200


1 Roll of Poop bags $2 at the Humane society

30 Rolls Poop Bags $30 on Amazon

50 qt Food bin $33.34 at Petsmart

6 clickers $8 from Amazon (1 from humane society)

Puppy Shampoo – $6 at Ross

24oz Bitter spray (this stuff is a lifesaver) $18.50

Brush $10

Nail clippers $9

PooperScooper $8.80

6ft leather leash $18

Odor removing spray for in-house accidents: $10.99

60ft line and two clips from HomeDepot (long leash for recall training) $20

Miscellaneous stuff I forgot: $100

Dogs will be Dogs

I love how Bender just instinctually knows how to be a dog. I don’t mean like he wags his tail when he’s happy and barks at strangers and wants to murder every moving thing that crosses his path (toys, spiders, squirrels, hummingbirds) although those things actually also fascinate me. It’s that he loves the things dogs are supposed to love. It’s one of those instances where all the stereotypes are true.

Bender, 10 week old golden retriever puppy, sleeps on his back

Show me a puppy that doesn’t sleep in the least comfortable position ever.

The first time he stuck his head out the car window you would have thought I’d presented him with a big slab of steak that he was allowed to eat off my plate while getting a tummy rub. His tail was wagging so hard that his butt was basically bending him in half. He almost fell off the car seat. His first few car trips were not so great, he either barfed or sat there whining until it was over. Then he discovered the window. It was a real game changer.

Bender, golden retriever puppy, in a harness with his paws on the window sill looking out the car window

Don’t worry, he’s got a makeshift doggy seatbelt. And we have accident health insurance for all dogs riding in our cars.

In other dogs will be dogs news, we started taking him for walks to the park now that he’s got most of his shots. Across the street from our house is dog’s best inanimate friend. A fire hydrant. He loves it so much. I’m kind of sad it isn’t bright red. At the beginning of a walk we leave the front door, he trots around the front yard for a second, chomps on a dead hydrangea flower for good measure, and then out of the corner of his eye he sees the hydrant and all distractions are forgotten. He bolts. (Waits for me to tell him it’s safe to cross the street like a good puppy) and then accosts the hydrant for a few minutes. He loves going for walks but I think if I let him, he’d just hang out at the hydrant all day. The layers of dog pee that have built up over the years on that thing are just too tantalizing.

bender sits next to a light green fire hydrant looking at it lovingly

Oh fire hydrant, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

And then yesterday he discovered bones and his little life was complete. Bender has a best friend, a mini australian shepherd named Leo who lives next door. Lucky for Leo the fence between our yard and his is only about three and a half feet tall. It took Leo about a week to master the art of jumping it, if I’m ever quick enough to get a photo of it I’ll put it up. Anyway, so now Leo visits pretty much all day, he’s a little older than Bender and every day Bender gets a little bigger than Leo. This seems to have cultivated a sort of napoleonic complex in young Leo’s head.  Because, like a bully, he has started stealing Bender’s toys. He hops over the fence, grabs a toy and then bolts back over while we scold him and Bender wags his tail. He drops his prize on his side of the fence and then comes back over to play with Bender who, naturally, has no idea what has just happened to him. Every week I cross the fence (less gracefully than Leo) and retrieve five or six toys for an ecstatic Bender. Leo watches and plots his revenge which lately, has been the decision to only poop in our yard. He literally jumps over, does his business and then goes home. Our neighbors haven’t used a pooper scooper in weeks.

Bender lying next to his best buddy Leo, a mini Australian shepherd

Leo and Bender are BFFs

But I digress. A few days ago Leo must have been feeling very gregarious, or Bender must have let slip that he’s never gotten a bone to chew on, because Leo went home, picked up a huge femur bone and brought it over for Bender to check out. It was a very friendly move by the bully/bestfriend. Bender was stoked. He never chews on anything for long, but he went at that bone for like an hour.

bender chews on a bone

mmmmm tastes like deer leg

Bender chews on his bone and Leo sits in the background making sure Bender's doing it right...

Leo’s in the background making sure Bender’s doing it right…

Until of course Napoleon the Bully Next Door decided Bender was done, distracted him, stole back his bone and went home. Bender sat at the fence staring longingly late into the night. So now I’ll go ahead and spend a few hours scouring Amazon or the dirty empty shelves at Marshall’s till I find one good enough for Bender to call his own. Which, naturally, Leo will promptly steal.

P.S. You can follow Leo on Instagram too! @gordievantuna

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