Three weeks have flown by since that fateful Sunday before Thanksgiving, when we drove a circuitous route through west central Wisconsin and back to Minnesota, on the mission to pick up our new chocolate Labrador puppy.
To say that the time since has been a life-changing experience would be a major understatement. Other expressions, like “eye-opener” or “reality check,” come to mind, too!
My wife and I, empty nesters now that our children are off at college, had forgotten much of what comes with this stage of a dog’s life; our last puppy-raising experience was more than a decade ago.
For instance, the fact that most young puppies are little motorized fur balls, with two speeds only: “park” and “full throttle.” A pup will go a mile-a-minute for a spell, then, as if someone had flipped a switch, will crash and fall into a sleep as suddenly and deeply as if the pup had taken a bite of Snow White’s apple.
When a pup is awake, it’s investigating everywhere, especially anything chewable, which is just about everything. The pup is also looking for intense interaction with all around it, from shaking, thrashing and hurling its stuffed animals and chew toys, to insisting on bodily contact with the people in its life whenever possible.
Hold-time and lap-time are important for bonding, as inconvenient as that sometimes can be in a busy person’s life. If you ever want to feel wanted, just get a puppy!
Housebreaking a puppy, like potty training an infant, is not high on my list of enjoyable activities, but it’s at the top of the list of things that must be done to make living with a young dog tolerable.
Having a well-organized home and an adult dog for more than a dozen years, followed by three dogless years, my wife and I had a long time to forget how much work housebreaking can be, and how much vigilance it demands.
“Who’s watching the puppy?” soon becomes the most frequently uttered phrase in the household.
The housebreaking process can even lead to fleeting moments of “buyer’s remorse,” especially when the puppy is going through those dark-of-the-night “airings,” as it gradually develops bladder capacity to last the night.
The books say that a 2-month-old pup can last for about three hours between trips outside. Simple math leads to the inescapable conclusion that a new owner will likely get up at least twice during the nights at first, so their youngster can answer nature’s call.
If you’re lucky, the pup will go right back to sleep, and you’ll do the same. But that’s not always the case, as puppy may conclude that it’s playtime, or meal time, and howl at being put back in its kennel box or crate for the duration of the night.
This period is not conducive to an owner’s morning cheerfulness. The pup can catch up on its sleep any time, but the rest of us who can’t easily grab a cat-nap are not so lucky. One may even be tempted to resort to those TV-advertised multi-hour energy supplements that sound too good to be true!
If you want a well-behaved dog, and who doesn’t, as well as a working companion to accompany you when you hunt, there is an urgency that rears its head while Sport is still mastering his housebreaking. A puppy is most teachable and, more important, most likely to develop into a dog that wants to please you, during the period from about 7 to 20 weeks.
If you miss this period, or worse, allow a pup to develop its own ideas about its role in your life, you can easily end up with a dog that may misbehave whenever the mood strikes it and will likely fall short of your hopes for its performance in the pheasant sloughs, the grouse woods or the duck marsh.
When you bring a pup home at 7 to 10 weeks, training shouldn’t be rigorous, and should be thought of more as simple, casual basic training events. Reward the pup when it does what’s hoped for, giving it plenty of opportunities. Reward success, rather than meting out harshness or discipline at those inevitable early shortcomings. There will be time for greater discipline later, administered fairly, and calmly whenever possible.
One of the very sensible training books I’ve come to appreciate is “Game Dog,” by Richard Wolters. Read several and compare the authors’ methods and goals. If you are developing a dog that will be your in-home companion and will hunt some with you in the fall, you may not want to approach training as would a field trial trainer who has competition flowing through every vein and artery of his body.
Expect a little bit of chaos in your life, too, in exchange for the companionship and love that a dog can give you. So what if there are puppy licks and nose marks on the stainless steel appliances in your kitchen? Or, a few strands of fringe are gnawed from the rug in your home’s entry?
Such things are a modest price for faithfulness and unconditional love.