So we got a dog. Been a long time coming.
A few things happened in the latter part of last year, and those, combined with confirmation that both our companies were going to be adpoting some sort of flexible working policy meant we finally able to make the move.
Step 1 - Picking a Breed
The cat, last time we checked, is still not dead, so that meant getting a rescue was not an option...most rescue centres will not rehome into a cat household, and we knew Lily would not be great with a dog. A puppy would give her every opportunity to assert some dominance. For breed, I knew it was going to be a working/gun dog of some sort. I knew up with terriers, and while they are lovely household pets, they are very hard to train, and have a real Napoleon attitude streak. The short-list was;
1) English Springer Spaniel - anyone who met Leo, a Springer I looked after in Glenrosa and Burghfield a few times, will know why. He was a lovely dog.
2) Border Collie - Always had a soft-spot...as a youngster we were on holiday at a pub that had a failed sheepdog in the bar area. He'd play chase with a ball for hours
3) Labrador - the "Ford Fiesta" of dogs. Gill's sister has a lab (called Rafiel) who is a very relaxed lump, and a cycling friend got a lab last year who has settled in very well.
For advice, I had a long chat with someone I met on RideAcrossBritain in 2010 who has bred various working dog breeds. We had a good chat over our circumstances, situation and experience with dogs, and his (fairly blunt and to the point) advice was "get a lab". I always knew border collies were an exceptional amount of work, and if they are not given a job and loads of training will end up bored and destroying the house/reprogramming the central heating. Springers (in his words) "expand to fill all available space". A lab, on the other hand, will happily take an hours walk, and then settle down and sleep/eat all day. Decision made, we were getting a Lab!
Step 2 - Finding a Puppy
Covid and Lockdown has driven the puppy market insane. Absolutely bonkers. Prices have shot up, and the market is being flooded with poorly bred, farmed dogs, often from Eastern Europe...or worse yet stolen. I knew most pedigree breeds had a number of medical issues that needed to be checked in the parents (for Labs there are a number of DNA checks, hip and elbow checks, and eyesight checks that should be carried out on both parents). The market is such that puppies born from parents with none of these checks (or with checks that are completely un-acceptable) are being sold for insane amounts of money. I saw several puppies for £5k+ with zero/poor parnet medical checks. Reputable breeders are seeing waiting lists in the years right now, and they are having a huge stress with hundreds of emails and phone calls within an hour of announcing a litter.
Fortunately we lucked out massively here. The same chap who walked us through the various breeds was a member of a well-organised breeding group run from a stud kennel in Suffolk. The lady who runs it will not allow her dogs to stud with any females that are not fully checked/certified to her (very high) standards. She's also kept a control of litter prices linked to her dogs, as she thinks the current climate is "insane" (it is). Even moreso, he happened to know of a planned litter occuring fairly locally very soon, and the breeder was dreading advertising, as she didn't want the hundreds of emails and having to tell so many people "no". So, on the 6th January we were able to sneak onto a list for a litter that was not even concieved, and fingers crossed that we had good news. A Puppy Whatsapp group was formed with regular video and photo updates...then on the Easter weekend we were able to go down, meet the breeder and litter, and pick our puppy (this was very easy...we were handed the boys one-by-one, and the fattest one started licking my neck immediately. I just turned to Gill nad said "we've bonded").
Step 3 - Sort out the House
On the 2nd March we had the good news. A litter of 6 had been born, they were all looking strong and healthy, and we could have a boy (which was our first choice). The genetics of the parents meant that the puppies were all black...which was great, as that was our preference (hides the dirt better!). This gave us 8 weeks to prepare the house (and ourselves) for a bundle of chaos!
First up was re-designing the living room. This was to be the dog-room, and we'd need to get it fully puppy-proofed. We'd been thinking about replacing the sofa and carpets, so that's been delayed and now they are sacrificial. We did want to increase floor-space...so we ended up wall-mounting the TV. This was a bigger job than expected. First off we had a joiner it to build a stud-wall extension to flatten a wall off and add some shelving in (as well as flip a door so that it wouldn't smash into the new TV point), then a plasterer to level it all off. We did the painting one weekend, and then finally an aerial installer to move a satellite point. This meant we could then move the sofas to the other side of the room, and create a large clear floor-space. As an added bonus, there was just enough space beside the sofas to fit a large dog-crate. We could hide all cables/wires remaining behind the sofas (which have no access), and we kept the Ikea shelving unit to put some stuff up high.
We also needed to patch up the garden borders. I had a "fun" day digging through the hawthorn at the bottom of the garden running some new chicken wire fencing along the old, patchy chainlink fence that made up the old school boundary (as the local cats can tell you, there were plenty of large holes and escape routes).
