Outdated, Ancient Tactics Can Lead to Problems
~ by Diane Arrington
PetPerfect Academy 972/484-8882
So you've got a new puppy! Exciting, isn't it? You hold in your heart big love for this puppy and all that she can mean to your family in the future. She will love your kids. She may even entertain them and take the pressure off you. Each day you can't wait to get home from work to see your new puppy again. Isn't she perfect, with her adorable little plump puppy body and sweet puppy breath? Oh, the things you will teach her!
Soon you are changing puppy pads, getting up in the night to take puppy out for potty, buying beds and bowls and toys and all things puppy, cleaning up puppy accidents, picking up the yard, not taking naps and not sleeping at night, interrupted when you are on the phone or working, unable to sleep with puppy crying at night, repairing chewed door frames and furniture, and tending to puncture wounds in your fingers. Your kids and puppy are arguing over whose toys are whose. Puppy is biting the kids' fingers and chasing them through the house, biting at their ankles and even drawing blood.
Like most new puppy owners, the newness wears off in about three weeks. Suddenly it dawns on you that what you actually have is a new toddler in the house. For puppy, it's all about puppy. Every moment of every day, except when she's sleeping, she needs attention. You have a biting machine. You have an automatic pee and poop dispenser. You have a shredder of things you once cared about. You have knocked over trash and shredded paper everywhere. You can't count the number of times puppy has left puddles on your dry–clean–only rugs. The fringe on your oriental rugs is history. Toys are everywhere. Your house is a total wreck.
Now you start asking around for advice. You ask your vet, your relatives and your co-workers. Why isn't she housetrained yet? She bites so hard she draws blood. The kids can't even move without her biting their ankles and making them bleed.
“I know how to housetrain her‚" someone says. "Take her water away from her at 6 p.m., and when she pees on the rug, drag her over to it, push her face down to it, spank her bottom and yell 'NO POTTY!'”
Your mother says‚ "When she bites, just put your hand around her muzzle and squeeze down hard and yell "NO BITES!" Your Dad says, "Wrap her lip over her teeth and make her bite herself. She'll find out how much it hurts."
Your brother-in-law says, "Play lots and lots of wild Tug–of–War games. That‘ll get some of that energy out of her.” Your co-worker says, "Run around the yard with her like crazy to wear her out."
"What about crying in the crate at night?" you ask. "Keep her up all day and don’t let her sleep,"comes the self-assured answer. "She'll be so worn out by the time you put her to bed, she'll sleep like she’s dead."
Everybody's an expert.
Now you dutifully go about trying to remember and follow all the things everyone has told you. What a surprise it is when, about a week later, everything has only gotten worse. Puppy is biting harder and more viciously than ever and now she's even growling. You can't even pet her without her turning and doing everything she can to get to your hands, arms and fingers and bite down with all her puppy might. She's peeing in the house even more often than before, she won't listen, she won't come to you when you call her, and you can't get her to follow even one stupid rule.
If you could see seven months into the future, it would be dispiriting. By then, following everyone's old wives' tales and ancient, outdated advice (and possibly Cesar Milan's aggression-triggering advice) will have led you to the end of your rope.
When your sweet puppy -- the one you had such high hopes for -- is seven to nine months old, you will be considering "getting rid of The Problem." Maybe she has something wrong with her brain. Maybe she has a genetic defect or was poorly bred. In any case, she has just gotten too big and/or too unruly for you to handle. She won't obey, she won't cuddle, the kids are scared to death of her, she assaults everyone who comes through the front door, she's still soiling the house occasionally, and just the other day she ate your couch. Someone else will surely have better "luck" with her.
What you don’t know is that dogs who find themselves in this situation are generally re-homed two more times after you give up, and then are sadly and needlessly euthanized.
How do relatives, friends and co-workers get all their advice? The same way a young mother knows how to properly give a baby a bottle. Mother teaches her, friends teach her, co-workers assist with helpful advice. And if any one of the techniques you had been told had by chance worked for your puppy, you would then pass that advice on to your friend who just got a new puppy.
You never thought you would need professional advice just to raise a puppy, for goodness' sake. Raising a puppy is easy, right? You can handle it. Or, your vet did give you the name of a professional to help you, but you thought it would cost too much or you wouldn't have time. But the time to get that help is when the puppy is young, impressionable and manageable.
Let’s take a look at some of the puppy-raising wives’ tales that spread like gossip among humans.
