Some are fluffy. All are soft. They are full of poop, and need to pee every 30 minutes in the beginning. A puppy cannot be left alone for a split second, and are always getting into trouble. They are imperfect, they are constantly tumbling and zooming about, enthralled and curious about the most ordinary things. They are funny-looking and awkward; they are beautiful and perfect. Bouncy and full of energy, and with enough affection, enthusiasm and zeal to put a professional show choir to shame:
You, my friend, have made the damning, holy, life-changing, and indescribably joyous decision to bring a puppy into your home and into your lives.
Here are a list of cute puppy behaviors that currently make you giggle and swoon:
a.) Playfully attacking your hands like they are small prey at every chance, making each attempt to pet your puppy like repeatedly slapping a spinning, razor sharp cheese grater.
b.) Jumping up on you to give puppy “kisses” and be as close to your face as possible…and double paw-punching you right in the groin every time.
c.) Pouncing on, humping, grabbing the neck skin of, and pinning other goofy, unassuming puppies during play.
d.) Freaking out at the vacuum cleaner or broom, making cleaning your apt./house a hilarious game of adorableness.
Now, here is a list of dog behaviors that are not so cute after dealing with them for several months:
a.) Playfully attacking your hands like they are small prey at every chance, making each attempt to pet your grown dog like repeatedly slapping a spinning, razor sharp cheese grater…with jaw strength, and no bite inhibition.
b.) Jumping up on you to give “kisses” and be as close to your face as possible…and double paw-punching you right in the groin every time, now that they are HUGE.
c.) Pouncing on, grabbing the neck skin of, humping, and pinning other unassuming dogs during play. Other dogs flip out when your dog does this, and a horrendous fight ensues; they do not understand or appreciate your dog’s bad social skills. Congratulations- you’re dog is now deemed aggressive and you cannot safely socialize them or go on hikes safely anymore.
d.) Freaking out at the vacuum cleaner or broom, making cleaning your apt./house an absolute impossible nightmare.
See what I did there? Notice the subtle point I am attempting to drive home? When puppies are small and, well, puppies, they get away with so much more. We, as silly emotional humans, forget to raise them not like what they are, but what they are to become: an additional ten - sixty pounds, sexually mature, with societal expectations and adult dog social skills expected of them. Unchecked and unaddressed, you now have a dog that is:
a.) Not welcome at family/friend gatherings, and who will spend a lot more time alone, frustrated, and isolated.
b.) Getting into fights with other dogs. If you have a bully breed especially, this is doing a disservice to everyone due to the extensive damage they can cause with their strength and tenacity. Not to mention the additional bad press you’re now creating for this already media-defamed and misunderstood doggy demographic. You are doing extra badly by them in failing to properly socialize, interrupt and correct nasty behavior at first sight, and set these dogs up to succeed, based on each one’s level of tolerance and individual abilities.
c. A nuisance around the house, with a prey/chase drive that has not been channelled into constructive activities (tug, scent work, fetch, agility, find it games, etc).
Things that are funny and adorable in the moment (puppy biting your feet when you walk or run around the house, barking at the broom/vacuum, etc), might not be so cute when you realize they might be around way down the line. One way to decide if a behavior is ok, is to imagine how cute and funny will it be if they were to do it …forever?
We tend to forget that every single moment, your dog is learning. Not just when we are having a “training session” with them. They will offer more of whatever we actively or passively reinforce. They are learning barking inappropriately is ok. That being a bully to other dogs when they play is something that gets a laugh out of their humans. So can you imagine the confusion, stress, and problems that arise when suddenly we decide this behavior is no longer cute? Answer: a ton. An aversive is usually needed in addition to teaching an incompatible behavior once a certain response has been patterned in your dog. Using any kind of punishment (which does not have to be physical, mind you, just something the dog finds unpleasant, aka, an aversive), is most ethical and effective when used every time the undesirable behavior presents itself. The dog must know when to expect it, how to avoid it, and ideally, it needs to happen (or at least be verbally marked) the moment it occurs for the dog to clearly understand. Imagine as a child if you were allowed to color on the walls for several months, and your parents came home and told you what a good kid you were every time, ooooing and aaahhhing over your cute little scribbles. Then one day, with no explanation, they came home to you coloring, and dragged you upstairs to your room, while verbally chastising you? That’d be pretty upsetting, right? You would probably feel betrayed, and like you couldn’t trust them to be honest about their expectations. You may be scared to try, not knowing what is or what is not, a mistake. Well, that is how your puppy feels when we decide on a whim that suddenly flipping out barking and jumping when guests comes over is no longer ok. This is a great way to build resentment and frustration in your dog, significantly diminishing the quality of your relationship.
Take home point: treat your dog with respect be always keeping in mind what they are going to become (a grown dog). Teach them clearly how to be a part of our world- there is no greater reward than inclusion for most dogs. Show them from day one how to behave in social settings, how to be quiet, when it’s ok to be silly and hyper, and how to self pacify. Be consistent with what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable behavior. This will save you, your dog, and your family a lifetime of confusion, disappointment, and frustration.
Give yourself (and the world) a puppy that we are thrilled to have around once they become a dog.