Finally, there was a lot of generally tidying, de-cluttering and junk reduction to make some cupboard space. Some stuff was eBayed, a reasonable amount went to the tip and a few things were just binned.
On the tech front (there is always a tech angle) we are both new to the concepts of crate training...back when we had dogs you'd leave them in a room, and typically come back an hour later to shredded everything...but the idea of locking a dog up in a cage for a few hours would have seemed cruel. These days, however, it is the standard and recommended practice. So we have a lab-sized crate in the living room. To make life a little easier on this front, to allow us to check on the puppy without disturbing them, I installed CCTV in the crate, and a couple of other areas of the house as well. I could have gone with a subscription service...but similar to my reticence to pay for a music subscription service, I galled at paying a company to store a few Gb's of data. The answer, the same as the music, was an in-house server, and again it's a Raspberry Pi doing the work.
I got 4 indoor IP Cameras that support RTSP and ONVIF (not all do, the linked ones are really good), then got my spare Raspberry Pi (which I was using to test updates to Plex, whicle I was bedded the media server in), and linked that up to an old 2.5" HDD from an old Laptop (250Gb) using a USB3-SATA cable. I installed MotionEyeOS, which is a dedicated OS for monitoring and storing security camera footage, and then configured the 4 IP Cameras into it. A little bit of tweaking, and I had all 4 doing real-time streaming at 800x480 at 5fps, and motion-triggered recording at 1080p/30. This has the Pi at approximately 70-75% load (it sits at about 55-60'C with only passive cooling). Recordings are stored for a week, and thats currently putting about 15-20Gb on the HDD...so plenty of overhead.
I can already say that this has been amazing, and worth every second. We have a camera in the crate, and can quickly check if he's settled, playing, whining, thinking about needing a poo etc. without going into the room and disturbing him. We also have visibility of the kitchen, the rest of the living room and the cats favourite sleeping point. I can do some improvements, but I think that would involve re-building the server to run a Debian OS, and then install MotionEye as a service instead (MotionEyeOS is a very lean install, with all the un-needed gumf chopped out...this means that I can't install the scripts to use the ONVIF capabilities of the camera...such as pan and scan). For now, it's perfect. At some point I'll probably add outdoor cameras, though that will need a Wifi Extender, and probably a second Pi (or possibly 2, with a second Pi handling more video feeds, and then a 3rd one acting as an aggregator hub for the interior and exterior feeds, as per the Multiple Devices with a Hub scenario).
Step 4 - Education
As I said above, crate training is new to me, it simply did't exist 30 years ago. These days there are (literally) hundreds of dog training sources you can follow. It's pretty amazing how many people don't follow any!...but at the same time, you need to be consistent. We are going with the Wylanbriar approach, which is a little less flowery than some others (the lady who runs the group is also a trainer, and has won Crufts for wokring dogs, so probably has some credentials at least). It's very much "it's a dog first, then a member of the family". I can say even now at 48 hours in that can be hard sometimes, as the bloody things are so cute...but also very destructive!
So we have a series of videos to cover the basics, and the Wylanbriars owners group has plenty of other resources...Diana offers up free advice very quickly (most of it is having common sense affirmed), and once we are over the first few days of trauma and settling in, we'll start the slow business of manners and lead training. The dogs we had when I was young were never propelry lead trained or taught recall, and thats an area I definitely want to get right. We live in an urban environment, even if we have Dinton Pastures and various parks less than 10 minutes walk away, he'll need to be confident and comfortable walking by roads, and coming when called. I'm under no illusions this will be anything other than a long process, but I want to do it right
The cat...yes, the cat. She's not happy with the situation, however right now she has the upstairs to herself entirely, and most of the downstairs apart from the brief times the puppy is awake and active (maybe 3-4 hours a day right now). There has been one long-distance staring match, but no actual meeting yet.
Step 5 - Bringing him Home
We picked up (Death)Reaver (the "Death" is silent) on Saturday. There was a bit of whining on the hour-long car journey home, but he's settling in OK. He gets a little stressed when he's alone right now (which is understandable, as for the last 8 weeks he's been part of a permanant bundle of 6 puppies), but has really taken to his crate, and in particualr loves his Kong Bear. He's remarkably well house-trained...so far we've had one wee accident (and there was whining beforehand), but he's asking to go out etc, so all good there. Nights have been OK, with typically 7-8 hours sleep and very little bedtime drama. Daytime has been a little harder, as he needs to get used to being awake and alone (we've had a couple of temper tantrums when someone has gone to make a cuppa...response is a no drama time-out in the crate, where he typically whines out after 5 minutes and sleeps). Today is the first day of "work" routine, so we'll see how it goes!