How can anyone not love puppies, with their milk-breath innocence, soft, baby-sweet expressions and clumsy explorations of a world completely new to them?
Rare is the puppy adopter who enters into the relationship with anything less than good intentions for a lifelong commitment to the new four-legged family member. Why, then, do so many adolescent dogs end up in animals shelters, abandoned by families no longer enamored of their furry teenagers?
Often, it's because no one ever taught the puppy polite house manners. Successful puppy-raising requires a judicious mix of training, management and love. Too many puppy owners are long on love but short on the first two critical elements.
When your pup grows up and is still jumping on visitors, playing keep-away with your $125 dollar running shoes, and darting out the door and up the street when you're frantically trying to get to work on time, the love starts to sour!
Such a shame, because management and training are easier than you might imagine. A puppy is a blank slate whose mission in life is to make good stuff happen. Sparky's goal is to figure out how the world works – what he needs to do to make the most amount of good stuff happen as often as possible.
His list of good stuff centers on physical and mental comfort and safety: food, water, play and social contact; warmth when he's cold; coolness when he's hot; soft surfaces to lie on; satisfying objects to chew on; and protection from the elements, loud noises and other scary stimuli.
If you manage your pup's world so that desirable behaviors make good stuff happen, while inappropriate behaviors make good stuff go away, you'll end up with a well-behaved grown-up dog who never has to fear ending up at a shelter. In order for that to work, you have to control the good stuff.
The Right Management Tools
It's infinitely easier to raise a polite puppy if you use management tools such as crates, baby gates, tethers, doors and leashes. All living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them. If your pup is rewarded for impolite behaviors, those behaviors will increase. Behaviors that aren't reinforced go away.
The environment can be infinitely rewarding. Sparky barks at the cat, the cat runs away. Sparky chases. He's just been rewarded for chasing the cat (because cat-chasing is fun!), and he's more likely to chase the cat again the next time he sees it. You leave a roast beef sandwich on the coffee table for a moment while you answer the phone. Sparky learns he can find good stuff on tables, and you then have a counter-surfer in the making. You get the idea.
The biggest benefit of training a pup is that it's infinitely easier to prevent undesirable behaviors than to fix them. If you're skilled at managing Sparky's behavior by controlling good things so he gets them in return for doing things you like, polite manners are a cinch. It takes time, consistency – all family members have to agree to follow the rules – and a willingness to insist that the rest of the world follow the rules as well.
(Look for Part 2 next week)