What I Know Now

Author: Louise (proHOUND Co-Founder)

Louise now has two Golden Retrievers – here is the exclusive account of what she did right and what she did wrong with her first dog, Timber. How can her story help others?

My other half and I agreed in 2015 that we wanted a Golden Retriever puppy because we liked the look of them and the breed seemed relatively easy. Who wouldn’t want a cute, easy puppy? We'd been together 3 years and children were a long way off - it's that sort of next step, right?! I was so unbelievably broody for a puppy.

I hunted for an appropriate breeder for 3 years. I was faced with a lot of rejection (and, I now see, rightly so) from working line breeders. But then I found the perfect match - (I’m glad to say this breed and this genetic line of the breed turned out to be the perfect match for us too!) a family experienced in breeding working line collies and goldens was doing a litter of golden retriever pups, and the breeder was willing to consider me. After all, I'd purchased several online courses (!) such as Canine Principles' 'Canine Coaching Diploma' and of course your bog standard 'Dog Training Level 3' 🙄. I therefore felt competent enough to handle the physical and mental stimulation requirements of a working-line Golden Retriever as our family pet. I'd also done a canine first aid course which did actually provide helpful and accurate information; I believe dog owners as well as dog professionals should have at least a basic knowledge of canine first aid.


We purchased KC-registered Timber in June 2018, having seen him in May at 5 weeks old with happy and healthy Mum. He was chipped, vaccinated and wormed - all the good things you are to expect from a good breeder; some a legal requirement, some not.

Timber was weaned onto raw food - I can't thank the breeder enough for this. We received 10kg free on behalf of the breeder from a UK company called Nutriment; I continued to buy this brand as a result. It makes me shiver to think that Timber would have been fed Pedigree 'dog food' cos obviously that's what Tesco sold. It's reassuring I think it might've only taken me a month or so to realise, but by then he would have ingested utter crap for a month. That’s not okay!

From June 2018 to September 2018, I was completely dedicated to my puppy 100% of the time. Very deliberately. I'm so pleased that Timber was exactly what I was expecting a puppy to be – he was difficult because he was a puppy and my first at that, but I was prepared. I had sketched out a plan for each day; each cue to teach, each toilet break, each nap - all very carefully planned out. You have to watch the clock. You have to split the day. You have to train. You have to play. You have to tick a whole pile of boxes. Your puppy comes first.

So, what did I do wrong?

Flea and worm treatment. I trusted my vet because vets are always right, right?!

Vets are right about a lot of things but no creature needs to be treated with chemicals every month for an ailment they don’t have - for 6 months I treated Timber for fleas, worms and ticks that he didn't have. We are also in the city so the chances are extra slim. So that's a whole pile of chemicals my pup's body had to process for no need.


Did the vets do anything else wrong? Yes. Something was stuck in Timber's eye when he was about 4 months old. Off to the vets and back we came with antibiotics (you may or may not yet know that this is a fairly standard result of a vet trip, whether there is an infection or not). They are businesses after all; they require revenue just like any other. It didn't do anything for his eye so after it spread to his other eye, we went again and received another round of antibiotics a couple of weeks later.
(Incidentally, I think this is what knocked my poor pup's immune system for about a year to follow.)

Try not to blindly give antibiotics from the vet – ask which antibiotics the vet is recommending and ask exactly why they are needed. Ensure the vet understands which symptoms you are concerned about (without being rude, of course – no professional deserves to be patronised by someone who isn’t a professional).

The best thing you can do (especially in the case of a non-emergency) is to seek a holistic vet's advice: they consider everything about the ailment and the dog, and they know if antibiotics are required or not.

Did I do anything wrong with his training? Yes, absolutely. Sadly, I didn’t know the true definition of socialisation until it was too late. The real (and lost) definition of socialisation is to allow your puppy the chance to observe safely at a distance; to form their own pleasant, neutral associations to stimuli ‐ dogs, cars, trucks, machines, all of it. This involves only a small amount of interaction with people and dogs, and only known people and dogs at that. However, I read somewhere (and this misinformation is rife) that socialisation means puppies must be petted by every human it passes, and meet and play with every dog it sees. Wrong wrong wrong. So unbelievably wrong. Why is it wrong? For starters, your dog will learn that everything, except you, is exciting. Engagement with the handler is the most important part of pet dog training. We gave that early engagement to a pile of strangers and random dogs ‐ it makes me feel sick to my stomach. It is probably the reason that, to this day, Timber becomes very aroused whilst passing other dogs across the street whilst on the lead. Thankfully, my knowledge and training skills mean he is able to behave; he is a pleasure to take out and about in the city.

Did I do anything right? Actually, yes, most of it. Timber's indoor behaviour and manners were perfected by 5 months old. He went the whole night in his crate from night #3 ‐ he begs to go into his crate at night and he's now over 3 years old. He was allowed to be 'loose and alone' for about half an hour at this age, and we built that up to 5 hours within 2 months. Timber never begs, Timber never plays 'retrieve' with our things in the house ‐ he only ever takes what's his. He's not allowed on sofa; he is allowed on bed. All of this was our choice, everyone's entitled to make their own. Just be consistent and remember that each dog is an individual.

I was also ridiculously OCD about hip dysplasia, despite excellent scores from both parents. This meant that until Timber was 8 months old, he was lifted off our bed, lifted into and out of our car and carried upstairs. He was 25kg at this point!! I was told by many I was being ridiculous. Anyhow, I know that he is not going to develop hip dysplasia because of something I did or didn’t do. (I’m a risk mitigation sort of person!!) There are quite a few dogs that walk around Edinburgh that quite clearly have joint problems.

I took obsessive interest in his diet having discovered and learned what is species-appropriate for a dog. I even gained a qualification that has a pretty difficult exam. Despite this, I had real problems with keeping weight on Timber, and he also suffered a year-long spell of serious GI upset, combined with odd rashes on his stomach and yeast flares. Thankfully I was supported by a holistic vet on approaching this so no further damage was done. It took me a full year to realise that Timber was zinc-deficient, despite normal levels of Zn in his diet (80 mg/kg DM per AAFCO). Turns out his genetics require a higher level of Zinc intake and it’s now nipped in the bud.

What would I have changed?

I'd advise the old me to not have one, actually. I wasn't ready and my standards are now pretty high, but our dogs all deserve a high standard of care so that’s fine by me!

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