My brother’s family just got a puppy, a 7-pound Bernedoodle named Sandy. When we heard the news, we rushed over to meet their new addition. But after a few adorable cuddles, she leaped from our arms in a big furball of energy. She stole a pair of socks, peed on the floor and chewed the rug before we scooped her up. When we took her outside, she sprinted across the lawn and pounced on a backyard chicken twice her size. (Sandy and the chicken are both OK.)
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Despite the chaos, sleep deprivation and countless rolls of paper towels, my brother’s family is smitten.
That’s how my family feels about our dog, Lillian, a 65-pound goldendoodle who just turned 4 years old. Until Lillian, I was never a dog person. I did not grow up with dogs, and other people’s pets annoyed me. Barking incessantly, shedding on the furniture and sticking their noses in inappropriate places were just a few of my pet peeves.
Then I had kids, and my two boys started asking for a pet. They were relentless, but each time I firmly said no — the kids make enough mess on their own for a herd of animals.
The summer when Anders and William were 9 and 6, respectively, a neighbor invited us over to see their litter of puppies. A strawberry blond with a white patch on her chest caught our eye. My boys took turns holding her and looked up at me with pleading eyes. In a moment of weakness, I said yes, and there was no going back. Anders said, “Everything about my childhood is about to change,” and William announced, “We’re going to be a party of five!”
Four years later, we cannot imagine life without Lillian. Way past her puppy years, Lillian is now mellow and well-mannered. In fact, she’s easily the best behaved in our house and far from the smelliest. She’s the first to greet my husband when he comes home at the end of the day. When my boys are feeling down, she lets them smother her with snuggles until they cheer up. She curls up next to me while I’m working on my computer and accompanies me to the hospital to volunteer as a therapy dog. I often find myself cooing at her in a voice that would make my younger self cringe. I’ve become one of those dog people I never understood.
But deep into the puppy phase like my brother’s family, it can be hard to see the light.
Jennifer Kyzer is the owner of KyzerDog in Hanover, where she’s trained puppies for 24 years. She advises families to plan before getting a puppy.
“It can be very time consuming and difficult to train a puppy,” she says. “The first year includes potty training and crate training, as well as commands and general rules — like not biting or being destructive. The next major milestone is leash walking, greetings and social etiquette, which can take anywhere from six to 18 months.”
Kyzer notes that while some dogs can be potty trained in one to three months, others take closer to six months, especially smaller breeds.
“Whether you use a baby gate or put them in a crate, pen or little room, confinement can help with potty training as well as keep them from destroying the rest of the house,” she says.
Kyzer says in many ways, puppies are like children. They thrive on ritual and schedule. “Puppies need clear and concise reprimands in order to stop negative behaviors and rewards and praise to reinforce good behavior,” she says. “By giving them the right feedback, they understand quickly.”
Another trick Kyzer uses is redirection. If a puppy is chewing on a new pair of tennis shoes, replace them with an appropriate doggie toy. If bad behaviors persist, Kyzer says, don’t hesitate to ask for help. “Early intervention is important,” she says. “You can’t just wait it out. Bad behavior usually will not get better on its own.”
Before families with small children get a puppy, they might consider additional training. Kyzer says puppies can view a smaller child as a playmate or even another puppy and try to jump or bite playfully. “When the puppies start to see kids as [leaders], it can really change the whole family dynamic,” she says.
The puppy phase is exhausting, frustrating and unbelievably messy, but somewhere in those sleepless nights a bond is formed. All it takes is one glance with those big puppy-dog eyes and the ruined rug, stolen socks and chewed baseboards are forgiven. Before you know it, you have a full-grown member of your family, and the puppy love you feel is greater than you ever expected.
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