Editorial April 2016 Issue

Puppy Training Pros and Cons

The appeal of the near-blank slate.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

Last month, I mentioned how concerned my son was when he heard I had made the decision to adopt one of the bully-breed-mix puppies I had been fostering. He’s accustomed to me pretending that I don’t like puppies (“Ew, a puppy! Gross! Who likes puppies? Ick!”) – a stupid joke meant to soften the hard fact that unprepared people always seem to be magnetically drawn to the puppies in the shelter where I volunteer, passing right over many more suitable, calm, house-trained, non-chewing adult dogs in the process.

I never worry that the puppies in my shelter won’t get adopted; despite the fact that people often share pictures of the puppies on Facebook (usually with a plea, “Share this album, save the puppies!”), the puppies are in no danger whatsoever. Puppies of all descriptions fly out of the shelter like iPads on sale. So while I do foster puppies that are surrendered to the shelter (or are brought in by animal control officers) at a too-tender age, or in poor health and in need of a few weeks of TLC, I don’t worry about them finding homes. They are often adopted the same day I bring them back to the shelter. What I do worry about is them coming back to the shelter a few days, weeks, or months later, when people realize how much work it is to raise and train a puppy. And I worry about them coming back with baggage – such as newly implanted fears of people, noises, and/or other dogs.

So many people adopt puppies without a clue as to their needs – it never fails to amaze me. People will literally walk out the door with their newly adopted puppy, stop, turn around, and ask, “Say, what should I feed him? How much?” I’ve seen more than one person clip a leash onto the collar they brought to the shelter for their new baby dog, and then look puzzled as the puppy (who has never before worn a collar or been pulled by a leash) bucks wildly in a panic. And they will start calling the front counter staff the next day to ask, “How do we stop him from biting our kids?” and “What should we do to keep him from chewing all of our shoes?”

Only rarely do the staff members get asked, “Can you recommend a good puppy trainer in this area?” It breaks my heart.

Because puppies fly off the shelter shelves, so to speak, whether through thoughtful adoptions or ill-advised ones, usually I focus my fostering efforts on adolescent and adult dogs. It’s much harder to find homes for dogs who have a little behavioral baggage, despite the fact that they may also be way past the problems that perplex and plague puppy owners – most notably chewing and housetraining. I deal with those issues and more: teaching the dogs not to eat (or even think about chasing) my cats or chickens; to wait at doors before trying to dart through them; how to get in and out of cars, and how to ride calmly and quietly, even if we are on the way to our favorite trailhead; to stay out of both the garden beds and my family’s beds (unless they have been specifically invited); and so on. Sometimes this process takes months, because these dogs have had an equal number or even more months to practice behaviors that make them less attractive to potential adopters.

But here’s the thing – and I’m sorry for taking so long to get to it: Oh my word, you guys! It’s so incredibly easy to train a puppy from the get-go, especially when you are equipped (baby gates, crates, puppy toys, superior food and treats, lightweight leashes and well-fitting harnesses, etc.) and you know what you are doing! I haven’t raised a puppy from such a tender age (I started fostering my new puppy’s litter when they were just about four weeks old) since I was 12 years old (and plumb ignorant) myself. Which is why, maybe, it’s such a revelation: Starting with a puppy this young can be – it is – an absolute dream.

Comments (6)

I am new here! I have a spunky baby French Bulldog,she is amazingly intelligent, stubborn being a bulldog, I have a couple issues I'm struggling with. Her tummy pretty much can't handle dog food. Her vet has her on a sensitive stomach prescription brand. She still has problems,mainly mushy stool I can't pick up.
I'm wanting to follow the homemade route with her. Are there special tips for a puppy? She is 6 months.
The other issue is her pulling on walks, she is doing well except when she sees a person or dog. Which is every 10 feet! She is on a harness,the vet said she shouldn't be on a collar. Again she is stubborn, so cute but a tough cookie. She will sometimes just sit and not move while she people watches.

Posted by: Violets Mom | December 2, 2016 11:11 AM    Report this comment

My dog Castiel has been having a hard time on emotional problems when left alone in his large kennel outside. Can someone help?

Posted by: WinchesterHounds | November 15, 2016 11:46 AM    Report this comment

This is just a little off subject. My 6mo. old ShiChon puppy does not like her Freedom Blue Buffalo food any more. This is the only food she gets since she was 10 wks old. She gobbles up the food of other dogs when visiting but not her own. Is she too young to only feed 1x/day ? She will eat at dinner time after play date but not morning . Help

Posted by: Aach | October 2, 2016 6:10 PM    Report this comment

I have a very hyper-active dog. Just turned 1 year old. The problem is I think she is extremely smart, "smarter than me". She learns things pretty easily. But the one serious problem I have with her is she gets so excited when people come to the house, she loves everyone and gets all over them. The reason it is such a problem is most of my friends are old like me 75 to 85 and although I am still pretty agile and not crippled up that is not the case with most of my visitors. I end up locking her in the bedroom. Thank goodness she is small about 5 pounds. I taught her to sit, stay, shake, etc. very quickly. But it all goes out the window when someone comes. She is also a digger which we are working on. I lose my patience with her when people visit and I know that's not the way to handle it. One thing which was stressed as extremely important was to teach her to come, immediately when you give the command which I found to be really true because of the street near my home. But its been a struggle to have her be consistent. I really concerned about these 2 things I can't seem to get right. I've raised Yorkies for years &? she is the most challenging and the smartest. Any ideas

Posted by: IZZY | September 10, 2016 10:49 PM    Report this comment

The key here is o owing what you are doing. Baby gates, crates, etc. are useless without knowing how to train.

Posted by: boomerst3 | July 11, 2016 5:21 PM    Report this comment

I love your statement about puppies that you finish with " it is - an absolute dream" I get sooooo many people questioning my wanting and waiting for my first pup since high school! I have read at least three books, breed specific, bought all the supplies from an outside kennel to the inside x-pen, toys, you name I have it including the tooth brush and nail clippers!! And by the way I have been doing research on local dog/owner trainers! We just lost the last of three of our "retired" greyhounds we are in our 60's and cannot wait for our puppy.
Keep up the good work I love this journal.

Posted by: SlyBrandy | April 21, 2016 3:50 PM    Report this comment

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