Puppy Days

Well, we can officially say we have embarked on the puppy rearing adventure once again. We brought home our new little beagle a week ago today. After much waffling on the naming of said canine (George Bailey and  Philip Beardsley and Franklin were among some contenders), we finally settled on Frankie (although admittedly, he inadvertantly gets called Patrick every once in a while…) He is, after all, Patrick’s half brother so…coming from a large family myself, sometimes that happens doesn’t it?

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Anyway, it’s been quite a week. I’ve never had a baby before so maybe I don’t have a leg to comment on, but I tend to liken puppyhood to raising a baby, in ultra fast forward. That first week is like newborn week – you feel like you’re with that puppy 24/7, watching his every move. You’re up multiple times a night because he doesn’t understand the concept of being quiet in the kennel yet and you’re trying hard to win the game of potty-training. If you leave his sight, you would think the world just ended. You also learn real fast the vocal volume and range that he is capable of. So that’s fun. But…he’s just so gosh darn cute. And those tired puppy snuggles are to die for. So you keep him around 😉

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And now we enter into week two. Adjustment period is winding down and we’re in hypervigilant learning/teaching mode all the time. Don’t chew on my fingers. Don’t chew on the island. Don’t chew on the rug. Leave those shoes alone. You don’t need to know what electrocution feels like – stop chewing on those cords! Potty training is actually going rather well, compared to our battle with Patrick. I was wary because we were getting a puppy in the winter, when neither a puppy nor a human wants to stand out in the elements waiting for someone to do his business (and let me clear this up for you, puppy, it’s not the human!) But I think it’s actually working in our favor. The difference between the warm indoor floor and the cold snowy ground seems to be significant enough for puppy brain to connect the dots on where this elimination thing is supposed to be happening. Plus, having just come off the puppy train not too long ago, maybe we’re just a little more seasoned veterans of the process.

Frankie attended his first puppy class on Thursday. Among his classmates, he met a four pound Yorkie mix named Titan and a huge Great Pyranees puppy named Lafayette. Dan was all oogly eyes over a very vivacious lab puppy named Bear. Frankie did pretty well, though we had been working on some of the basics already at home. The wonderful thing about beagles is that you can always count on them to be food motivated, which makes positive reinforcement training with them quite easy and effective (of course, you still have to battle with their stubborn streaks and “beagle ears”, but that comes with the territory).

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I am a big advocate of working with your dog, not against him,  using positive reinforcement training (rewarding good behavior) to teach him what is right and acceptable and what is not. Letting him learn to eventually figure out on his own what the right choices are is far more effective in the long wrong run than forcing him to do what you want. It does take more time and patience on your part. But you will have a better companion because of it. If you are thinking of getting a puppy, have a puppy, an adult dog, or just interested in dog behavior, I highly recommend the book Decoding your Dog by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. It has all sorts of good training tips and insight on various dogs behaviors, both problematic and natural, why they occur and how to work with your dog to overcome them.

Dogs are very intelligent animals. But they are not humans. I think we tend to get stuck in a pitfall of just assuming they see the world as we do and learn the same way we do. Training is really more or less a long course in overcoming a language barrier between the two species. Neither side will ever truly be fluent in either language. But because of the intelligence of both sides, we can find ways to modify and meet in the middle. And it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

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