Four Things I Learned from Raising a Puppy

If you recall my last post about Phoebe, our Havanese, you remember the lessons in humility she taught us as she dragged her own poop across the floor. At the time I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to raise her up into a balanced dog – first we thought we were nailing it, then we thought we might NEVER nail it – but as she comes out of her “teenage years” I’m starting to think we did ok after all.

It’s been a wild ride so far, with more ups and downs than a roller coaster… but it’s been worth it. Here are four of the biggest lessons my wife and I have learned from raising a puppy.

1) Hard work and consistency are the only wayshave to get results.

I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a puppy that comes home to you perfectly trained, and stays that way all their life. Unless you live in unicorn fairyland, that is. But for those of you reading this blog from planet Earth, there is no substitute for hard work.

If you want to train a behaviour into your puppy, you need to work it hundreds and hundreds of times before you can expect them to get it consistently. And since dogs don’t generalize a command, it means that “stay” in the living room doesn’t immediately mean the same thing as “stay” in the bedroom, or on the front porch, or the back yard, or the park… you get it.

Teaching your dog right from wrong takes hard work, dedication and patience… but the end result – a cooperative, balanced dog – is way worth it.

2) You can’t control everything.

The reality is accidents happen; you can’t control everything, and you need to be ok with that. You can read every book and watch every video in existence, and still be caught off-guard when your dog zigs when you expect them to zag. Or when uncle Larry lets her lick his freaking plate when you’re not looking.

Puppies will find the one cable you forgot to safeguard, they’ll sniff out (and promptly demolish) the one Kleenex you kept in the purse you swore was out of reach, and they’ll crap on your garland – literally shitting on Christmas – even when they haven’t had an accident in the house for six months.

All of those are completely random examples by the way……..

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an excuse to cop-out of your responsibilities. If you don’t put the time in, you’re rolling the dice when it comes to what kind of behaviour you can expect out of your dog. Just don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go quite the way you expected – they won’t from time to time.

3) Not everyone will agree with your methods.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had random dog owners come up and offer unsolicited advice or criticism. Even family and friends who have never owned dogs before have tried to weigh in! While it’s usually well-intentioned, it’s often terrible advice that I wouldn’t give to my worst enemy.

Here’s the thing. There’s more than one way to raise a dog, and you need to find the style that works best for you. Ask yourself this: what’s more important to you – raising a balanced dog, or not being looked at like you’re Stalin? Whatever your answer, treat your dog accordingly, and stick to your guns when someone tries to steer you off-course.

4) It’s similar to raising kids in many ways.

Puppies go through all of the life stages of a human baby; they just do it way faster. They teeth, they need to be potty-trained, they lash out when they want attention, and they push boundaries as teenagers. Hell, we even have a playpen for her.

I’ve never raised kids, but sharing stories of my experiences with real parents highlights just how many similarities there are. Sleepless nights when the puppy first comes home, accidents on the floor, the need to safeguard your home… the list goes on.

Ultimately, raising a real kid is way tougher than raising a puppy – after all, you can leave your puppy at home alone in a cage with some water and a few treats to keep her going. Try doing that with a kid! 🙂

Lastly, I don’t want to get all mushy here, but you really do have to give a part of yourself to your puppy, the same as you would for your own child. You’re responsible for a life, this thing that depends on you for everything. There is something both beautiful and awe-inspiring about that.

Wrapping it Up

Phoebe has been an awesome addition to our family. She’s tested us every step of the way, and it’s been so worth the effort. She’s coming out of her teenage years now, and she’s becoming a beautiful, well-behaved dog that gets along well with both other dogs and other people, big or small.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing on the decisions we made in raising her, and that’s something I’m extremely proud of. When I hit the end of the line for myself, I’d like to be able to say that about my life in general. No regrets, no do-overs. And so far, that’s exactly how I feel.



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