I’ve wanted a dog for something like 7 or 8 years. People in Europe bring their dogs to lots more places than in the US, especially since more people live in cities and drive less. So after moving to Germany, I started seeing dogs more. And then we met Gigi and her adorable dog Luna, and I became more obsessed.
But I never thought we’d actually get a dog. At least not any time soon.
Deciding to get a dog
You see, I travel a lot, and even though Gigi travels with her dog, I knew getting a puppy would mean not being able to travel for quite some time while training the dog. It just didn’t make sense and didn’t fit with my lifestyle.
For years I said things like, “if there’s ever a reason I’m not traveling as much or can’t travel as much, then maybe I’ll get a dog.” Which of course seemed totally unrealistic.
And then a crazy virus shut down the world.
All the sudden, traveling was off the table for the foreseeable future. Andy and I started talking and decided maybe this was the time to get a puppy. We’d have months of not traveling to adjust to life with a dog, get the dog trained, and whenever travel is more reasonable, the dog will be ready to go with us.
After a lot of research and exploring lots of different options, we ended up with a yorkie from a breeder on the outskirts of Berlin. I never thought I’d go through a breeder, and if we were in the US, I’d just go to the shelter. But the breeders are good here, and like most things in Germany, they are required to have all sorts of certificates and documentation and memberships in different organizations. And getting a dog from the shelter is a lot harder here, and typically means getting a bigger dog.
We named her Zelda, which means “gray haired warrior” because I loved the idea of a strong name for a small dog, and because the black fur will actually turn gray within the next year or two.
Zelda came home with us at the beginning of August when she was 10 weeks old and weighed just 1235 grams (2.7 pounds). She was the biggest of her litter of 5 puppies.
Getting a puppy has been a crazy roller coaster.
When we first brought her home, she couldn’t make it through the night without a bathroom break. We expected this, but the reality of getting up at 4am to let the dog pee meant quite a lot of disruption to our sleep. For a few weeks, we were really not getting enough sleep, and it affected everything.
I had so little energy or patience. I was losing my mind, couldn’t even attempt work. I do not function well when I don’t get enough sleep, and this was a major struggle.
Weeks of not getting enough sleep really started to add up. I was having meltdowns every day, crying, questioning our decision to even get a puppy, fearing that I had given up my life for this little fluff ball…basically I was unable to function.
It was at least a month before I was able to get a little more sleep. At least a month before I started feeling more secure in our decision to get – and keep – the puppy. Because, I’ll be honest, there were many days when I told Andy, “I don’t think we can keep her.” Finding this blog post really helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, like there was hope it would get better.
Getting help from a trainer
I was originally strongly against pee pads. I had read that if you start your dog on pee pads, it’s much harder to get them trained to go outside later. We still bought some ahead of time because it seemed like a much easier option for those 4am bathroom breaks, but for the rest of the day, I wanted her going outside.
But in the first 24 hours of having her at home, she was so incredibly scared when we took her outside. It was her first time being in a city, and all the noise of the cars and trams and bikes and people freaked her out. She started shaking as soon as I picked her up and started walking towards the front door of our apartment, long before we even got outside.
I worried I was pushing her to do too much too soon. So we switched to pee pads out on the balcony, which meant at least she still had to learn to ask to go out instead of having constant access to the pee pads. But this was not an ideal situation for me, and I felt like I was trapped in my home.
Aside from that issue, I felt like she was getting more and more unruly, and we weren’t making any progress with training her to learn commands. I never expected Zelda to magically know these things like “no” or other commands. But all of the articles I read about training dogs made it sound easy to redirect a puppy from something you don’t want them doing (ex. chewing the couch) to something more appropriate (ex. chewing a toy). This was not my reality.
But I also knew that bloggers can oversimplify things, and maybe our expectations were out of whack. I got in touch with a dog trainer in Berlin who speaks English, and they were able to set up an appointment for the next day.
