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"Even Puppy-Monsters needz napz..."

...So, pretty much everyone who gets a puppy reaches this point. Usually within the first two weeks. You either look in the mirror, or at a family member across the table. And you say: "What the HELL were we thinking?!?" Even professional dog trainers have those moments.

Puppies have boundless energy. They are incredibly adorable, winsome and charming. But a puppy is also a tiny T-Rex crossed with a Tasmanian Devil, wielding a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth that can rend flesh and garments, and destroy pretty much any object they sink into (including but not limited to walls, rugs and furniture).

Raising and training a puppy takes patience. Lots of patience. Believe me, I have at times been impatient with our puppy Shelby, too. It's a sometimes-frustrating "2-steps-forward-1-back" process. Expect progress, not perfection.

When your puppy (or older dog) starts to get to you and that last nerve is about to shred, try these six strategies:

1- Take a deep breath -- and a break. One family member gets to go do something else for a little bit, while another tends to the Puppy-Monster. Be a tag-team where you're not both in the ring at the same time.

2- Engage Puppy-Monster in structured fetch or tug games that channel and burn puppy energy. With trial and error, you'll figure out what works.

3- Buy some sturdy treat-dispensing toys. There are many variations available. For dogs that love food, these can be a great way to keep them busy and teach them to entertain themselves. Becoming more self-reliant is a skill puppies learn with time -- but a baby Puppy-Monster starts out believing YOU MUST entertain her at all times, according to her whim.

4- Take her out for a walk -- another way to burn off extra puppy energy, let her explore the world and be with you.

5- Learn clicker training. With a little practice, it's easy, fun -- and the best, most effective training method I've ever found in my 34 years with my own dogs and 17 years as a trainer. It can help dogs (of any age) learn things twice as fast!

6- Do a 10-minute training session -- run through obedience stuff and tricks she already knows, plus some new things. This exercises her brain and directs her energy into training games where her object will be to get you to give her clicks and treats -- and she can only do that by doing the things you're teaching her and then asking her to do.

It takes time to get into a rhythm and build a balanced relationship with any puppy. But puppies are typically bright and attentive, and almost always amaze us with how quickly they learn things. Never forget that basic obedience training forms the foundation of that strong relationship.

The first month is the hardest. It DOES get easier with time. As puppies learn more, we get better and better at teaching them and managing even the most annoying Puppy-Monster behaviors.

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March 2015


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