When I’m speaking to friends and family about getting a new dog, people almost always say, “I want to have a puppy right from the start so that I can make sure he turns out ok”.  It seems like the majority of people that I speak to feel like getting a puppy is a safer bet than rescuing a dog.   This is where my little hell-raiser Pearl enters the picture.  I got her as a baby.  Fresh out of the oven.  Eight weeks old. I socialized her in a safe, gentle way, trained the hell out of her (or not, as it turns out), and did everything I could to guarantee things would go as planned.  I mean, how much easier could it be?  Her mom trains dogs for a living for goodness’ sake!  Fast forward to today.  I love my little girl.  But she makes me want to cry some days.  She’s reactive on-leash, she chases cars, cyclists and anything with wheels.  She’s hand-shy (especially with men) and she barks her face off at every noise in my house.  That’s not to say that she hasn’t come a long way-she has.  But I just figured if I did it all right, I’d be guaranteed to have a lovely dog.  With help from trainer Trish King’s seminar called “Puppy Problems: From Fear to Aggression”, I’ve been better able to understand why this happens.


This is the category that I fell into. We live in a dog culture that believes that every problem can be solved by enough socialization.  We write off complex issues because the dog “wasn’t socialized properly”.  If we can just expose our dogs to as many people, sights, and sounds as possible then, presto, our dog will be perfect.  I thought, as I’m sure do many of you, that reactive, “problem” dogs are ones that have been abused or neglected.  I’ve got news for you…it’s a little thing called DNA.  It’s the same reason that my three siblings and I are so different.   Your dog is an individual, autonomous, thinking, feeling, being.  He’s not yours to mold into some kind of super Franken-puppy. We all have to work within the confines of heredity and temperament, so try not to get too down on yourself when things don’t go as planned.


This happens ALL the time in puppy class.  Owners come in looking like death warmed over trying to deal with their new puppy.  They can’t believe how much harder it is with this puppy.  They’ve had five golden retrievers but never one like this.  Getting a specific breed of dog is no guarantee-not even close.  All you need to do is look at the massive variation within a single litter to realize that each and every single puppy is his own puppy.  He’ll come with his own challenges, surprises and quirks.  You’ll be doing yourself a huge favour by putting your expectations on the shelf and enjoying this new puppy for exactly who he is (problems and all), not for who you thought he’d be.


When people go to choose a new puppy, the last thing they’re imagining is that one day this cute little love sponge could one day grow into a vicious, dangerous animal.  He’s just so CUTE!  When they’re small enough, it’s funny when they snarl and growl at us if we try to take their food away or pick them up off the couch.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be discerning when choosing a puppy.  If your potential pup is: difficult to calm down; difficult to hold; short-tempered and mean; orients more to the environment than you; shy and balks at new experiences, then you need to re-evaluate.

Here’s the unfortunate reality my friends.  Even perfect socialization and training might not give you a perfect dog.  Be prepared to accept your pup for all his problems.  If something comes up, call a trainer that you trust and resolve it, but don’t feel like you’ve failed somehow.  And besides, the crazier they are, the more we love them right? Right? Guys?