The guy came to our apartment, listened to what we were dealing with, and told us it sounded pretty normal. He also said Zelda seemed well adjusted and secure, so we were doing something right. He gave us a few solid tips, some that worked out really well, some that only worked for a few days, but it was progress. After talking for a bit, he took her outside with us and helped us get her adjusted to going outside instead of relying 100% on the pee pads.
After a day of basically carrying Zelda down the street and putting her down at various spots, where she proceeded to eat all the leaves and sticks, she finally felt comfortable walking around. And then she started having fun with it. She was walking faster and eventually started running around, all the while looking up at us to check in, so that was good.
What we didn’t know about long-haired dogs
And just as things were looking up, we hit a bump. Things I didn’t think about when getting a non-shedding, long-haired dog: All that fur can get in the way of some bodily functions. We did our best to clean up her butt, but in the early stages, she still isn’t fond of letting us do too much body handling.
I know you probably don’t want to read about dog poo, but hear me out. She had a rough day of constipation one day, but she got through it quickly. And a few days later, it seemed like it was happening again. But we quickly realized she wasn’t constipated. Her fur was getting tangled near her butt, and it was basically catching her poo and getting even more tangled.
We sat down with some baby wipes to try to clean her up and actually cut out a bunch of fur, but it was not an easy task. And she still wasn’t really going to the bathroom. So a few days before our first scheduled vet appointment, we went into their office for a walk-in because clearly this wasn’t something we could handle on our own.
The vet basically shaved our puppy’s butt. The amount of furry poo-y clumps that she cut off of our puppy was embarrassing, but she assured me that this is actually a pretty common problem with long haired dogs.
We’ve already gotten her two haircuts, and keeping that specific area short is top priority. I never want her to have that problem again!
Crate training isn’t something I was interested in at the very beginning stages of my research. It seemed cruel to put the dog in a cage. Well, supposedly dogs see the crate as a den, which is a safe space for them. So I quickly switched gears and got on board, and thank god.
After a few days of having her at home, and a few days of pulling our hair out when she cried like crazy at bedtime, we went back to the internet for help. It turns out we weren’t doing anything to make her see her crate as a safe space.
We started feeding her in there, and I’d randomly leave treats in it when she wasn’t looking so she would find them later. We also realized we needed a schedule. For about 6 weeks, we would put her in the crate at specific times to nap, and we’d take her out at specific times for walks, play, food, etc. She loves carrots, so I often lure her into the crate with tiny pieces of carrot when it’s nap time.
Now Zelda won’t voluntarily go in it to nap when she gets tired, but she’ll happily go to sleep in there when directed. It also means she gets proper sleep, instead of always getting distracted by us doing things, so she isn’t as crazy and unruly. Though after about 6 weeks, we stopped doing the nap schedule, and she’s actually sleeping more and still isn’t quite as unruly as at the beginning.
Dogs also don’t like to go to the bathroom where they sleep, so it has helped a lot with potty training. She’s never go to the bathroom in her crate unless she was sick. She also learned that whining doesn’t get her out of the crate, but when she does need to go to the bathroom, she has learned to hit the latch so it clanks. Not so much fun at 6am, but you can’t win ’em all.
Getting a dog playpen
One of the suggestions from the trainer was to get some sort of playpen thing. This was another idea I had rejected early on because I wanted the dog to get comfortable with the whole apartment. But it was another thing making me feel trapped because I couldn’t leave her alone for a second without worrying she’d pee on the floor or chew on the couch.
So we bought a playpen. Now she goes into it several times a day so we know she can’t get into trouble. It also helps her learn to play with herself and to not always need us to play with her, though usually I’ll play with her first for a little while. After all, it is one of the reasons I wanted a dog!
However, we made the mistake of buying a cheap nylon/mesh playpen, and within 3 weeks, Zelda had chewed through it in a few different places. So we ended up buying a metal one that is basically the same as the crate she sleeps in but the biggest size they make. Which is overkill, but whatever, it works, and she will happily play in there. Overall, this has taken a lot of the pressure off.
