Vanessa Schwenk sitzt mit ihrem Hund Pepper am Strand.

1 year with Pepper: 7 things I learned from my life with a dog

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One year ago today (minus 1 day) Pepper moved in with me – and turned my life upside down. He was so small and innocent and still showed his true character from day 1: a scatterbrain with boss airs and lots of fear. When we first met he hid this well – even on the first car ride – but the very next day he unpacked his coolest character traits and barked at the first visitor right away. Despite these quirks I love this little button to infinity. The evenings we spend together on the couch or the countless walks watching the sunrise are worth their weight in gold. In one year I have learned a lot about life with a dog, both positive and negative.

Vanessa Schwenk sits with her dog in Venice
© Vanessa Schwenk

Life with a Dog: 7 Learnings I Wish I’d Known Beforehand

Although I read countless books, watched videos and listened to advice from dog trainers, and thus knew what was coming – I was not prepared for much. The last 366 days were the most overwhelming, exhausting but also the most beautiful days. However, I wish someone had been so honest and told me the pure truth about life with puppy. Often you only hear how wonderful the time with a young dog is, the downsides are left out. For this reason, I’m sharing 7 things I learned and wish I had known before.

1. Not every dog is simple

Every dog is different and has its own character. Although I have only the experience with Pepper, I am firmly convinced: How the character of the dog will develop, how he will behave in situations, is something you won’t know before. Often the problems with the own dogs are not shared – only the beautiful moments. A dog is a lot of work, every single day. Each one has problems. Some have smaller ones, others bigger ones. Pepper has developed a strong urge to defend me and it is a rocky road despite dog trainer and education. But it always goes uphill, even if we sometimes go 2 steps back instead of forward.

2. Your feelings, fears, insecurities are those of your dog

Your dog will develop such a strong bond with you after the initial acclimation period that he will develop an enormously strong empathy. This is perfectly normal but probably the most underestimated fact on my part. Pepper notices everything, every little emotional fluctuation – but especially fear or panic. That’s probably why the enormous urge to defend myself. But it’s also nice, because with my joy he is doubly happy. One should only be aware of this. How your dog reacts in some situations starts with you in most cases. Even if you sometimes don’t want to admit that to yourself.

3. In big cities a dog is during the day what the cigarette is in nightlife

Stepping outside your door with a dog is for others a direct invitation to talk to you – whether you like it or not. It is a guarantee for small talk – similar to the smoker’s corner. I had to get used to this, as I usually refrain from any small talk with people I don’t know. Of course, this does not imply unfriendliness or even disrespect – but rather the desire to go into more depth in conversations than to make small talk. But this only in passing. With a dog, you get to know a lot of people. Before Pepper I hardly knew any neighbors, after a few weeks I hardly knew anyone in the area. That was especially nice, because Pepper found dog friends.

3. A dog costs a lot of time – and money

When the little puppy looks at you with his irresistible puppy eyes, you quickly forget the time and effort you put in every day. Time is the most valuable thing you can put into your dog and education. And the time I put into Pepper is just now missing on other ends. It was a balancing act in the beginning. The household, my friends and family, and time for myself suffered. It was hard and definitely tugged at my nerves and pushed me to my limits. Now after a year we have slowly settled in. He had to take a back seat a lot in between because I moved.

Unfortunately, with Pepper I can’t live up to my credo of quality over quantity. He is not as busy after a 30 minute walk as he is after an hour. The other part, which should not be underestimated, is the financial one. A dog costs money and there are no upper limits. At the beginning the costs pile up. Dog leash, bowls, treats, dog school, health checks. The list is long. Depending on the breed, a puppy grows enormously fast and needs a new harness, a new collar every few weeks. I love to invest that money. Pepper is spoiled rotten. For example, I do not save on food, which is a precaution for later. It is not a guarantee, but many diseases can be avoided by a healthy diet. Of course, everyone is free to decide what and how much money to spend – but a dog is expensive. That is out of the question.

4. Goodbye Spontaneity

With Pepper, I have to plan things better. Leaving the apartment spontaneously without warning is no longer as easy as before. But I’m very happy to put up with that. It’s probably relatively easy for me because I love structure. But of course it took some time in the beginning to integrate a new routine into everyday life. When Pepper wasn’t housebroken in the first few weeks, it was a disaster. My day was scheduled in a two-hour rhythm. In the meantime, we have a daily routine that works well for everyone most of the time.

5. Helping hands make life with dog easier

Without any support, life with Pepper would be very hard – I admit that. Especially because I work a lot. But with the right friends who can step in spontaneously and love to take Pepper in, it’s a piece of cake. The other alternative is dog sitters, but that is of course a financial aspect that not everyone can afford or wants. For emergencies, however, I am glad to have both – friend as well as dog care – to fall back on. Especially when Pepper could not yet stay alone a great support and relief for me.

6. My closet became beige aesthetics

This point always makes me grin. I love to wear black clothes. Especially in the winter months. In the first weeks after Pepper moved in with us, it was still easy to reconcile. Pepper only hardly hair. Naively I believed that the condition would remain so. Well, yes. If you look in my closet now, you will find mainly light shades on which you can’t see Pepper’s fur. That makes cuddling much easier. (Plus the vacuum cleaner is my new best friend).

7. Pepper brings me the perfect work-life balance

As absurd as it sounds, I needed a dog to have a life away from screens. I’ve worked very hard over the last few years, which has also led to very many hours of screen time. Additionally, at some point all of my free time activities were also screen only – whether it was yoga, VIRAGO SPRING, reading, Netflix, etc. I couldn’t really switch off. I guess that’s what I’m most thankful for. Now I take Pepper when it all gets to be too much and take him out into nature. The best work-life balance for me.

Would I make that decision again today?

It may sound confusing, but I can’t answer that question. Adopting Pepper was by no means a spontaneous decision. I have had the desire to live with a dog since I was little. Therefore, I am very happy to have finally fulfilled this wish. However, it was also the only decision in my life where I had no plan B and just went with the flow. According to the motto, what should happen.

For me there is no question that I will never give Pepper away. He belongs to me, I have adopted him and thus taken responsibility for his entire life. And that is exactly the reason why I cannot answer this question. Taking responsibility for a living being is not something I can personally withdraw. Would raising a dog have been easier in a different stage of life? Perhaps. However, I cannot know that at this point in time.

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Founder of Virago Spring, formerly a journalist, she now works full-time as a Senior SEO Manager and leads the search strategy team for the German market at a major media publisher. Outside of work, she loves fashion, dogs and everything to do with interiors. She shares tips and tricks for a beautiful life - at home and at work. Whether it's about organization or self-care.