Author: Dawn C., Founder of Chako
I’ve raised a few dogs from puppies in my time, fostered a ton of puppies and dogs, and worked with many shelter dogs. I’ve shown dogs in ADBA, UKC, and ADBA, participated in weight pull, flyball, agility, obedience, Shutzhund and even tried some paws at dock diving.
Every time I start a dog from a puppy, one that I’m going to spend the next fifteen years with, I reflect on what I’ve learned from the last dog and how I’m going to use that knowledge to help raise a puppy into a respectable adult dog.
These are the things that, ultimately, become important to me as the dog grows and in how my relationship with the dog develops, and they might prove useful to you. Even if you’re not starting with a puppy, wherever you’re at in that relationship, some of the suggestions below might prove useful to you.
1) I like to compete in dog activities, but I only participate in dog-related sports that we both find fun. It has to be fun for the dog, and fun for me. If one of us is not having fun with the sport, it’s time to find a new sport. This means that I don’t use things in my training that regularly make it NOT fun for the dog. I would watch trainers in the Schutzhund club rely on shock collars for everyday training in the sport. My personal motivation for engaging in dog sports is to do something that my dog and I can both enjoy, not to satisfy my ego and definitely not to pad my wallet (it tends to have the exact reverse effect on my wallet, actually). It’s more about fun than it is about getting a perfect score. Sure, the high score is nice. The ribbons are nice, but if neither the dog nor myself are having a blast, then why bother? Life is too short for the both of us. We should get the most out of our few years on this planet.
2) I select about three or four commands I want the dog to know really well and focus on those. I train others, of course, but since I’m not a stay at home dog mom (I work, I do rescue, I volunteer at Chako events), I know I need to really focus on what the truly important stuff is that I want engraved in my dog’s brain. For me, these are “heel,” “come,” “out,” and crate-kennel training. Leash walking is a close second to those, but the all important four are the ones we practice the most, especially as the puppy matures into a teenager with attitude. Of course she knows sit, down, wait and stay, but I’ve learned in my many years that focusing on honing too much, too soon, means everything suffers just a little bit if you don’t have the time to dedicate to proofing. So, the do-or-die commands are the ones that really could save her life or that are serious foundations for later competition obedience (like heel). The rest is easy. Getting a terrier-based breed to “come” when they are chasing a squirrel across the street, with an oncoming car approaching (because they are somehow accidentally not attached to a leash and loose in public) is a life-saving endeavor. I practice come from day one, and it’s always, always, always positive. I let her harass the chickens behind the fence, say “come,” give her the best treats ever, and let her go right back to harassing them. Hopefully, this training never needs to pay off, but if it IS needed, I hope I’ve set the right foundation. (And, over time, she has learned that harassing the chickens just isn’t that entertaining, anymore, thankfully.)
3) I make proper socialization a priority. This doesn’t mean dog parks. It means supervised play dates, excursions, plans that entail bringing the puppy along to expose her to new environments, sights, sounds and experiences. The river. Some doggie playmates. The Fountains in Roseville. The stuffed dog-sized bear in the Orvis store. A dog-friendly winery. Restaurant patios where we work on manners in public. All of these excursions are timed in coordination with the appropriate puppy vaccinations, of course.
4) I sign up for activities that I have to go to, as long as we’re having fun. Currently, this is nosework, a new sport for me. It makes me get out every week with other dogs and practice a skill, working toward competition. Signing up for classes or workshops is a great way to make sure you take the time to work with your dog and get him or her out there, using that doggie brain and expelling some of that wonderful energy. Ultimately, it gets me away from my computer, desk, television, and phone (well, mostly, on that last one) and puts my brain into an entirely different mode where I have to connect with an animal that’s a completely different species from the one I’m around all day at work. (And here’s a plug for Chako’s Meetup, which will get you out and about with your dog thanks to classes, workshops and fun walks).
As a puppy mom, there is also one really important mindset to have. Some of your stuff is going to get messed up. A shoe might be chewed, even though you’re diligent about keeping them out of reach. Your carpet might never be the same. The new hanging lantern from Ikea–Toast!–because you thought you’d placed it out of reach, but you really didn’t. That garden? Get a puppy-proof fence or say goodbye. Such trials and tribulations come with the territory of puppyhood, especially with a terrier-based breed. Go into that with eyes open and a relaxed attitude, knowing that stuff is just stuff and if you’re consistent and diligent, the pernicious puppy phase will pass and your shoes will breathe a collective sigh of relief, no longer in constant danger of destruction.