Puppy parents, please help
September 2, 2018 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to raise a puppy for the first time, and having a really rough go of it. Please tell me this is normal, or what I can do differently to make it better.

My girlfriend and I adopted Meatball a week ago. He's some kind of shepherd mix, approximately eleven weeks old. Girlfriend has a full-time job and is out of the house during the day. I work from home, and am home all day, with Meatball. This is not working well for me for several reasons.

-I feel like he demands constant attention and it's really wearing me out and affecting my work. We are crate-training him, and sometimes I can get him to nap in his crate for an hour or two during the day, which is beautiful. But I'm afraid of overdoing it and making him dislike the crate. As is, he sleeps in there peacefully at night, and I don't want to ruin that.

-I can tell Meatball is smart and he's already starting to learn some commands. This is good, but it also worries me because I've never trained a puppy before and I'm afraid I may be teaching him incorrectly and that he'll quickly learn bad habits. For example, he can "Sit" reliably, but only when I've already got his attention and I'm holding a treat. Praise and playtime don't seem to be good motivators for him because he doesn't seem that interested in me. I praise him for doing something I like but it doesn't seem to get any reaction.

-I don’t know the best way to get his energy out. He doesn’t want to go for a walk (he’ll just sit down somewhere and chew on the leash). He will sniff around the yard but it doesn’t seem too active. Sometimes I can get him into an intense game of tug-of-war with a toy. Is that enough for him? I want to tire him out but I don’t know how much or what kind of activity he actually needs.

-He bites a lot, either while playing or just at random. I know they’re just play-bites, but they can be painful, and nothing I do makes him stop. He won’t sit or listen to a command because he’s excited, and I’ve tried the yelping technique but that just makes him more excited and he tries to bite more.

-I’d really like to get him into some puppy classes, but it’s still three weeks until he’s vaccinated enough, plus it turns out he’s got giardia so that needs a month to clear up. I’m afraid that by the time we can get him into some socialization and training classes, it’ll be too late and he’ll already have learned too many misbehaviors.

Am I being too paranoid about this? Is he just too young to expect him to learn right now? Millions of people raise good dogs so it can’t be as hard as I’m making it, right? I would love any specific tips you have, or any reassuring stories if you’ve had a difficult puppy who turned out okay.
posted by Nedroid to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I will offer a reassuring story and leave the tips to more expert dog owners. Our puppy, adopted at age 1, was the worst puppy on the face of the planet. I am amazed I didn't re-home her. (Actually I tried to give her to a friend with a large farm and lots of dogs, and she said she'd never take a dog younger than age 3.) Our dog didn't connect with us, ran around uncontrollably, ferociously chewed everything in sight ( including books, shoes, toys) but hated to chew doggie chew objects, and lunged at everyone, once actually biting me hard enough to give me a puncture wound in the leg while I was running alongside her and she "herded" me. A dog trainer said not to give her too much pure protein (like chicken I was cooking for her) because she needed less energy. This phase lasted til she was 2, I have to say. By 3 she was a good dog. By 6 she was the best dog on the face of the planet. She became incredibly mellow, engaged, and tuned in to us. She is so deeply involved in our family now that we can barely believe what a pill she was as a young dog.
I realize with dogs as with people, a lot of it is training and a lot of it is just who they are. Just like kids start to sleep through the night at 3 most dogs become more able to listen and calm down at 3.
But I would advise getting a personal one-on-one dog trainer to come over before your puppy is vaccinated and ready for group classes. Even a few sessions can help you enormously. Your vet should have recommendations for good local people.
posted by nantucket at 6:47 AM on September 2, 2018 [11 favorites]

So, it sound like you have a normal puppy. They are like human children in their need for attention and constant care in their first couple months, they just grow out of it faster than human babies.

At this point, just focus on socialization. Take the puppy out to see the world, smell the smells, hear the noises, as many different kinds as you can manage. Temperament is set early and it's more important to have a dog who is confident and relaxed around different stimuli than to have a dog who can sit on command at the age of 2 months. These first couple months are when dogs learn that the world and all the different looking and smelling things in it are not scary. Because of the vaccination situation, you should pick up your puppy when other dogs are around and not let them interact yet, and not take it to a dog park/dog-frequented area even if there are no other dogs there, but do take your puppy out and about. Seriously, it's important. And also mentally exhausting for them, so two birds, one stone.

