Getting a Puppy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Life in the Tuscan countryside is awesome; its vast views, its deep silence, its awe-inspiring nature. It’s gorgeous up here and living in a farmhouse with my man seems to come straight from a fairy tale.

This is the life.

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It’s calm, it’s healthy and it allows for us to grow. This is what we came here for. It’s funny how I really have been able to let go of my absolute need to live in Florence. When he proposed (that’s how it felt!) to move to the far north of Tuscany, on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, I went: “No way, José!” (That’s not his name, I just love the expression).

“Me, leaving Florence? NEVER.”

And then I started going over what I truly desired from life, what I really cared about and wanted to call in next: a family.

And I really don’t feel Florence is a healthy place for kids with all the exhaust fumes, the traffic and the overall business – let alone the high cost for relatively small living space.

No. I actually did want to leave Florence. You know why? Because it would allow me to fully say YES to this relationship, to commit and to really go for it. Moving out into the countryside has opened up doors for us that would otherwise have remained closed.

And that’s what I’m all about: opening new doors, creating new opportunities, personal growth and life development. And like I shared in last week’s post Being Yourself Means Constant Change, this was my natural next step.

My primary reaction-system just hadn’t understood that yet. But hey, we’re allowed to change our minds, to come back to things we said and to think things over – and think again. That’s how you get to the real, deep truth, not just the initial protection/freak out-mode answer.

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Of course it was a big leap for me to leave my beloved Florence. After all, I felt like she had “raised me” and had helped me become the confident, feminine woman I am today. I felt I owed her my lifelong loyalty. But as mums do, they do also allow us to grow our own wings so we can fly off to our next container for growth.

It came in the form of a farmhouse on top of a Tuscan hill. And a dog.

I’ll share that story with you now.

When we were exploring the area and visiting our future home, I realised that, yes, I loved the silence, the nature and the limitless possibilities of becoming a true Dutch farmer; wooden shoes and all. I did, however, feel that a house like this, and a life like this, required a dog; for the company, for the sense of safety, for the family dimension.

Initially my partner had said: “We’ll see, vediamo, let’s first get settled in and get you a car, then we’ll see about the dog.”

He was right.

We needed the time to assimilate the massive change for the both of us, to set the house up the way we desired and to get me a vehicle. Where we live you cannot be without a car. This is quite often the case in Italy with relatively little public transport services and many houses thrown about all over the countryside.

Being Dutch I’m very attached to my bike and I couldn’t imagine my life living in a place where I couldn’t bike into town. But as life goes, I now live in a place perched on top of a hill with no connection to the town centre whatsoever. Well, theoretically I could bike into town, but that would mean seriously risking my life, having to climb up a 200 metre high hill and facing the unpaved road that leads up to our house.

No way José, yet again.

And so I managed to manifest a car. My first car ever. I’ve always seen it as something a real grown-up does: own a car. So I guess I now officially am a grown up too… 😉

So, there we were: the home was all beautifully furnished, my car was shining in the barn and then… there was silence. Since I work from home and speak to my coaching clients online, I was sitting here, on top of the hill with me, myself and I, when my man wasn’t around.

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Once I started getting used to it and didn’t freak out about every spider – or scorpion – I saw anymore, I really started desiring a living soul here with me to enjoy this gorgeous property with. And so my desire for the dog came back. It was the right time, we were ready and we started researching the breed that would be perfect for us: a family dog that will guard the house and is relatively independent. We fell for the Beauceron breed; a French shepherd, which are used in the police force in France and is known for its strength, perseverance, courage, determination and intelligence.

We started looking for a breeder and found one in Rome. He’d just had a litter: 5 males and 2 females, born on the third of September. We wanted a female because we figured they’d be a bit more docile and easier to handle since this breed isn’t recommended as a first dog because of their strong character.

Of course, this is my first dog – of course she isn’t easy to handle. But hey, I like a challenge…

The breeder sent over some photos and from the very start we’d already put our bets on our Numa. From the look in her eyes you could see she was fierce, strong and very confident: exactly the type of dog for us. When we were going to pick her up we were able to choose between her and her sister, but her sibling was 1,5 kilos lighter and was not ready to leave her mummy yet, at all.

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Numa was. She came up to me and we connected instantly. She came very close, started to play and it felt like she chose me. It was a beautiful moment. Before this happened, her mum had checked us out. She first came very close to me and looked me in the eye with this soul-searching look, trying to scan if I was proper mummy material. She gave us her blessing after piercingly staring my partner in the eye as well, trying to see if he was fit for the job too. She went back into the den and never looked back.

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Numa was part of our family now and I remember looking back at the initial videos and realising how much noise all the other 30 dogs were making and I hadn’t noticed it. I was so focussed on her, my little baby. And have been ever since.

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She’s been with us for about 1,5 months now and our life hasn’t been the same. My partner has always had dogs, but it’s never, ever been like this. Numa is intense.

She’s gorgeous; her dad is a champion in nearly every competition for this breed. She’s very lean and stands tall. Her colouring is mesmerising. She also has a very strong personality. Even though she was barely 2 months old, she dared to come in the car with us, on the train and then happily explored her new home and never cried for her mummy, ever.

This is a very positive thing: that she doesn’t whine at night and allows me to sleep. Thank God.

