The people that will have the easiest time raising a puppy, are those that have realistic expectations for what a puppy is capable of, and the amount of structure that is required in raising them. Here are the most common gaps between an owner’s expectation and the reality of welcoming a puppy into your home.
01: Snuggle Time
People expect to log lots of snuggle time with their pup. They dream of running their hands over their puppy’s soft coat, as the puppy takes a loud exhale and curls up contentedly by their side.
The reality is that at times that you want to snuggle, your puppy will be more interested in using your hands and clothing as a chew toy. You will wonder if you brought home a puppy or a piranha.
Avoid trying to “correct” the problem by tiring your puppy out with long play sessions, daycare and dog parks. Because these activities can be highly stimulating, you might actually find that your plan back fires and you wind up with a puppy that develops issues with being hyper-aroused. You might also hear people recommend using a loud OUCH sound to startle your puppy and get them to back off. This can also back fire. Some puppies actually get more excited with loud sounds. You’ve just become a large, interactive squeakie toy! Last but not least, you have probably heard at least one person suggest pinching your puppy’s lip, or holding their mouth closed. This approach might create a short-term fix, but it can also create a puppy that becomes very apprehensive about your approaching hand. The goal in raising a puppy is to promote a relationship based on trust and communication. Avoid using training methods or approaches that could set your relationship up for ruin.
Part of your job as a puppy parent is to teach your puppy that there are more acceptable outlets for this very normal, and natural tendency. This is a process that will take time for your puppy to learn, but it’s worth the time and effort to do it right. Your puppy’s ability to outgrow this tendency will be the result of a combination of factors: good management, training that promotes calm interactions with you, healthy play opportunities that exercises your puppy’s mind and body (like playing tug with you), and … time. Time? This is a developmental behavior that will not disappear over-night. Having realistic expectations can be a real game changer.
02: Puppy Proofing
People expect that “puppy proofing” is a fairly simple process. They think, “how much trouble could this little guy get into?” And they reject the idea of crates, baby gates, and exercise pens as being too restrictive.
The reality is that a puppy’s brain is built for exploration and creativity, and will find objects you didn’t even know you owned. He will bite, pull and/or shred anything that’s not nailed to the ground. You’ve bought a plethora of different chew toys, but his default is always to pull at the threads of the rug, eat electrical cords (ouch) or chew on table legs when he feels bored. Get down on all four paws and think like a puppy. Got dog toys? Awesome. Just make sure you’re not leaving ALL of them out at one time. Choose 3-4 toys and rotate them every day or every other day. Watch your puppy light up when they have access to a toy that they haven’t seen for a week or two.
One more tip: interact with your puppy when they choose to play with their toys. Or better yet, initiate these play sessions yourself. We all want our puppies to learn to play independently but the fact is that puppies will find it more satisfying to play with their toys in social contexts. This is one reason that puppies are so drawn to “off-limit” items like your shoes. Chewing on your shoe gets you to come over and play chase, or keep away. What fun! Make sure that you are scheduling in 5-10 minute play sessions, 2 or 3 times each day.
People expect long walks that will not only burn the puppy’s energy, but will also help them to fulfill their new year’s resolution to exercise more. A match made in heaven.
The reality is that you will walk 20 feet from your house before your puppy freezes. When you put pressure on the leash to urge the puppy along, he will dig in his heels. He would rather sit still and take in the sights, sounds and smells of his new environment than go on a 20 minute walk. If and when your puppy does start to walk, it will be at a snail’s pace. You will have walked approximately 100 feet over the course of 30 minutes because he’s so busy sniffing and/or picking up every leaf and twig and cigarette butt (eww).
Stop trying to take your puppy for a walk like they’re an adult dog. Their needs are different, the expectations should be too. Plan for “watching the world” sessions. Sit with your puppy for 15-20 minutes outside your house, or carry your puppy to a park where they can just take in the sights, sounds and smells. If they want to meander here or there, let them. Avoid trying to walk them from Point A to Point B. In combination with this, you can also start to do some “leash training sessions.” Here are 3 leash training tips: 1. Short sessions. Keep your leash training sessions to 5-10 minutes! Even those short sessions will provide “training breaks” that will allow your puppy to process the sights, sounds and smells around them. 2. High value reinforcement. Bring some boiled chicken, or their favorite tug toy and show your puppy how much fun it is to engage with you on leash. 3. Be realistic. A lot of puppies will “lock up” on walks. If we kept on trying to force them to walk, you might find that this problem persists into adulthood.
