In the over 25 years I have been training dogs professionally, I have seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who contact our dog training school who have a puppy (or better yet, prior to getting their pup) to focus primarily on preventative measures as opposed to those with an adolescent or adult dog with potentially deeply ingrained behavior issues.
This is a very good thing and due in great part to the efforts of people like Dr. Ian Dunbar and Dr. R.K. Anderson who focused much effort on helping people understand the importance of early, preventative puppy education and socialization to best ensure a long and happy life for a dog in one loving home. In an effort to adhere to their advice, early puppy play groups and training classes are an ideal environment to learn how to best raise and train a puppy and as part of a safe socialization protocol.
Raising a puppy can be a truly wonderful experience that is filled with all the fun one expects from a baby animal who is programmed to be an investigative, playful, social creature. However, most puppy parents will attest to the fact that for all the joys of being there for the first few months of your pup’s life, there are also some moments of serious frustration (and lack of sleep). For some, the degree of frustration is far greater than others. This is due in part to the individual pup’s personality (genetics/nature) and to the family’s understanding of and follow through in regards to training and socialization (environment/nurture).
When people think of getting a pup, it’s hard not to focus solely on the cuteness factor and the unconditional love. But, it is also important to know that it can be at times a challenging endeavor. As with any relationship, there are ups and downs. Puppy parenting frustration is a real thing and just about everyone experiences it to some degree.
One of the many great things about teaching people to teach their dogs is seeing their enthusiasm in the first lesson. At first, a puppy doesn’t have to do much to become the apple of their family’s eye. For most people, if there pup just learns to sit on request they are sure she is a genius. But, as the reality of the responsibility for raising a pup sets in, so does inevitable frustration. One of the tough parts of being a professional dog trainer is watching people experience so much stress and frustration when a pup makes predictable house training mistakes, chews inappropriate items, barks and whines excessively, and insists on using human hands as chew toys.
I had a student who called me some time ago about two weeks after he had adopted a 10 week-old pup. He was embarrassed to admit that he was considering returning her to the breeder. He was tired from having slept very little for the last week, upset at having to constantly clean up house training mistakes, worried that his pup had separation issues because she was barking intensely if he just left the room, and he was finding interactions with her unpleasant because she was nipping and mouthing him so much.
From what he described, he had spent the first few days with her almost constantly because he thought that was the best way to bond with her, he had let her wander about the apartment because he thought she needed to get to know her new home, and she hadn’t been nipping him hardly at all in the first few days. He explained that in the first few days she seemed to have a very mellow personality and spent a good bit of her time sleeping happily.
He said that after the first week she had loads more energy, was much pushier and vocal, was chewing inappropriate items, constantly nipping and biting him, and was intolerant of being left alone. I suspected he had fallen prey to the Puppy Honeymoon Period! He assumed that his inhibited, sleepy, mellow puppy would stay that way forever. But, as she was rapidly becoming more comfortable in her new home, more confident and bold, and had increased energy, she was starting to do all of the things one might expect of a pup.
Many pups are somewhat inhibited when they first come to their new home as they’ve just left their litter mates and their mom and are now in a new environment. But, once they start to feel more comfortable and confident, their puppy parents find themselves saying “She never did that before!” many times throughout the day. There is a first time for everything in a young pup’s life and every pup will start to chew, nip, bark, and whine. These are all normal and natural canine behaviors. I always encourage people to be prepared for these inevitable changes in their pup’s behavior and to be proactive and implement a management, training, and socialization protocol ASAP to prevent inevitable issues rather than having a wait and see attitude. This early and on-going intervention and education is a sure-fire way to help prevent frustration.
Puppy parents should educate themselves so they can most effectively provide their pup with an education in regards to where to go potty, what to chew, how to interact with people, and how to self-pacify and spend time calmly alone. This is the key to helping a pup grow into a well-socialized and mannerly adult dog and to curbing puppy parenting frustrations.
For the gentleman with the 10 week-old pup, I focused on helping him to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He would be able to get a good night’s sleep, to play with his pup without her constantly biting him, and to teach her where to go potty. Additionally, she would learn loads of useful behaviors like sit, down, stand, stay, come when called, and impulse control.
To start he needed to focus on being a good time manager for his puppy so as to set her up for success in regards to house training, learning to spend time alone without barking and whining, learning to interact with people appropriately, and preventing destructive chewing. We discussed a plan that included:
- Using 0n leash supervision to keep her close by when playing with and training her and so he would have a gently way of holding her at arm’s length when she nipped him.
- Feeding meals in the crate and using it for very short periods of rest and as a tool to best predict when she needed to go potty.
- Using a long-term confinement area (like an exercise pen) when he needed to leave her for longer than she could hold it in the crate.
- Creating a food, water, potty, and play/training schedule so as to get her into a routine that allowed him to best be able to gauge when she would need to eliminate and to help her have plenty of opportunities to burn off mental and physical energy.
I asked him to consider the use of the above listed management tools as a way of helping his pup by limiting her options and essentially funneling her in the direction of making the choices he considered to be correct. By doing so he would be helping her to most easily and effectively learn what was expected of her. As a very important side benefit, his stress and frustration would therefore greatly decrease. Management is a win-win proposition. For example, by using on leash supervision to prevent her from wandering about the apartment and making house training and chewing mistakes, he was able to better predict when she needed to potty and could take her to the right spot and reward her for going in the right spot. This also meant no more time spent cleaning up mistakes!
Many puppy parents experience frustration, guilt, and concern about their pup’s behavior. The good news is that there’s a wonderful place people can go to learn how to positively impact their pup’s behavior and it’s called Puppy Class!
Photo: Andrea Arden