How I Screwed Up My First Puppy

Meet Friday, my nine-year-old shepherd mix. I adopted her when she was eight weeks old. She was my very first dog. In hindsight, I realize I should have gotten an older dog, but my family's thinking was that with a puppy, we could shape her behavior into whatever we wanted. Ha! What they don't tell you is that it's hard to shape a puppy's behavior when you don't really know what you're doing.


Hi. I'm new at Dog Star Daily, and I am honored to be here. For my first post, I figured I'd introduce you to The Dog That Started It All – and how I sort of failed at raising her.


For your amusement, and to help new puppy owners learn from my mistakes, here are just a few of the ways in which I screwed up my poor dog's childhood:



1. Taking her obnoxious puppy behavior personally – I thought I'd ended up with the worst puppy in the world! Friday would bite, tear at clothes, and chew on EVERYTHING. She whined all night long. She never listened, and had an attention span of about three seconds. She peed on my bed.


In other words, she was a completely normal puppy. But I didn't know that then.

My dreams of raising a perfect puppy were smashed up against the rocky shore of reality, and I was seriously bummed.


If I could do it over again... instead of getting all frustrated and dejected, I'd keep in mind that puppies will be puppies. I'd remember to breathe, and calmly work on teaching better bite inhibition. I'd manage her better to keep her from getting into trouble when no one could supervise.


2. Expecting too much too soon – I taught Friday basic obedience commands. She would sit and lie down on command! She came when called! I was so proud.


Then I took her out of the backyard.


When we went to the park, I expected her to respond as flawlessly as she did at home. When she acted like she had no clue what I was asking her to do, I decided this three-month-old puppy was stubborn. Instead of placing the blame where it belonged -on the owner who failed to proof those commands- I just yanked harder on her choke chain.


If I could do it over again... I'd keep training sessions much shorter. I'd take baby steps, training with low-level distractions and gradually working up to big distractions, like the park (asking a puppy to obey obedience commands at a busy park is like asking a sugar-loaded child to do multiplication problems in Disneyland).


3. Not socializing her enough with other dogs - What I DID get right was socializing her with people. She met all kinds of people when she was a pup. She was a hit with all the kids in the neighborhood, who would play with her and feed her treats every day. So Friday is great with people, and has never met anyone she didn't like.


However, she had very little access to her own species in her impressionable first months. When she was around 6-8 months old, I started taking her to dog parks to “socialize” her. Most of the dogs she met were quite rude by canine standards. Friday never learned the finer details of canine communication. She became fearful and reactive around dogs, which took years to fix. And she never quite mastered the art of the play bow - her preferred method of inviting dogs to play is to bark in their face and punch them in the head.


If I could do it over again... I'd enroll Friday in a puppy class, so she could play with “kids” her own age. I'd arrange play dates with well-behaved adult dogs who could teach her the nuances of dog-speak and to respect her elders.


Friday turned out to be a lovely dog, despite my initial cluelessness. She's helped me along my journey from newbie dog owner to dog trainer. At nearly ten years old, she's overcome most of the issues that resulted from her messed-up puppyhood. And she now has a young border collie brother she can punch in the head all she wants. He thinks this is an awesome game, so it's all good.


If you're a new puppy parent (or are planning to be one), you're at the start of an adventure that will be more challenging, more humbling, and more rewarding than you know. My advice to you is this:


-Do your research. Read a lot. Take classes. Be as prepared as possible so you can avoid as many rookie mistakes as possible.


-Realize that you WILL make mistakes. You can't avoid 'em all. It's okay. A lot of dog ownership is about learning as you go. So don't be too hard on yourself, breathe, and have fun.


What about you? Any embarrassing puppy raising stories to tell? What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning?


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