puppy training

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I thought that by picking the sweet puppy who gave us kisses and didn’t bark we were hitting the puppy jackpot.

I thought that he’d sit quietly on a bed next to me while I worked happily chewing a bone. That he’d be our faithful companion and woo everyone with his cute looks and clever tricks.

But as Mr. Lively famously said two days in, “I think we’re going to need to grow.” (Another famous Mr. Lively quote: “I think I wanted a dog, not a puppy.”) We are going to need to learn how to guide this little guy and help him become the good pup and dog he has the potential to be.

I’ve got to admit, it’s been a tough five days. I haven’t slept more than four hours straight since last Friday. I’ve spent 20+ hours with him each day and every simple task I complete is ten times more laborious and exhausting with him.

If having a puppy is anything like having a baby, I’ve got enough birth control for the next few years.

The first three days were the worst in terms of mouthing, chewing, crate training, and potty training.

And on my first run spent away from him, I had a heart to heart with myself. I had to admit that he wasn’t perfectly behaved, not even kinda well behaved. He really was kind of a jerk sometimes (namely when he was tired, needed to go out, hungry, thirsty, or playing really hard). I knew he’s a puppy and that he’ll grow out of it soon enough. But I also felt unprepared with how to guide him into becoming the good dog I so desperately hope he becomes. I didn’t have the knowledge and resources to cope with the biting and chewing.

So I resolved to be proactive about the situation. Just because I read a few puppy books ahead of time didn’t mean that I suddenly knew it all. I promptly began schooling myself again on other techniques and alternatives.

Fortunately I discovered Teacher’s Pet by Victoria Stilwell and I devoured her short videos intently (Franklin did too, he was fascinated by the dogs on the screen).

Instead of waiting for good behavior to surface from copious “good boys” I got the clicker out and started training that day. Within a few hours he learned “sit,” “[lay] down,” and “kisses.” I also put a toy on a string in order to play with him when he’s really riled up and mouthy without getting bit in the process.

For chewing we tried Bitter Cherry, but he liked the scent so we got a spray bottle with water to help curb intense chewing. I’m also going to try Tabasco on the cable cords near my desk to discourage chewing there too.

Already two training days in we are noticing a pretty substantial difference in his demeanor. He’s getting accustomed to his schedule, he’s more familiar with being alone in his crate with a treat toy, and the training commands with the clicker are working extremely well.

We still have a fair amount of chewing and mouthing to conquer  but it’s more manageable with these new tools. The most important being coffee and patience for me and a stuffed ducky on a string for him.

Despite my exhaustion I’m also trying to capture the little moments like taking the steps to welcome Daddy home while half-falling down the stairs, his first ice cube, and his confusion about what “shake” really means.

He’s only going to be five pounds for a short while. And though he can be a little jerk sometimes, he will outgrow the puppy habits and his little harness. I gotta appreciate the cute moments as well as curb the less desirable habits.

I’m glad I shouldered the intentional responsibility to grow as a human for the sake and well-being of our dog.

It’s a work in progress, but we’re all doing pretty good so far.


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  1. Jenny

    Just wanted to give a little support! We got our first puppy two months ago and I was so thankful there were two of us as we each had days where it was “too much” and we needed time away to reflect on what a mistake we may have made. Although it took longer than expected we both love our Bender so much now. And he still isn’t perfectly trained and is a rambunctious trouble maker at times, but we are fully on the happy to have him side and are looking forward to many years together. We’ve also learned to appreciate our cat more with her low key attitude.

  2. Allie K

    Oh man, it definitely gets better. I remember feeling that exact way when I got Mosby and even thinking “holy crap, what have I done?” but now, he’s my favorite part of life and I love him so much that I’m doing it all over again with another puppy this Saturday. This time I know what I’m getting into, so I have less of that new puppy bliss, but considering it an investment. I’m with Mr. Lively, I’m a dog person, not a puppy person. It’s really rewarding though when you witness that jerk puppy morphing into an awesome dog. 🙂

  3. glad you’re talking about the reality of it on here. people are all like “dogs are cute i want one” but then they are actually a ton of work and if people aren’t ready to deal with it properly it can negatively affect life (what happened to me) instead of positively. sounds like you are on the right track. my most important pieces of advice are: be on the same page as your partner about how you want to train the dog (ie let on bed vs not let on bed) and be consistent and persistent about training.