She has adjusted really well and has gotten better at letting us know when she needs to go to the bathroom. She’s also mostly stopped chewing things she shouldn’t chew, and now we almost never even close the door to the giant crate/playpen.
Our warrior puppy is actually pretty cautious at first
Again, the internet can be very misleading. I fully expected Zelda to want to explore the whole apartment within a couple of days. I’ve seen videos of new puppies coming home for the first time and running around excitedly sniffing everything and going from room to room to get to know the place.
That was not Zelda. She took her sweet time.
Getting to know the apartment
We started her in the living room, and that’s where she wanted to stay. Even the dining room, which is basically the same room because it’s all connected, seemed too scary for her.
After a week of her barely leaving the living room, I started luring her with carrots further into the apartment, down the hallway, and into other rooms to show her that the rest of the apartment wasn’t scary. It still took her several weeks before she felt completely at ease wandering around wherever.
Andy and I signed her up for a puppy class because I wanted to make sure she wasn’t afraid of other dogs. The first time we went, she was pretty scared of everything. There were only two other puppies that week, and they happily played with each other, but Zelda was too scared and stayed close to us.
The second time was a little better. She was very hesitant for about the first half of the class and watched as two of the other three dogs played. That third dog though, he looked safer, so she tried playing with him. Turns out he was kind of scared too, and he hid under something while Zelda ran circles around him.
But the third week…that’s where she came out of her shell. She was excited from the moment we got there and couldn’t wait for the time when she could run around and play. She didn’t care that she was the smallest puppy there, and she RAN and played and had so much fun. It was adorable to watch.
Now she wants to play with almost every dog (and person) we see.
First time at the park
There’s a park just a couple minutes from our apartment, so we went over on a nice day to hang out and let her experience a new place. But our cautious puppy spent almost an hour sitting/laying in my lap looking around.
Eventually she started slowing poking her head over the edge of the towel we were sitting on to chew on some grass, and then she’d crawl back up into my lap. She did this for awhile before finally wandering completely onto the grass, sniffing around, and she finally started to have fun.
By the end, the park was clearly one of the best places ever, and she was so excited to go back the next day.
Inside is scary in 2020
One day while walking around the neighborhood, we decided to stop for a drink at a cafe we like. We know the owner, so I picked up Zelda to bring her inside to show him we got our puppy. Zelda clearly got scared as soon as we went inside, which seemed strange to me.
Later we realized that with all the covid stuff going on, we really didn’t go inside places anymore. Everything we did was outside, and the only place she had been inside, besides our home, was the vet. So either inside in general was scary because she hadn’t done it, or she thought inside equals vet. Either way, we needed to fix this.
The pet store is a good place to bring dogs, so we tried that a few times. The third time was when she finally calmed down enough for me to put her down to walk around, and the fourth time she finally walked through the door without me having to pick her up.
Our friends who own a wine bar around the corner invited a few of us over for drinks when one of them had a birthday. They closed the bar for the night, so we decided to sit inside. Knowing this would probably happen, we brought Zelda’s dinner to feed her inside, a big step in telling her this was a safe place.
A couple of our friends there gushed over Zelda and made her feel so comfortable, she crawled in their laps and had lots of fun. And when we took her out to go to the bathroom, she couldn’t wait to run back inside to her new friends.
So the bar is also on her list of favorite places. I tend to agree.
Zelda’s funny quirks
Everyone has their own personality and their own little quirks, even dogs. Zelda has a bunch, and it seems like she’s always developing new ones. Here’s just a few of them…
For some reason, when she eats she almost always starts off with one back leg in the air. I think it has to do with being fed in her crate or playpen and having to step over the bar at the entrance. Maybe she forgets to put that leg down because she’s already eating.
Lately she’s developed another weird eating habit. She loves carrots and cucumbers, so I’ll often chop some up to put in with her normal food. She’ll eat everything except the carrots or cucumbers, ask to go to the bathroom, and then afterwards she’ll go back to her bowl and eat the veggies. I guess she’s saving them for dessert.
