3 Things I Wish People Knew Before Getting a Puppy
Getting a puppy is something that I think many dog owners are familiar with as a concept, but less so in practice. Which of course is natural given that most people are not getting a puppy all that often.
There are a couple of things though that I wish more people knew before they got their puppy, and these are patterns that come up again and again as I consult owners with their young dogs. So it’s time I wrote about it for you all to learn a little bit from.
To be clear, I’m not for or against puppy ownership, nor do am I against rescuing or shopping for a pup. All of these choices are correct and there are many reasons to do one vs another. Neither is wrong despite what many organizations would want you to think!
Thing 1 - Breed Matters!!
Oh boy, I could write a novel about this one. Breed is much more than what a dog looks like and is a huge factor in how easy or difficult your puppy will be to fit into your life. Certain breeds are easier, more biddable, and have actually been bred for family life. Others quite literally have not been bred for those things and can struggle in family type environments. And this is all before we even start discussing energy requirements and breed appropriate tasks.
These past few years I’ve been getting a lot more calls about families struggling with their new puppy and when we dive into it together it turns out that their lifestyle is completely opposite of what the puppy would need to thrive. This is something that is overcome by lifestyle changes on the part of the owner, however, without permanent change, behavior problems in the dog are pretty much guaranteed.
In puppies we can often see traits that they were bred for showing up at a very young age. Pointing breeds will point, herding breeds develop “the eye” and stalking, and breeds who are vocal, well that shows up when they’re in the litter still too. Genetics are not something that should be discounted, swept aside, and ignored, because you’ve seen a cute puppy face.
I don’t blame owners for this at all. It’s truly not their fault, and overwhelmingly it is a knowledge issue. They just didn’t know that the pup would be the way they are and that it would be a square peg in a round hole situation. Getting a puppy can often be more of an impulsive buy and I think it’s common for new owners to have a fear of missing out if they don’t rush to buy THAT ONE puppy.
This pressure and lack of knowledge is part of the reason why we have so many dogs in the rescue system too. Bad matches between breed and lifestyle finally come to a breaking point and now the next part of the dog’s journey in life begins. We could keep so many dogs out of shelters if better matches were made! And when you’re getting a puppy that means deeper research into what exactly you’re looking for, looking past the cuteness.
Thing 2 - Freedom Comes Later
Without a doubt, this is a thing that I see people doing all the time that gets them into trouble with their puppies. Puppies are little sponges when they are young and are learning about everything so quickly that it only takes a few repetitions of a behavior for it to become a budding habit. This includes everything you DON’T want your puppy to do.
A good example of this is jumping. Many owners will let a small puppy jump all over them and the puppy learns that to get attention, the best way to ask for it is by jumping on the humans. The problem is that most humans don’t like or want and adult dog jumping on them! So there is a fundamental misunderstanding that the puppy is learning with the human’s help.
And then a few short months later the puppy is big enough that the humans don’t want to be jumped on, but whoops, it’s an ingrained habit now that you have to totally untrain. This is Much harder than simply not letting the puppy practice it in the first place and rewarding what you’d actually like the puppy to do instead (like sit nicely).
Another example is interactions with other pets or children. It only takes one or two interactions where the puppy is overexcited and unable to control themselves for that to be a default behavior that follows the pup into adulthood.
I could go on here, but I’ll spare you all the extra examples because they all are rooted in the same mistake. Too much freedom too soon and not enough structure!
Trainers do not let puppies have nearly as much freedom to make trouble as the average owner. We put structure in place from the start so the puppy can learn what is appropriate and practice the correct behaviors from the beginning. When the puppy demonstrates proficiency, the freedoms increase!
This is quite the opposite of how the average owner does it, where the puppy has freedom until a habit or mistake results in them losing that freedom. The problem with this is that it’s not going to the puppy any closer to learning what is right and is often very frustration inducing for everyone involved. This tactic is also a ton more work because it requires constant policing of the pup and that is not sustainable (say hello to puppy blues!).
Thing 3 - Proper Socialization
This is another topic that is a big one. Socialization is very misunderstood by most owners and it really puts puppies at a disadvantage. Remember how I said it only takes a few bad repetitions of something for a puppy to learn something? This is also true of social interactions. Things can go very wrong very fast and set you up for behavioral rehabilitation instead of getting on with your dog’s obedience training.
This lack of understanding about socialization turns into owners wanting to get their puppy to doggy daycare or to the dog park ASAP for some good old interactions with random unknown dogs, most of who don’t have good social skills, so guess what the puppy will learn! Reactivity and fear based aggression can be traced back to these things very clearly in many cases, although socialization is not the only factor.
Socialization is a big factor to consider when getting a puppy because it is so important. It takes time, and knowledge, and is not something that can be done forever. Socialization windows are not open permanently and once they’re shut the puppy’s potential is diminished. Avoiding it and putting it off, or plain not understanding the importance are the most common things I see with owners.
The puppies that were poorly socialized will often grow into dogs who have reactivity which is its own slew of problem behaviors and will evolve into a many faceted monster over time. The training process for reactivity is also one that is intensive and much more lengthy than simple obedience training is, which means that there will be more time spent trying to rehab than actually doing the things you wanted to do with your dog in the first place. Not fun.
The saddest part is that there is so much we can mitigate and prevent with puppies if only the training was started at the right time and with a comprehensive training program. Before getting a puppy training should be on your mind because nipping problem behaviors in the bud and preventing them is what it’s all about!