I'd also recommend that you read the book about raising puppies by Ian Dunbar.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:56 AM on September 2, 2018 [19 favorites]

Puppies love to chew. Get Meatball some good strong chews- a Kong with treats inside, rawhide, bully sticks (they stink but my dogs always loved them). These would be good to give out when you need some alone time during the day.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:18 AM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

OMG, that face. That looks like one smart, with-it puppy who will not stand for any slacking off. That dark muzzle and chest/stance + big paws makes me think he's part German Shepherd, which IMO is great. But he's a smarty. So be ready for it.

My experience was much like nantucket's. First year, my dog drove. me. insane. So hard to handle. Now he's the best. But it took a year or so. His current favorite pastimes are long walks and laying around like a slug.

My 2 cents: It's only been one week. Give yourself a break. Truly. You can do this. But you have to plan.

As I learned early, a tired puppy = happy puppy = happy puppy owner. You have to get him really tired. Work specific times into each day where he can run and play and generally get exhausted. Note that he will recover, though. Puppies don't get tired and stay tired. So plan for AM and PM sessions if possible. A schedule (just like with human babies) is your friend.

Also the chewing- this is very true. They will chew inappropriate things if they don't have enough appropriate things. You may want to check with your vet on types of chews, as some rawhides and other materials are difficult to digest and may wreak havoc on his little digestive tract.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:33 AM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Congratulations! You have a normal puppy! And he's adorable.

All of the above suggestions are great. Don't worry about commands yet. We don't know how his first 10 weeks were, so maybe he spent most of it in a crate and the idea of running across a yard blows his mind. You might have to teach him that it's okay. So run ahead of him in your yard, dropping tiny treats along the way. When our Murphy was a pup, I worked from home and gated us in a room with everything he'd need, including his crate and every chew toy imaginable. I'd kick a ball against the wall and let him go crazy for it. When he fell asleep, I'd roll him into the crate. Leash skills take a while. Let him associate his collar/harness with a tiny treat and a smooch. Then just a smooch. Biting = a firm "No."

It's not hard. It's just a lot of tiring work. You'll be fine.
posted by kimberussell at 7:34 AM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yup you got a normal pup! they can essentially feel like satan's spawn a lot more than omgcutefuzzball - but you will so so so miss it when he's all grown up. so even though you're covered in scars and stuff now, it'll get better soon! hang in there!

- def get him to puppy school and puppy play dates asap, and if you need to wait due to shots, focus on socializing (so important!!). grab a bunch of goodies and take him to gas stations, skate parks, busses, cars, to see little kids, see people in wheelchairs and on bikes and just associate everything with yaay goodies! don't make him walk too too much, cuz they do get tired. shower him with praise when he takes in all the new weird stuff.

- our dog really disliked walks as a puppy (the rain, snow, everything sucked and was scary) but now it's his favorite thing in the world. toys and enthusiasm help a lot.

- to burn energy try tug of war, hiding goodies and just goofing around. its a good opportunity to practice bite inhibition! when he nips you, you can show it hurt and you stop playing for a little bit - then you start playing again and if he bites - take a break again. they learn little by little that its not appropriate and that fun times end when they bite you

- carrots and giving him stuff he's allowed to chew on help with the entire teething process

- don't worry too much about 'training your dog wrong' - treats are a good place to start - Victoria Stilwell and bright dog academy are great resources on youtube for training dogs

- also, leave the house (first for short periods of time and then make 'em longer) so doggie learns to be home solo. he might howl and cry, but the sooner you start the better, otherwise you're gonna be dealing with serious separation anxiety

- we tried crate training, but ultimately dropped it and our dog doesnt destroy anything around the house when we're gone. he gets a ton of exercise though, so that might be a factor

hope these help!! meatball will turn out to be the best dog!!
posted by speakeasy at 7:36 AM on September 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

My beloved elderly GIR, who is in his decline now, was the worst goddamned puppy on the planet. We could not exercise him enough - my husband would take him out for a 45 minute walk and then hand off to me for another 30 and he was still a live wire when I had to leave for work. He ate 1.5 couches.

He's not a brilliant dog, so he was not very interested in treat balls/puzzle toys (another terrible puppy loved them to obsession and we would have to take them away from her), but he did like ropes with knots in them because he needed them untied, so that games of tug would turn into "okay you hold this and I'm gonna work on this knot now" but at least it kept him quiet a while. We did finally find a ball he couldn't destroy and liked to play with, though he never learned to fetch - even today, at his grampa pace, he likes to be chased around the yard as we pretend we desperately want his greenball. We used a lot of chewing toys and treats when we were around and wanted him to just hang out with us instead of hanging from the chandeliers.

