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Puppies are full of mischief and piddle. They are fidgety, stubborn, unruly, nosy, noisy, chewy, yappy, and totally dedicated to their "incoming" and "outgoing" stuff. They drive many dog owners crazy. Their human caretakers seldom understand a dog's nature or know how to manage a dog, especially a very young one. The canine problems mount, and the puppy simply compounds things because his owners don't know what to do. But take heart. Inside every unmanageable puppy is an endearing dog waiting to bounce into his grown-up dog suit and become a normal member of your family.
Living with a huggable pup that sits quietly with his tongue hanging out is a fantasy. Even in this age of megabytes and car phones we still daydream about a puppy that will chase a tennis ball and grow up to carry the newspaper home in his mouth.
Getting a puppy is part of the American dream. But some puppies turn daydreams into nightmares. The innocent little dog curled up in his soft nest may disturb your deepest sleep by howling all night, tax your patience by peeing all over your carpet and chewing up your favorite clothes, while not coming close to being your best friend. The truth is few puppies can make your dreams come true. It's not their problem. It's yours. Reality, however, is not bad. A real puppy will swing his tail with pleasure when you walk through the door and will be honestly glad to see you. A real puppy grows up to be a real dog and can reward you with companionship and loyalty and something that's a lot like love.
There is, however, yet another puppy trap, and you are advised not to fall into it by turning the unmanaged puppy into the overmanaged puppy. We call this the Superdog or Superpuppy Syndrome. It is normal to want to make your little dog a phi beta puppy. As there are overly ambitious parents, there are also overly ambitious dog owners. The burden of great expectations is placed on the small shoulders of dogs as young as three months. There is no question that their owners have only the best intentions. But overzealous puppy parents can do more harm than good.
There have been many feature news stories on television about the trend to create "superbabies." They show infants and toddlers (still trying to get oatmeal on a spoon) being taught how to read and being exposed to great art, poetry, mathematics, and various aspects of science. The glaze in the children's eyes and their smirking faces seem to indicate that they would prefer to have their diapers changed and be allowed to run off and play. Many educators feel that some of these "superbabies" will develop learning disabilities later in childhood because the parents are circumventing the normal growth and development process. When it comes to puppies it is all too easy to create serious behavior problems by introducing intense training methods plus caveman discipline, then expecting too much, too soon.
One of the myths of dog ownership is that you should never spoil your puppy. This is simply incorrect. It is a popular misconception that puppies must behave themselves at all times and that you must constantly discipline them and never let them get away with anything. In the beginning, expect puppies to do most things wrong. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves so that the appropriate methods are used to teach as we nurture a little dog.
For most dogs, maturity is reached at the end of the first year of life, although giant breeds mature a little later. Typically, puppies are taken to their new homes between two and three months of age. Try to compare a three- to five-month-old puppy to a nursery school or kindergarten child; a five- to seven-month-old dog to a grade schooler; a seven- to twelve-month-old dog to a teenager.
How much can you expect from a child in nursery school or kindergarten? Do not misunderstand: This is an important time for puppies as well as children. Rules must be established, but they should be more like boundary posts at first. Puppies must negotiate a learning process before we can expect them to behave like obedient angels. The learning process must not be harsh or unforgiving. A firm, demanding approach to training comes later, and even then it depends on the dog's temperament. The most important first step to managing your puppy properly is to develop a warm relationship with the dog, which is known as bonding. Gentle teaching comes next. Your puppy deserves good marks just for being himself. What we're looking for is your rapport card, with A's in Patience, Kindness, and Understanding. You just got a puppy. What do you do? Read on, dear dog owner, read on.
Copyright © 1992, 2002 by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis