Is it normal…? Parenting a Puppy Part 2

27 May 2016


 “Maaike did an amazing job taking this photo. Like small children, puppies are in constant motion”

© Maaike Koning


In my last blog post  I wrote that puppies were now being raised using what are essentially positive parenting techniques. Bad behaviour should be ignored and good behaviour reinforced with praise. I figured it might be easier with a dog than a child since you might not lose your temper so easily – we have lower expectations for dogs than kids (note to self: return to this in a later blog!).  We’ve had the puppy for a month now and ignoring bad behaviour has been the first thing to go out of the window. Positive parenting puppy failure #1. The thing is there are limits, if there’s one word you need with a young puppy, it’s a resounding ‘no!’. This is primarily for reasons of safety – both the puppy’s and your own. Gnawing at electricity cables. No. Biting limbs and extremities. No. Tearing the clothes off your body. No. There are some activities that just have to be stopped right away. I can take away a cushion and give the dog a toy to chew on instead, but when its teeth are sunk into your kid’s arm, it’s another story.

There is some less desirable behaviour that can be ignored. Taking a puppy out for a walk is like going somewhere with a two-year-old. They’re distracted by everything, want to run off all over the place and alternate between racing along as fast as they can and stopping, lying down and refusing to move. They also pick up everything they see, from dirty tissues and random litter to pen tops and plastic bags containing other dog’s poos. When my daughter Ina was two, she wanted to be carried everywhere. She wasn’t keen on walking. My friend Caroline taught me what she called ‘the boring hold’. Have the child walk and when she whines ‘carrryyyy’,  pick her up and just stand there waiting until she asks to be put down again so you can actually go somewhere. When Pippa lies down and refuses to move, I employ the boring hold technique by turning away from her and standing very still. So far it’s been working.

Another thing about being a first-time owner that is reminiscent of being a first-time parent is that gnawing anxiety about not knowing stuff. ‘Shit, someone left me in charge of a puppy and I’m not fit for the purpose’ is what flashes through my head when I have to do something complicated like take the puppy with me to a work meeting that includes getting buses and the metro. Travel plus being in charge of a small, helpless being is right up there in my list of nightmare scenarios. Anxiety also causes a lot of frenzied online googling. ‘Is it normal for my girl puppy to have something that looks like a willy?’ (the answer was yes, she’ll grow into it. Weird, right?). ‘Is it normal for my puppy’s poop to be a different colour every time?’ Sure.

And then there’s the mad hour she has at a different time every day. A friend who’s a bit of an animal activist and against pedigree dogs (he works at Varkens in Nood – which is like a Dutch pig rescue charity) happened to mention ‘rage syndrome’ or Sudden Onset Aggression which can affect Golden Retrievers and other family-friendly breeds like Spaniels and Labradors.  Apparently, they suddenly go all mental and bitey and there’s nothing you can do about it. Pippa’s mad hour looks a bit like sudden onset aggression, the whites of her eyes appear, she races around with her ears flat to her head and jumps up nipping at everything in a total frenzy. Googling didn’t help assuage my concerns but last night at puppy training, Martijn learned it was normal puppy behaviour. Thank God for that.

One final thing I’ve learned this month is let sleeping dogs lie. It’s when they’re at their sweetest, plus it’s the only time you can get some rest (or work done).