Honest Thoughts About Life With A Puppy
We adopted Whisper when she was 15 weeks old. As the puppy of the family, she naturally got away with a lot, but as my husband’s favorite, she got away with nearly everything! Yes, this can happen in the home of a dog trainer – no one is immune to the wide eyes of a cute puppy. It was all fun and games while she was young, but as she grew up, her antics were no longer funny. Whisper knew basic dog training commands, but only responded about 50% of the time. The worst was her recall – she would look right at you as if to say “no thanks!” and then continue about her business. Whisper was also prone to out-of-control, hyper energy. We all know a dog like this: the dog we dread approaching because we know we’re about to get mauled by a sensation of head butts, paw punches, licks and possibly a few light nips. This behavior was clearly unacceptable, and it was time to take action.
It’s never too late to teach obedience and manners, and Whisper’s case was no exception. As a dog trainer, my first step forward was to take a step back to assess the situation from a better angle – no bias, no judgment, no fluff. It became clear that the problem wasn’t just about Whisper, it was also about her owners – us! Whisper only behaves this way because she’s given the opportunity. Many people believe a puppy should be “free to be a puppy” and not be burdened with training. My husband falls into this category. (I’m not entirely innocent here. Even though I know the importance of puppy training, I fall into the category of the spouse who uses the other as an excuse to continue putting it off!) He worried that too much training would squash her personality – as if a strong personality like Whisper’s could ever be altered! I realized that in order to shape Whisper into a well-behaved member of the family, I first have to get my husband on board. In a nutshell, here’s what I told him:
- It’s only going to get worse as Whisper gets older. Behavior issues – especially when paired with a strong canine personality – don’t usually resolve spontaneously. We’re not the lucky type, so I don’t think we can count on that. Best to resolve an issue as quickly as possible. Better yet, it’s best to prevent behavior issues before they even start. How do you do that? Start training as soon as possible!
- Reliable obedience is about safety. It’s important to recognize that reliable (keyword) obedience can save your dog’s life. If dear Whisper is running toward traffic, toward an unfriendly dog, or even toward something less dramatic, like a person who doesn’t like dogs, we need a way to stop her. That’s what obedience is all about. Classes that teach sit, stay, down, come, etc. are helpful, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Obedience doesn’t mean much if it isn’t reliable among even the most challenging distractions.
- A well-behaved dog can go anywhere. Whisper is as warm and friendly as a dog can be, so naturally, our goal for Whisper was to take her any and every where. This is a great goal, but it’s not going to happen unless Whisper is well behaved. A dog who jumps all over people can’t come to a family party. A dog who, at the sight of a new person, wiggles so forcefully that she takes out everything within a one-foot radius cannot sit outside Starbucks with you. A dog who readily takes off after squirrels cannot enjoy an off-leash hike with you. I think I made my point: if you want to spend more time with your dog (and I hope you do), you’d be wise to train her. It makes life better for the both of you.
With my husband on board, we were now able to get down to business, but that didn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. As with every client, there were certain things that required compromise. One such compromise was about playtime. My husband loves to get Whisper riled up so that she runs around like a maniac, and he didn’t want her to miss out on that. This type of play encourages the out-of-control, hyper energy that was causing all the problems in other situations. We certainly didn’t want her to practice this behavior, so I had to get a little creative. We ended up using a fun tool called the flirt pole. When used properly, the flirt pole is a great way to incorporate focus (a critical element of reliable obedience) into high-energy play. For Whisper, it was a way to run around, only this time she was running with purpose. The flirt pole turned out to be a fantastic hit; in fact, I’m not sure who enjoys it more!
Whisper has made amazing progress, but she’s not finished yet. She’s more than happy to focus on us, which makes her seem like a “natural.” Truth be told, she’s just like any dog. The ability is there, we just have to uncover it!
I would love the opportunity to help you uncover your dog’s ability to calm down and focus. Even if your dog is older, or you’ve tried working with a dog trainer before, it’s never too late. I can help! Take the first step and contact me today to schedule a no-obligation behavior consultation.