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Otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to write this post. Let’s just say that getting a dog is good, because it’s beautiful, it’s bad because it completely turns your life upside down, and it’s ugly because of the scratches, the bloody bites and the ugly crying (from my side), which isn’t a pretty sight – at all.

Before getting her, I read all the information I could get my hands on, I devoured YouTube puppy training videos, I informed myself about what to expect when getting a puppy. It wasn’t really anything like it in real life.

At one point, my partner started calling her il piccolo demonio, the little devil. She would bite our hands, run around the living room, repeatedly jump up towards the sofa and when we dared to put our feet on the floor, she’d use our ankles as her new favourite chew bones.

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This dog is strong. She isn’t the innocent cute, sensitive, shy puppy that you’d imagine; she’s ahead of her age and we realised we had to start treating her like a real dog and not just “distract her from bad behaviour with treats and toys so she’ll learn.” This is the dog behaviourist approach, which is all fine and dandy, until she starts eating stones, heavily bites in your wrists and enthusiastically empties the bin every time she gets the chance. She had to be stopped and so we got a dog trainer to help us.

We’d already planned on calling in his help, but I hadn’t realised it would be so needed. Desperately needed. Just before our first lesson we’d decided to stop giving her too much space and to just keep her in the kitchen. That was definitely a great move because “too much space will kill you.” I had heard this on the YouTube videos, but then you think: “Well, she’s part of the family now and of course she’ll lie quietly beside the sofa when I’m watching TV.” WRONG. The living room meant her playing meets war ground and she’d go wild – especially when I was sitting on the sofa, craving for some well-deserved rest. I remember being afraid to get down from the sofa. We’re talking about a 2,5 month-old puppy here.

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And so together with the confinement area – or dog room – and the first training lesson, all of our lives were improved massively. She got her needed rest, since she didn’t have to keep her eyes on me all the time anymore, wondering if I’d leave, have a snack or toy for her or would do something else that she needed to enter into her dog log. And we were finally able to sit on the sofa, actually stretch our legs and keep our mind off her for a second – and have a proper conversation again.

Because man, having a puppy truly is like having a baby; they ask for your attention all the time. They want food, drink, to be cleaned (the floor in this case, for the umpteenth time, or be taken outside e-ve-ry hour of the day), to play, to be told what not to do, to be challenged, exercised, groomed, trained… Hey, wait a minute, a baby needs half of these things. Maybe having a human baby will be less demanding… I’ll get back to you on that in a year or two.

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My mum told me that when she got her dog everyone said: “You’ll be fine; you’ve raised three kids on your own!” She now tells me that a puppy is way more intense. So, let’s let this just be a great practice ground for the future, which will hopefully be less stressful.

But then babies do tend to wake up at night… And there goes the sleep that is now keeping me sane.

Anyway, I’m writing this because I’d like to share a realistic picture of what it’s like to get a puppy. Because we all think that it’s just cuteness overload all the time, swooning away and your dog just knowing how to sit, come and shut up when has to.

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No, a dog is a living creature and it has its own personality. In our case, a very fierce one with a very high energy level. This is actually really good news because she has great potential. She just needs to be given boundaries. And that’s what the trainer helped us with. My heart broke the first time he corrected her and she yelped as if she was in severe pain. “DON’T HURT MY BABY!”

Being a highly sensitive person with a strong adversity towards any kind of aggression, this was really hard for me. I felt shocked, overwhelmed, scared and sad about not being able to use treats and toys to distract her towards wanted behaviour anymore…

My hand were – and still are – full of deep scratches and bloody bite-marks, though. And so I realised this really had to end; I agreed with the trainer.

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And so we learnt how to sharply pull the leash and strongly tell her “NEE” (No in Dutch, it’s so cute when I hear my Italian man use these words!) or to grab the scruff of her neck and shake it when she bites us, the furniture of excavates of the bin.

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It’s helped. She is slowly starting to get what is unacceptable behaviour and it’s such a relief. I’m telling you, I had moments where I sat in the living room (dog in kitchen) crying my eyes out not knowing how to handle her anymore. It’s not fun when your supposedly cute little puppy is serious inflicting pain on you and makes you feel afraid and even think: “how on earth am I ever going to be able to deal with this?”

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That was the point I looked up “crazy puppy” on Google and found the book: “I got a Dog, What Was I Thinking?” This was gold because the writer really taps into the feeling of: WTF! Just feeling understood and reading that I’m not the only one going through this, was a true relief. I cried and laughed my way through the book and applied many of the tips in there.

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Now, Numa is getting more and more amazing. She found a truffle in our garden, she manages to get a piece of sausage out of a rolled up sock I put in a slipper under the kitchen cabinet in no time, she sits and lies down on command and comes to me when I call her – most of the time. She is able to walk beside us on the leash and really gets it. She’s great with other people and has been into Florence town centre numerous times now, after snoozing away on the train there. She jumps into the car and lets me know when she needs to do her business.

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She is truly phenomenal and she strikes me with her beauty all the time. I feel deeply grateful and have developed this deep mother instinct towards her which makes my heart glow. A moment later I want to strangle her and am on the verge of tears.

It’s a dog’s life – and I can’t wait to share the rest of it with her.

Love & courage,

Sophie

P.S. Want to follow Numa’s adventures? Watch my Instagram stories!

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