04: Potty Time
People expect potty training to be a pretty straight forward process. Puppy has an accident? Lead him over to the accident, show him what’s he’s done, be stern. Rinse and repeat and in no time puppy will learn not to potty in the house. Leaving the back door open or installing a dog door will make the whole process effortless, since the puppy will take himself out when nature calls.
The reality is that your puppy learns very quickly that you are prone to become angry when you see urine or feces. So he considerately “holds it” until you’re out of sight, or looking the other way. Going outside is an option, but creeping into the back room or behind the couch also produces the same outcome. So why not?
Be mindful of your part in this teaching process. Giving your puppy free range of the house is a sure fire way to prolong the potty training process. It is also not realistic to expect that your puppy will take him or herself outside through a dog door or open door to the yard. Be present. Keep a potty schedule. Reinforce your puppy within 1-2 seconds of going potty in the appropriate area. It’s a great idea to use a harness and leash when taking your puppy out into the yard, even if you have a fenced in yard. This will help your puppy learn to go potty on leash, and is especially useful if you ever plan to travel with your dog.
Your cute puppy runs up to you when you arrive home, and jumps up to lick your face. You melt. You coo and pet the puppy. The more excited the puppy is, the better it feels, so you rev the puppy. When friends and family visit you are warmed by his display of friendliness and proudly stand back watching how free and wild he is when expressing his love. He does the same thing with people he meets on walks, and you can’t imagine how this could ever be a problem. The expectation is that the puppy will grow out of this type of “puppy behavior” …. so you might as well soak it in while you can.
The reality is that puppies get better and better at every behavior they practice. This is how habits develop. By the time your puppy is a year old you will have an adult dog that goes wild when anyone walks into the house. This will be most problematic in the summer when people are more likely to be dressed in shorts. Long red welts will appear on legs, scratches from the nails of a dog that was very effectively “trained” to demonstrate his love and affection in this manner from a very early age. What do we do? First off, guests and strangers at the park are potentially part of the problem. People love to get puppies excited. They encourage puppies to jump, and provide strong reinforcement for the jumping. They don’t have to deal with the long-term consequences. This means that you have to get creative.
Anticipate greetings. Carry food with you on walks and let people know that your puppy is “in training.” Show them some of your puppy’s training. This will encourage people to give your pup some space, it will also teach your puppy to offer calm behavior whenever you walk up to a person (instead of running up and jumping). The same approach can be applied to guests walking into your home. When people do want say hello, ask them to sit on the ground so that the puppy can interact with them while keeping all four paws on the ground.
06: The “Non-Barker”
People bring home a 2 month old puppy, and after a few weeks they confidently declare to their family and friends that their puppy might be a little naughty but “at leash she doesn’t bark!” There is a tremendous amount of relief associated with this, because they know how difficult it can be to live with a very vocal dog. They expect that the behavior that they see now is constant.
The reality is that most dogs only find their “voice” in their adolescence or in early adulthood. There is no correlation between the time at which your dog begins barking, and the frequency or intensity with which they will bark as an adult. In fact, some of the most vocal dogs I’ve met were extremely quiet puppies. Excessive barking is usually a coping strategy. Spend time learning to recognize signs that your puppy might be overwhelmed or over-aroused by certain events or situations. Help your puppy navigate these situations by giving them space, or doing training that promotes calm, confident behavior in a variety of different situations.
07: Backyard Dogs
Many people decide to get a dog because they have a great backyard. A lot of times they put in a dog door so that the dog has a choice. Or they keep the inside off-limits altogether at certain times during the day. The expectation is that the puppy will be more content outside with more stimulation, and less likely to get into trouble.
The reality is that a puppy or adult dog that is unsupervised outside (whether it’s their choice or not) is likely to get into a whole host of problems. They frequently dig up the garden, or with passing time, become hyper-territorial around the fence-line. They are also more likely to vocalize from boredom, or scratch at the back door from frustration. The anxiety and frustration resulting from this type of isolation can manifest into other more serious behavioral issues over time. In fact, many backyard dogs will develop aggressive tendencies as adults.
Get your puppy out of the house at least 2-3 times each week. Take them to quiet parks, or on nature trails where they can take in lots of different sights, sounds and smells. Avoid the temptation to go to the extreme, which would be day cares, dog parks, farmer’s markets. While there is nothing wrong with doing this type of thing every once in a while, these environments can be over-whelming. Natural settings will do a better job of providing a healthy level and form of enrichment.