This summer I did something I hadn’t done in 20 years. And this something reminds me every day how much easier it is to give advice than it is to apply it.
I got a puppy. He’s a German shepherd. His name is Happy.
Happy came from a breeder I know in North Carolina. My wife and I flew in on a Friday, and the next day, bright and early on that beautiful Saturday morning, we drove to the breeder’s house like two anxious adoptive parents.
When we arrived, the breeder’s property was bustling with at least 15 people and their dogs already midway through a training session. One of the dogs being trained was 14 months old and from the same parents as the pup we were there to meet, the dog who would be Happy. Beautiful boy.
My wife was with me not for moral support or the trip to North Carolina. The dog we would fly home with was to be her dog. I was there to play matchmaker.
That morning, we met not one dog but two. I rattled my car keys, turned them onto their backs, waved my hands in their little puppy faces and watched them interact — with us and with each other. My wife played with both pups, and both are good dogs. But one was clearly sweeter, gentler, and the other was more strong-willed and a little pushy with the other.
Being a household that already includes one German shepherd and three Cardigan Welsh Corgis, a natural inclination toward playing nicely with others was a must. Happy it was — until we got back to the hotel, that is.
That night, we got no sleep. The teething, the whining… Like I said, 20 years had elapsed since I last did this. Don’t get me wrong. We both were excited and thrilled to be bringing Happy home. But the challenges of raising a puppy were already seeping back into the forefront of my awareness.
The thought that kept coming to me all night long: As much as I’ve yakked about this my whole adult life, I hope I still know how to do it.
We arrived home to a quiet house. In preparation for our arrival, we had boarded our other dogs to give us uninterrupted bonding time with the new guy. Otherwise, dogs will bond with one another and ignore the humans.
At this initial stage, caring, feeding, loving and nurturing are the priorities — it’s not the time to lay down the law or begin training. We set Happy up to sleep in his comfy crate right next to our bed. We hear him when he cries, and he lets us know when he needs to go out, when he’s hungry, when he needs a frozen washcloth to soothe his aching jaws from the teething. And we’ve had no housebreaking accidents at all, which makes me think I’ve still got it! I actually do know what I’m talking about!
Whenever Happy’s inside, he’s either on a leash or in his crate. We’ll maintain this rule for months, and all new puppy parents would be wise to, as well. Last night at sunset, I was sitting on the back deck with Happy. There was a broom propped up against a wall behind us. Happy wanted to eat that broom. The leash and the crate help you to prevent destruction and to quietly set boundaries on behaviors such as chewing.
That said, as I look down right now, I can’t see the floor under my feet for the dog toys all around. With some things, boundaries are totally overrated.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at PO Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
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