When I was 10, I successfully nagged my parents into finally letting me get a puppy. All of my dreams came true, or so I thought…
To any parents out there who are thinking of getting their child a puppy, please read this first and consider again!
I have always loved taking care of animals. I was fascinated with all types of creatures in my childhood years, insects, rats, kittens, even rescuing the occasional newt that didn’t find shelter in time before the snow came (and then rehabilitating them in our bathtub, my Mom put up with a lot).
The one pet that eluded me was the puppy. My parents didn’t want one. I craved one. After months of non-stop whining (and at least one Powerpoint presentation), they finally gave in.
I could hardly contain my excitement. Finally: the pet of my dreams! We would do everything together: snuggle, watch TV, explore the forest behind out house, and so much more. Everything was going to be amazing and perfect.
We finally found a cheap puppy off of Craigslist. This was an unplanned litter with an unknown sire. Dogs are animals that generally live for over 10 years, so the commitment level is very high. Getting a puppy from an unplanned litter is a gamble, chances are the people didn’t realize their dog was pregnant for a while, so the mother may not have received the proper vet care.
The people who had this litter could not wait to get rid of these accidental puppies. My puppy, Lily, was born and raised isolated in a garage with her littermates with very little human interaction. The people were so eager to get rid of her, that they let me take her at 5 weeks old, compared to the normal weaning age of about 8 weeks. As a 10-year-old child, this was great! I got my puppy early! I had no idea of the repercussions this would have.
You see, as a puppy grows, it learns valuable lessons from its mother and siblings. One such lesson is “Ouch! You bit too hard and now our fun play/feeding time is over”. Without this lesson, my puppy would bite people, playfully, but sometimes very hard. It can be fixed, but I definitely didn’t have the tools or knowledge to do so.
From the day we brought her home, I was so happy to finally have my puppy that I never stopped snuggling her. My parents jokingly said that she wouldn’t learn to walk if I didn’t put her down every once in a while. When night came, she cried incessantly when I went to bed in my loft and she stayed on the floor. A very reasonable reaction on her end. I had been giving her non-stop attention throughout each day, so at night when I went away, she was very scared and confused.
I gave in every night and ended up moving my bed to the floor so she could sleep with me. Having an adorable ball of fur in your bed all night sounds nice, but does not make for a restful night’s sleep. My morning attitude (already grumpy at best) began to swiftly decline, until my parents decided we needed to keep Lily in the downstairs bathroom so we could all get some sleep. A reasonable reaction on their end. Who wants a cranky 10-year-old in their lives? No one.
With no idea what potty training entailed, I covered the whole bathroom with newspaper so her messes could be cleaned up easily. This taught her that everywhere is a bathroom and there no “correct” spot to go. I can’t remember ever paying attention to if she needed to go to potty but just being upset when she went in the house. Not fair to her, but I didn’t know any better. The lack of house training led to her eventually being put outside in a kennel.
Despite being very interested in training, I received bad advice that you shouldn’t train puppies until they are six months old. This advice is meant for more intense training that includes punishing, not for the positive reinforcement training that is more common these days. Puppies are still babies, even at 6 months old, so training that involves punishing can be a little harsh. Some dogs never really adapt to that sort of training and most modern trainers prefer to use positive reinforcement. This is where you get the dog to perform the desired behavior by rewarding the behavior with treats and praise. Not knowing there were different approaches to training, I went ahead and didn’t train anything and started trying when she was 6 months old.
I didn’t know that training was not something that was only for teaching commands, but that it was reinforcing behaviors that we liked and discouraging behaviors that we didn’t like. By not even reinforcing basic manners, like not jumping on me when I greeted her, she had no focus when I tried to train her. Her human contact was becoming limited with me starting school, so any time I would see her she would get overly excited. We weighed nearly the same amount, so when she would jump up on me (with very muddy paws) she would often knock me over. She was not aggressive in the least, but this encounter would scare me and make me less willing to go out and try to work with her.
Finally, the day came where I realized she was more than I could handle. With tears in my eyes, I opted to re-home her to a young couple who had more experience.
A few weeks after they got her, she was up for sale again.
I took this failure to heart. I knew it was very likely that Lily would end up in a shelter and from there, probably be put down. Dogs with behavioral problems require more work and not desirable for the majority of families. I swore to myself that if I ever had another shot with a dog, I would learn everything and do it the right way.
One of my coworkers described her similar first experience owning a dog as “the first pancake” dog. Because whenever you make pancakes, the first one is always kind of messed up.
Despite being obsessed with animals, at 10 years old I did not have the time, tools, or resources to properly raise a puppy on my own. As an adult who just raised a puppy, I can honestly say that, in my opinion, puppies are not good pets for children. At least in regards to children being fully responsible for their training.
Puppies are cute as heck, but they are needy, mentally and physically draining, and to raise one to be a good adult you need to lay the groundwork immediately and know what signs to watch out for. I love my parents to death, but they had no idea what they were getting into back then. None of us did. If parents are planning on playing the role of trainer in a dog’s life, I think things could work out. Raising a dog should be a family affair; take time to research all the milestones and what training methods suit your family best. If there is not time or resources for properly training a puppy, maybe consider a kitten or small animal, or even taking your child to volunteer at your local animal shelter if they are truly obsessed with dogs.
My second dog, Jackson, was a whole different experience. At age 23, I had sat in on several dog training classes as part of a college internship, read dozens of training books, and had done much more research on raising puppies. I was much better informed and had an idea of what I was doing as soon as we got him.
We bought him from a breeder who focused on socializing and interacting with the puppies. Jackson played with small children every day and was with his litter until 8 weeks old, so he had already learned many valuable lessons from his siblings, mother, and human friends before we even got him. The dam and other puppies from this litter had their shots and medical check ups on time and were well looked after. We went with a breeder over a rescue dog because I needed one that we knew the history of, one that was basically a blank slate.
By the time we got Jackson, I understood how housebreaking worked and knew I needed to take him out to go potty approximately a million times each day (and night). I knew we needed to take puppy classes and focus on training and socializing him as soon as we brought him home. He is by no means perfect, he still pulls on the leash a bit and gets excited when people come over (both can be corrected, I have gotten a bit lazy), but these issues are so insignificant compared to the fact that he doesn’t potty in the house, destroy our furniture, and is really just a good and fun dog to be around. Right now he’s laying with his head in my lap, napping while I write. He is a part of our family and we love him.
Honestly, I am not entirely sure that I’ll even want another puppy in the future. I would prefer to get an adult dog that already has some basic manners. Puppies are cute, but they are a TON of work. Jackson is almost 2 years old now and I am just starting to feel like we’ve made it past the exhausting puppy phase.
Do you have a “first pancake dog” story? Share it in the comments below!
Have questions on how we finally succeeded raising our puppy Jackson? See how we house trained him here, despite both of us working away from home. If you’re interested in how we socialized him, check this one out. We also have a one year birthday update for him here as well, our boy has grown so quickly!