Bourbon: what to expect from a high energy Vizsla puppy
Here’s a diary of our first 5 months with Bourbon at home. It covers the flight home to our current situation. I’ve mentioned training, eating, chewing, hikes, dogs, distances, crates, and everything in-between.
Vaccinations: Bourbon was vaccinated before we got her, as well as at 10 weeks, and tittered at 16 weeks (she showed a high level of antibodies so no more vaccinations needed). Our area has no outbreak of Parvo (the biggest one to watch out for before letting your puppy on trails), and we kept to safe areas until her 10 week vaccination. We rarely visit dog parks and wouldn't suggest any until older.
Disclaimer: Other sources may have very different opinions on what's an appropriate time and length of walk for a dog of a certain age. The main takeaway is to avoid strain/impact on growing bones like jumping on hard surfaces, long down-climbs, sustained running/biking, really anything much on concrete, and extended distances. Every breed is very different (would you suggest the same exercise routine for a bulldog as for a Vizsla?) but I'm no expert.
I had wanted to avoid having to fly alone with Bourbon but because of Covid regulations, driving was not possible. Instead of a 6 hour drive, I had to complete a 14 hour door-to-door adventure with a brand new 8 week old puppy. We had 2 flights (Air Alaska), 2 car rides, Immigration, several security checks and lots of misadventures. The time waiting for flights in the airport was the hardest because I was alone (try going to the bathroom with your carry-on roller bag and a Vizsla puppy, with a mask in a busy airport). There was so much activity and noise that treats and chews weren’t really working as a distraction so I found running back and forth in a little section was the busiest I could keep Bourbon. We stayed away from any carpet in case she had to pee, and I laid out the puppy pee pads every chance I had.
I thought to board last so I don’t have to wait in a packed plane in line with a screaming dog and had the least possible amount of time in the airplane. I had chosen a seat at the back of the plane so we had some space and a quick walk to the bathroom (the puppy is supposed to stay in the bag the entire time but with Whiskey we found in order to let her pee, we would take her to the toilet, lay down a pee pad and she would go). Unfortunately the air hostess that reads out the take off instructions was located at the back right next to us and Bourbon screamed her little head off, so much so, that the air hostess was giggling over the intercom (Sorry!!).
Once we did take off I was allowed to put the soft crate bag in my lap and open the top so Bourbon’s head could see me and breathe. Thankfully after her screaming fit she fell asleep once we were in the air. Upon landing she woke up again and we tried to get through immigration as fast as possible. I declared my new puppy to import and paid a really small amount of fees before I found our car and headed home for another 1.5 hour drive. Bourbon thankfully was amazing in the car and didn’t get carsick the way Whiskey used to. I think the entire ordeal was pretty exhausting for us both.
Arriving with Bourbon, I was living alone (in quarantine) for over the first week. Bourbon was expectedly confused with her new surroundings. Our home is about 1000sq ft, about half of it was baby-gated off. The first couple days Bourbon would cry if she wasn’t in the same room as me. If I left to go to the bathroom, she would get lost looking for me so I kept the doors opened, taught her to follow my voice, and laid out a soft dog bed in every room so she had a place to wait.
Our backyard is not fenced so I kept her on a leash in the front yard and let her trail a leash in the backyard. I had no idea what her bladder schedule was like so I took her out after every meal, every time she woke up, every half an hour she was awake, and treated and praised her for going outside. I didn’t have a harness ready because I had such a hard time trying to guess the size to get (big mistake) but luckily our cat harness fit for the first week until I could order and receive the Ruffwear Flagline harness (XS was loose but worked for her entire puppy-hood).
We still had a couple accidents inside, but never more than one a day, and overall Bourbon was much easier to housetrain than Whiskey (in an apartment vs a house). She however had a habit of stepping in her poop right after going so I had lots of use for dog wipes. I wasn’t working so it really helped I could just spend my time watching her and try to sneak in a shower or make a quick meal if she fell asleep.
I didn’t want to crate train right away as I felt horrible pulling Bourbon from her littermates to a cold plastic crate so Bourbon slept with me very happily. To be honest I was also too exhausted to add sleep deprivation into the mix so I kept delaying crate training until later. Bourbon also worked out her relationship with our cat Moo over the next couple weeks learning to fear the creature and also how to play “stalk and kill” with her.
