“Guess what? I just got a puppy!” How many times have I heard that very thing? I hear the excitement in their voice. I respond with the normal smiles and congratulations. My inner thoughts are different — “Okay, now that you are responsible for this life, how are you going to raise it? Was this a thought out adventure or an impulse decision? Are you going to be there through all the ups and downs that come with owning and living with a dog? I hope you have made this step with your eyes wide open and a commitment to succeed. Are you committed to this puppy, long term, regardless of what situations arise? There is a life at stake as well as life lessons for your family.” I smile and hope that things go well.
You’ve probably gone to the pet supply store to buy all the “new baby” things that are so cute. Hopefully, you didn’t take the puppy. Socialization is very important, but not in that type of environment. Wait until the puppy is safely vaccinated. That doesn’t mean just a vaccine at six weeks old. Hopefully, you didn’t bring home a puppy under seven or eight weeks old at the very earliest. Puppies learn how to become dogs by interacting with their mother and littermates. Bringing a puppy home too early can present behavior problems down the road. Perhaps bringing a pup home early was the only decision possible. If so, then be aware that there will be special needs in guiding your pup to be a stable adult. One reason for a series of vaccines for a young puppy is because it may still have some immunity acquired from the mother. If so, that immunity may “block” the beneficial effects of the vaccine. If the first or second vaccine was “blocked” you may find there is a time when you have, essentially, an unvaccinated puppy. Be extremely careful of exposing your pup to situations where there may be disease exposure until your veterinarian feels the puppy’s immunity has been built to a safe level. Until safely vaccinated, socialization should be in a controlled environment. There are plenty of opportunities for safe socialization if you use your imagination. Invite numerous people to your home to meet the puppy, if you don’t have children be sure to include them, only allow dogs or puppies that have been safely vaccinated to visit, only put the puppy on the ground or floor in areas that are not often traveled by dogs whose vaccination history you are unfamiliar with. It is super important to socialize but do it safely.
It doesn’t matter if your puppy came from a reputable breeder, a shelter, rescue group or off the street. You own it now and you have to do the very best you can to assure it will die an elderly dog in it’s first home. You know your puppy needs to go to the veterinarian for checkups, vaccines and heartworm preventative. It needs good food to grow a strong body, a warm place in winter, a cool place in summer and a safe place to play. It needs playtime and rest time. You will provide all the attention, play and loving a young dog can stand. You will love your new buddy and he will love you. All will be right in your world.
At least it will be until you wake one morning and realize that a monster has taken possession of your dog’s body. Who is this creature? What did it do with your friend? Various and assorted acts of demolition greet you when you arrive home. Then to add insult to injury, you are pummeled by a streaking blur that barely resembles that cute puppy you brought home such a short time ago. Where is your dog? What connection to your dog is this panting, drooling thing with scraps of last night’s pizza box stuck in his teeth? You don’t even want to look in the kitchen. But then you don’t need to because it all seems to be in the living room. Where is your dog? He’s standing there, happy as a lark, thrilled to death that you’re home. Isn’t adolescence wonderful! We’ll call him “Otis” to protect his innocence.
What went wrong? You love your dog. You have given him the very best of everything. Does he hate you? Is he trying to make your life miserable? Why is he doing these things to you? Answer — he isn’t doing anything to you, he is acting on his own, without having had the benefit of guidance as he was maturing — he’s a dog in need of direction. Otis wasn’t giving you the first thought as he enjoyed his day. What you are is the typical owner of an out-of-control adolescent dog.
We need to rephrase the question — what did you do wrong? While you weren’t looking that puppy has grown into a young adolescent dog and you didn’t teach it anything about living with humans. You fulfilled your needs, but did you fulfill his? My guess would be — nope!
You look at your neighbor’s adolescent dog, whom we shall call “Lucy.” She doesn’t do those upsetting things that Otis does. She must love her owners more than Otis loves you. Nope! She has had training and structure to go along with the attention, play and loving as she was maturing.
When Lucy first came home she had all those same things from the pet supply store. She had the same loving, good food and veterinary care, but (here’s the key) she also had rules, limitations, structure and consistency.
