As first seen on the Bedford-Katonah Patch
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I recently moved, I gave myself about a week to get set up, restain the outdoor furniture and organize my training space. With several boxes still unpacked after almost 2 weeks, I sunk deeper and deeper into a state of sleep-deprived anxiety.
What pulled me out of it? Prozac? Zoloft? Some other wonder drug? Nope. Puppies. My first group puppy training class at Sun Meadow Farm pulled me up and out and gave me insights that will last a lifetime.
During week four, the puppies got a visitor: Gus, the cat who thinks he’s a dog. Unaware of the traditional dog/cat dynamic, Gus waltzed into the room and took up a position beside my dog (and training assistant) Balderdash. Gus calmly observed the chaos and 6 puppies jumped, barked and exuberantly expressed their predatory instincts.
Simultaneously, 6 humans displayed frustration and embarrassment: they all felt like those helpless moms in the grocery store with a two-year old sprawled in the aisle, screaming. This is what we call “a teaching moment.” I showed them how to quiet their puppy quickly by bringing them to their side and focus their intent on a chew toy instead.
Next we worked on handling skills and it seemed in the beginning that no one would be able to control their puppies. I offered the following sage advice: Nothing is in balance or pretty when you start out. You must contain your frustration and your visions of perfection. Everything in life worth anything, takes time. (And here I made a mental note to repeat this mantra to myself when the whole unpacked box thing started dragging me down.) Remember you’re communicating your vision to an animal that doesn’t speak your language. Stay calm! Stay calm!
The puppies walked around and around the perimeter of the room as I stood in the center, Gus under one arm and Balder at my feet. The puppies alternately lunged and focused as we worked on the following three concepts:
1. A pronounced reaction will be traced to the situation, not your puppy’s activity level. When their impulses sky-rocket, stay calm and direct them.
2. Whoever is in front is in charge. When a sudden and unpredictable event occurs, whether a cat, a squirrel, a sudden noise or unexpected motion, your puppy will take notice and respond! Step in immediately and direct your puppy back to your side. Use “Sit-Stay” as you’ve learned in class and the bracing technique to calm your pup.
3. Teach your puppy it’s rude to stare. Kids are taught a young age that it’s rude to stare at strangers. With dogs the same rule applies. Staring at an unfamiliar dog, cat or person leads to displaced excitement or aggression. In class the puppies were discouraged from staring at the cat and by the end of class, all the puppies (every single one) were friends with Gus.
Once again, the dogs I’m teaching end up teaching me. Suddenly I understood: things take time. Whether it’s conditioning a puppy to accept cats or setting up a new home, the beginning never matches the vision that lives in your head. But patience – and a very cool cat – can help things along.
How do you manage your dog or puppy’s impulses? Tell us in the comments.