Housetraining. It is surprising how many new puppy owners let their puppy run free in the house and then complain when puppy pees on the rug. Puppies need to be confined, not necessarily in a crate, but in a small area. They need to be supervised and monitored, just like children do. Having her outside each time she needs to potty helps her form a tactile orientation to grass. By no means should a puppy be subjected to having her nose rubbed in her mess and spanked for her mistakes. They are only mistakes, and you can consider it your mistake for letting her run wild in the house until she is trained. Attacking her will only teach her not to get caught and not to potty in your presence, even outside. Punishing her will teach her to soil her crate, and that you are mean and can hurt and frighten her. (Is this what you wanted for your new puppy?) Spanking may also cause her to develop submissive urination.
As to depriving a puppy of water, read this twice because it’s important. There is new information regarding dogs and water. Never, never, never, never deprive a puppy of water! This can lead not only to behavior problems such as excessive water drinking, but physiological problems as well. Quoting from Dr. Nicholas Dodman (Tufts Univ.), “The kidneys need water in order to excrete…waste products…When kidney function is not 100%, water deprivation can be rapidly fatal.”
Biting. Honestly, if one more vet tech tells one more puppy owner to grab puppy’s muzzle for biting, I’m gonna kill something. Biting is a necessary activity for a puppy to undertake. Watch puppies play together. They bite each other! This is how they learn bite control. Disregard those who say authoritatively, “A mother dog grabs her puppies by the muzzle. It’s the same thing.” No, it is not the same thing. Why? Because a mother dog never hurts her puppies. Human punishment of a puppy’s muzzle in any way will lead to more frequent biting, more serious and aggressive biting, destructive chewing, and will interfere with bonding.
When your puppy bites, all you need to do is break contact, ask the puppy to sit, and give her something acceptable to bite. Hurting her will only teach her that you are mean and are willing to hurt her for something that comes naturally to her. (Is this what you wanted for your new puppy?) Why do something you really don’t want to do to your puppy just because someone else tells you to? The reason your puppy got worse is because you are making her afraid – of you and of your hands. That’s why you can’t pet her. Hands have hurt her, now she tries to bite them away before they can hurt her again. Not only that, grabbing her muzzle makes her self-defensive, which is why she got aggressive.
Tug games. I’m pleased to report that of the new puppy clients I’ve had lately, over the past year, most of them have known not to play this game with puppies. Finally, a positive word is spreading.
Tug is the worst, most toxic game you can play with your puppy. Human-on-dog Tug develops excessive mouth behavior, teaches a puppy to clamp down instead of let go, and teaches puppy to compete with you over objects. Worst of all, Tug-of-War develops aggression in dogs.
Chasing games. Permitting the kids to run around the yard with the puppy chasing them is what taught your puppy that the kids’ ankles are prey to be caught and killed, soon as you get big enough anyway. You already know that your puppy is descended from the wolf, a predatory animal that chases down its prey.
On the other hand, permitting the kids to chase the puppy teaches her to run from you instead of come to you. The game becomes Catch Me If You Can. This is why your puppy won’t come to you when you call her.
Sleep requirement. A puppy needs about 18 hours of sleep a day. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a puppy who actually gets this many hours, but the more sleep your puppy gets, the calmer she will be.
Bonding. The reason your puppy won’t cuddle with you is because you never encouraged her to bond with you. You were always so focused on teaching her what not to do, you forgot to teach her what to do. Now she won’t listen to you because you never established yourself as her leader and mentor.
It’s time to start spreading some positive wives’ tales. If you only pass one thing on to your friends who have new puppies, pass this on. Never be the cause of your puppy being hurt, frightened or forced, and she will turn out just fine.
Abandon your focus on stopping a puppy from doing things. Permit natural behaviors to occur, but help your puppy pass through these normal developmental phases in an appropriate way. Being focused on punishing every tiny little activity your puppy undertakes is what teaches her that all she ever gets from you is disapproval. Teach your puppy some ways she can get approval from you.
There are so many fun, harmless and even positive learning games you can play with your puppy. Puppies are learning machines. They want you to teach them new things! Focus on teaching positive things like go find the kids (hide and seek), fetch the toy, drop the toy, sit, down, come when called, wait and leave it.
Be nice. Be gentle. Be loving and understanding. Puppy-raising isn’t easy for either of you.
Diane Arrington is Founder/Director of PetPerfect Academy in Dallas and the author of three books. She has been in practice full time since 1990 and specializes in Puppy Development. She can be reached at 972/484-8882 or through her website at www.petperfect.com. Visit PetPerfect Academy on Facebook.
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©PetPerfect Enterprises, 2006