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10 Things Puppies Don’t Know

Friends keep asking how I can stand visiting the neighborhood puppies without wanting one. The answer is that it’s partly having the ability to turn off emotion a bit … if only for self protection. It’s partly from knowing myself pretty darn well when it comes to breed preference, family size, etc. And, it’s well-rooted in the many, many things that puppies don’t know.

We haven’t had a very young pup in the house since 2000, when Ginko came home at about 10 weeks old. (Lilly, our heroine, was about 6 months old when we adopted her.)

While it might be easy to forget over the years how much work a very young puppy is, spending time with this litter of pups in our valley makes it all too clear that there is a long road ahead for their families.

I’m not saying it isn’t an amazing and fun road. I’m just reminding you (and myself) that it isn’t easy. With or without you, puppies learn a lot in their first weeks and months. You can make it easier on both of you if you understand that it’s about so much more than food, water, shelter, and love.

1. Puppies don’t know English. Bridging the communication gap between our species takes time, compassion, and an understanding of canine intelligence and the science of dog training and behavior shaping. I also love this piece by Susan McCullough (friend, fellow writer/blogger) on the #1 thing you need to teach your new dog/puppy.

2. Puppies don’t know inside from outside. In other words, housetraining is another top priority. And, since I’m already recommending Susan’s insights on these issues, might I suggest her book Housetraining for Dummies?

3. Puppies don’t know what’s OK to chew on and what isn’t. If it fits in the mouth, it’s fair game, so be sure to redirect chewing to appropriate toys.

4. Puppies don’t know your routines or rules. Consistency really helps youngsters get a grip on their new life with you. It’s better NOT to switch rules as the puppy gets bigger. If it isn’t OK for for a big dog to do, then it isn’t OK for a tiny pup either. In many families, this includes being “mouthy” or jumping up.

5. Puppies don’t know what most things they encounter are. Unless they’ve been systematically socialized to all kinds of household and other real world things, puppies might just be a little cautious, or even scared, of things we consider innocuous– dishwashers, microwave timers, hats, umbrellas, etc. Use counter-conditioning NOT flooding to work through your pup’s fears.

6. Puppies don’t know that other dogs and other people come in all shapes and sizes. Find a good local dog trainer that offers puppy kindergarten, where little ones learn to play with canine friends other than their littermates and begin the process of understanding the bigger world around them.

7. Puppies don’t know any of the things we consider polite dog behavior (sit, leash walking, etc.). Don’t wait until your pup reaches adolescence to try and “fix” what’s gone wrong. Start humane, positive-reinforcement training early so that you and your dog have a bond, a platform for communication, and the tools to get through the somewhat more difficult adolescent period.

8. Puppies don’t know that cars can take them on great adventures. Many pups only know that this big thing makes them barf, so be sure to introduce car travel carefully, if you have a pup with a sensitive tummy.

9. Puppies don’t know what’s valuable and what isn’t. So, it’s probably best to puppy-proof the house if you have concerns.

10. Puppies don’t know anything about “dominance.” Truly. Can we please put this concept to rest? Even the wolf guys from the 1960s who coined the whole “alpha” thing have corrected these mistaken ideas.

I’m sure this list could be even longer, but I guess my point is this … puppies really don’t know ANYTHING about ANYTHING when they first come home. It’s your job to teach them.

So, when you do, please, please, please do so using modern, gentle, scientifically-based methods. Remember … dog training is much more about communication than it is control. Anytime anyone uses fear, intimidation, or pain in the name of training, I believe they do lifelong damage to their relationship with their dog.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

MyKidsEatSquid - March 18, 2010

Thanks for the reminders. I went by the pet store at the mall today and the puppies were so cute. I don’t know how the pet store gets away with that–there are three open cages where people can just pick up the puppies. I firmly believe in getting dogs from shelters, but I must admit it’s fun to look at the puppies.

Jennifer Margulis - March 18, 2010

Even after reading this (and duly appreciating that yes, yes, of course we have to be gentle and patient with puppies), it makes me WANT a puppy. I know that was not your intention but puppies are just so cute. And I’m not even that much of a dog person.

But that’s the thing. Everytime someone looks at my new baby and says, Awww, I want a baby. I say, sure, but do you really want another KID?

So, aww. I want a puppy. But I don’t really want a dog (at least not now!)

sarah henry - March 18, 2010

I’m with Melanie, this list reminds me of raising a toddler! I’ve been mulling over the notion of getting a dog but I’m not sure I’m ready to go back “there” yet!

Sam - March 17, 2010

Your whole list is good, but number 10 trumps them all.

Susan - March 17, 2010

True, but it’s what they don’t know that makes these furry creatures so darn cute and endearing. 🙂

The Writer's [Inner] Journey - March 17, 2010

This is an excellent post, Roxanne. So true, so true.

Alexandra - March 17, 2010

Love this list! We used to stop and admire the puppies in a pet store in Paris before my kids were born ….

Melanie Haiken - March 17, 2010

I love this post; it reminds me so much of articles I used to write for Parenting magazine about how the world looks from a baby’s perspective. Inside the mind of a newborn, and inside the mind of a puppy – amusingly similar!!
Thanks for the moment of enlightenment.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 17, 2010

    That is funny, Melanie. It’s true, though. Some people seem to think that puppies naturally know certain things.

Sheryl - March 17, 2010

What a fabulous list, Roxanne! So important for everyone considering a dog to read. And so true. My dog often barks at innocuous things that she sees as so threatening; it’s funny. What puppies DO know, though, is how to give lots of love (and that’s why we forgive them for all they DON’T know, isn’t it? 🙂

Sharon Liveten - March 17, 2010

And this is the reason I keep putting off calling the Dane person. I want a puppy; Murray’ getting older and I have the 2 rescue brittanies. But Murray was th easiest puppy I’ve ever had: housebroken by 10 weeks, never chewed… you KNOW that won’t happen again!

MarthaAndMe - March 17, 2010

Puppies take up a lot of time and attention. I think some people think they are easy to take care of. I think they’re almost as exhausting as a baby.

KB - March 17, 2010

And, puppies are either going full blast, getting into every form of mischief imaginable, or they’re sound asleep. And, the sleeping doesn’t seem to last long. You have to be prepared to supervise or contain your puppy for quite a while. IMO, supervising is best because it teaches the pup how to behave in your house, but it’s truly a full-time job. You can’t do it “while you work on your computer” or anything else. At least not if the dog has the energy of that my R had as a puppy!

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