Imagine your first day at your new job. Your new job where you have no idea what your job is. A complicated job. You’re bound to make mistakes! It’s not fun. How many times would your trainer need to explain things in order for you to understand what you’re supposed to do? How many more times would you have to practice before you got it exactly right? How many times would your trainer want to explain the same things, over and over?
Now imagine that your trainer speaks a foreign language that you don’t speak. And your trainer speaks all the time and only a very small portion of it is meant for you. But when they speak to you, you’d better pay attention!
And you’re at work all the time. You live at work. You sleep in a bed in the corner.
Now imagine that you are a different species than your trainer.
And, just to top it off, you have a teeny baby brain that is just overwhelmed and has no idea what a couch is, what a leash is, what shoes are, what tile floors are all about, what doors are (moving walls! watch your tail!), and for all you know, you’re on an alien planet. This is what I imagine that it’s like to be a puppy.
I don’t envy puppies. I would make a miserable puppy indeed.
I can imagine trying so hard to get everything right, and to focus and to pay attention, but I would need alien words explained a lot in order to even begin to understand that I was supposed to do something based on those noises!
I don’t envy puppies one bit. So whenever I work with a puppy, I try to be ever so understanding and to help them out as much as I can.
If you’ve got a wee little fuzzy one at home, try putting yourself in their shoes!
- Make lessons as basic as you can and walk them through the steps as slowly as possible. They have no idea what “sit” means and saying it louder doesn’t help explain it at all. Explaining what “sit” means once, twice, or even four times isn’t going to impart them with full understanding.
- Remember that your puppy has so many lessons to learn. They are learning constantly. It’s far more than “sit”, “come”, and “lay down”. They don’t know what their name is. They don’t know what they can do, what they should be doing, what they can play with, what they can’t play with. They are trying to take in everything at once, and the lessons are all mixed up and not in order at all. Who can remember what they tried learning 400 lessons ago?
- Set them up to succeed. They have no idea that couches should not be chewed, that doorways shouldn’t be charged out of like hallways, that a leash shouldn’t be pulled on, that alien words sometimes have pertinence. Keep your puppy with you and watch them so that you can give teeny tiny gentle re-directions when they make a mistake that they don’t know is a mistake.
- Give them as much guidance as you can and try to prevent having to give them admonitions.
- Be understanding. They are going to make mistakes, who wouldn’t in this situation? Don’t get mad when you have to explain complicated task #52 for the fourth time. Chances are, your puppy is trying very hard, he just doesn’t get it yet.
- Your puppy was designed to be a little sniffing, chewing, piddling machine! They want to romp around, check things out, play with toys they find, and of course everything goes in the mouth for a closer look. Of course she can’t focus well! Of course she can’t sit still for long! Of course she doesn’t know why her teeth hurt! Of course when she suddenly has to go piddle, she’s going to go piddle. She’s a puppy, she’s going to do puppy stuff!
- Your puppy is bound to be confused and get frustrated. Help them through it and be patient. Two frustrated beings working together is likely to result in two beings that don’t want to work together.
- Your puppy has no choice in a lot of things. They didn’t choose to be your puppy. They didn’t choose to learn what “sit” means. They were railroaded!
- Give them a time and place to relax. Puppies need to de-stress, too! Make or find a safe area to run and play and let loose, where there aren’t as many pitfalls and they have less rules. Give them an outlet.
- Your puppy isn’t going to be a fully trained adult dog for a long time. Part of that is that their brain just doesn’t build that quickly! It’s so frustrating trying to do everything right when you’re brains aren’t finished building. Remember how long it takes human children to grow up? It won’t take that long for your puppy to grow up, but it’s a matter of years for full maturity. Don’t expect your puppy to do everything that an adult dog would do until your puppy has grown up to be an adult dog.
Teaching “sit” over and over isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, and so often people ask me why their puppy doesn’t understand it yet. Or worse; they’ll ask why their puppy is being so rude not to sit when told, after all, they ‘taught’ their puppy sit twice already! Puppies need repeat lessons and time to learn, even if you’re bored with teaching sit.
Puppies are fun, but they are also frustrating. You’re going to look up for a split second and they’re going to piddle. You’re going to go to the bathroom and come back to a shredded couch cushion. I know nobody who can make it through an entire dog’s young life without some frustration. If you have a puppy, you’re going to get frustrated, and that’s okay. When you do, remember why you got a puppy and that you picked him, not the other way around! Then give yourself a break to breathe and break for her to run and play.
If you don’t have a puppy and all of this sounds wearing, consider an adult dog. Finding an adult dog is great, it’s like someone else dealt with the chewing, the mouthing, the potty training, and gave you a mature adult that just needs to learn the rules in your house. Joyful shortcut.
I admire puppies. They are so persistent in trying to please us. Us, the giant aliens whom they’ve just barely met and who, often, doesn’t speak the language of Puppy very well. That they want to please us at all is a wonder. That they try so hard is a blessing. That they are able to succeed with so many factors working against them is miracle. Help them perform this miracle with as much patience as you can, they’ve earned it.