  4. Sunray

    I don’t have a dog but I do have a little 1.5 year old and I’ve got to say, what you described sound a lot like how I felt when my little guy came out! 🙂 Hang in there!

  5. Jill

    well, this is the reason that we don’t have pets! But I will say, we have kids and this is what it has felt like for the past 8 years raising them! hahaha! A lot of growth, a little bit of humor and good perspective is all you need. 🙂 That little guy sure is a cutie though! It may have me re-thinking our no pet policy!

  6. Amy

    Puppies definitely test your patience, but it will get better!! The number one thing I learned when my pup was little was to be consistent in your training. Also, puppies need guidance – they don’t know right from wrong unless you teach them, ie. the difference between chewing a power cord or their toy. Since you’re clicker training, maybe try teaching a “leave it” cue for the chewing problem. When he picks the correct item to chew, like a bone or toy, he gets extra attention and treats.

  7. Nikell

    It will get better.
    Our little Minnie dog is 3 yrs old. We got her when she was only 7 weeks. I remember those long nights. She would whimper all night and I had to get up often to take her to the potty. At one point, I didn’t think she would ever be potty trained (I even prayed and asked God for help) But soon she got the hang of it. We’ve since taught her several tricks. She’s super smart and learns fast. You just have to hang in there. Google was my best friend when it came to training. And still is. Having a dog is definitely a lot of work and be quite expensive at times. But, it’s worth it. My husband and I love Minnie and can’t see our lives without her. (^_^)

  8. Daria

    My Gracie is now 11 but I do remember those first few months. Anything within reach is fair game for those little tykes so make sure to put your things away or up! She chewed up the clicker I had for training! And a library book (I am a librarian). Try to find a puppy class so he learns to socialize with other dogs and you will learn a few tips and tricks, too. Take lots of pictures so you have a record of the baby days.

  9. Raising a puppy is harder than people make it out to be, but you’ll be so glad you saw that stage after he’s all grown up into a good boy. Take it a day at a time (and a break when you need to) and you’ll be fine! Also takes LOTS of videos… the puppy days go by so fast!

  10. it is so tough for awhile! I have a 75 lb weimaranar puppy and there are days that I am just fed up (and thanking my lucky stars for birth control, like you!) Some things that helped us was a deer antler, they are great for chewing since they don’t get slimy and the dogs love them and being consistent with the times we walk. He knows when it is time to get hyper/excited to go out and he knows when he needs to be in the house behaving! just soak up all those puppy snuggles!

  11. Kate

    Oh Jess, oh no!! Haha, you are handling this well, big kudos to you. I did dog rescue for years (and years) and I’ve trained dozens of dogs. They ALL came in awful – chewing, whining, barking, fighting…and in due time (for some, days, for most weeks, and for one, years) they all turn out amazing and worth it.

    I would recommend lots of chew things around the house (I know…clutter…) so that it’s very easy to redirect him at any moment. Additionally, never feel guilty about leashing him to you so you can always keep a handle on where he is – and then providing things to keep him entertained while he’s around you.

    He will never have puppy belly again, so you are wise to cherish these times – but I’m with you on the birth control comment!

    If you are ever, ever stuck on something, do.not.hesitate. to ask for help. I’ve probably helped over a hundred folks with dog challenges and I’m happy to help you anytime lady.

  12. Ashleigh

    Ohh, puppies. My first few days with my terrier puppy were so similar to yours – thankfully he’s grown into a well-mannered, snuggly boy, but he was such a troublemaker at first! Keep working at the training, etc. – you’re doing him a world of good by investing so much time in him so early in life!

    Also, an effective (and cheap!) solution to the chewing: dish soap! I bought the colorless kind, spread a thin layer of it on everything (and I mean it when I say that my dog chewed EVERYTHING no matter what I put on it to stop him…he chewed a hole through the wall!), and the chewing stopped within the day! It’s worked for everyone I’ve suggested it to as well. Good luck!!

  13. You can do it! The first months are the hardest, but you will make it through. And it will be worth it. A schedule really helped with my pups.