Most adolescent dogs are challenging, brain-dead jerks for awhile. It’s how you start them and the consistency you give while they go through this stage that will determine their behavior when the fog lifts. If you are lucky, this stage will only last a short time. If not, you have to hang in there with your training and consistency until the maturity develops. Honestly, some dogs are harder to train than others. Sometimes you have to work harder than seems fair. Just keep a focus on the final outcome not on the day to day disasters. There can be a light at the end of the tunnel if you will make the commitment to working through the problems. If it is more than you can handle then seek help. There is nothing wrong with realizing that you are in over your head. It happens to the best of us from time to time. It is at those times that your commitment is tested.
Those times when you thought it was so cute when Otis jumped all over you to welcome you home, Lucy was being taught to sit for the attention that she and her owner were both seeking. When Otis jumped all over you on the couch, Lucy was taught to stay off until invited up. When you would leave the room so Otis could eat privately (he growls when you approach his food), Lucy was being taught to accept people near her food. When Otis was using your house as a bathroom, Lucy was crate trained, watched whenever she was loose in the house and rewarded for going potty outside. Those times when Otis drug you down the street, Lucy was taught to walk on a loose leash. When Otis would maul guest because he was so happy to see them, Lucy was taught to greet with “four on the floor.” Those times when Otis scratched holes in the back door because you had to put him out of the house to get a little quiet time, Lucy was peacefully curled up snoozing in her crate. Remember that time Otis knocked you down the front steps when he bolted out the door? Lucy was being taught to wait at the door until told it was okay to go outside. Those times you were afraid to even guess what had happened while you were away, Lucy’s owners were content that the house would be in one piece when they returned. She had been confined in their absence until she proved her dependability when left alone.
This is the point where a lot of owners give up and surrender their dogs to someone else. The shelters and rescue groups are full of dogs like Otis. Not bad dogs, just dogs that were never taught how to behave. Once a dog enters the throw away cycle of abandonment it is unlikely to ever live to be an old dog unless someone steps up and makes a commitment to the dog.
Are you a bad owner? That answer depends on how you deal with the difficulties of living with Otis. If you give up, then, yes you are a bad owner. Get a goldfish next time, or better yet, a pet rock. If you admit that there are problems that you created and love Otis enough to seek training solutions that keep him in your home, then you have the potential to be one of the best owners around. Otis has all the potential to become more like Lucy. He can’t do it alone. It will be hard because Otis already has established habits that have to be redirected towards proper behavior. It can be done. You have to take the leadership role and make it happen. If you aren’t going to make the commitment then Otis will spend the rest of his life isolated with you resenting him more each day. Until that day when you have had enough and Otis loses his home. Remember, Otis’ behavior can change, but you have to change yours first.
Talk with Lucy’s owners, maybe they can suggest some helpful things to try. If you don’t know what to do, that’s okay. You are human after all. Admitting you don’t know and finding someone to help is what is going to make you the great owner Otis deserves. Find a trainer who specializes in pet dogs and get some help. Read books and magazines. Remember, not every training method suits every dog. Be open to finding what works for you and Otis. Be aware when a training method isn’t working and change direction. Nothing is written in stone when training dogs, except, perhaps the fact that training, structure and consistency should begin the moment the puppy or dog enters your life from whatever source. If you don’t know where to look for an instructor/trainer check the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors web site (www.nadoi.org), your veterinarian, humane society, animal shelter, neighbor, feed store or even a stranger walking his well behaved dog down the street. Keep looking until you find answers. Otis’ existence depends on you.
I know you love Otis. Love him enough to give him what he needs — a good home and a great owner until he dies an elderly dog in his first home. He deserves no less and neither do you. If the unthinkable happens and Otis must find a new home thru no fault of yours or his, then your commitment to his training will make him a much easier dog to permanently re-home.
When a puppy is brought into your home, raise it from day one to become the dog that it has the potential to become. If you don’t know what to do then seek help. There are people out there that can help. Don’t give up until you get the answers that you and your dog need and deserve. The blessings will be worth all your efforts.
©2012 Linda Tilley