It’s puppy season, and no sooner do the little round-bellied, bumbling bundles of cuteness appear on our shelter’s adoption floor than they are snapped up by starry-eyed new owners. Unfortunately, many of the adopters have no idea what they’ve signed on for.
When I took the training to be able to finalize adoptions I was told, “When you’re counseling people who want to adopt a puppy, it’s a good idea to go right up to the line of almost talking them out of it.”
Recently the shelter’s Adoption Supervisor made this plea: “The best feeling in the world is seeing one of our babies going to their ‘furever’ home! The worst feeling in the world is seeing them being returned.
“Our counselors work hard to tell you this is a huge commitment; you need to work with puppies; no, they can’t be outside for 5 hours, nor crated for 8 while you work; yes, they are going to pee and poop; yes, they are going to chew; yes, they are looking to YOU to help them learn.
“Please, please, adopt responsibly. Returning a puppy for being ‘a puppy’ is heart-sore to all of us.”
Even worse than seeing a puppy come back is having one of our former babies returned to the shelter as an unruly, unsocialized adolescent, having been banished to a chain in the backyard once he became too big to handle and no longer “adorable.” The chances of that dog’s being adopted again are not great.
I have often thought that we should have a handout at the shelter entitled something like, “So You Think You Want a Puppy.” It would lay out all the realities of infant-dog-rearing, such as:
- Your puppy will quickly stop being deep-down-squeezably-soft, and will nip and scratch. He will become stronger and harder to deal with, especially for young kids. He will have to be patiently and consistently taught manners.
- She will pee and poop in the house. These will be accidents for which she should never be punished, only quickly caught so that she can be redirected outside and lavishly praised and given treats when she potties [as we say in the shelter] where she should.
- He will chew as he teethes – and won’t discriminate between a Nylabone and the leg of your coffee table or your best shoe.
- She will whine and bark and need to be trained not to.
- He will pull on the leash, or grab it between his teeth and wrestle it.
- She will need to go out every two hours until she’s around four months old, and then, from about four months to a year, in the morning, once at midday, in the evening after supper, and again before bedtime, so if you work or are in school you’ll need a dog walker or a reliable neighbor.
- Yelling and hitting are not effective dog-training strategies. Neither is confining the young animal for long periods, or banishing him outdoors because you just can’t deal with him. Patient, daily work; constant supervision; love, praise and rewards are essential to turning an unruly pup into a well-socialized canine family member.
- A crate can be an invaluable training tool, teaching the pup to wait to relieve herself because her animal instinct will make her reluctant to soil her den. The crate should never be used for punishment, but should be a positive place, which you can reinforce by feeding the puppy inside with the door open. It can become a welcome refuge for the young animal from kids or other pets. It’s also a safe place to put the pup when you can’t actively watch her.
Which brings up the last point: A friend of mine in New York, who trained guide dogs, told me the advice that her organization would give to families who took puppies into their homes to prepare them for guide dog instruction: “When your puppy does something wrong, like peeing in the house or chewing a precious item, go get a newspaper. Roll it up tight into a good sturdy rod.
“Then hit yourself about the head and neck with it for not watching your puppy!”
Next: Why We Love Dogs, #1