The single biggest obstacle that I had to overcome before bringing a small breed puppy into our home was my hubby’s phobia for any and everything germ-y or biologically ‘unclean’.
To be fair, I knew he was a germaphobe many years ago when we first got together… constant handwashing, avoiding touching doors in public, NEVER using a public bathroom, hand sanitizer tucked into car consoles and my purse, Lysol wipes on planes, de-germing of hotels before we would unpack our suitcases, bringing our own cups to a hotel… the list goes on… and as I type it out, I am realizing that I should have seen the severity of it long before I did.
But as with most germaphobe people, the older they get, and the longer the issue persists, the worse it becomes. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s not afraid to grab that karaoke mic in a grungy bar and belt out a tune or two… but that’s only after a little liquid courage has made its way in.
So for many years (as anyone who has ever met me can attest), I begged him for a puppy, and ‘warned’ him (in a nice way of course) that once we finished building our dream home, the first thing that would happen would be bringing a puppy into the house. He would casually brush it off with a chuckle, and I would plot the next time I would ‘casually’ plant another puppy-sprouting seed!
Well, the time had finally come! It had been nearly 16 years together. Our dream house was nearing its completion and it would just be a few months until we moved in. It was time. Time for the serious talk. I came home after a motivating lunch with a girlfriend, and simply stated “We need to have The Talk”. Without another word, he knew exactly what was coming. There was a little protest, but I think he knew – this was it. His days of avoiding the issue, and his casual chuckles, were over. (Poor guy.)
Now, for any of you in the same boat as I was, here’s a little advise… your approach to this ‘talk’ is the most important element in the equation.
Had I approached this guns a’blazin’, I am sure the end result would have been very different; however, as it turned out, after 16 years of waiting, it took only 24 hours for us to have our little Yorkie all nestled in her new home and smothered with kisses! TWENTY FOUR HOURS! Even I didn’t realize my mad super skills were that powerful!!!
So here’s the approach.
First – and most important – no matter how much you may agree or disagree with your germaphobe’s seemingly over-the-top, irrational logic about the biological stuff associated with a new pet – to them, their feelings, fears and anxiety is very real. And if you are to try to help them to face and address some of these, you have to first validate them… no matter how they may conflict with your way of thinking.
Communication is key, people.
I started The Talk recognizing right away that my hubby was already feeling defensive. He has his feelings about the issue, but at the same time, I know that he was aware of how important this was for me, and he hated the thought of having to disappoint me. Acknowledging this to myself allowed me to come down off of my demanding puppy-momma horse and think clearly when going through the specifics.
Set the tone – where are YOUR priorities?
One of the first opening lines I used with my hubby was simply this: I wanted us to have an honest-to-goodness conversation about his concerns, the opportunity to address them and to make game plans, and if after that, he honestly did not feel that he could compromise on the issue, then I would drop the idea and let this go.
Now, this sounds extreme, and it is! For two very important reasons:
- Your partner in life needs to understand – needs to KNOW – beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are the #1 priority in your world, and no external force will come between that. If they feel that it comes down to them or a pet, you might get the pet, but only because they love you – and every time something upsets the germaphobe balance (and it will!), they will slowly build a resentment – not just towards the animal, but towards YOU. This way, if they DO decide to proceed with a puppy, they will feel satisfied that they made this decision WITH you, and not just BECAUSE of you. It’s compromise, my friends… not prison!
- And second, YOU have to truly be willing to give up this dream of owning a pet if your life partner simply, honestly cannot deal with their anxiety over it. Too often people get pets when the whole house is not on board, and this will always lead to disaster. Your relationships with the humans in your life must come first. And if you CHOOSE to be with a person with such pet-concerns, then you must choose to respect their fears around it. If you cannot, then YOU end up resenting them. Remember… ‘prison’?… yeah, that will be you. Miserable, and forever longing for something you cannot have.
Now that you have set the tone, and where your priorities lie, your partner in crime will almost certainly soften. You have given them permission to be honest with themselves and with you, without fearing harsh judgement.
NOW the real work begins!
Have them outline each of their fears – in clear detail so that each item can be addressed. No vague, blanket statements.
This is a very important piece. Too often when communicating about any type of uncomfortable situation, we tend to blanket our statements. “I just don’t like the mess that comes with a dog in the house.” Not good enough. This could be everything from (as I found out), the typical potty accidents, but also kibble dropped on the floor and later eaten/licked up. The only way to truly make a step-by-step game plan is to break each element down, and create goals/desired ways of handling things. You’ll see why in a minute…
Here were the big items that were outlined by my germaphobe during The Talk:
- Where was the puppy going to potty in the beginning? Sounds easy, right. Wrong. Puppies often come home and end up using a pee pad in their pen or crate.
