How my life changed after having a Westie puppy

We’ve had Sami for almost three months now, but it feels more like three years. He quickly became part of our family and we’ve had a great bond since the first day. I didn’t expect him to love us so much so fast and be such a great dog so early on. From the first day, he followed me around the house wherever I went, he would curl up on my feet in the kitchen and fall asleep there, while I was preparing dinner. He would listen to me when I said “No!” and not insist endlessly, as I knew other dogs do. He would sleep soundly through the night and not make a sound until we woke up. He’s always happy to see us, even if we’ve only been gone for 5 minutes.

How my life changed after having a Westie puppy

He was the dog I’d been dreaming of ever since I can remember, so for about 30 years, but I really didn’t think it would be this amazing right from the start. Recently, I started thinking about all the ways in which he’s changed my life to the better. Here are some of them:

My relaxing time now means turning off the screen

Before having Sami, I used to unwind by sitting in front of a screen, wasting time online, browsing and scrolling away sometimes hours at a time. Or endlessly binge-watching Netflix to procrastinate. It was a mind numbing activity and it rather consumed my energy than charge my batteries. I used to feel tired and lazy afterwards and by the time I’d have to get back to work (also in front of my screen), I’d realize I haven’t left my computer for an unhealthy amount of time.

I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who goes for a walk to relax, or sits at their window enjoying a cup of tea and watching the world outside. But I could never do it, I was too addicted to being in front of a screen.

Now that I have a puppy who’s always full of energy, whenever I take a break is to play fetch with him on the floor of our living room, to run around the house until he sticks his tongue out and needs a break (or until one of us does!) or to go for a walk on the hill behind our building, where there’s lots of grass, trees and butterflies he can chase. Sometimes we go to the beach and spend an hour or two there. Other times, we sit on the balcony and he people watches while I read. Either way, my time became too precious to be wasting time online when I want to relax.

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I’m way more efficient in my work

I’d read about this when it comes to new parents, who say that their productivity improved since having a baby, because there’s so much to do that they really need to make the best of that spare half-an-hour-block of time that they have available to work. But I didn’t fully believe it until I experienced something relatively similar myself. For the first month and a half of having the puppy I was able to dedicate 100% of my time to him. We were lucky we got him 10 days before Christmas, so it was the quietest time of year in terms of my work, which meant I had all the time in the world to take care of him. And it took every waking hour. In between peeing-in-the-house incidents and cleaning after him, weekly visits to the vet, daily ear-cleaning and baths (he had a minor skin problem), learning to go on walks, teaching him basic training commands (or skateboarding), feeding, giving him supplements at the same time daily, brushing his teeth, grooming his fur and the never ending playing sessions, there was no time left for me, not to mention work. It was exhausting and hard, but at some point I managed to do it faster and better and eventually out of reflex, like anything you a number of times over and over until it becomes the new normal.

A month and a half later, when I had a project that needed done within 2 weeks, I had a pretty solid routine and was able to squeeze in 30 mins to an hour at a time for work. I would spend an hour to work during the day, then maybe two hours late at night after Sami went to sleep. I was amazed at how quickly I was now able to make decisions and move forward with my work.

Before this my creative process would take forever. I would spend every spare hour I had during the day to work and obsess over every detail, trying out endless versions of the same design, getting stuck for days in that initial stage of the project and then panicking when the deadline came. I would end up doing 80% of the work the night before the deadline, with zero energy and tons of coffee, and feel exhausted for days after. I was aiming for perfection and I had all the time in the world to work at it.

Now I don’t have the luxury to strive for perfection anymore. Every day is the beginning of the same series of tasks I need to start over, so if I manage to spend an hour or two working, then I’d better make the best of it and deliver. Also, “good” became something I can live with. I’m a perfectionist who’s never achieved a perfect result, so I decided that aiming for “good” is a pretty healthy thing to do. And that was confirmed after delivering my first project since I have a dog. It’s probably the project I’ve spent the least amount of time on, but it was one of my good ones. It’s amazing how having a puppy in need of your attention can change your perspective and even the way you work.

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I’m now a more outdoorsy person

Or in other words, I enjoy nature more.

As a kid, I used to be glued to my room. I was that kid who liked staying in while the other kids were outside, playing sports. I felt good alone, being somewhat of an introvert, and I loved spending my time drawing, making collages and listening to music. As I grew up and went through various jobs, I learned to enjoy time spent at my computer, learning new languages and doing illustration and graphic design (which is now my chosen career). I never enjoyed going on a walk just for the sake of it. In fact, no one in my family ever went on a walk in their whole life. If we had nowhere to get to, we had no business walking. I was so anti-moving, that in school I even had a fake medical relief from physical education for a whole year, so that I didn’t have to do warm up sessions and play basketball. I just hated it. Interestingly, despite that, I’ve always looked athletic and skinny, but that’s just good genes.

