Puppies aren’t born bad

Puppies aren’t born bad — they are trained to be bad! (or good)

I have just found myself the foster parent of a soon to be 8 week old husky puppy. It’s my job to socialize this little darling as much as I can between now and when I find her a suitable home. She was turned over to animal control (along with her mother), because the previous owners could not afford to feed them any longer.

She’s just as cute as cute can be, and she’s full of energy and the joy of life. The older dogs growl at her when she’s too rambunctious, and I let them, because it’s important for her to learn that the answer to everything is not always, “As you wish.” Sometimes the answer is going to be “No way!” As I look at this precious little terror, I think that there is not a home out there worthy of her. I am saddened by the fact that all of her little puppy behaviors are going to wear out her welcome, and her new owner will start telling her she is a bad dog for doing this, and she’ll get “NO!” hollered at her for doing normal puppy things. Not everyone realizes, as I do, that there ARE NO BAD PUPPIES.

“Havoc” as we’ve nick-named her, comes tearing into my office, scattering the papers on the floor, and almost yanking the laptop computer off my desk by getting tangled in the cords. She makes a B-line for the electrical outlet, where she skillfully grabs the plug for the computer I’m typing on (out of the four possible cords that were plugged in there), and yanks it from the wall as though she had been doing it all her life! I’m sure that would earn her a “Bad Puppy!” from her future owner, I thought. I just wrestled the cord from her vise grip, and put her down on the floor, aimed toward an appropriate toy.

Amazing? Yes. Frustrating? Definitely. But, an overt act of naughtiness? Hardly. How is the puppy supposed to know that having fun with certain rubber coated objects is taboo? I certainly can’t punish her for not knowing this. I’m sure her future owners will give her WAY too much attention for acts of this nature, and she will find herself choosing electrical cords over more appropriate toys.

People tend to raise their puppies completely backwards. If only I could convince them to scream and chase the puppy wildly through the house when she picked up one of her own toys, and conversely to act calm and complacent when she appears with daddy’s watch in her mouth. Wild chases add value to any item. Certain items become like “switches” that change the owner from a boring lump, who pays little if any attention to the puppy, into an instantly energized playmate. Ignoring the puppy is like torture for her. She’ll quickly learn to flip the switches to get any kind of attention it brings. And, I’m sure she’ll hear, “BAD DOG!” an awfully lot. Her owners will be convinced that she’s choosing certain behaviors because she’s evil, when in fact she’s choosing the behaviors that the owner has reinforced with the most attention.

She was, of course drawn to the kitty litter box like a moth to a flame. I put an end to that by erecting a baby gate in the hall, until she can learn resist the allure of the cat box on her own. Why yell at her? Why not just remove the temptation? The puppy at this age is like the Tazmanian Devil. Whirring from one place to another destroying everything in her pathway. If I yelled at her every time she did something I didn’t like, I’d be constantly yelling at her. If I do that, she will learn one thing very quickly—that I have a bad attitude and am no fun! So the cat box and trash is out of reach, as is everything else I don’t want eaten by a puppy, and certain areas of the house are off-limits entirely.

As for potty training? No clue. We got her to go outside twice today, and she had one accident inside (right after coming in from outside). She has no idea that there’s a difference between going indoors and going outdoors. She thinks that she goes outside to eat snow and play in the yard. Every new place is a playground for her at this age. But, soon she’ll begin to recognize the reward system I have in place, and she’ll realize that she never has to go potty for “free” (in the house) again, when she can earn cash and prizes for depositing it outdoors. Was I upset when she pooped on the rug? Not at her. How could I be? She didn’t know there was a different choice, so how could she know that she made a poor choice? If I were to punish her, what would I be punishing her for? What would SHE think I was punishing her for? She’d learn one thing: I am an irate, irrational demon who scolds little puppies for taking care of their bodily functions.

I had to place her in a crate for a while, because I couldn’t watch her closely for about a half-hour. She screamed and cried and wailed. I could hardly hear myself think! I fear her future owners will answer the problem by either giving in and letting her out, or losing patience and punishing her. Why was she “bad” this time? If it was my first day away from my mother, and some fiend locked me up in a cell, you can bet I’d scream bloody murder to get my mom to come and rescue me. It’s what nature has taught her to do. How can I tell her it’s wrong? I can only help her to learn that her crate is a friendly place with all of her toys and chewies inside, and that she may have to go there occasionally, but that she will always be set free eventually. I can also show her that “quiet in the crate” is the “open sesame” for getting to come out of the crate.

We made it through our first day of fostering a young puppy. She made it through her first day of life away from her canine caretaker. I’ve got many more days ahead when she will try my patience. She’ll try to run the other way when I call, she’ll try to take things that aren’t hers, and she’ll try to jump on me and bite my hands. How I react to these situations will determine whether she will try them again, or give them up as a lost cause. Because, ultimately, I’m in control of whether my puppy behaves well or learns to behave badly.

This was so good I had to re-post..

One Response

  1. Saved as a favorite, I like your site!

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