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Puppy Training: Expectation vs. Reality

Woman hugging a puppy

It's fall here in Cleveland, which means a couple things:

  1. All the women are dressed like Han Solo;

  2. Pumpkin Spice is back on the menu;

  3. You may be thinking about getting a puppy.

Woman playing with her puppy

So for those of you who are about to embark on your first foray into puppy life, let's uncover a few of those dirty little secrets that nobody tells you until after you've already become attached to your new family member.

You're Choosing a Dog, Not A Puppy

Sometimes I wish we didn't call puppies "puppies". It leads to a false advertising.

You aren't choosing a puppy, you are choosing a dog. A puppy is something that you enjoy for about 3 days before wondering why you got a puppy to begin with as you scrape poop off of your favorite chewed-up boots for the third time in a week.

Maybe if we referred to puppies as "puppae" dogs, it would remove the rose-colored glasses we all wear when confronted with a litter of the precious little things.

cute bulldog puppies
Precious little things in their larval stage.

You will only have a puppy for about 3-4 months (tops). After that, you will have a dog. No, your 8-month old floofadoodle is no longer a puppy, any more than a 17 year old human would be described as a "child".

So while that puppy may be cute, think about the type of dog they might become.

Poodles are adorable puppies, but are you able to commit to an adult poodle's grooming and exercise requirements? Pit bull puppies are the cutest, but do you live in an area with (idiotic) breed bans? That Border Collie puppy is super-snugly, but can you keep up with the mental work for a dog who is easily bored, and becomes destructive?

Be honest with yourself about who that puppy might become as an adult. If you go through a breeder, be sure to do thorough research on the breed prior to selecting (and no, tik tok videos of cute German Shepherds does not constitute dog breed research).

A Puppy is a Wrecking Ball of Destruction

Puppy sleeping on white background

If you decided to adopt a "pupae" dog, no amount of prep will get you ready for the carnage to come. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time in person. The experience is completely different than reading a description. The scale and magnificence doesn't translate well from real life into photos.

Now imagine that Grand Canyon filled with a river of your tears because you underestimated the destruction an unsupervised puppy can bring.

Woman cuddling puppy
"I can't believe you ate an elementary school!"

Yes, you can train your puppy to go potty outside, but it's a process, and doesn't happen overnight. Of course you can work through your new puppy's impulse control issues, but in the meantime, he's chewing through all of your laptop cords. Sure, you can try to go through your house and find anything your puppy may destroy, but you'll miss something.

Rather than puppy-proofing your house, choose to house-proof your puppy instead.

You can make yourself nuts trying to "puppy-proof" your house; it is an unreasonable expectation (they will always find something you missed). Instead, simply start with a blank slate: a puppy playpen that filled with appropriate toys and bedding.

When training both my Arwen and Hazel as puppies, they had a pens in my main living area, along with crates where they slept overnight. The pen allowed for them to have semi-supervised activity (as opposed to being loose to run amok around the house), but didn't require my full supervision. At night time, and during designated naptimes, they would go into their crates for safety.

As they got older, and developed more impulse control, I would gradually enlarge the areas they were allowed to free roam. So instead of feeling as if I needed to follow them around the house at all times trying to keep them from chewing on things, or pottying in the house, I only had to watch out for small areas. Once they reliably learned the rules of that area, I would make their areas even larger.

By not giving them run of the house immediately, my furniture didn't chewed, and we didn't need to constantly be chasing after the puppy to find out what new thing she was chewing on. We used this one from Amazon for Hazel:

Bonus: As the puppies got older and we allowed them more freedom, we were able to use the panels in our open floorplan house to section areas off to them, allowing gradual freedom rather than the "all or nothing" approach.

Housebreaking Your New Puppy: It Really Sucks

Woman housebreaking puppy
"Why won't you pee outside?!"

We all know that puppies need to be taught where and when to eliminate. But housebreaking a puppy doesn't really begin in earnest until they are about 10 -12 weeks old. Prior to that, it's basically just trying to catch when they may eliminate. At about the 3-month mark, most puppies are finally able to have enough impulse control to hold it long enough to actually alert you of their need to potty.