As big my love for indoor activities was, that’s how much I wanted a dog in my life. I knew that would mean I’d have to get my ass out of the house at least twice a day to walk him, plus at least once a week at the park, but what I didn’t expect is that I would grow to love it. Because I like spending time with my dog. I want to be there whenever he discovers something new, like cats or pigeons or rain 🙂 So even if I’m having a lazy evening and I’d rather curl up on the couch in a blanket, when I take Sami outside and see him so excited and invested in everything around him, it makes me excited as well. I like showing him a new place and watching his reaction, I like running with him when he’s in the mood to run and I like practicing walking on a leash and giving him rewards.

We also go at least twice a week to puppy school (and sometimes we go a third time, for group classes), where we train together, I learn to give him commands and he learns to respond, then he gets to play with other puppies at the end of every session.

We go to the park almost every Sunday, where he encounters lots of dogs he can play with and lots of spaces to explore. And given that we’re in a new country (we only came here to Portugal last year), we also travel often, wanting to go see many places around here and now we take Sami along, which for me is even more fun than it was before!

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I’ve become more disciplined

Before having a puppy I was struggling with waking up earlier and keeping a schedule. Given that I’m a freelancer and work from home, it’s easy to be tempted to wake up late, spend the day in my pajamas and do my heavy work after 8 pm until all hours of the night. And not just once have I wondered what time it is, since it’s easy to lose track, especially when your work is drawing and designing all day long.

Something I understood early on is that a dog needs consistency in order to function well and feel safe. So now that my day revolves around the dog’s schedule, that gives me the structure I needed but couldn’t maintain before. I didn’t suddenly become a morning person – luckily, I got the dog of my dreams: one who enjoys waking up at 10am and sometimes would even sleep until later. But once I do wake up, rarely later than 10am, my whole day is pretty much penciled in. And my free time exists in between walks, feeding time, training sessions at home, play time and the occasional bath, brushing, nail clipping, ear drops (about once a week now), eye drops (when he had conjunctivitis), teeth cleaning, vet visits (about 2-3 times a month now) and puppy school (3 times/week). If this isn’t discipline, I don’t know what is 🙂

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I’m becoming more assertive and confident

Both are things that never came natural to me, quite to the contrary. And, in the past years, both were issues I actively worked on, among other things, in three sessions of therapy and about twelve of life coaching. But nothing did more for me in terms of confidence and assertiveness than having a dog. Especially having a Westie!

Westies are known for their strong personality and no BS attitude. They are stubborn, quite intelligent and always looking to get their way. They can be difficult if frustrated and need to be led. Sami is no exception to that, and the first thing the trainer at puppy school said about him was “he is clearly a dominant dog, so you ought to be careful with that, or in one year he will call all the shots in your house”. So naturally, I adjusted. Without making a big effort, I became more assertive because otherwise he won’t listen to commands and will do whatever he wants to. I started by changing my attitude, my posture and the tone of my voice. It works, and combined with all the attention he gets from me and the time we spend together, he sees me as his best friend but also the boss in our relationship, so he trusts my good judgement. On the other hand, I noticed that whenever I hesitate or give him too much freedom to make decisions, he will start acting out and try to do naughty things, until I become assertive again and not back down from what I say. It’s an interesting social experiment 🙂

Speaking of confidence, an interesting thing happened the other night. I was walking Sami for the second time that evening, hoping to get him to do no. 2 outside (still a work in progress). It was 10pm and not a soul on the streets (our neighbourhood is pretty quiet in general). We went to our favorite place, the hill behind our building, where city meets nature – there’s a big meadow and even a tiny forest. That night it was windy and the trees were creaking, the leaves were rustling, it was super creepy. I was looking into the darkness, trying to distinguish something and at some point I imagined there could be someone hidden behind those trees. For a second, I realized that no one would hear if I scream, no one would know. Now, normally at this point if I was alone I’d be running back home in a crazy panic, convinced that there’s something out there coming after me. And for sure my imagination would have a picnic, notice that I said “something” and not “someone”.

But I was with Sami and maybe because I feel responsible for him, maybe because I didn’t want to freak him out for no reason, maybe because I know he looks up to me, I didn’t run. I didn’t panic. I didn’t imagine SF scenarios. I just took a breath and looked into the darkness and all I saw was some trees creaking in the wind. I know it’s a safe city and a nice neighborhood and that there was no one around. So I kept my cool and just continued our walk. And as I walked, I started thinking. This is the first time ever that I’m this cool in this kind of situation. Wow. And it’s all thanks to this tiny white dog that I feel I have to protect, because who else will?

