kidnaped from another universe
If I would add a mile for every time I had been approached for reassurance and support (which i love doing! I'm here for all my pups for their entire lifespan) from new puppy families, I would be able to circle the globe at least once. Numerous times I had been asked in a secret whisper type of tone “What if it was a mistake of getting a puppy now?”. New owners, particularly those who never owned a dog before, tell me that they must be missing something. They thought getting a puppy was supposed to be fun, but all they feel is stress, frustration and even anger. They seek me out for a quick solve it all solution- a magic trick, secret training tips that will bring peace and equilibrium back to their lives and homes. They are at their wit’s end with the biting, peeing, and puppy causing destruction. So they would sit down with pen and paper in hand ready to record the expert breeder information, personalized for their situation. Let me be honest with you here: I absolutely do not have those tips and tricks, strategies and game plans. Here is the reason why: whatever I'll tell you (well majority of the stuff anyway) it simply not going to work without the right mindset. There is actually just one thing I want my new puppy families now to write down on that piece of paper, so they can make it a part of every interaction they have with their puppy: “THIS IS A BABY THAT I KIDNAPPED FROM ANOTHER UNIVERSE”.
The way to enjoy puppyhood – and emerge from it with a beautifully trained dog – is to get in the right headspace. A real, live puppy won’t fit neatly into your regular life and trying to make it so is a recipe for disaster. So whatever the picture perfect you got n your head-scrap it, it wont happened. Bringing a new puppy home is like having a baby! You will go through sleepless nights, unknown bugs (and expensive vet bills), tones of pee and poo ruined socks and feeling exhausted to the point of no return. Sounds scary doesn’t it? But the happiest puppy people with the strongest bond with their dog are the ones who dive into this phase and back-burner their other things. Need a convincing reason to do that, because it feels wrong to prioritise a little ball of fluff? Try this:
Just a baby! Kidnapped! From another universe! Far away from its own kindkind and its own customs.
Lead with the empathy that idea demands, and you’ll find your groove. When you adjust your expectations for this little puppy to where they should be, suddenly training is simple. Not easy, but simple.
Keep in mind that FRUSTRATED MINDSET BLOCKS PROBLEM-SOLVING skills!
The “poor baby” bit may sound ridiculous to you if you have a new puppy now napping, rather indulgently, in your lap. After all, this pup is lucky to have landed with you. Not only is there plenty of food, but there is an expensive dog bed and an overflowing toy basket. More importantly, you have turned your whole dang life upside-down for this dog. It seems like all you do is deal with the puppy! All true.
But the more relevant truth is this: Before you took him home, that 8-week-old puppy spent every single moment of his little life in a cozy, warm scrum with his own kind. He was cheerily hanging out with his family doing everything that comes naturally to dogs: wrestling, biting, sniffing, chewing, and jumping. He was never alone. He had no idea you were going to swoop in, kidnap him, take him to a new planet and, here’s the kicker, suddenly be mad at him for everything that is prized in his culture.
👉 Let that sink in. Take your time. 👈 Aw, shucks. Now you feel sad. And you want to know what good it does to ponder this depressing thought. After all, this is how it has to go – it’s not like the puppies can live in the dog world universe together forever. But forcing yourself to sit with this concept increases your empathy for the puppy in front of you. If your mind is focused on your own disappointments (pee on the carpet again! more chewed shoes!), it leads to negative interactions with your puppy that can only hinder progress. ☝️If, instead, your mind is filled to the brim with what your poor puppy must be feeling (confused, lonely), your own anger should evaporate. And that makes room for effective problem-solving.
In my experience, THE MAGIC ANSWER to all of the puppyhood is EMPATHY. Not some fancy dog-trainer technique. Plain old empathy. I promise it’ll make you happier and make you a dramatically better dog trainer, especially as you learn to negotiate your kidnapped alien puppy’s native ways: using one’s mouth to explore the world, co-sleeping, moving around in an unrestricted fashion, and going potty whenever and wherever one has to.
