Whether it’s summer or winter where you’re at right now, you’re probably experiencing one of the extremes of Nature — either very cold or very hot, and possible stormy. But remember that the word “nature” has two meanings. One is the sense I usually use it in, as in Mother Nature. But nature also refers to the way that a person — or a dog — is.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s in his nature.” I have another one for you, an old Spanish saying and, like many Spanish sayings, it uses Nature as a metaphor: “De tal palo, tal astilla.” It literally means “As the stick, so the splinters,” and the English version is “Like father, like son.”
There’s another English saying that means the same thing and also comes from Nature. “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
These are, of course, all ways of saying someone is just born to be the way that they’re going to be, or so it seems. But how does a son really become like a father, or a daughter like a mother? That acorn still has to fall from the tree before it can grow, but the way it grows depends entirely on the circumstances it lands in.
The same is true of puppies, and how they are raised from the beginning can make an enormous difference in what kind of dog they become — aggressive, fearful, hyperactive, calm. But the easiest behavioral problems to fix are the ones that never happen in the first place.
In Nature, a puppy’s mother begins creating rules and setting boundaries from the beginning. She determines when a puppy eats and where the puppy can go, and provides immediate correction if the puppy breaks one of the rules. The big mistake that humans make with puppies is to be lured by their cuteness into giving them nothing but affection — but affection that is not earned is one of the worst things we can ever do to our dogs.
The thing to remember is that a puppy, like a human child, is very curious about the world and wants to learn what it can and cannot do. The difference is that we can explain the rules and why they exist to a human child, but all we can do with a puppy is show them the rules, and correct them the instant they break them.
Here’s a common mistake people make when it comes to housebreaking. They try to discipline the puppy when they find a wet spot on the carpet long after the dog has done it. The problem is, the puppy isn’t going to understand why you’re pointing at the floor and yelling, so two things happen.
The first is that the puppy makes no connection between the correction and the misbehavior. The second is that, suddenly, whatever the puppy was doing when you started yelling is going to become the behavior she thinks you don’t like.
If the puppy happened to be playing with a toy at the time, then you might wind up with a dog that has no interest in toys. Worse, if the puppy was being calm and submissive when you started disciplining, then you’re going to get exactly the opposite of a calm, submissive dog.
This is why the decision to adopt a puppy, rather than an adult dog, has to be made very, very carefully. The first question to ask is, “Will there be someone in the household 24/7 to watch the puppy, and provide those rules, boundaries, and limitations?”
If the answer to this question is, “No,” then you should not adopt a puppy unless you want to spend a lot of time later on dealing with and fixing misbehaviors. If the answer is, “Yes,” then remember that someone is going to have to always be there for the first few months, and everyone is going to have to be consistent in enforcing the rules and creating the boundaries.
There’s another English expression using images from Nature to describe how early upbringing affects adult behavior: “As the twig is bent, so grows the branch.” If we listen to Nature and stop bending our puppies, we will be rewarded with balanced, happy dogs.
Stay calm and have a great spring!
What was the most challenging part of raising your puppy? Share your story with us in the comments.