The Puppy Diaries: ‘You cannot go to see a seven-week-old cocker spaniel puppy and not fall in love’

Alexandra Fraser and her partner didn't decide to get a dog; they merely decided to go and see a dog. Little did they know that it would amount to the same thing, as she explains in the first of a new series.

A decision was to be made when relocating to Winchester — city flat, or country house? After six years in The Big Smoke, moving 59 minutes on the train outside of Waterloo was always going to be a daunting prospect. Even more daunting, the thought that I might not be able to walk everywhere, to get Chinese food at 3am and hear a rogue siren every twenty minutes.

At the end of the day, space won out; we settled happily into a two-and-a-half-bedroom terrace house with a small garden on a quiet street in a quiet suburb of the city. A harrowing trip was made with an unreasonably large van to collect our furniture, and for three weeks we bought washing up liquid, fitted cutlery draw sorters and made a home.

But something was missing.

I grew up with two Labradors tripping me up at every turn around a busy home – Claire joined our family when I was six (and passed when I was 22, a truly commendable innings) and Rosie came along when I was twelve. Nala was thrust upon me at age 23, and a more rambunctious (and quite frankly, alarming) lab you’d struggle to find. Similarly, my partner grew up with a beloved Labrador, followed by a beautiful black spaniel called Poppy.

“I heard the fateful words that changed the next 10-14 years of my life. ‘It wouldn’t hurt to go see him. We don’t have to get him.'”

There was no question of it in London. None at all. A dog in a flat when we would likely be out all day? Never.

But.

Neither of us said it in plain words. ‘Wouldn’t you like some company when you’re working from home?’ was spoken in hurried tones as he left one morning. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to run with down the river?’ was mentioned once. Small hints, here and there.

Then, one evening after stumbling upon a post from a local family who had only expected three puppies for friends from their wonderful spaniel’s first and only litter, I heard the fateful words that changed the next 10-14 years of my life. “It wouldn’t hurt to go see him. We don’t have to get him.”

Let me have it known now: you cannot go to see a seven-week-old cocker spaniel puppy and not fall in love. It is not possible. You will not have a lovely morning playing with tiny dogs and return home without a life-long commitment. Stop dreaming, you hopeless fool.

It’s utterly unsurprising that a week later we were back on the doorstep of a lovely home in Whitchurch, blankets in hand, hearts in our throats. An hour later, he was ours.

To clarify, I am an experienced dog owner living with an experienced dog owner. We know the responsibilities, the limitations, how much the vet costs and how often they need flea medicine. However, if you haven’t lived with a dog your whole life, here are the three things you need to consider.

  • Time – Dogs take time. Lots of time. Some dogs, including spaniels, can need up to two hours (or more) of walking every single day. They’ll wake up early, you’ll need to get out of bed and let them outside, no matter how tired you are. They need company – you can’t leave them alone for too long at a time, or they’ll develop behaviour problems. Dogs take time.
  • Money – All pets that aren’t rocks cost money. You’re responsible for another life, and that life will need vet visits. They’ll need food, collars, poo bags. If you are buying your pet or paying an adoption fee, you need to remember that this is not a one-time cost. This is an extended, unpredictable, ever-changing direct debit from your bank account for a decade or more.
  • Love – Dogs need love. You need to love them when they eat your skirting board, when they have accidents on your brother’s new carpet, when they headbutt you and bring tears to your eyes. You need to give them love and cuddles and infinite patience, especially when they’re young. The good news is, they’ll give it back in spades.

So here I am, finally a dog owner with a lifetime of knowledge to dedicate to our darling, chocolate brown cocker spaniel puppy.

His name is Wilfred.

Alexandra will be writing about life with Wilf each week, but — because it’s 2021 and this is how things work — you can also get daily updates if you follow him on Instagram.

Alexandra’s top tips for taking your new puppy home

  • You’ll want something with the mother’s scent on – if her family aren’t giving you a blanket, take one of your own to them before for her to lie on for a few days
  • Check what food your puppy is eating and match it – dogs will get upset stomachs if you change their food suddenly
  • Make sure you have everything they need for the first week at least before you pick them up. A bed, an old blanket to cover that bed (for night-time accidents) a crate if you’re going to crate train, two identical toys for fetch training, treats because he’s a good boy. New puppies won’t react well to a trip to a pet shop on the way home – there’s far too many new smells and sounds when they’re already overwhelmed
  • Take things slowly. Your friends will want to see the baby immediately but give him time to get used to his new home, at least the first few days, so he feels as comfortable as possible