- Make sure you get a puppy already trained for a pee pad! This will make a huge difference for your partner, knowing that this hard step is already complete.
- At night, we needed a large enough enclosure so that a puppy could come away from her bed to pee and then go back to her bed, without the risk of the two spaces overlapping. We bought a large collapsible pen, big enough for our puppy, her bed and her pee pad.
- Where did we want to teach the puppy to go on a regular basis? Outside – yes, but how does that look in Northern Canada in the middle of winter? Solution: for your small breed dog, you can invest in a PetLoo and put it in the garage or someplace out of the way – just like you would a kitty litter box. You can train your small breed dog to go there, and eliminate the dreaded winter, snow-up-to-your-knees, mandatory 6am, freezing cold, frostbite inducing potty breaks. (You will especially appreciate this when you have to get up to take your puppy out twice a night for the first little while and you don’t have to even get dressed)!
- How would we avoid accidents as much as possible? This would only be done by ensuring that she was confined to her pen when unattended (which is healthy for a new puppy anyway), and that she was never let to roam around the room unless she had just gone to the bathroom. And even then, it would be limited to 15 minutes immediately following the bathroom break, cause young puppies tend to go every hour or so in the beginning. As they get older and get to know the potty rules, you will be able to extend the amount of time that they are out of the pen, giving them a little more trust, but remember, we are easing your germaphobe into this – over-cautious is ok in this phase.
- How would we clean up accidents? There are three type of accidents to consider – we like to call them the 3-P’s:
- Pee: this one is probably the worst culprit as it can leave stains on carpet and wood floors. Invest in the proper cleaning products to not only clean the surface but rid it of harmful agents, lingering odors, etc. Might seem overkill, but your germaphobe needs to see your commitment to addressing his concerns – and you really do want to get rid of those messes to discourage your puppy for returning to that same spot. Avoid using a steam cleaner as the heat will actually cause the stain to set. Read more in my post about how to clean pee spots.
- Poops: This is a very big psychological one – at least for my guy. Way easier to clean up. Way less risk of stain. But ‘gross-er’ in theory. Research and invest in a pet-friendly cleaner to address this on the floors. And if you have a partner like mine, cleaning… and cleaning again… and maybe clean one more time really shows your commitment to getting the job done right.
- Puke: unlike the first two that can be reduced drastically by being very attentive to your dog’s behaviour, routines and body language, this one is most often very unpredictable. It shouldn’t happen often, but it may occasionally. The smell alone can set some people over the top. Don’t lie to each other on this one – it’s going to happen from time to time (not often or get that pup to a vet!). Have a game plan for who is going to clean it up, and how.
- How will you ensure that the puppy is clean following every bathroom use? There’s a few key ingredients to making this a success. You need to have a very defined strategy for this between both your germaphobe and yourself, as you will likely both end up participating in this in the future (not likely right away, but it will likely happen from time to time).
- I strongly recommend setting up a potty / cleaning station. If you decide on an indoor PetLoo, then put a couple of shelves above it. On those shelves, put:
- Pet-friendly sanitizing wipes
- Treats (for ‘good jobs’)
- and a pet sanitizing spray (like the one Arm & Hammer has)
- It’s a good idea to also stock up on pee pads. This is optional of course, but one of the conditions we decided on, even with the PetLoo was to continue using pee pads ON TOP OF the PetLoo for the duration of her life. The single biggest reason for this – she steps up onto a CLEAN surface every time she has to go to the bathroom – not onto her mess from a couple of hours ago, and a couple of hours before that. Another big bonus to this – you eliminate lingering odors.
- Set a garbage bin beside your station for used pee pads only. Change the pad after every single use and change the garbage bag. Poops go into the toilet, of course.
- I strongly recommend setting up a potty / cleaning station. If you decide on an indoor PetLoo, then put a couple of shelves above it. On those shelves, put:
- Have an ‘emergency cleaning kit’ handy. This will have pet-friendly shampoo, lots of towels and clean but easily disposed of rags. Your puppy will have accidents. And when they do, you don’t want to have your germaphobe running all over trying to find what you need, practically hyperventilating because you’re standing in the kitchen with a pee-soaked (at the least!) puppy! Be prepared so that, when the moment comes – and it will come – you can calmly thank your partner for getting everything ready, and then assertively take care of the cleansing on your own. They need to know that you’ve got this!
- Discuss desired puppy sleeping routines. This is a very important one. Remember, your world has not yet been consumed by a small puppy. It’s like a baby while you adjust in the beginning. Your constant focus is on where they are, what they are doing, did they eat, do they need to eat, are they cold, are they warm, do they have to pee? You need to reassure your partner that, while you can both expect life to change, you are still committed to some sense of normalcy between the two of you. Puppy bedtimes ensure that you have the last few hours in the evening to yourselves. Establishing a bedtime routine will play a very big role in this. It’s also very healthy for your pup to have established routines.
