Are you SURE you are ready?
Raising a puppy takes time… lots of time. It will be your second job for many months. You can count on an intensive time suck for at least 6 months and probably more. Even when the puppy is home and happy, you will have to keep a watchful eye on her at all times. Everything you try to do will be interrupted. Hyper vigilance is necessary but exhausting, even with a well-behaved puppy.
Excerpt from “The Misunderstanding of Time” by Nancy Tanner. “You cannot rush your skills, or your dog’s understanding of your skills. …learn how to settle in, learn that nothing will happen overnight. Learn that if you try to take shortcuts and try to make it all happen to fit your schedule, or your desires, or your needs, it will come back to bite you in the ass, figuratively or literally.”
When we think of puppies, our warm, fuzzy feelings overcome us. We imagine joyful play, sweet cuddles, and innocence: oh, such quiet innocence! “A clean slate” awaits us when we get a puppy, and that adorable little fluff ball will surely learn the ways of the family quickly and fit in like a fish in water. The puppy will certainly want to please his new humans. What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?
The truth is that the reality of puppy ownership is far removed from the idyllic portrayal about which we fantasize.
The biggest challenge we humans seem to have is overcoming the sense that dogs should behave in a certain way simply because they are dogs and we are humans. We rule the universe, after all, so a young, little creature entering our home should automatically know the difference between "right” and “wrong.” When we embrace this mentality, we are putting all the responsibility on the puppy for her behavior… and all the blame on her when something doesn’t go according to plan.
When we get a puppy, we are first and foremost promising that we will satisfy her needs, and then we help her learn the skills to thrive in our human family.
“The concept that a dog has an innate desire to please us is directly related to our desire to be demigods,” (author unknown).
A "Clean Slate"... or not?
A puppy is far from being a “clean slate” - each one comes with her own set of inherited traits, both physical and behavioral. The rule of thumb is 60% genetic/40% learned, though this is not a scientifically-based formula!
If a puppy’s needs are not met, watch out!
• Puppies are toddlers carrying knives… and they are also marathon runners. They can inflict a significant amount of pain and damage. A child who was gaga over the very young puppy you brought home may change her mind permanently when that same puppy hurts her repeatedly.
• Destructive behavior. It’s remarkable how much material damage can be accomplished by a young puppy if she’s given the opportunity. Be sure to invest in plenty of "furniture insurance" (plenty of things for the pup to use her teeth on)
• Aggression begets aggression. If a puppy’s family uses punishment-based strategies to “train” their puppy, that puppy can very easily learn to aggress, too.
• Crazy amounts of energy, just when you want to relax!
• Barking… oh, the barking! It will drive you absolutely bananas, especially when that little, innocent ball of fur decides to address the world in the middle of the night . Puppies can be so very, very loud...
• Dogs often grow into, rather than out of, their puppy behaviors if their humans aren’t savvy. This can result in a lifetime of undesirable behaviors, inside and outside the house.
• Hyper-vigilance: a puppy’s family needs to keep a watchful eye on the puppy every moment the puppy isn’t confined to a safe space. It really is hard to get anything done with a puppy around.
Don't get me wrong: puppies are AWESOME! With great effort, lots of time and skill, puppies can turn into the wondrous adult dogs we knew they could be.
For some in-depth tips and considerations when you are thinking of adding a new canine member, young or older, to your household, please read my “Puppy Comes Home Manual” on my website.
Photo: Winnie the Golden Retriever puppy shows off her shark mouth lined with sharp, pearly whites to her play partner Sage, the Lab mix at PupStart. Photo by Diana Logan