Puppy Love: a training guide.

I have been a cat person for as long as I can remember.  My family always had at least one cat, often two.  We had a dog for a little while during my elementary school days: Buddy, a rough coated tri-color Collie.  He was wild, matted, and did not come inside.  My younger sister and I would run to our swingset, stand on the highest foothold we could find, and watch him run circles around our fortress.  He ended up getting out of the yard a few times and my mom would always bail him out of the local shelter.  The last time he got out, we never saw him again.

When I was nearing graduation at WSU, I decided I needed a puppy.  A family in a tiny Idaho farm town nearby had two purebred Golden Retriever mommies and needed to find homes for the mixed breed pups.  The older litter was 5-weeks old.  Half the pups of that litter were fathered by an Australian Shepherd and half were fathered by something black (the family said they knew of a large black lab in the neighborhood).  The majority of the litter had actually already been picked through, leaving only a couple black ones.  I chose the chubbiest male.  He had blue cock-eyes, was super sweet and extremely squirmy.  I named him Rosco, and the first day he napped in my arms all day.  The next day the dream was over and he turned into a real puppy… with all the pee-pee, poo-poo, curiosity, chewing, whining, running, jumping, kitty harrassment and overall cuteness included.  Then began the difficult task of training the little beast.

First and foremost, housetraining.  This is a MUST-DO for dogs who will be living in your house.  I used the crate-training technique, which is based on the fact that dogs don’t like to defecate in their dens.  The crate should be a peaceful and safe place, just like a den is – so don’t use it as a place for punishment.  I used a plastic crate that was large enough for my black “golden-lab” Rosco to grow into, but condensed the space by blocking part of it off while he was still small (this will reduce the chances of piddling in one corner and sleeping in another). I eased him into the crate by making it comfortable and giving him lots of treats when he went in on his own. I learned that puppies can only hold their bladder for so long, and the rule is 2 hours at 2 months of age, 3 hrs at 3 months, 4 hrs at 4 months.  If held any longer, they might just have to go in their crate, which would defeat the purpose.  Keeping your puppy on a feeding schedule will also help schedule his potty-breaks.  One helpful tool was feeding inside the crate, waiting 30 minutes, and then taking puppy immediately outside – if he doesn’t go then put him back in the crate and take him outside again in another 15 minutes or so.  Create a command so he’ll start to learn what you want him to do when you’re outside (I say “go potty”).  Take water away at night (but give it back in the morning!) and don’t feed a meal too close to bedtime if you want to make it through the night without taking him outside.  Always make babysteps with your puppy – and provide as much positive reinforcement as possible!  You can read up more on crate-training at the Humane Society’s website.

Another area to focus on is Vet Care.  Puppies need vaccinations as well as a spay/neuter to prevent the already huge problem with pet overpopulation.  Shelters are literally brimming with unwanted pets who will never have the opportunity to be the loving companion they are meant to be.  If you’re in the market for a new non-human family member, check your local shelter first!  Make sure to research breeds and be realistic with the time (and lifestyle) commitment of having a dog.

Obedience classes will also help – although these days you can find all the necessary training information online for free.  It does help to actually participate in a group setting with your puppy though – plus it’s great for socialization with other dogs and people.  Your pup (and you!) should understand that you are the master (or in the words of Cesar Millan, the “pack leader”) and your behavior towards your dog should reflect that.

Exercise is another important element, during training and throughout the life of your pup.  A bored dog will dig, chew, jump, run, and cause all sorts of mischief – a tired dog will be calm and a more welcome member of the family.  Plus, a dog can be your replacement for the gym, keep you feeling safer and push you to keep going – most of the time they’ll be dragging you along!

I look back on Rosco’s puppy-hood and wonder how he turned out to be such a good dog when I had no training experience whatsoever.  I just did my research and followed through, learning a lot along the way.  I feel so proud when my friends mention his good behavior or when a passerby smiles at him.  I often joke about when I have children, if I will feel as strongly about them as I do Rosco.  There’s just something special about the bond between a loyal dog and his owner… and I now know why they are called “Man’s Best Friend”.

I’ll end this post with a quote:

“Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot about little puppies.”
-Gene Hill

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