What we finally did in the end, when he was about 8 months old, was get him a puppy. He was kind of a bossy shit to her for about 4 hours and - my husband and I were sitting there, exhausted, when this happened - suddenly he realized he had A Responsibility and he laid down and let her eat and drink and...he was just a good dog from then on. I'd like to think that finally everything we'd been teaching him helped, but for all I know he just would have been a happy nightmare forever if we hadn't gotten Roxy.

That's not to say you have to get another dog*, but if you could swing maybe a couple days or partial days of daycare a week, or see if you have a friend who wants to do playdates with a similarly-aged (or puppy-friendly) dog. They're much better at wearing each other out than we are at wearing them out.

Youtube has lots of resources for positive training. As long as you're not making the dog scared you're doing okay, and you're going to screw up. Probably by accidentally training him to do something you regret, and of course he'll never forget that one. But you probably won't scar his psyche too much if you stick to positive reinforcement and gentle correction with redirection and praise when you're trying to extinguish a behavior.

It is important for your dog to learn to be alone, and you may have to invent "alone" with him gated into another part of the house for increasingly longer sessions during the day. This is less fraught if you can get a video surveillance system set up so you can make sure he's not gnawing on a lamp without getting up and going near enough that he smells you there.

*And there is a massive downside to getting your puppy a puppy, besides the occasional chaos of having two puppies. Because 13 years later, I've got a dude who's losing control of his back end and he's so big that when he stops being able to get up on his own/without serious pain we're going to have to be done, and I've got an old lady with one half-working eye and a limpy back leg and she can't hear much and her primary joy in life is sleeping on our bed now that GIR can't get up there anymore. We have a couple of Very Bad Days in our pretty near future, and there's a third dog who's very social and we fear also immortal, and she's going to be desperately lonely by herself. It's been worth it, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 AM on September 2, 2018 [12 favorites]

I am not a dog owner but I did raise two kids and from the comments above it sounds like a similar level of involvement during the day to what I remember.

So I‘d like to speak to the „work at home parent“ aspect. This situation is not tenable for you for a whole year, if you work full time. You‘ll burn out. And also it’s not fair on you. Is there any way for you to take time off or reduce the amount of work you do for two weeks or so until you‘ve got more of a routine figured out?

posted by Omnomnom at 8:38 AM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say that this is totally normal. I remember looking into the mirror when my pug was six months old and thinking "I have ruined my life." At that point, I could not imagine ever being able to read a book or watch an entire episode of anything on TV ever again, let alone have anyone over to dinner and actually have a conversation with them.

Lots of great advice here. What worked well for me was getting a one-on-one trainer for direct reinforcement, and getting him to puppy classes, as well as blocking out significant time for exercise. Not wanting to walk on the leash is fairly normal but if you persist/insist he will give in and then you will have established a good mechanism for burning off some of that energy. I also have a dog walker on weekdays, so my guy definitely gets a good hour of exercise and socialization. It's not cheap, but you might want to consider it even if you work from home, if only so you will have that period to get some work done. If that's not possible start going out for a couple of hours in the middle of the day so he gets used to being alone for a bit.

In general, I think most people underestimate the amount of care and attention babies of all species need. If you can rearrange your work schedule for a few weeks so that you have more time to get him into a routine, that will pay huge dividends in the long run.

And enjoy--your Meatball looks adorable and the best is yet to come!
posted by rpfields at 9:01 AM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ve tried the yelping technique but that just makes him more excited and he tries to bite more.

How much have you hammed up being hurt and offended and insulted? Yelping when the puppy bites you isn't just about making a startling noise, it helps if you get all sad and hurt and withdrawn and won't even acknowledge that the puppy is there for a bit (you don't have to hold it for long, they have incredibly short memories, but long enough to get the causal chain "I bit the person and they yelped and now they don't want to play with me," in the furry little head. But you can forgive the puppy two minutes later.) They're very attuned to human emotions, so making a bite a big emotional deal helps.

Also, I bet you'd do well looking into clicker training if you're not familiar with it already. It's a positive-reinforcement-based training technique, where you get the puppy to associate a click from one of those little handheld clickers with getting a treat, and then you can get very precise about what you're rewarding him for. It sounds a little gimmicky, but it worked pretty well on my old dog, and it's really really good for making the dog interested in and involved with you.