- Will you utilize kennels? This is an important one for germaphobes because, as much as you may be able to control the cleanliness while your small dog is at home, you have no control over what she is into once she goes to a kennel. That’s not to say that having a good kennel is not key – I like to think of them like having a good babysitter on speed dial! – but having a game plan around what happens when she comes home is very important. For us, puppy comes home in a hard crate, comes into the house, and goes straight into the sink for a full bath. All bedding, collars, etc are all washed in the washer on a sanitizing cycle. Hard crate is washed with sanitizing wipes. And finally, Puppy is clean and ready for her loves. (Also, you may want to read up on what to look for in a good kennel in this article.)
- Washer and dryer use. And these WILL be used. Almost daily for your new puppy. And while some of us may think no more of putting soiled puppy items in the wash than we would a soiled child’s clothes, for your germaphobe, they only see that THEIR clothes and bedding are going to go into the same spot as the pup’s pee blankets. So develop a routine and commit to it. All soiled items (not just the everyday freshen-blanket-and-toy routine) should be rinsed prior to going into the washer. Wash with a gentle detergent on a sanitize cycle if you have it (or very hot water, longest cycle). Follow all soiled puppy loads with a washing machine cleaner (like the one Tide has).
- Picking the right breed of puppy. This is very important. One thing with my hubby is that visual can make a big difference. So choosing a breed that did not shed, had only one layer of hair, hypoallergenic (less dander) meant that our house would not constantly look like a zoo walked through it. Visually, it looked, and subsequently felt cleaner. In addition, by selecting a very small breed dog, we gave ourselves a lifetime of very small poops (think about it from his perspective…). We also selected a mostly white puppy, which had the added effect of showing very obviously just how clean she was – no risk of hidden mess on a white puppy!
- Set boundaries in your home. For us, that meant that the puppy did not walk on the carpet (stairs and upstairs) until we were absolutely certain that she was 100% potty trained. It also meant that she did not sleep in our bed (I believe that there should be separation from your pet and your partner – just like you wouldn’t let your kids sleep in bed with you on a regular basis). Another habit that we practice is, if she is going to be on the couch, we have a blanket that we put down for her. These also get cleaned on a regular basis.
- And finally, how will you handle date nights? If you are anything like us, we aim for two a week. These usually comprise of dinner out (or ordered in) and some in-entertainment, and sometimes out-entertainment. Your partner will have to understand that these may be interrupted with bathroom breaks and sleeping adjustments. I include this in the germaphobe section because: keep in mind that, while you are adjusting in a semi-‘normal’ way, your germaphobe partner is handling everything that you are PLUS all of the anxiety that they are working on every single day because of your little fur ball. If they see your commitment to ‘shutting it off’ and tending to them, it will help them to recharge their batteries, so to speak. Trust me – it will make a difference.
The rest of the items with respect to what happens with your puppy (vets, type of food, exercise, training) will all be discussed and discovered as you go (although you should have a vet prior to even bringing your new puppy home), but the above points will go a long way in bringing you from point A to B with your germaphobe.
Things will get easier.
If your germaphobe is validated, willingly chooses to participate in this puppy adventure, and sees you willing to go the extra mile to help address some of their concerns, they will feel more free to be able to create their own bond with the puppy – which is very important.
And when that happens, your heart will simply overflow…
You’ll find that when they ARE able to develop a bond, that’s when you will see them begin to relax. And on those unfortunate, Murphy’s-Law-kinda-days, when you’re not around and your pup decides right then and there is a great time for the 3-P’s that chill the blood of any germaphobe, YOUR germaphobe will be able to get through it without losing their mind (too much). ;o)
So what happened next for us?
Well, you remember how I said “24 hours”? True story. After a 3 hour long, honest conversation on all of the down and dirties (literally), Hubby asked me to leave it with him. Let him think about it – which is completely reasonable. I was asking him to make a 15+ year commitment.
It took about an hour ;o)
I knew I had him when he said “So, what kind of breed were you thinking to get?”
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!! (ok… breathe… don’t over react… don’t make it weird…)
Still no definitive ‘ok’ from him, but I knew it was just a matter of time if I had him at the breed-picking stage already!
We started our talk around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. By 3pm Monday afternoon, we had selected a breed, found a breeder, and were on our way to drive 2.5 hours out of town to pick up our new puppy!!!!!!!! I think I spent the whole drive somewhere in between shock, disbelief and throwing up. I was beyond myself.
Good luck with your germaphobe, and remember to validate first.
They are your #1. Remind them of that by creating a plan, and then spending the next few months proving that you are committed to following through. Good luck!!