First week- (8-9 weeks old)
5-7 hours sleep (in bed)
Our first week together I was mostly working on bonding, getting a solid sit, and practicing all the recall I could! We worked on chewing the right items and learning how to settle. She was a little shark and would just chew anything in sight so redirecting was a full time job (it’s easier if you have loads of toys of different textures available throughout the house always at an arms reach). Chews we used are listed here
Settling was very important, where you need to hold your pup and calm them when they are overly tired or out of control. It teaches them how to self regulate early, and how to put themselves to sleep. Bourbon was pretty good at this in the beginning but you had to be very firm and calm and totally ignore all the bites and wiggles. This gets much harder as they get older and smarter and we had to relearn this several times but it’s such a game changer. I find that the advice to yelp when they bite does NOT work when they are having sharkies (going nuts and biting everything). It only ramps them up and the yelping didn’t seem to work for anyone I talked to at this stage (during active sharkies). What really worked was slowing my own heartrate down, holding her in a way she couldn’t escape, and calmly (I know this is really hard when your hands are bleeding) saying “settle” or a cue word. Focusing on my own heartrate, transferring calmness to Bourbon really helped her relax. The key was to wait until she had this signature deep sigh and I knew she had settled. Sometimes I needed to repeat this multiple times but it made life so much easier.
I also lent Bourbon out to friends so they could take her around new situations because I was in quarantine and couldn’t expose her to everything I wanted to. It also helped to prevent separation anxiety and fears. My lovely friends took her to a café, to Home Depot, around different neighborhoods and trails (but did stay away from dog-busy frequently trafficked areas to avoid diseases). She stayed close and on leash and didn’t seem to mind a change of humans. I spent my free time cutting down blackberry bushes that Bourbon seemed to love chewing (they had large sharp thorns!).
At this point Bourbon wasn’t food motivated and had to learn that treats were to be valued (she preferred her own kibble to cheese). There was little to no attention span and self control. My main goal was to bond with her and find her motivations so I had something to work with in terms of training.
At night, Bourbon could sleep up 5-7 hours straight, one potty early morning, and back to another 5 hours. Sleeping with her was a dream and she was really sweet and cuddly.
I knew I wanted to switch Bourbon to raw food but I didn’t want to change her food right after a traumatic separation from her family and such a crazy transition though the airports and roads. I waited a couple days to make sure her poops were good, and then offered a bit of raw which she willingly ate. I tried a meal of half/half but Bourbon would pick out what was familiar (the kibble) so I fully switched the next meal to all raw and success! I then used the rest of the kibble as training treats until they were all finished. I didn’t seem to have any transition issues or tummy issues with the whole ordeal.
2nd week (9-10 weeks old)
5-7 hours sleep (in bed)
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty
I thought I was getting the hang of settling but it got harder! Sharkies got worse with more bite, more energy and no fear. Bourbon was introduced to her first off leash walks in the forest where she stayed very close and recalled like a champ. I was able to introduce the concept of “leave it” so a tiny bit of self control, as well as crating when she needed a time out.
She continued to have zoomies and sharkies and was introduced to Whiskey. As soon as she had Whiskey, she just clung to her and would want to be playing with her or sitting on her so we needed to make sure that Whiskey wasn’t overwhelmed and had her own space. Whiskey had separate hikes during the day and slept in a different bed. However I did train the together, and treated Whiskey generously when she let Bourbon touch or cuddle with her (it took 48 hours). Bourbon just automatically gravitated towards Whiskey over any human and followed her lead. It was both easier and harder!
Out on the trails Bourbon would adventure and discover on her own. I slept with Bourbon and Thierry had Whiskey in another room with her regular crate routine. At this time we noticed Bourbon had some issues with being constrained and she had a fractured toe (from various accidents that made it worse). She also hinted at a guarding behavior. I started working on little training sessions to offset what I saw. I trained with treats and jackets (jackets seemed to trigger her), harness, and “leave it” commands. We also played games where we would play a little rough and hold her down for a second and let her go again which she was ok with.