Last thing, on tiring the dog out. Nothing's better than fetch. Some dogs take to it naturally and some have to be trained, but if you can stand there and throw for twenty minutes of the dog sprinting full speed after a ball, the dog tires out and you don't. (This is do as I say, not as I did -- never successfully got my old dog fetching, she preferred playing keepaway. But she spontaneously sprinted in circles when she was off leash outdoors, so she tired herself out.)
posted by LizardBreath at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

This is a baby. For biting, act hurt, remove baby to a place away from you. Babies are incredibly oral, so make sure there are other options.

Get a play yard - basically an area where you can safely leave the baby indoors or out. An hour at a time is about as much as baby dogs can be expected to be chill. Play with pup, throw a small toy, go for a 'walk' on leash, play tug, lots of cuddles and attention. Then work for an hour, using music of radio to mask piteous cries of desperate loneliness. Then attention time, go outside for pee opportunity, etc. Change out the toys frequently as they get bored of the same ones all the time. A Kong with peanut butter will keep a pup busy, and maybe some puzzle food toys.

The command I would work on hardest is recall - coming when called - because dogs get off leash and it can be critical.

It would seem only fair for gf to take care of this adorable guy for some time in the morning and evening so you can catch up on work.
posted by theora55 at 10:14 AM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yay puppy! I have a GSD mix too and yeah, she was a holy terror as a puppy. We also crate trained and it took a while, but eventually she figured out that her crate was her little hidey-hole and she still likes it.

Once she got her shots at 4 months, we went to the Dog Park (d-o-g-p-a-r-k, I still have to spell it or she goes nuts) and we pretty much lived there for the next two years. 2, 3 hours a day when she was crazy teenage dog. But it was great: there were a handful of other big dogs about her age, and they all grew up as best buds. I became friends with their owners. I found my awesome vet through recommendations and when Luce outgrew her puppy gear, I passed it along to a new puppy owner that I met there. I look back at those long afternoons/evenings at the d-o-g-p-a-r-k with gratitude and nostalgia. She's ten now and we'll still go to a d-o-g-p-a-r-k on occasion but she doesn't race around as she used to. Now she hangs out with her people and sniffs friendly dogs who approach her.

Seriously though, find a good d-o-g-p-a-r-k. He'll be able to get his exercise, he'll be able to socialize from the start, and you'll meet fellow puppy owners to compare and share puppy stories with.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:26 AM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Second dog will solve many of those problems.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:39 AM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's been a long time since I've had a puppy, but I wanted to reassure you that waiting another month to start training is not too late at all. I adopted my dog when he was about year old and the only training he had was housebreaking. We waited almost another year to do formal training. He picked it up instantly. Like, within 2 weeks I was seeing improvement.
posted by radioamy at 12:49 PM on September 2, 2018

Think about all the things your puppy doesn't know! When I first got a puppy, I didn't grok just how much she didn't know. And when you realize how much is new and unknown to your adorable little pup, the easier it will be to manage the issues you're having.

--Your dog doesn't know what a leash is or what a walk is. You have to teach a puppy what the point of a leash is! You have to train your puppy to walk with you, while on the leash. Do you have a pocket full of treats with you, when you go outside on the leash? That might help you teach the little'un to walk with you. (For my pup, we used a wooden spoon with peanut butter on the end of it. We could just hold the spoon down at snout-level, and she was motivated to move along with us.)

--Your dog doesn't know what your praise means. Dogs and humans are super good at communicating with each other, but even human babies have to learn what "Yay, good job!" means. Make sure, every time you give verbal praise, you also provide a treat. Use classic conditioning to get your pup to learn that your happy-voice "Good dog!" is a good thing. (Have you any experience with clicker training? Even if you don't want to use a clicker, I recommend reading up on the general idea behind it!)

--Your dog doesn't know what your yelps in pain mean. The best way to get your puppy to realize that hard bites are bad is to make it a bad thing when he bites hard. And what's bad? When play ends! (Hitting and mean shouts are also bad, but please don't ever punish your puppy like that. ) The moment your dog bites you, end play. Yelp, stop playing, and turn away.What matters is that you're disengaging with the puppy, so he'll learn that he doesn't get to have more fun times when he bites hard. With time, he'll learn that the yelping is a sign he's gone too far, but he needs to learn that through association with the play ending.

