New Beginnings - A Dog Trainer Gets a Puppy
For the past month, I’ve been a dog trainer without a dog of my own. Last spring my 14-year old dog Cheyenne and my 11 year-old dog BJ were both diagnosed with cancer. I lost them both this fall within 6 weeks of each other. I don’t want to write about my grief in this forum, but I’m coming out the other side of that grief now. Tomorrow I start an exciting new chapter when I pick up my new – as yet unnamed – puppy.
This is an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve never raised a dog with any clue of what I was doing before. Cheyenne and BJ both came to me with serious behavior problems. Helping them overcome those problems led me to become a trainer. Cheyenne sparked my first serious interest in becoming a trainer, which led to an apprenticeship. BJ launched me into attending seminars with the people whose books I’d been reading when I couldn’t find local help with his problems. I formed my own business soon thereafter.
That was 11 years ago. Since then I’ve worked with thousands of dogs, taught over 150 puppy classes, read far more than I did in 4 years of graduate school in another field, and enjoyed hundreds of hours of seminars. I have not, however, had a new dog – let alone a puppy – in all that time. As you might imagine, I’m giddy with anticipation.
Hopefully I’m not just being self-indulgent, but I thought that it might be useful to blog about my puppy’s first 8 weeks in our home. Plenty of books list basic principles for raising a puppy, but I think that translating principles into action can sometimes be difficult. I’m hoping that a real life account of a trainer choosing a puppy and taking him through his critical socialization period might make it seem a bit more real. Hopefully, having a puppy in my home for the first time in a very long time will lead to some interesting insights that make me a better teacher to my human students. I know that I’ll have setbacks and make mistakes. Every puppy owner does, and I’ll do my best to honestly chronicle mine.
I’ll start with a quick rundown of choosing my puppy and preparing for his arrival. I’m giving this topic short shrift. What goes on before one gets a puppy deserves its own book. Fortunately, Ian Dunbar wrote that book and you can download it for free here at DSD. My puppy is a Catahoula Leopard Dog. He’ll be my fourth. My selection of this breed holds few lessons for the average pet owner beyond “don’t be like me.” Catahoulas are intense working dogs who need lots of socialization, huge amounts of exercise, and an owner dedicated to doing lots of training. They are not well suited to being an average family pet or even an average hobbyist’s dog. I would never even consider getting one if I worked a 9-5 job.
Fortunately, my lifestyle conforms well to the breed’s needs. I can take my puppy with me nearly everywhere. I live in a rural area near several large wooded areas where I can safely hike with a well-trained off-leash dog. I have a flexible workday with plenty of opportunities for exercise breaks. As he matures, I’ll even be able to involve my dog in much of my work.
Choosing a breeder for a working dog can be tricky. I’d be surprised if there’s a Catahoula breeder on the planet who meets Dr. Dunbar’s excellent criteria for choosing a breeder. Only a small minority of litters are raised indoors. Socialization isn’t a priority for many breeders. Most Catahoula breeders would laugh at the idea of chew toy training or real-life grass potty areas in whelping pens. They’re not breeding to produce house pets.
Fortunately, my puppy was raised in rare fashion. I contacted a breeder whose lines I know well. I’ve known many of her dogs and even had one as a training client. They have excellent health and incredible temperaments. My puppy comes from her lines, but was raised by a different breeder. That breeder loves raising puppies and has time to do it right. The pups are in his house and he spends an enormous amount of time with them: handling them, playing with them, making sure they meet children, etc. They do pee pretty much wherever they want in the whelping pen, which will complicate housetraining a bit, but I’m confident that we will easily overcome that issue.
I drove up to Canada to meet the pups two weeks ago. I’ve met several litters of catahoulas, but I’ve never seen a litter where every single dog was so people-oriented. All the puppies reacted to the arrival of any person or dog with joy and curiosity. Every single puppy happily accepted a wide variety of handling and restraint. (I made sure to evaluate them all, not just the ones I might buy.) Both parents are very friendly stable dogs. So are the other offspring of their mother whom I met. In a breed where suspicion of strangers is mentioned in the breed standard, it was important to make sure that these lines produced stable friendly dogs, and I’m confident that they do.
Once I made my choice, all that was left was to prepare for my puppy. I plan on bringing him to all 3 of our puppy classes each week and have also enrolled him in two other trainers’ puppy classes. We already have an x-pen and picked up a puppy-sized crate today. I’ve spent this evening puppy-proofing the house and making sure that there are baskets of fun acceptable chew toys everywhere. We have all the food, all the treats, and all the interactive toys we need. I’ve spoken to my vet about vaccinations.
All I need now is my puppy…and a name. I can’t wait for tomorrow!