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What Was I Thinking?

Sophie has been with us nearly two months now…

Planned puppyhood seemed so simple, and then this dog showed up! She’s wild and crazy! She runs like a Mad Doggie, eats like a horse, and draws my focus every minute of the day! From the moment I wake up until the instant I go to sleep it’s “Where’s Sophie? What’s she chewing on now? (Yick! It’s another snail!) Sophie! Give me that! Drop it! Good Girl!” I’ve never been so exhausted (or used so many exclaimation points) in my life. Thank goodness I have Barb to take over. Right, Barb? Barb!!

Sophie had already been spayed when we got her. Early spay and neuter (as early as six weeks of age) is becoming the norm for humane and rescue groups. Experience has shown that no promise, contract, or cash deposit is enough to ensure that 100% of adopted animals will not be allowed to reproduce. No matter how sincere or well-meaning, people just don’t reliably follow through, so rescue groups have removed all risk by embracing very early surgery. I have performed several thousand of these procedures on puppies and kittens weighing as little as two pounds. Because they’re smaller, young animals require less medication and have shorter incisions, so the surgery costs less. The young animals sail through surgery with virtually no problems and recover with amazing speed.

Our Sophie still required the usual compliment of vaccinations and parasite treatments. Not long after bringing her home, she became depressed and developed diarrhea. Even though I’d checked her stools a few days before, I had to repeat the lab test. Sure enough, she’d been incubating coccidia, a protozoan intestinal parasite. This is the nature of laboratory testing; what was true yesterday is not necessarily true today! A little medication was all Sophie needed to return to her little Mad Doggie self.

Let’s face it, raising a new puppy, like getting older, is not for sissies. It’s hard work and we have to stay on top of things at all times. Our new puppy must learn her manners and cannot be allowed to establish bad habits that will plague her (and us) for life.

We engaged the services of Les Erbst, a professional dog trainer and owner of Grateful Pets in Valley Ford, to help us with Sophie. Training a new puppy is hard work that requires time and consistent effort for success. Right now we’re working on the Big Five commands: Heel, Sit, Down, Come, and Stay. These are the basics every puppy needs to know, along with the release command “OK” and the universal command “No.” The words we try to use most often are “Good Girl!” Later, we’ll move on to harder commands, like Fetch.

Our trainer visits once each week for a 2 hour session with Barb, me, and Sophie. We also have homework assignments and regular work / play sessions. Sometimes I think the trainer’s biggest job is teaching us to be consistent with Sophie. It’s difficult to consistently remember the correct commands and instantly praise and reward Sophie for good behavior. Puppy training is a family affair. Everyone needs to be involved, for Sophie’s sake.

Housetraining is another full-time effort. A puppy has a short attention span and gets only brief warning from its body when it’s time to go. Reward is the best teacher, so Barb and I must remain vigilant to the slightest signs of impending potty because after-the-fact punishment is generally worthless as a training tool and is often harmful. At the end of a long day, when Barb and I are both tired, it can be difficult to keep focused on Sophie’s behavior. Leash restriction or confinement in her puppy crate are our best tools. When Sophie is restricted to a space too small for comfortable elimination, she becomes noticeably agitated when she has to go. Then it’s a quick trip outside and “Good Girl!” Sophie gets better all the time, but has yet to master freedom in the house. Someday (please, please!) soon.

Pet ownership is a life-long commitment. We can’t just pick up a puppy, enjoy her while she’s little and cute, and then get rid of her when she becomes inconvenient. Yet the shelters are full of animals whose owners decided it was OK to surrender their “beloved” pet because the owner had to move, or had a child, or some other problem arose. Animals with house training problems and unruly animals who have never been taught how to behave make up a large percentage of the unwanted dogs and cats who will lose their lives in our animal shelters. Most of these animals could have been saved with a little responsible effort from the original owner.

Good dogs are not born, they are made - with consistent effort by a dedicated, caring pet owner.

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