Let’s look at how empathy can help you deal with each of the puppy’s natural, normal behaviors that you may find problematic.
EVERYONE BITES IN DOG UNIVERSE
In dog universe, everyone in polite society explores new things by mouth. Given the absence of hands, it’s the most effective, most satisfying way to engage. Puppies, in particular, use their mouths to play with their friends and to learn about the world. People who don’t give any weight to their puppy’s background culture are alarmed by this mouthiness. They feel they may have picked “the wrong one.” They stuff the pup in the crate for another hour, thinking “That’ll teach her.” The kids cry, saying, “I don’t like her! She’s biting me!”
It doesn’t need to be this way. Owners who operate out of dog universe empathy will wake up in the morning to a bitey pup and their first thought will be, “Oh! You are missing playing with your friends the way you used to! You’re trying to play with us that way!” The thinking cap goes on and the mind is open. You are your pup’s only guide to HUMAN UNIVERSE, how can you help this dear four-legged toddler who’s trying her best in a challenging transition? Suddenly the answers are obvious:
👉 Bite-wrestle playdates with other puppies or gentle adult dogs. This is not a luxury, but instead an everyday need for all from the dog universe. Once puppies have a happy outlet for that mouthy socialization, they are beautifully able to begin to learn our human ways.
👉Long, flat, fluffy toys that allow the pup to safely play a familiar-feeling bitey game (tug of war) with her human friends.
👉 The gentle teaching of new games that do not involve mouthiness: fetch, sit-spin-touch for treats, “find it,” etc.
People often tell me their puppy “just doesn’t understand the word no,” particularly regarding mouthiness. My answer is that when you set up your puppy’s day to match her needs, you’ll barely need to say no. Saying “no” a lot means you may have forgotten that you – say it with me – “Kidnapped! A baby! From another universe!” Having taken that dramatic action, it’s only right to do everything you can to help her adjust.
THERE IS NO ALONE-NESS IN DOG UNIVERSE
In the dog universe, puppies are virtually never alone. From the moment they’re born, they’re surrounded by littermates and within a leap or two of their mom. That makes for constant companionship, exercise, and warmth.
Once brought into human universe, a puppy might spend the vast majority of his time alone in a cold crate in an empty kitchen. When this four-legged toddler naturally cries out for companionship, he is yelled at by the human who is his sole connection in this new life. “He needs to learn. He already had a walk around the block, plus I just played with him for a while. Now I’m busy.” Sigh. Leading with empathy makes it obvious that, while of course eventually, this baby needs to learn to hang out alone, shock treatment is not the most effective learning experience. Furthermore, it can easily have the unintended consequence of making it even scarier to be alone. Once inside your puppy’s head, you’ll gravitate toward a stair-step approach to help your pup learn to be confidently alone. You’ll think about combining:
👉 A wonderfully tiring morning doggy playdate.
👉 A little brain-stimulating training.
👉 Moving your laptop into the kitchen for a while; then to the spot right outside the kitchen gate but in puppy’s sight.
👉 Providing delicious stuffed Kongs whenever pup’s alone
As our little alien gets used to life with humans over the first weeks – aided by dog universe oriented approaches like these – pretty soon puppy is happily enjoying his own company for reasonable stretches of the day that can get longer every week.
THERE ARE NO LEASHES IN DOG UNIVERSE
Imagine a recently kidnapped puppy’s terror when a tight thing is slapped on and suddenly she is pulled around by the neck! Even worse, she is yanked outside into a world she’s never seen before, with loud noises and other creatures that are utterly foreign. Her struggles to escape only make matters worse – the noose tightens! So many new owners are mystified when this pup is reluctant to accompany them. They just pull her along thinking, “She’s so weird! All dogs like walks. I’m sure she’ll get used to it.” And generally, she does – but only after experiencing a lot of fear and losing trust in her human. In contrast, owners who remember the key information – “Just a baby!” – will consider how terrifying this controlling neck-strap could be, which opens up the mind to all sorts of ideas. “Hmm … How could I make this vital safety equipment less frightening to a baby?”