3-4 week (10-12 weeks old)
5-7 hours sleep
750m-1km “walks” (over an hour, lots of breaks)
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty/stay/boats/
As soon as I was out of quarantine, we went on a roadtrip and introduced Bourbon to many many new things. She lived in a car and a tiny trailer without issues. She had her first kayak and canoe rides, her first mini “hikes” on leash (.5km), met a ton of dogs and people, and tried some longer walks mixed with being carried. She still wasn’t fully bonded to us (happily would follow and walk off with a stranger or another dog) but was absolutely bonded to Whiskey. We maxed out at 30mins awake in a canoe and 40mins in a kayak. During this time we also did some meal replacement with freeze dried raw food for training and were getting much better recalls and sit/stays. Everything was chewed on and eaten and every dog needed to be greeted. We reinforced a routine even on the road with 3 feedings a day, and expected quiet times, and time for little adventures. Bourbon’s attention span got longer (measured in the amount of time she would chew something before losing interest).
I mentioned Bourbon had problems being constrained so I worked on making jackets a happy thing (she hated them and would fight them). I would always put on jackets with a treat and spent time putting them on and off as a training session. After a week she no problems with jackets. I worked on “leave it” to deal with guarding and made sure she felt safe eating. I made the dogs wait for their bowls longer and longer, and constantly took away chews for better options, or took away toys and gave them back. I haven’t seen much guarding other than no dropping a prized “treat” she finds outside since then.
We started introducing sleeping alone in her crate after a full month. It was about 1.5 hours of crying and screaming for 2 days (crate was in the bed with us) and on the 3rd night it was about half an hour before she went to sleep. We would let her out at around 5am for a potty and then she was allowed to sleep with us until we got up that morning. She regressed in terms of how long she could sleep without needing a potty break but eventually that extended until she could sleep all night. I’ll write a more full post about this soon!
Settling became easier as we both understood how to communicate to her better. We stopped having to crate her to settle and she started understanding NO. We got better at sit/stays and extending walks to 1.5kms towards the end of 4 weeks. Recall was constant work (and still is). Bourbon also had to learn to approach dogs gently and was reminded every week or so by a couple nips (nothing breaking skin), growls, and lessons from older dogs. The worst Whiskey would do would be a growl with teeth showing which we would allow and encourage Bourbon to respect the boundaries.
2 months (4 months old)
5-7 hours sleep
2-3km “walks” (loads of breaks)
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty/stay/up/stump
There seemed to be no fear of fireworks (during Halloween), of dogs, of people, or really anything. We slowly increased outdoor hiking time and distance while encouraging confidence but also caution. Bourbon was comfortable being carried on longer walks and learned to ask for help when needed (when she was cold or tired). She also learned to seek warmth and self regulate on walks (not just go totally nuts every time we took a break). I tried to hide on her in the forest to keep her range a big closer, although I’m not sure how much that worked since her confidence was already so high.
Bourbon continued chewing everything but with bigger jaw muscles and longer attention span. My computer speaker, a couple plants, some beautiful rugs and blankets, a dog bed and my tablet pen were all victims. Somehow she lost all her baby teeth without us finding a single one! Her favorite chew toy was her sister and she would regularly jump on Whiskey’s back and just start chewing. Whiskey was so patient with her!
Bourbon’s toe was finally healed but she was left with sensitivity to nails being clipped and handled (she was scared already before the injury which made it worse). We started experimenting with different methods to do her nails.
Bourbon was also introduced to snow for the first time, as well as some steeper rocky climbs and heights. We encouraged her to explore at her own comfort level and to find her own way up obstacles. She started being able to sit for lengths of time for photos and posing with other dogs.
