The Trials and Tribulations of a Trainer: The Top 3 Mistakes
The knowledgeable, field-tested trainer will do everything right, never make a mistake, and will mold the young pup into an impressive canine companion. At least that's what I thought when I - a dog trainer with over ten years of experience - brought home my new puppy, Millie. The reality has been eye-opening.When a veteran dog trainer brings home a new puppy, it's safe to assume that said puppy will turn out to be a perfect specimen. The knowledgeable, field-tested trainer will do everything right, never make a mistake, and will mold the young pup into an impressive canine companion. At least that's what I thought when I - a dog trainer with over ten years of experience - brought home my new puppy, Millie. The reality has been eye-opening. Though I have the tools and experience to do absolutely everything right from minute one, I've fallen prey to a few common newbie mistakes. Even though I'm slightly embarrassed about some of my oversights, here are my top three "oops" moments.
1. Potty Training
House training a new dog is the most keenly felt challenge of puppy ownership. It's a 24-hour a day job with messy consequences if you slip up. (Keep in mind, when accidents happen they're your mistake, not your pup's!) Even though Millie's former owners told me that she was completely house-trained, I knew that a new home environment could lead to potty training regressions. With that in mind I tried to keep an eye on her, and took her outside frequently to make sure she eliminated. Everything was going great until she pooped in my office. Then there was the gallon-of-pee-on-the-couch incident. Clearly I needed to act like a dog trainer and add baby gates to cut off Millie's household freedom, and go back to putting her in her crate when I couldn't directly supervise her. I still treat Millie as if she's an eight-week-old pup that has no idea where to eliminate, even though she's pushing ten months. Until she completes an entire month mistake-free, she's still in training. We're on week number four with our fingers (and paws) crossed!
2. Jumping Up
My number one canine pet peeve is being jumped on. Millie came to us at seven months with a firmly established jumping habit that I thought I could extinguish in no time, but that's proving more difficult than I imagined. In a perfect world, the dog that jumps up is ignored, and the dog that stands, or better yet, sits politely, is rewarded with a treat and a friendly greeting. The challenge in our situation is that Millie comes to work with me every day at my store, Life on the Leash. She greets each new customer with a smile and - yes, you guessed it - a jump up. I try to politely ask each person to avoid petting Millie while she's jumping up, but the answer I keep getting is, "Oh, it's OK! I love dogs!" As this brief conversation goes on, Millie gets a ton of reinforcement for jumping up; acknowledgment, pats and cooing. In this scenario it's not Millie's behavior that's proving to be a challenge, it's the people who want to interact with her!
Puppies need a ton of exercise. A simple walk around the block a few times a day won't cut it - they need what I call "pant-inducing play." When they don't get enough, that pent up energy spills into other behaviors like nuisance barking, chewing inappropriate household items and acting wild. Taking Millie to the store with me is an excellent exercise cheat, because we have frequent canine visitors throughout the day that play with her until she's drained. Then the bad weather comes and all the dogs stay home, and I'm left with a crazed puppy helping herself to merchandise off the shelves while I try to get work done. After getting frustrated with her puppy-ness (which isn't fair to her) I'm finally trying to counter the quiet days by taking time out to play quick but intense games of fetch, and giving her brain-teaser toys to keep her occupied.
Millie and I are making strides together, and I'm growing a new empathy for my puppy clients. It's one thing to preach the gospel of puppy-hood, but it's another thing entirely to live it!
- Filed Under: Health & Home