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I’m more patient and calm

Until recently, I used to get frustrated easily and snap often, whenever something didn’t go as planned. And if my patience was stretched, I could become irritable and hard to be around. But somehow that’s changing now. Having a puppy is, in many ways, like having a baby, meaning that things rarely go as planned and, even though he’s cute and you love him, he will get on your nerves sometimes. But I find that it’s easier to keep calm in these situations, because a). I don’t wanna frighten my puppy and b). I need him to trust that I’m handling it, not losing it. And patience comes from understanding that he’s very young and he’s already doing his best and it’s not his fault if he gets things wrong sometimes. Many times it’s my fault, because I didn’t show him, or I didn’t do my best to prevent something. If he destroys a pair of shoes, it’s my fault for leaving them within his reach. It’s common sense.

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I’m adapting faster to living in a new country

We came to Portugal in July last year and got Sami in December. So if the experience of having your first dog isn’t easy, if the fact that this dog is a 3 month old puppy isn’t enough, imagine doing that in a country you’ve only been in for only 5 months and where you speak about 40% of the language and understand about 50%.

Normally, my period of adjustment would have been longer. When moving to a new country, I usually avoid contact until I feel comfortable, especially if I don’t understand what people are saying and I just politely nod and smile and feel stupid. It’s not the best way, but it’s my way. I used to live in Ireland and, despite my almost fluent English, I had no idea what people were saying for the first few weeks, because of the strong and different (for me) Irish accent. More than once I nodded and smiled when someone had actually asked me a question and was expecting an answer. It was a painful time before I got used to the accent and felt more comfortable being around people.

When I came here to Portugal I could already speak basic Portuguese and I understood grammar and written text, but people talk so fast and their rhythm is so different, it was painful again for a while. Not to mention my lack of vocabulary and talking in very simple sentences, which is pretty weird when the thought you are looking to express is more complex. Forget jokes, those are for the advanced.

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So here I was, in a new country, language barriers and all, trying to take care of a puppy. Going to the vet at least weekly, either for his regular vaccines and medications, or for minor incidents, like “his knees make a crack, please check it out!” or “I think he’s got conjunctivitis, please have a look”. Getting his documentation in order wasn’t easy either, since there was a mixup with the breeder and it took two months to be able to transfer the puppy in my name. I had to fill out forms and mail documents and talk to a few people in order to get the mixup cleared up. All in Portuguese, of course. Then training school was fun too, doing all the talking and explaining what I would like to achieve from the classes (I did do a lot of research on the terminology beforehand). The pet shops, whenever I went looking for a new dog bed, or food or toys. Not to mention the dog owners in my neighbourhood or in the park, always in the mood to chat and always curious about my story.

Thankfully, because of Sami I was forced to get out of my shell faster than I felt comfortable to and I was forced to adapt in a short period of time. The fact that I needed to interact with so many people at once improved my Portuguese considerably and helped me meet new people. Looking back on it, it was the best thing that could have happened.

I laugh more

No, seriously, look up some puppy videos on YouTube. Now imagine having one at home and spending almost all your time with him. It’s hilarious, even when it’s exhausting. He always does some new silly thing and you just burst out laughing. There hasn’t been one day he hasn’t made us laugh hard. A puppy is by far the best medicine 🙂

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I feel more stable and happier, overall

This time last year, I was miserable. We were traveling endlessly (by choice, because we thought “it will be fun being digital nomads for a while!”), living from a suitcase, changing seasons and places and never finding any type of balance. I was trying to keep up my client work, while doing some personal creative projects of my own, while going to the gym 4-5 times a week and eating healthy, all while changing countries and starting everything over again. Add to all this the feeling of guilt that “I should be enjoying all this, who else gets to work from an island in the middle of the Mediterranean for 2 months?”. Well, it wasn’t as much fun as my instagram made it look.

I needed stability and routine in order to keep my priorities. I needed to take things lighter and not take myself so seriously. I needed to care less what other people thought. And many other things I mostly managed to solve since then. But since getting a dog all that seems so small. I feel like everything fell into place. I’m glad to be able to work on what I love, and go to the gym and still be able to travel, but nothing makes me happier than spending an evening the three of us, on the floor of the living room, playing fetch and laughing when Sami climbs all over us, trying to lick us to death. Which, apparently, is a lifelong quest for westies 🙂

How my life changed after having a Westie puppy

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