👉 Maybe spending the first afternoon with just a light little collar and progressing to an attached light kitty leash the pup can drag around.
👉 Perhaps by the end of the day you’re picking up the end of the leash from time to time, throwing treats ahead of the pup so her focus is forward, on that.
👉 Later, you’re happily doing all of that out in the backyard, with the pup getting used to tension on the neck every now and then while you’re feeding a tiny bite of hot dog.
👉 Maybe you’re also sitting together out front and watching the world go by, sharing a bit of cheese when loud trucks or new folks pass, just to form some happy associations.
Within days, this pup raised in empathy is happily walking on leash up and down the street with her trusted owner, who feels all the closer to her pup for the mini-journey they’ve just taken. (It’s likely that the other owner, who was in a rush to get these walks going, still will be wrestling with a skittish walker weeks later.)
IN DOG UNIVERSE YOU CAN PEE ANYWHERE
The #1 issue creating the tossing and turning of the new-pup owners I hear is the challenge of housetraining. Even the most committed seem to buckle at the three-week mark and confess to yelling. Well, the only thing that your little kidnapped baby just learned, from that angry shout, is that her person is scary. Unpredictable. Not to be trusted. Training will now go more slowly. Maybe she will always hold back just a bit because of the intimidating yelling from “her person” at this sensitive age. Who knows what lesson she learned from that punishment? Options include:
🥴 I’d better hide from humans if I need to pee! Maybe behind the couch.
🥴 I don’t want to pee in front of a human, so I won’t pee on leash anymore.
🥴 Right before my person yelled I was looking at the small child, so that must be a bad thing in this universe. I will run from small children now!
Our human housebreaking rules make very little sense to the folks from dog universe. While it is obvious to you that the dining room carpet is no place to relieve yourself, to your puppy it seems ideal: it’s away from the prime living space, and it’s got nice absorption, plus traction! Start with empathy, understand that your pup has drastically different instincts than you, and set him up for success:
👉 Do not give him the freedom that will lead to “accidents.” (They’re hardly accidents when the individual doing them has no idea they’re doing something wrong!)
👉 Keep eyes on that puppy 100% of the time he’s not in his crate. “Eyes on” does not mean “in room with laptop open.” Learn his signals (abruptly walking to a corner? sniffing the ground?) and respond immediately.
👉 A human needs to get that pup outside, and walking around, once every hour (a half an hour if needed) to start! Only with success can that stretch to longer!
No shortcuts. I would sugar-coat it for you but that doesn’t do you any good in the long run, so here it is: After a week or two, every “accident” is your fault. I’m so sorry. “Hey!” You may be saying. “Where’s the empathy for the human?!?” I know. It’s just that you’ll get that elsewhere, when you talk to other humans who can’t believe you actually got a puppy. I’m here to speak for the puppy, who did not choose to be kidnapped by aliens who thought they could carry on their regular day-to-day afterward.
THE DREAM IS IN REACH
Frustrated new puppy owners think they’re not asking much. “Sheesh, I just want to hang out with him and cuddle.” But that’s not actually true. We also ask them not to bark, jump, bite, pee, sniff, or chew. Sometimes, it’s as if we’re asking them not to be dogs.
It is frankly amazing to me how well puppies do during this overwhelming period of transition, from one universe to another. They are beautifully adaptable – so adaptable that even when shoe-horned immediately into a human’s world of doggy “no’s” they often do okay.
But in the homes where dog universe empathy rules from Day One? Those are the homes where the whole puppyhood thing looks just like it does in the storybooks. Sure, some real-life things had to be put on the back burner for six months. But there was no tossing and turning, and there were no secret thoughts of regret. These are the folks who wonder what they did before they got this new friend. They are also, by the way, the people whose dog is walking at a relaxed heel with a loose lead, gazing up at them, wondering what happy thing might be next.
Credit of Kathy Callahan from The Whole Dog Journal.