--If your puppy is like mine, he doesn't know when he needs to nap. This was a huge, huge thing with my puppy. It took us a while to realize that (like a human baby), she didn't know her own needs. She was so energetic, and she would! not! stop! EVAR! She would run around to the point of exhaustion, and then past that point. Know how babies who are overtired become overly energetic and throw fits, and basically become nightmares? That's what our dog did. When she was 10 weeks old, we needed to enforce naps every hour or hour and a half. Seriously: even though she would, if left to her own choices, be awake and alert literally all day, we came to learn that she needed about 45 minutes of nap-time for every hour she was awake. She needed the naps, but she never ever would have chosen to sleep on her own. So, while I acknowledge how scary it can be to mess with crate training at all, I would definitely recommend trying to enforce more naps. (Again, the comparison to a human baby is appropriate: you can't trust a toddler to know when they have to sleep!)

The biggest thing for me, when I got my puppy, was learning that I didn't have a dog. Instead, I had a baby. You've got a baby--an innocent, adorable, sweet, ignorant, emotionally immature baby. He'll grow into a great dog, but right now your task is taking care of a li'l baby.
posted by meese at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's hard at first! It will get easier!

Let the dog run around somewhere (enclosed field nearby?) daily

Don't let puppy do the behaviors your don't want an adult dog to do. If the dog tries to jump on you, tell it to sit then give a treat for sitting

Work with an all positive/all reward trainer if you can afford it. A good trainer will train you how to be an effective dog parent

Know that a small puppy is just a fuckton of work and will get easier relatively quickly
posted by latkes at 1:27 PM on September 2, 2018

I currently have an 8 month old puppy, and you are exactly where I was at the same stage: I was exhausted by her neediness, frustrated by her behavior, and convinced I was failing her. I was googling "my puppy is driving me crazy" , and it was reassuring to hear this was normal for both of us.
They grow and learn and improve, week by week. Keep at it, get some respite now and then, and puppy class as soon as she is ready.
posted by librosegretti at 1:30 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can't add much, but the lead chewing and refusing to actually walk anywhere properly was totally normal for my uber hyper labrador at this age. She grew out of it when she eventually realised what fun walkies could be if you moved off the spot for a change.

When she was about 5 months old I discovered that giving her something to carry in her mouth on her walks (an old book for instance) made for a smoother walkies.
Good luck. Hang in there!
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Two things that have made owning my 5-month-old puppy much easier:

- enforcing naps! Our puppy is up for 1-2 hours and then we put him in his crate for a 1-2 hour nap. We can absolutely tell when he needs a nap (he gets nippy and WILD) and he's so much better after he's had time to rest. We've been doing this since we got him at 9 weeks and he shows no signs of disliking his crate. He's even started to wander toward the room where it is when he's tired(!!!!). My last dog was crate trained and would happily sleep in there with the door open and I think it's likely this dog will do the same (one day, in the distant future).
- puppy101 on reddit. This sub is incredibly helpful and supportive and I don't know what I would do without it. This post and this post are good round-ups of general puppy advice, but the sub has information on house training, nipping, separation anxiety, general training, etc. It's great! And it will make you feel so much better because it will reinforce that your puppy is totally normal. Plus there are a bunch of cute puppy pictures.

Good luck! Y'all got this! My last dog was a GSD mix and he was a holy terror as a puppy, but he was an absolutely terrific dog. And thankfully he was a dog much longer than he was puppy.
posted by vakker at 5:37 PM on September 2, 2018

Your puppy is so cute!

Nthing everyone who is saying this is normal. We adopted a fairly untrained 5 month old puppy a couple of years after our old dog died. We hadn't been looking for a puppy specifically--that was just who needed rehoming. Well, I started wondering if he'd been rehomed because he was somehow defective! I was used to our calm, well behaved old guy. Instead, we now had a wild, perpetually energetic banshee. But like someone said above...you don't have a dog yet, you have a baby. He will grow up, but it takes time.

What worked for us:

-treat training
-enforcing naps when he was a puppy--that "overtired and thus hyper" thing is absolutely real
-a dog park with nice dogs and responsible owners, where he could socialize and learn how to be a dog
-multiple daily walks

Your girlfriend is really going to have to spell you off in the evenings or you will be resentful and exhausted.

Good luck! You can do this!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:17 PM on September 2, 2018

Re tiring your pup out: these work pretty well without also tiring -you- out.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:43 PM on September 2, 2018

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