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Puppy Mayhem

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Well unbelievably another month has almost gone and at 16 (almost 17 weeks) old, we’ve had Lexie for 8 weeks now!

My fiancé and I had wanted a puppy for 5 years.  So when we found out that the breeders (Jane and Craig of Snobruk Malamutes) were having a litter due at the beginning of March, we were so excited!  We figured we’d definitely be moved by then and the house sale would go through no problem!  Alas, as per a previous blog, no, at early March when the puppies (all 7 of them!) arrived, we were still waiting for exchange of contracts, and as we were going into a rental property, we couldn’t even start looking until exchange had happened.  Finally at the end of March we got the contracts exchanged, found a rental property that would accept our small menagerie and set a moving date, for 4 days before we would go to pick up Lexie.

Around halfway through the month I suddenly realised just how tough this was going to be.  Introducing a large breed puppy into a rental property is hard enough when you have months to prepare – 4 days was going to be a tall order!  And as excited as we were that our 5 year dream of a bundle of fluff was due to be arriving, my nerves really did start to kick in.  So I prepared myself for a bit of a bumpy ride!

As I’ve already blogged, we had a few problems with toilet training due to Lexie getting a UTI, which left us firmly in management and rewarding the good territory.  We replaced the carpet in her room with lino, praised any toileting outside with treats and play and ignored any accidents.  We also limited her access to just her room, the kitchen, the front room and the garden.  Ideally whilst there were so many toileting issues, it would be better to restrict this access even further, as this meant more accidents than we would have liked! Gradually though, as her UTI began to clear up we really noticed that rewarding her toileting outside really began to work, she actively wanted to go outside and would only have an accident if we missed her signals.  It is still work in progress, accidents in the toilet training period undoubtedly prolong it, hence Ian Dunbar’s advice to try your hardest to avoid accidents through management and training and I would thoroughly recommend this method to anyone with a new puppy.  However is very difficult in this situation and you just have to do the best you can!  So for toilet training we are definitely getting there, but it has taken a lot longer than usual.

Not being able to confine Lexie to a crate for short periods also left us with a few other problems, including:

  • Occasionally chewing things we wish she hadn’t, including a telephone wire from the wall, several notebooks, kitchen roll, and shoes!
  • Digging in the garden, the lesser of 2 evils, keeping her confined in a room whilst you need to do something else would usually mean a toilet accident, leave her with outside access and she would often dig!
  • Stealing valuable objects (letters, wallet phone cases etc) and instigating chase games. 
  • Attention seeking via toileting!  This was fun, if we attempted to give her ‘time outs’ for unwanted behaviour, she would then wee in her room.  Lexie is a normal puppy and gets easily distracted.  Often (once she had recovered from her UTI and could hold her bladder a little longer) she would play play play and not toilet.  If this playing lead to unwanted behaviour, we would put her in time out and she then had nothing to distract her so would toilet.  I would ignore it, but whilst Pete was watching her, he would rush to try to get her to go outside.  Whilst great for toilet training, this was not so great in that it meant she quickly learnt, to get attention when shut in my room, I wee!

Whilst this might not sound like much on paper, when you combine this with toileting issues and still settling into a new home, it makes for a very stressful start!  I certainly wouldn’t recommend moving and getting a puppy so quickly to anyone else!  However, this week, suddenly several things seemed to finally click into place.  Throughout the time when she was doing all the above, we were using positive reinforcement methods.  The only punishment methods we would use were either time outs (leading her to her room and shutting her there for a minute or two) or ignoring her bad behaviour.  So if she chewed something we ignored it and had to make sure we gave her more ‘acceptable’ items to chew, like frozen carrots, stuffed kongs and chew toys.  Stealing and chase games were ignored if the object was low value (kitchen roll) or if it was a high value object we would swap it for a toy.  We also made time to play chase games with her outside when she hadn’t stolen something so she understood chases come without her having to instigate it!  You quickly learn to prioritise these issues and work out what you can ignore and how to train an alternative behaviour.  We also made sure that we rewarded her ‘good behaviour’ as much as possible.  Making sure that, when she does behaviours that we like, we make them ‘profitable’ to her is a surefire way of getting her to repeat them. 

It can be quite hard to remember to reward good behaviour, which we often take for granted.  In a way this can mean that we effectively ‘punish’ good behaviour by ignoring it!  I was very pro-reward with treats and games, but often neglected verbal praise and encouragement.  Our puppy class reminded me of the value of this and we started to notice her progress coming on in leaps and bounds when we really started.  I also noticed how quickly behaviours that I found annoying (barking at me for attention, jumping up) would extinguish when ignored and any other behaviour praised profusely. 

All of this is quite exhausting and time consuming, it takes trial, error and lots of discussions to ensure that you as the humans, are consistent.  But, 8 weeks on, it has been so worth it!  Suddenly many problems have died out and we have been left with a puppy who loves to play with us and understands ‘what we want’.  It’s been a bumpy ride and it’s not over, but we love it and wouldn’t change her for the world!

One thing has really stuck in my mind though, so many people told me you couldn't work full time and have a puppy.  I must admit I thought this a bit of an exaggeration.  In hindsight, I think this is very true and potential dog owners should consider if they have the time and energy to devote to a puppy, especially to larger and more energetic breeds.  Anyone who manages to work full time and raise a happy well adjusted puppy deserves a gold medal!!!  If you are wondering if a puppy is for you, why not contact me for a puppy prep consultation? 

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