Friday, June 5, 2009

Preparing for the Unexpected with a New Puppy

Today is the first birthday of my Welsh springer spaniel, Taran. Taran is a very special dog to me. The first puppy I have acquired as an adult, I spent nearly five years planning for his arrival. I used that time to research the breed, contact multiple breeders, attend a specialty show dedicated to Welsh springers, as well as to learn as much as I could about training, socializing and caring for a new puppy. By the time my little one was ready to come home with us, I was certain I knew everything there was to know about raising a puppy to become the best dog ever. After all, I'm a dog trainer. What could possibly go wrong?

Planning for the expected

I acquired Taran when he was nine weeks old from Statesman Welsh Springer Spaniels. Before his arrival I planned everything out perfectly. I had ordered all the supplies needed for a new puppy. This included:
  • a crate for housetraining and short term confinement
  • an exercise pen for long term confinement
  • several different durable chew toys to promote good chewing behavior
  • soft toys for supervised play
  • stainless steel bowls for food and water
  • a high quality dog food
  • grooming supplies such as brushes and nail trimmers
  • leash and collar
  • treats for training

I also had him signed up for puppy socialization class, his first appointment for check up and vaccines at the vet, and developed a detailed training and socialization plan. Here were my most important training goals for him:

  • socialization to as many different people, animals, and environments as possible
  • housetraining
  • hand feeding many of his meals so he learns all good things come from me
  • bite inhibition to help with mouthing and nipping
  • allowing handling for grooming and medical procedures
  • clicker training to teach important behaviors such as sit, down, come, etc.

I took several days off of work to help him get used to a new environment away from his mom and brothers. I was determined to do everything right for my new puppy.

The unexpected

Even with all the planning that went into getting Taran, once he was home he began throwing me curve balls left and right.

On the second day I had him he learned to climb right out of his exercise pen as soon as he was put into it. He was fine in it if I was in the room with him, but as soon as I left he was up and over the top. I modified my plans so that he was not left in the pen unsupervised any longer. Instead I used the crate or an enclosed hallway when we needed to leave him alone.

Next, he became frightened of my other dog, Kiba. I had tried to introduce them as carefully as I could. They met outside on leash first, then spent the next several days getting used to each other's smell between barriers such as baby gates. They both seemed relaxed and interested in each other so I began letting them have short supervised interactions. Kiba(who is a 55lb lab mix) wanted very much to play with her new puppy friend. However her somewhat rough play style was too overwhelming for little Taran, and he took to running and hiding from her. I was devastated, fearing that they would never get along. Luckily, by slowing down the interactions, allowing Taran to approach at his own pacing, and never forcing him to interact, he eventually began to warm up to Kiba. I can happily say that they are now best friends.

He had other problems as well. He hated to be left alone and barked constantly in his crate, he stole socks out of the laundry, and loved to jump on people. Each time I reevaluated my training plans and modified them to deal with each issue.

I am proud to say that at a year old, Taran is shaping up to be the wonderful dog that I had always dreamed of. Of course he is still not perfect, but I don't believe there is a dog out there that is. However, with patience and perseverance I was able to help my wild puppy grow up into a lovely gentleman.

What does this mean for new puppy owners?

The point of my story is that you can never prepare for everything that is going to happen when getting a new puppy. You can read all the books, articles and advice in the world, but nothing compares to the actual experience of puppy raising. This is not to say that you shouldn't prepare, because you absolutely should. Just be ready so that when something doesn't go according to plan, you can jump in and modify it to suit the needs of your individual dog. And remember when you are frustrated that your puppy does not behave strictly by the book, you are not alone!


  1. Sounds kind of like having a baby for the first time! You can prepare for parenthood as much as possible, but when the time comes, life presents new challenges at every turn! ;)

  2. This is a wonderful article, Lindsey. New owners bring home puppies and adult dogs without a clue on raising them or working out problems. We are Way Cool Dogs have several dogs who are not the result of such homes and kennels.....thank you for helping people face the facts and realize their is a rainbow at the end of every dog's tunnel!! And thank you for submitting this article to our National Dog Blog Carnival #4....:)
    (Please add us to your Great Dog Blogs list)