A Puppy Under the Tree
It’s the season for parties, visits from friends and family- spontaneous and planned-, children of all ages, and gifts. It’s a time of year that brings the much joy, and along with it a desire to surprise the little ones with something special: something that for many families means a new dog or puppy.
This is a gift that, as a professional trainer for over 10 years, I strongly encourage to be planned so that the entire family understands the commitment that gift comes with. It’s important to go into this with eyes wide open. Have no doubt: the pup will not be for the kids. The pup will be the responsibility of the adults in the family, and she will depend on them for her care.
Oh, make no mistake: the kids will promise that they’ll care for her, feed her, walk her, clean up after her, play with her, and train her. It’s even possible that they may follow through with their promise. For, like, a week. After that they’ll move on to other things that don’t include pooper-scooper duty. Now, don’t get me wrong: the reason they’ll do this is because, well, they’re kids. They’re simply not mature enough for the responsibility, and truly won’t be until their very late teens (if you’re lucky). Would you like for them to learn about responsibility? The good news is that at this age, they can learn it- by watching you. By all means include them in the activities for caring for the dog, but keep in mind that they’ll be doing so in a “helper” capacity: the true responsibility will rest with the adults. The great thing is that when the children see their parents caring for a being that depends 100% on them, and doing so with love and joy, the kids will internalize this lesson and carry it with them.
A dog, be it a rescued adult or a puppy from a breeder, is a being that is conscious, has emotions and intelligence, and the ability to feel joy, sadness, fear, curiosity, and pain. She is a being that possesses cognitive abilities and will act according to her nature (read: like a dog).
Why am I even saying this? Because it’s important to keep this in mind from the moment she comes into your care. If this is your family’s first dog, it’s good to keep in mind that this fuzzball is a species different from ours. She may as well be from Mars. Or Venus. Or Saturn. You get the idea.
This pup will spend her time doing her best to adapt to the human world, your home, and your routines. This pup will make mistakes. Lots of them. From, ahem, irrigating the rug in the living room or the bedroom, to chewing furniture legs and/or corners, to eviscerating the kids’ stuffed animals. Throughout all of this remember: THIS IS NORMAL DOG BEHAVIOR. This is what comes naturally to them.
However, it doesn’t mean that you are destined to a life sentence of puppy mishaps. It does mean that the adults in the household will have to guide her so she can do what comes naturally in an appropriate manner. This is why it’s important to have a qualified trainer to help you through the process. (No, I’m not saying this so that you’ll hire me. You’re probably out of my service area, anyways. But you CAN visit www.positively.com/trainers to find someone in yours. Just a thought…)
A qualified trainer will understand the science of learning and of canine behavior, and will show you the best way to guide your furry charge. That trainer will also understand that the best and safest way to train a dog is through positive reinforcement. She or he will not have any reason whatsoever to resort to punishment in order to teach your dog. This is how you will be able to recognize a trainer who is up to date in this field’s science.
Remember that your life adventure with your new pup is a journey made up of many steps- both forward and backward. Whenever you interact with her, you will be training her, regardless of your being aware of it or not. Help her: she wants to please you. Reinforce her when she does what you like with things she finds rewarding. Even when she does the “right” thing by accident. When she makes mistakes (and she will), think about what you can change in her environment so that it will be unlikely that she’ll make that choice again; not unlike you would with a young child. Give her a number of appropriate alternatives (such as toys to chew up to her heart’s content), and set her up for success (like taking her out to potty every hour she’s awake when she first gets home, and as soon as she wakes up).
Finally, don’t forget to keep a sense of humor! Enjoy her: a puppy isn’t only good for the kids, but the family as a whole!
Lorena Patti is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer out of Orlando, FL. A Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, she is also a licensed presenter for Family Paws Parent Education and Doggone Safe’s “Be a Tree”. She provides training and behavior modification consultations in the southwest area of Orlando, is passionate about teaching children safety around dogs and bite prevention, and teaching parents how to keep both kids and canines safe. She just launched her Spanish-language blog on sharing our lives with dogs at http://naricesfrias.blog. She gets a kick out of people visiting her Positively Trainer website at http://Lorena.Patti.Positively.com, and her business website at http://www.WaggersDogWorks.com.
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