Puppy Parenting Frustrations

In the over 20 years I have been training dogs professionally, I have seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who contact a training school who have a puppy (or better yet, prior to getting their pup) to focus primarily on preventative training 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 have focused much effort on helping people understand the importance of early, preventative teaching to best ensure a long and happy life for a dog in one loving home (as opposed to a dog being surrendered to a shelter due to easily preventable behavior issues). Early puppy play groups and training classes are an ideal environment as part of a safe socialization protocol.

Raising a puppy can be a truly wonderful experience filled with all the fun one could expect 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 more than others.

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I got a call today from a very nice fellow who recently adopted a 10 week-old pup. We had already had one session together where we discussed the basics of being a good doggie time manager so as to set his little pup up for success in regards to house training, learning to spend time alone, and preventing destructive chewing. On leash supervision, feeding meals in the crate and using it for very short periods of rest, a long term confinement area, and a food, water and potty schedule were all part of the plan we set together. As with many puppy parents, he was receptive to some suggestions, and not so much to others. But, I was confident that in the coming weeks he would start to see how his job was to help his puppy learn to be the dog he wanted her to be and the easiest way to do that is with the aid of management tools to set her up for success.

One of the many great things about teaching people to teach their dogs is seeing the pride and enthusiasm in their eyes when they bring their pup in for the first lesson. One of the tough parts of this profession is watching people go through the very typical cycle of puppy parenting, the next stage of which has a lot to do with being frustrated when a pup makes housetraining mistakes, chews inappropriate items, and barks and whines at all hours of the day and night. While even the best doggie time management won’t prevent mistakes 100% of the time, it will certainly help keep things under control and keep their pup on the path to ultimate success.

Likewise, a lack of this management is surely going to put a strain on the canine/human relationship. Puppy parents play a huge part in their dog’s lifelong behavior. In addition, each dog is an individual whose genetics also play a part in their behavior. But, I always try to encourage people to go into raising a pup under the assumption that their pup may suffer from any number of behavior issues. It is better to err on the side of caution, to do everything you can to prevent potential issues, rather than to have a wait and see attitude.

From what this puppy parent told me on our call today, it seemed he had been giving his pup opportunities to make mistakes and thereby inadvertantly opportunites to practice behaviors he didn’t like. He explained that the reason for this was that for the first week he had her, she seemed to have a very mellow personailty. She didn’t make any mistakes in the house for the first few days, and spent a good bit of her time sleeping happily. However, after the first week, he said it seemed she had loads more energy, was much pushier and investigative and less tolerant of being left alone. I suspected he had fallen prey to the Puppy Honeymoon Period!

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Many dogs are somewhat inhibited when they first come to their new home. But, once they start to feel more comfortable, their puppy parents find themselves saying “She never did that before!” many times throughout the day. There is a first time for everything, and most young pups start displaying behaviors that may seem new, but are usually just more exaggerated and frequent after the first week or two in their home, once they feel more comfortable and come out of their shell.

He seemed very understanding of this, and was very honest about the effect this stage was having on him. He was tired from having slept very little the last few nights, upset at having to clean up housetraining mistakes, and worried that his pup had separation issues. I focused on helping him to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In this case, that his staying, calm, cool and collected, and focusing on helping to set his pup up for success using the tools we had discussed would in fact result in a dog who would develop housetraining skills, a great chew toy habit and the ability to rest calmly when left alone.

When people think of getting a pup, it is hard not to focus solely on the cuteness factor, and the unconditional love. But, it also important to know that it can be a challenging endeavor. As with any relationship, there are ups and downs. I am confident that this puppy parent will be successful and rewarded with a wonderful canine companion, because he seems committed to his pup and to seeking out assistance. But, for many puppy parents going through this sort of frustration stage with a puppy it can be hard not to feel that you are failing, or that something is wrong with your pup. It would be wonderful if there were a place where puppy parents could go to share these sorts of stories, a support group of sorts. Actually, there is a place like this, and it’s called Puppy Class!

Photo: Andrea Arden