Surviving puppy adolescence


My teckel [AKA Dachsund] is proving to be a valuable learning experience. This is code for “what have I done?” The adolescent challenges just keep coming, and progress has not only stopped, we are heading rapidly backwards. My marvellous plan of just sticking with it is seeming less and less practical as the days pass and the problems increase.

Struggling on and on. Getting nowhere. Lying awake at night, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. “I’m a professional!” I wailed. I should be able to sort this out myself…

Eventually I capitulated, climbed down off my high horse and called a mentor for help. You know what she told me? You can’t be professional when you’re mired in the situation. She’s right of course.

I had friends who were perfect nannies. Their little charges led happy lives with clear and consistent rules which made it easy for them to behave in a socially acceptable manner. But when they had their own children? Well, I have witnessed my friends’ kids having crisps for breakfast, biting and kicking members of the family, and having public temper tantrums of such voracity that the poor harassed parents simply had no choice but to give in.

Here’s the thing. When you can’t see the wood for the trees, when you’re emotionally involved, exhausted, and generally at the end of your tether, you can’t rationalise. You can’t accurately diagnose the problem and therefore you can’t compile a sensible plan.

It’s a great life lesson. It’s so easy for dog trainers to swan in to a client’s home, tell them they are doing everything wrong, leave a bunch of instructions and swan out again.  Leaving the client feeling even more inadequate than they did before they sought help.

The missing link is empathy. Not sympathy, not ‘oh it must be so difficult, poor you’. Actual, been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt insider experience. Trainers who have got down and dirty with their own dog, run the full gamut of emotions: guilt, failure, the urge to quit, they are the ones who can really help a struggling, hapless dog owner who has no idea where it all went wrong.

So why aren’t people talking about it? Well, in fact they are; but only on secret Facebook groups. So why do dog trainers persist in painting their dogs as a picture of perfection to the outside world? Social pressure? Fear of being judged? Feeling like it might detrimentally impact on their business?

Whatever the reason, I think trainers owe it to their clients to drop this facade of us-and-them and to own up to the one pertinent fact that dog training can be hard work.  It’s not about failing – that’s inevitable –  it’s about getting up and trying again. And again.

They say it takes a village to raise a child; well I think it takes one to raise a puppy too. It’s certainly not a single-handed job for anyone, professional or first-timer. We’re all in the same boat of unpredictability, confusion and sleepless nights. So stop trying to go it alone and get some help. From someone who’s been there!

Deborah Colella – The Dog Nanny

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