Lucy was a sweet, cuddly little 3 month old puppy. The Smith family couldn’t resist her alert, soulful brown eyes and lightning-fast puppy kisses, so they brought her home.
Lucy was a typical puppy, and that means mischievous. Every time they took their eyes off of her, she had somebody’s shoe, or had stolen a hot dog off the youngest child’s plate, or was contentedly munching on the living room rug. But who could look at that fuzzy puppy face and stay mad?
But Lucy began to grow. And as she grew, so did her bad habits. Soon she was chewing on walls, floors, and furniture. She tore up an entire CD collection in one hour. Her puppy nipping didn’t get any better, and now she was big enough to knock the children over when she played with them. She never broke the skin when she nipped them because she was only playing, but sometimes she’d nip hard enough to make them cry. And she also chased them through the house and grabbed at their clothing.
In desperation, the Smiths put Lucy out in the back yard. Occasionally Mr. Smith would go out and throw a ball for her, but the kids were becoming too afraid of her to play with her. Nobody dared to walk her, because she would lunge and pull on the leash so hard she could pull them off their feet.
Even banishment to the back yard didn’t stop Lucy from causing trouble. She began to dig up all Mrs. Smith’s flower beds, and barked incessantly at the other dogs in the neighborhood. One neighbor even left a nasty note on their door: “Keep your dog QUIET!”
And then she began to dig her way out of the fence. No matter what they did to fix it, she’d find a way out. And when they tried to call her, she’d turn and run the other way.
The Smith family didn’t know what to do. So they decided the only thing they could do was bring her to the shelter.
By now Lucy was 8 months old – a full fledged adolescent. Past the cute puppy stage, she was over 50 pounds of uncontrolled energy and far too free with her mouth. Several families thought she was a nice dog and played with her, but they all decided she was too rough for their children.
Lucy ran out of time. Just before the shelter worker put her to sleep, she licked his face.
Lucy’s story is all too common. Dogs need structure in their lives. Lucy was suffering from too much freedom too soon. She was under-stimulated both mentally and physically. She was not a “bad dog.”
This story could have had a very different ending. And since it’s a hypothetical story (though it happens every day), let’s give it one.
At 10 weeks old, the Smiths enrolled Lucy in a puppy obedience class. In this class they learned the best way to house-train Lucy and prevent her from developing bad habits. They learned how to structure Lucy’s environment, how to understand her language, and how to help her understand theirs. It was fun, and the whole family got involved and were diligent about practicing with her. Lucy thrived on the attention and began to bond with her family in a healthy way. She learned how to inhibit her nipping and jumping, how to walk on a leash without pulling, and came every time she was called. Lucy also learned how to be friendly with other dogs. She lived in the house, slept on the oldest boy’s bed, and was a well-loved member of the family for the rest of her life.
Or she could have come into a Basic Manners class at 8 months old. Breaking long-standing bad habits is a lot harder than teaching new behaviors, but it can be done. And a dog is never too old to learn.
Training should not be “something we’ll think about later” when you get a new dog or puppy. It can be as important to the dog as his leash, collar, and food.
Help prevent stories like Lucy’s from happening. If you are thinking about surrendering your unruly dog, please try training first. If you know somebody who is getting a new puppy, remind them that training is important.
Dogs depend on us for their welfare. And what we get back from them is priceless.
Find a trainer
To find a great training class in your area, visit the Truly Dog Friendly Trainers List. To be listed here a trainer has to commit to using positive reinforcement training methods that are based on modern learning theory. These trainers will not choke, jab, shock, pin, or otherwise mishandle your puppy or dog.