A Dog’s Eye View: Puppy Diaries: Some assembly required
August 23, 2012
I am overwhelmed and humbled. Fifteen years ago I had a puppy, Zoey, and she was an owner's dream. Quiet, calm, gentle and eager to learn. No excessive whining or barking. Crate training was a breeze. Our household was left unscathed. Now I have Willa, a typical puppy who spends her days investigating what is available to taste and/or chew, vocalizing her displeasure when left alone and generally living as if she can't stay still for more than a blink of an eye. I have inherited my very own mini whirling dervish.
Willa didn't enter our family, she exploded into it, much like those party favors that open with a bang, spewing items every which way. She pushed us all — Zoey included — to the brink of exhaustion. Coming to us with a bladder infection, she needed to go out every five — yes, five! — minutes. Our preconceived potty training schedule went up in smoke. Forget the normal parameters of how often young pups need to eliminate, we had to set our own internal timers and almost anticipate her needs before she did or suffer the "accident" cleanup duties.
Her mouth was an active chewing missile, constantly seeking things to orally test. We nicknamed her "Jaws." Anything was fair game — hands, shoelaces, edges of wooden tables, Zoey's toes — so we began to teach her which things were off limits (favorite hiking boots) by taking them away and replacing them with alternative, acceptable things to chew (a stuffed Kong). Teaching her about bite inhibition — something that's crucial for young pups to learn — also was at the top of her educational syllabus. By loudly voicing "ouch" when she chomped down with those needle-sharp baby teeth, we sought to help her understand that humans ought not to be chewed upon. If our cries failed to deter her, we moved away, taking our time and attention with us. Willa received many of her meals by hand so I could continue working on the hard mouth issue. This also served to strengthen the bond and respect between Willa and me. I was her sole food supplier; what a fabulous and important person I became in her eyes.
Zoey also helped with Willa's bite inhibition, schooling by doing the "Mmm" growl when Willa's play biting got too rough. But because Zoey is almost 15 and doesn't get up as easily as she once did, we were vigilant in supervising any interaction between the two, intervening when necessary. The beautiful thing about the teaching process between Zoey and Willa is that although Zoey seems upset and irritated at times, she inevitably returns to be near Willa, lying down next to her as Willa plays with some toy.
We're still coping with her bladder infection, but the potty training is going well. The hard mouth … well, let's just say it's a process and we're still in the early, not-quite-there-yet stages. But watching a puppy experience the world at full tilt — even their breathing is more a rapid-fire panting than a slow, mellow intake of breath — is an unforgettable, irreplaceable joy.
Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.