Zelda has a giant playpen she likes. She has two fluffy dog beds, one in our office, and one that used to be in her playpen. She also has at least one fleece dog blanket out at all times, which she will drag between the office and the living room depending on which room we’re all hanging out in.
But at some point she decided the garbage cans were a good place to be. She doesn’t really ever try to get into them, but she likes napping next to them or in between them. Eventually I moved her fluffy bed from the playpen to near the garbage cans, so sometimes she’ll sleep there.
Differences with the vet
Living in the US for decades, I have certain views and expectations that aren’t necessarily the same as how people see things here. Even after 9+ years, I’m still reminded of that. Like with the vet.
Germany has a law that prohibits the partial or complete removal or destruction of any organ or body part of vertebrate animal, unless it is deemed medically necessary. This means dog breeds that might get their tails clipped in the US are not allowed to have their tails clipped here, which I think is great.
Unfortunately it also means you can’t get your dog spayed or neutered as easily as you can in the US. Getting the procedure done simply for the reason of preventing pregnancy is apparently not enough of a reason. Some vets seem to be more flexible on doing it anyway, while others really believe that spaying your dog is like cutting off a limb.
The vet near where live basically shamed me for wanting to do it. So I tried another vet a few blocks further away, and they seem more willing to spay her. There’s no way I can handle her going into heat (which lasts 2-4 weeks) several times a year and trying to keep her away from all the un-neutered dogs out there.
The other difference about this is that in the US you would typically spay your dog before she ever goes into heat. But here, when they are willing to do it, they won’t do it until after she’s gone into heat once. That way she’s fully developed into an adult.
So I guess I will be dealing with Zelda going into heat sometime this winter. Fun times.
We recently took Zelda to get another haircut, and even though I like the new groomer better than the first one, I’m not on board with this new haircut. Andy and I were really specific about a few things, but we still messed up. When we mentioned trimming her face, the woman said, “Like a yorkie?” Um, yeah I guess? I mean, she IS a yorkie, so…
Yeah, we really should’ve asked for clarification on that. Because apparently she meant, chop off Zelda’s cute puppy face fluff altogether. She looks like she lost her chin. Her legs are also very closely trimmed now, and overall she looks very dainty, not like the warrior puppy she is.
She’s still my cute little puppy, but I can’t wait for her face fur to grow back.
Things are getting better
Mostly what I’ve learned is that most dog bloggers make it sound way too easy, and that there aren’t that many hard rules for what to expect.
I thought potty training would be really hard, but it’s actually been one of the easiest parts of training her. She’s really good at letting us know when she needs to go out. Even when we went to the wine bar and sat outside, she somehow knew that the specific area where we were sitting wasn’t where she should go to the bathroom, and she’d let us know to take her down the street a little.
But getting her to listen when we say her name or want her to do something? That’s really tough. She’ll respond to her name 90% of the time when we’re inside, but outside with distractions is maybe only 5%.
That said, things are getting better for the most part. We no longer do the crate napping schedule, so she naps whenever and wherever she wants. I think she’s actually sleeping more now, and she’s less crazy when she’s awake.
She has very few accidents in the house, and when she does it’s usually because we didn’t notice her cues or she was super excited and couldn’t quite control it. The trainer even told me not to expect her to come find us if we’re in a different room to let us know she has to go out, but she has actually learned to come to us when she needs to.
We started letting her up on the couch recently, because let’s face it, having a cute dog snuggling with me on the couch while watching TV at night is one of the perks of having a dog. But she’s too little to hop up and down on her own without worrying she’s going to hurt herself, so we got a sturdy box and showed her to only go up and down that way. She’s a quick learner.
Now Andy and I need to get more disciplined with obedience training. It’s definitely harder than the dog blogs make it look. But slowly, we’ll get there. She’s now 5 months old and weighs 2.25kg (about 5lbs).
Zelda is so freaking cute, and we love her so much.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, please enjoy some more pictures because I have so many!