And now for something different.
This is the first of what will be an occasional Q and A column, where I answer real questions from real humans.
Today’s column will be useful reading for any puppy owners struggling with their new bundle of joy, or any puppy owners-to-be who want to be as prepared as possible for what lies ahead.
(I swear this was an actual email someone sent me, even though it reads like something I would have written. I appreciate this kid’s style)
Dear 3 Lost Dogs,
A couple months ago I got a 3-month-old Australian Shepherd mix from a shelter. He was as cute as cute could get and he seemed relatively chill at the time. Now, he is possibly the WORST decision I have made in my life. Let me tell you what I (and maybe others) [editor’s note: yes. Many others. So, so many] are going through.
BEFORE: Before the dog, I was just an average boy who liked video games and hanging out with friends. I had one cat. I would spend my days chilling and doing whatever I wanted (when I wasn’t doing schoolwork or chores).
These were the most relaxing times of my short, unfulfilled life.
This was how I always wanted to live my life: in peace with all the time in the world. I had dreams, one of them being to get a puppy. I always loved my uncle’s dog and my friend’s dog, so I thought, “Why not bring the party to my house? It’ll be fun!” My mom asked many times, “Are you sure you can handle this? Are you sure you can train him? Having a puppy is a BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG responsibility,” to which I replied hastily with, “YES, YES, I KNOW. NOW WHERE IS THE PUPPY?” So we went to the shelter, I picked up a puppy, and we got home.
And that’s when everything changed…
AFTER: The first two days with the puppy were not too bad, sure he peed and pooped in the house and sure, he barked at night. But, those were easily fixed. I thought, “Gee, taking care of a puppy is not all that bad!”
But ohhhh how dumb I was. All the days after that have been a living hell. Once I actually started giving the puppy a little more freedom than just in his cage and outside, he started to become a little devil. I can’t do anything without supervising him or else he’ll try and eat the cat or come upstairs (we are trying to keep him downstairs until he has learned some things first) or go in places he isn’t supposed to. Every time I want to do something, I have to put him in his crate.
In the past week or so, I have constantly been in the “I swear to God, I’m gonna march right back to the shelter and hand you back” phase or the complete mental breakdown of “Oh dear God why did I ever do this?”
These last two days, I think I’ve gotten out of those phases, but there’s still the huge problem of “How can I possibly get my life back?”
I feel like MY life has now become the DOG’S life because whenever he isn’t asleep or I’m not gone, I have to constantly focus on him. I seriously (and this is where it gets silly) want to go back to the times where I could play video games and relax. And when friends come over, it’s a nuisance to say, “Hey I’m sorry but I have to take the dog outside to pee/run around/do something for the five hundredth time. Just pause the game and wait here for the next ten minutes.” And when I put the dog in his crate, the dog hears us talking and starts losing his mind.
So please, is there any way for me to do something about this and go back to the good ol’ days or is it “game over” (haha puns…) for my peaceful life? Any and all advice would help! Thanks for reading and sorry to bother or if I’m a little (or a lot) late to the “Puppy Panic” party.
Wishing I Could Un-Paws My Life
Welcome to the puppy panic party! You’re not late. This party never ends.
What you described is a textbook case of the new puppy blues, or as I like to call it, the “What the **** Was I Thinking?!” phase (WTFWIT for short). You’ve learned what can only be learned the hard way: puppy parenthood is a 24/7 job.
It’s one thing to constantly hear that raising a puppy is hard work, a big responsibility, blah blah blah. You get it. You think you understand. But no one truly understands until they actually do it. You find your entire life consumed by the puppy and you go, “holy crap, raising a puppy is hARD WORK! It’s a BIG RESPONSIBILITY! Why didn’t anyone warn me?” (BTW, has your mom said “I told you so” yet? I think she’s earned it. Just sayin’)
Good news. It’s not game over. This 24/7 thing is temporary. It gets much easier. With some work, the puppy will become a dog who just naps at your feet while you play video games all day. But yeah… the “good ol’ days” are over.
It’s time to level up.
There will be better days ahead, when your dog outgrows the hell-puppy phase and becomes your best buddy and you can’t imagine life without him.
First, let’s talk about the parts where you done good:
1. You easily dealt with the initial peeing in the house and barking at night. A lot of people struggle with this.
2. You made it through the treacherous “I should just take him back to the shelter” breakdown. Everyone experiences that. Not everyone makes it through.
When you’re in the middle of a difficult challenge, like, say, raising a puppy, it seems like everything sucks. You can get so caught up in how much everything sucks that you overlook the things that don’t suck. A bit of advice to anyone in the WTFWIT phase: celebrate tiny victories. Your puppy finally slept through the night for the first time? Victory! Your puppy had only one accident in the house today, instead of three? Victory! These might not seem like much, but they mean you’re making progress.
Another positive is that you understand the need for a crate, supervision, and keeping him in areas where he can’t cause too much damage. It might seem like you’re restricting his freedom a lot, but that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do with puppies until they learn how to behave. This will allow much more freedom in the long run.
Pat yourself on the back for me.
Now, actual advice for getting your life back:
Train the dog to chill while you play video games. It’ll be a while before you can completely relax. There’s no way around that. But like I said, this is temporary. Do the work and you’ll get there faster. You’re gonna teach him that being quiet earns rewards.
Put the crate in the room with you, where the dog can see you. Get a container of treats. Any time the puppy is quiet for a second, toss a treat into the crate. As long as he is not whining, keep feeding. For now, limit each training session to 5 minutes. To end the session, let him out when he is quiet. You don’t want to reward barking by opening the crate.
Over a week of training, slowly increase the amount of time the pup has to be quiet to earn a treat.
You can use a similar training method to get him to stop harassing your cat.
Australian shepherds are smart, energetic dogs who need lots of physical AND mental exercise to be well-behaved. Have you started using Kongs/puzzle toys yet?
And get your friends to help you play puppy training games. Wear the pup out, then put him in his crate (where he can see you) with a puzzle toy while you guys play video games, occasionally tossing treats into the crate to reward quiet.
One last thing – Why did you want a dog?
You had dreams for this puppy. What did you dream of doing? What cool stuff did you want to do with him?
Do you do anything fun with him? If not, why not? You really need to do something that’s not about solving behavior problems. Maybe teach him tricks or frisbee or set up a backyard agility course. It’s time you got to experience the rewarding parts of dog ownership. They make the unpleasant parts worth it.