Posted: Feb 16 2009
The following article is a collection of thoughts on my experience with my 12 week old puppy, Scout. I hope that it may offer some insight into the emotional side of raising a puppy. And, hopefully it may help someone out there feel like they’re not alone.
As a dog trainer, I’ve read volumes of books on how to raise a puppy. I’ve also helped countless new owners wade through the ins and outs of puppyhood. But, boy-oh-boy, there’s nothing like the real thing, baby! Every puppy is a brand new experience no matter how many you’ve raised. And each experience allows us to grow as humans and dog-lovers.
Being active in breed rescue for many years, the thought of getting a puppy from a breeder was both terrifying and exhilarating. I spent hours upon hours researching breeders and various breeds. I called dozens of individuals and interviewed them – How many litters did they raise a year? What were they hoping to achieve in particular mating? What was their philosophy on training? What certifications did they perform on their sires and dams? I poured over pedigrees and investigated lineages. When I finally selected a breeder, I knew I had done everything I could to ensure I would get a healthy pup from a reputable kennel.
I was so happy when the breeder called to tell me the mating took and her dam was expecting. I was even happier when I found out the puppies were “on the ground” and that they along with their mom were all safe and healthy. I followed my pup’s growth from day 1 to day 49 in a daily picture diary kept by my wonderful breeder. Then finally the moment I’d been waiting for arrived – the day came for me to take my puppy home.
With a house full of puppy supplies, I thought I was prepared for anything. I had dog crates, puppy pens, puppy pads, stain remover, chew deterrent, dog toys, dog beds, chewies, dog vitamins, supplements, healthy dog treats and premium dog food galore. But, of course when my puppy finally arrived, all of my sense went right out the window! Scout looked so small and fragile I thought he might break. When he slept almost all the way through the first night I was sure he wasn’t going to wake up – that I’d somehow killed him! I checked on him every half-hour to see if he was still breathing.
I was so afraid of doing something wrong I couldn’t enjoy my new life with Scout. Dog training – my passion, my livelihood, made me feel cumbersome and awkward with Scout. I felt depressed instead of exhilarated after each session. And not because of Scout – he was wonderful! I guess I felt that I wasn’t doing enough, that it wasn’t perfect. And so went the first three weeks with Scout. Here was this darling little puppy, smart as a whip, ready and willing to learn and me, feeling like a complete failure.
And then, the unthinkable happened. What I’d been dreading actually materialized. On Thanksgiving Day, Scout became seriously ill. A sudden and violent onset of vomiting and diarrhea sent us racing to the emergency vet. Scout, being so young, was taken immediately to the isolation room for fear that he might be stricken with deadly Parvo-virus. As I paced in the waiting room, I berated myself for not taking better care of him, for not doing more. I was sobbing when the vet finally came to talk to me. It wasn’t Parvo, probably just an intestinal bug – they would know in a matter of minutes. A short course of antibiotics and a week of chicken and rice would get Scout back on the right track.
On the ride home from the vet’s office, it finally hit me. I’d spent so much time worrying about what might go wrong that I couldn’t possibly enjoy everything that was going right. I also realized that it’s a lot easier to train another person’s dog than to train your own. That’s because there’s no fear of “doing it wrong”. When people come to me help with dog training, I can be objective and clear-headed. They tell me what they need, and I set out a plan to achieve those goals. When I trained my rescue dog, Daisy, it was the same. Her “problems” were not my mistakes, and any training I did with her would only serve to make her life better. What an eye-opener!
I’m happy to say that since my very humbling realization, my outlook and my training have been great! I’ve stopped worrying about every little thing that might go wrong, and I’ve started paying a lot more attention to all the wonderful things that happen every single day! As a matter of fact, as I sit here typing, Scout is showing off his very beautiful retrieving skills. Aren’t puppies the greatest?