3 months home (5 months old)
9 hours sleep
4km “walks” (loads of breaks and carrying)
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty/stay/spin/touch/up
working on exposure to downtown, walking on leash without pulling, prey drive
I rented a downtown apartment for a week to expose Bourbon alone to the city, noises, distractions, and buildings. She took to everything extremely well (including elevators) although the hardest was pigeons, crows, and falling leaves. My voice broke after all the high pitched calls and noises I was making to get her attention! Bourbon had loads of on-leash practice time (something we rarely do outside of the city) and got better at walking without pulling (with a ton of rewards and active training). I used the Ruffwear Flagline harness for all the on leash work and the handle was SO key to be able to lift her up in situations (such as eating something on the ground, walking into traffic, or big dog coming). I started being able to recall her off some dogs, some people, and some distractions. She started showing her stubbornness and personality but conversely insisted on following routines and schedules. Bourbon is a very clear communicator. Hikes with more and more cliffs were introduced as well as inclines (I carried her down any inclines if there was potential impact).
We started daily doing nail desensitizing trying different methods so we could clip or Dremel her nails. Since Whiskey’s never loved her nails done, we also trained Whiskey at the same time. As of writing this I’m 3 months into daily nail desensitizing and we’ve definitely improved but can still only get 1-4 of Bourbon’s nails done each session. Whiskey’s really easy at this point but I think it’ll still be another month at least with Bourbon.
This month was salmon season in full effect so we found out that Bourbon was an eater (of deer/elk/horse poop, and rotten carcasses) not a roller (Whiskey is typically a roller). Bourbon also loved to invent and play games by herself or with other pups. Her adult personality really became clear around this time and she started making up games to play such as throwing things down steep slopes so she could chase after them, or just watch them fall. We still hadn’t seen any fear stages show up.
4 months home (6 months old)
10 hours sleep
6km walks once a week, usually 2-3km walks twice a day offleash
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty/stay/up/spin/weave/high five/fetch/gogo
working on distractions, faster recalls, nails, soft mouth
We were able to increase canoeing time to 1 hour and hikes to 6km with lots of rests (done rarely). I started cross country skiing with Bourbon and she learned how to avoid skis. Meals were down to 2 a day with no accidents in the house. Bourbon’s dog on dog greeting was pretty good at this point coming in friendly but submissive and flipping over as soon as a dog shows any aggression. She listened to and responded to recalls from people/dogs but only after saying hi first. We were about 50/50 successful on recall from people/dogs before she said hello from a decent distance.
At this point there was some giardia going around our neighborhood and both Whiskey and Bourbon took turns having the runs, but nothing terrible. I switched them on home cooked food for a couple days but there didn’t seem to be any cause to worry (I would have worried if it was my first dog). Bourbon’s range increased to about 200m within sight but overall ranged close enough for me to see her in forests and was very hard to hide from (even if I hid she tracked me down fast). She was also independent enough to play with herself during hiking breaks and would wander off to chase pinecones around instead of begging for food.
5 months home (7 months old)
10 hours sleep/almost adult bladder
8 km flat walks once a week, usually 2-3km walks twice a day offleash
sit/paw/come/leave it/down/go potty/stay/up/spin/weave/high five/fetch/all with dog and people distractions
working on nails, recall from dogs, loose leash, attention span, fetch, not chewing the wrong things
Bourbon is reaching the weight limit that I can carry on steep terrain. We are always working on recall and checking in, as well as walking with dogs she is to ignore. She’s successfully done a couple hard log crossing that full sized dogs would be afraid of. She’s shown cliff awareness but I still don’t feel safe with her off leash around death drops (likely for several more months!). We’ve done enough skiing (even one backcountry) and she’s aware not to get in the way of skis and she’s been ok in multiple types of clothing and doggy sleeping bags. Our bond has really grown but she still show no separation issues on the rare times we have a chance to leave her with someone else. She’s a very curious and thoughtful puppy and loves games to keep her brain occupied.
She chews inappropriate things now about once a week and is allowed around the rest of the house (no more baby gates). Because of Covid we haven’t practiced leaving her for periods of time in her crate. We are practicing sit/stays/recalls etc around other dogs, in dog parks, and highly distracted areas. Her stomach seems pretty strong for all the things she ingests without getting sick. I’m still working on snappy recalls and trust as well as teaching her to settle when bored (she normally goes off to find something to destroy or make up her own games at home). Bourbon still seems totally fine on her own or with Whiskey, with a different pack of dogs, or solo. Hopefully at some point when the border opens, we can get her trained on birds!