|Posted on August 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM|
When raising puppies, just like raising children, it’s important for the adults to agree on the principles of puppy rearing. My niece and her six month old baby,Gracie, recently came to visit. I was struck by the similarities of raising a puppy and raising a child. Both Lauren and I were on strict feeding and napping schedules with our little ones. We each worried about what they might put in their mouths and we fretted over taking them into public since they weren't fully immunized. We were reading and researching all the newest and best ideas on how to get our youngsters into adulthood healthy, happy and well-adjusted.
It's been12 years since my husband and I have had a puppy. Maybe because our son was much younger at the time Tucker arrived and I was so involved with Collins' life that I just didn't notice the similarities between raising a puppy and a child. Now without a child at home for Dave and I to discuss, guide and worry over, we are putting all of our focus on this13 pound ball of love and fur who wakes us up at 2 a.m. to go to the potty and demands endless amounts of our undivided attention.
Our son was born 21 years old, so Dave and I are not new to having an irresponsible, demanding, and often uncontrollable being in the house. Many of the commonsense rules to raising a toddler also apply to raising a puppy. You have to watch them every minute of the day to make sure they don't run into the street and get hit by a car, tumble down the stairs and crack their noggin, eat something toxic or swallow something and choke. It's a worrisome time for puppy parents. So, it helped us to prepare for Halle’s arrival by puppy-proofing our house first. We got out the baby gates and bought lots of puppy-safe chew toys. We read and re-read several puppy raising books and set up a "puppy safe zone" in our house that includes real sod for a potty area in case we're gone for more than a few hours, a small crate with a soft and comfortable pad, lots of chew toys and a spill-proof water bowl.
Much like raising our son, Halle's life daily life invokes endless discussions between my husband and I: What consistency was her poop? Did she bark when you left her in the crate? Did she eat all her lunch? Did she pee on the living room rug because you didn't let her outside enough or did she actually try to tell you she needed to go out and you weren't paying attention? Did she rip my pants with her razor-sharp teeth because she was being too playful and got a little out of control or does she have some deep seated "mommy" issues? ;-)
We've enrolled her in kinder puppy and we talk about her future sports career. We analyze every morsel of food she puts in her mouth (is it healthy, organic, minimally processed?) We talk about how she interacts with the other puppies in her class (is she a bully or a push over?) and we hope that we're socializing her enough before she gets her second round of puppy shots.
Like young children, puppies need to be taught what's acceptable behavior and what isn't. And then, they have to be reminded over and over again. Rewarding and praising her good behavior, ignoring her bad behavior (when it's safe to do so) and distracting her with a toy or game is working wonders for us. Most of the time, Halle seems to want to please us, but sometimes, she is clearly out of control and a cookie and a nap in her crate is what she needs most. As her puppy parents, we need to monitor her mood and know when she's ready for some downtime. There's a balance between playing, learning, and resting that's equally important for toddlers and puppies.
As a dog trainer (and a relatively rational human), I know that dogs and humans are not the same and we should not treat our dogs like they are little humans in fur coats. However, I know that basic learning theory works for all animals whether they are a dog or a human. Behavior that's rewarded is repeated (cleanup your room and you can watch television or sit politely and I will open up the door for you to go outside). Behavior that's punished will not be repeated (hit your little brother and you won't get dessert or jump up on grandma and she will leave the room). Time, consistency, patience and compassion works with raising children and training dogs. Puppy’s go from toddlers, to adolescents, to adults and just like with human children, we have to understand the developmental stages of a puppy’s first few years and adjust our expectations and our training accordingly.