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  • Lisa Mullinax, CDBC


"If you raise dogs from a puppy, they won't have behavior problems." I rate this one a MEGA MONSTER MYTH. Where do dogs with behavior problems come from? They each started as puppies. And someone thought it would be easy to raise that puppy. Contrary to conventional wisdom, raising a puppy is not a beginner's task. The first month home (if adopted at 8 weeks) happens during the most sensitive period of development, when socialization - safe and gentle exposure to novel environments, people, and animals - is critical. The one thing that almost every case of reactivity and aggression have in common is a lack of *good* socialization. Now, during that time, you're also working on housetraining. That article on the internet said to take the puppy out every hour and give them a biscuit when they potty outside. Sounds super easy, right? HAHAHAHAHA It's just never that simple. As with any sort of training, you need to be prepared to adjust to the needs of the individual puppy and there are many variables that can make housetraining challenging - especially if your puppy came from a pet store or an online seller. Okay, socialization and housetraining. Doesn't sound too bad. You think you can work that into your schedule for the next month or so. But wait! There's more! Next comes the biting. Everything. By biting, I'm not talking about aggression. I'm talking about the fact that puppies use those mouths for everything. When they want you to play: BITE When they are teething: BITE When they are exploring: BITE When they are cuddling: BITE Pretty much the only time puppies aren't TINY TOOTH TORNADOES is when they are sleeping. Again, conventional wisdom says to tell the puppy "NO BITE." Ah, if only I had a dollar for the number of times I've seen puppies bite the finger pointed at them while their owners chanted this, I'd be typing this from my beach house. Puppy biting/mouthing is inevitable. But it doesn't last forever. Only the first 6-8 months...maybe longer if you or the kids inadvertently reinforce it. Then there's the chewing. Think those cute little dents left by puppy teeth are the extent of it? I'm going to need you to sit down. At around 5-6 months, your puppy is going to go through a second teething phase. The kind that destroys your great-grandmother's dining table and one shoe from every pair you own. This lasts about a year. Sure, you can try using Bitter Apple and other things stores are all too willing to sell you. But nothing stops the chewing except for the end of teething. You're just going to have to dog-proof the house and wait it out. Yes, providing them with appropriate chews will help, but it won't stop the dog's need to chew. Okay, so, we've got socialization, housetraining, mouthing/biting, and chewing. Anything else? Well, yeah. You still need to teach your puppy to come when called, sit, lie down, stay, walk on leash without pulling, accept handling for grooming/vet care, plus basic manners like greeting people without jumping or grabbing their grocery bags and running around the neighborhood in a wild frenzy. Also, genetics play a significant role in behavior. So, you could do all of this and still end up with a dog that exhibits fear, reactivity, or aggression, which means you'll need to eventually learn how to manage and modify behavior, anyway, on top of everything else. Sometimes people get lucky. Sometimes the dog catches on to even the clumsiest training attempts pretty quickly. Sometimes, the dog has such a solid temperament that they can take just about anything and never show signs of fear or aggression. But when you are taking on a 15 year commitment, you don't want to leave it to luck. If you feel discouraged after reading this, that's okay! It just means that a puppy might not be right for you and your lifestyle. There are so many wonderful adult dogs at your local animal shelter who are already done with the chewing and other puppy stuff. And while ALL dogs need a little help with house training in a new home, adult dogs usually catch on much faster! Skipping over an adult shelter dog in favor of a puppy does not mean life will be easier. Behavior problems do not discriminate by breed, age, or origin. Yes, there are dogs in shelters that exhibit separation anxiety, reactivity, fear, and (hopefully rarely) aggression in their new homes. But, I have worked with just as many purebred dogs purchased from a "reputable" breeder that had those same issues. Choose wisely, no matter where the dog comes from. Here's something that's not a myth. Puppies are CUTE. It's easy to fall in love based on looks. But if you really, truly love that puppy, you will learn how to raise them to be a happy, well-behaved family companion before problems start. So, you've read all this and you still want to get that puppy? Great! I'm not saying puppies don't have their benefits. I mean, they are REALLY CUTE! I just want you to be prepared for what it really means. I recommend these books to get you started: Puppy Start Right Social, Civil, and Savvy BUTS "BUT WHAT DO I DO ABOUT THE HOUSETRAINING/BITING/CHEWING?" If you have a puppy and are struggling with these things now, I'm going to be blunt: Puppy raising can not be made up of quick tips. Buy one or both of the books linked above and learn how to communicate with, manage, and train your puppy as a whole, not in pieces as problems occur. Trust me, you and your puppy will be much happier for it! "BUT I DIDN'T DO THOSE THINGS AND MY PUPPY TURNED OUT GREAT AND LOVES EVERYONE." That's fantastic! You won the Puppy Lottery! But don't take that as evidence that you have magical puppy raising skills. Because the next puppy probably won't be so easy. Even if you get the same breed, lineage, etc. You don't have to take my word for it. Ask any parent with two or more children. Puppies are individuals and "what worked" for one may not work for others. I've worked with clients who found puppy raising very easy when they were a young couple without children, but really struggled when they tried to raise the next puppy with toddlers in the house. Puppy raising comes with so many variables that it requires a better understanding of training/behavior than most people are prepared for. Sometimes we get lucky. But when we don't, the dog is the one who pays. "BUT DOGS END UP IN SHELTERS FOR LOTS OF REASONS!" Yes, they do. But whether it is because people allowed their dog to get pregnant, the dog got loose, or the owner died, it all comes down to not being prepared for the lifelong commitment of raising a dog. It is more than just puppy breath and love.


General Puppy Care

Socialization and Puppy Training

Adolescent Puppy (5-18 months)

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