  14. I totally get it! I remember once breaking down in tears from lack of sleep and stress when Soda (my now 11 year old dog) was a puppy. Just know that it IS hard, but it gets easier.
    Victoria Stilwell’s training tips are fabulous, so you’re completely on the right track.
    Possibly the best advice I ever got was that while you will always love your dog, they are happiest when you are the leader of the pack and in control – it’s less stressful for them.
    Crip stop (that they use for horses) is great for chewing, as are puppy kongs (you can stuff them with treats and keep them entrained for hours while still helping with teething!)
    Also for potty training, teaching your dog to go ‘on command’ works a treat! Just everytime they’ve had a meal, woken from a nap etc take him out and give him a command (some people use ‘Bathroom’ or ‘Hurry Up’ so they don’t look crazy!) When he finally does go, say the command again and reward him. He’ll soon associate the command with doing his business.
    Send you lots of support. Just know that it’s hard right now, but in 10 years time you’ll be looking back on these days with the biggest smile xx

  15. my parents dog was a nightmare when they first got him – his favourite trick was sneaky poos under the dining room table when no one was looking! but with patience and a bit of work he is so so sweet now! your pup will get there soon too I bet! I’ve also heard rubbing citrus peel on things you don’t want chewed works wonders 🙂

  16. Marcie

    Keep with it, Jess! Remember, you guys are still getting to know each other, and your little tot is still new to you and life in general, so he’ll have a lot to learn, and will look to you to show him love and a firm hand. Re: biting and mouthing — this is a puppy phase that they will outgrow, albeit you are destined to ruin a few things here and there. But he’s mouthy mostly because his teeth are new and his gums hurt, so make sure you always have a chew toy on hand to re-direct him from the legs of chairs and tables!

  17. Amy

    I have an eight month old puppy and I felt exactly the same way when we first got him (and I still feel it now but less frequently). I am in awe of single people who do this all by themselves.

    I highly recommend the training classes at the Anti Cruelty Society on Lasalle and Grand here in Chicago. They have ones for all ages of dogs. You can ask the teachers about any training questions you have, plus it is super fun to see all the other puppies and it tires your puppy out for the rest of the day (so you can actually take a break from watching him like a hawk)!

  18. Jess

    Thank you all so much for the support, encouragement, and tips! I plan to try them all out!! : )

  19. Kate

    Oh! And one more important tip – remember that mental exercise (learning new tricks, obedience, etc) is ALWAYS more tiring than physical exercise…..my dogs can play fetch for hours and hours, but a couple games of nosework hides and learning some new tricks and they are beat.

  20. kelsey

    I’ve never really wanted a dog, but I’ve heard that having a puppy is actually harder than having a newborn, because they don’t wear diapers! However, puppies do feed themselves, so…it might be a toss-up 🙂

  21. Monique

    Jess, I’ve had five dogs over the years and I can tell you the first year is the worse but the most important. The first year you help train the pup into the kind of roommate you want. Yeah, the pup is going to make mistakes, chew or eat things he’s not suppose to but in a year or so, he’ll be the best little guy around. I have no regrets. Frankly, I love my doggie roommate and would be lost without her. She’s the best!

  22. M

    Nyla bones. You cannot buy enough of them. Leave them everywhere. The trick is to set the dog up for success — if he has something he knows he can chew on (a Nyla bone, for example) close by, he won’t look for something else (and otherwise shouldn’t) chew.

  23. steph

    Totally took me back to when I first got my little Gracy almost 8 years ago! 🙂

  24. Jessica Blank

    I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but…my dog is finally FULLY trained! “The Online Dog Trainer ” Click Here: ( dogtrainercommand.com ) is a WONDERFUL resource for learning how to effectively and quickly train your dog without ever leaving home. I learned great ways to teach my dog almost every single trick imaginable and how to correct the most common behavioral issues, such as barking. It is full of carefully compiled videos that allow you to watch and listen to their expert solving the exact problem you’re having with your dog, with another real dog and its owner. You can see the precise body language he uses, how the tone of his voice changes, and how the dogs respond, changing their behavior almost immediately. It’s remarkable to see how quickly my dog picked up on these methods. My dog behaves PERFECTLY now! From what I understand, the information on that website works for any age or breed of dog. I feel blessed to know my dog is trained properly and effectively. :XX

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