Help, My new puppy is driving me crazy!

Since the outset, the SARS-COV2 pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in demand for puppies as families have flocked to take advantage of working from home to integrate a puppy into their household. Some had already been planning for a puppy and simply moved up plans to take advantage of being home and being able to provide a smooth introduction. Others come to the decision impulsively, without much prior thought and without careful planning. Some chose to get a puppy to help deal with feelings of loneliness, frustration and loss. But whatever the reason, this has been accompanied by an unprecedented flood of social media posts about the struggles of new puppy ownership such as…

I’m so frustrated….
This is so hard – I keep bursting into tears….
I was so excited to get a new puppy and now my life is in an upheaval….
I am at my wits end….
I overwhelmed, I can’t do this!…
I don’t know what to do. I thought getting a puppy would be wonderful….
I think I hate my puppy….
The kids are in tears. They are afraid of the puppy. What do I do?….

Nipping, chasing, pooping, peeing, shredding, chewing, digging, whining…the list of challenges is familiar and lengthy – but almost without exception these are NORMAL puppy behaviours!

So, why are so many new dog owners having trouble coping with normal puppy behaviours? There is no single answer. One or more of the following is likely in play.

  • An ill-advised choice to get a puppy.
  • Inadequate preparation for getting a puppy (knowledge, suitable physical environment etc.)
  • Poor match between breed and family characteristics.
  • An increase in poorly bred dogs as a result of irresponsible breeders taking advantage of high demand.
  • Lack of support to new owners from irresponsible breeders.
  • Failure to understand the hallmarks of a responsible breeder and to recognize the importance of early puppy rearing practices in preparing a puppy for integration into the new home.
  • Underlying stress in the family due to challenges related to the pandemic.
  • For those who have not had a puppy previously – lack of awareness of normal puppy behaviour and the amount of work a puppy entails.
  • For those who have not had a puppy for a long time – forgetting how much work a puppy brings, and comparing a puppy to mature older dog, or a previous ‘perfect’ dog.
  • COVID restrictions have put obstacles in the way of new owners.
    • Lack of access to good puppy classes and qualified advice.
    • Limited opportunities for appropriate socialization.
    • Inability to share experiences with other new puppy owners.
    • Lack of access to timely and face to face veterinary care / advice.

So – if you are contemplating a new puppy – what can you do to help avoid being the source of one of those social media ‘cries for help’?

  • Do your homework before getting a puppy.
    • Learn about what to look for in a breeder so that you can obtain a puppy that is healthy, sound,  well socialized and well prepared for the transition from the litter to a new home. Our club website has some helpful information on the Find a Cairn Terrier Page.
    • Learn about new puppy behaviours and what to expect from the breed.
    • Learn about effective and kind puppy training techniques – and get started before your puppy comes home so you are set up well from day one. Two excellent resources are When Pigs Fly: Training Success with Impossible Dogs, by Jane Killion and Plenty in Life is Free, by Kathy Sdao.
  • If you already have your puppy:
    • Keep in mind that most of the behaviours that we humans find undesirable are actually NORMAL puppy behaviours – they are NOT evidence that your puppy is trying to dominate you, or is naughty, or stubborn or bad. They are simply doing what comes normal in ‘Dog Land’.
    • Talk to your breeder. There is a good chance they will have tips to help you deal with specific challenges.
    • Use management to help reduce frustration.
      • Frustrated by a nippy puppy? Wear rubber boots (yes, in the house) to protect your ankles
      • Use strategic confinement – crates, pens, baby gates, umbilical training to help prevent undesirable behaviour.
      • Remove or block access to things like power cords, precious heirlooms etc.
    • Talk to a fear free / positive reinforcement-based trainer for help with specific challenges.
    • Get into a positive reinforcement-based class if at all possible. As we move into spring, outdoor classes may be an option.
    • Embark on a project with your puppy. Have a goal and make whatever you do fun! Trick training, scent work, beginner agility etc…
    • Mark and reward what you like (see the SMART 50 game in Kathy Sdao’s book, also available as a handout on our Club website under training) Every time your dog does something you like mark it with a click or a verbal marked and then give your dog something he loves. This will help you – by focusing your attention on all the good behaviours he does instead of getting so wrapped up in all the frustrating and undesirable things he does. And it will help show your puppy the things you like. Behaviours you reward will increase.

Here is an excellent article that points out the importance of empathy in dealing with our dogs – and the critical importance of thinking things through from the dog’s perspective.