A puppy younger than that is going to eliminate. A lot. Their body has no rhyme or reason. They will hold it for a couple hours one day, and then the next day they are peeing 3 times in the span of 45 minutes. This is normal.

So expect that the very young puppies aren't being housebroken so much as house managed. Actually housebreaking your puppy doesn't start until about the 3-month mark. It takes a while for some puppies to get the hang of it. Yes, it's annoying to clean up another mess, but as they get older, your puppy will start to develop the necessary impulse control, and the puddles will lessen.

Puppy Training vs. Puppy Behavior: It's Not the Same

Puppy sitting on bed

Everyone will tell you to start training your puppy immediately. Everyone except for me. That's because everyone else is using puppy training and puppy behavior interchangeably. But those are two different things.

Training is basic commands: sit, stay, housebreaking, etc. It's teaching a specific response to a specific set of stimuli, and training isn't always the first thing your new puppy needs.

That's why I focus on behavior before I focus on training.

Behavior is knowing that jumping on guests isn't allowed. That biting is unacceptable. That chewing on a dental stick is a wiser choice than chewing on the furniture legs. And knowing that those that behavior is expected from your puppy, too.

So rather than focusing on exclusively training your new puppy to basic commands, you'll need to learn how to address their behaviors as well. Consider enrolling in dog training in your area to help work through your puppy's behaviors.

Healthcare and Nutrition: Where Did My Paycheck Go?

Puppy getting checkup
"We accept cash, check, Venmo or your right kidney."

Regular veterinary care is crucial for your puppy's health and longevity. Set aside money every month for healthcare, vaccinations, and good dog food (ask your vet for recommendations). Set a budget for healthcare and maintenance. Double that amount.

Now you're on the right track.

Only now take the money you've set aside, and set fire to it. Start over.

Because at some point, your dog will do a dumb. My pit bull Elllis decided it would be fun run headlong into my raised garden bed and slice his leg down to the bone. No reason except that he saw my vet bills had been too low that year.

My Arwen was kind enough to develop allergies and will be on meds for the rest of her life. Expensive meds.

I can't wait to see what Hazel has in store for me.

So just remember, accounts to fund your kid's college expenses are so last year. Set up a 401-k9. Trust'll need it. Because when given the choice to do Free Smart Things, or Expensive Dumb Things, your dog only has one mode:

Your Puppy vs. Exercise and Mental Stimulation

What's the difference between a Good Puppy and a Difficult Puppy? A lot of times it comes down to the amount of physical activity and mental enrichment you're able to give that puppy. Be realistic: if you lead more of a Basset Hound lifestyle, don't opt for the Border Collie puppy. A bored puppy is a destructive puppy, and a tired puppy sleeps through the night (and will nap during the day as well).

Puppy Life: Patience and Love

Bringing a puppy into your life is a long-term commitment that comes with its challenges. Be patient and understanding as you and your new companion adjust to each other. Puppies thrive on love, consistency, and empathy, and become mirrors, reflecting what they are given.

Puppyhood is a very short period of time. Most of us will only have our puppies for a couple months, whereupon they graduate to being young dogs. But those few short months of puppy ownership are instrumental in their development, and will be setting them up for success as an adult dog.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than merely dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people, I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training here in Cleveland over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dogs based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Located in Cleveland, Ohio

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3 comentários

We lost Ziggy in July and after a pretty tumultuous few months are getting ready to welcome a new Cavalier into our lives, so this was a timely primer on the basics. I read your posts each time I get an email about a new one and each time I feel like I’ve picked up another nugget, so thanks!

Kerry Stack
Kerry Stack
11 de out. de 2023
Respondendo a

I am sorry to read of the loss of Ziggy. You have my sincere condolences. I do wish to congratulate you on your new puppy as well though. I am truly glad to read that you are getting little nuggets of information each time. Thank you!


Stumpicus Kat
Stumpicus Kat
09 de out. de 2023

This post on expectations v. reality is spot on - and funny and thoughtful and informative. And makes you want to learn more! As the "mom" of a 3 year old lab who still acts like a 10 month old and a 7 month old mix, I just had to laugh at all the observations because they are all so true. I could write more, but I have to run - my pupa is tearing something up in the living room.

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