The Puppy to Dog Transition
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
My most favorite dog was a Yorkie named Ozzy, after the famous—and quite legendary—Ozzy Osbourne. Now I wouldn’t call my Yorkie The Prince of Darkness, but he was a dog that came into my life and altered my entire livelihood, passion, and career as I know it today.
Sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car, with this puppy wrapped in a small, teal blanket, I remember my sister and I arguing about who got to hold him longer. The poor puppy must have endured a roller coaster of a ride as he went from one human’s arms to the next, but it was all out of what we expressed as love. “What are we going to name him?” I asked my mom. “I don’t know. Let’s call him Ozzy. He’s crazy and everyone will love him!” My mom answered. And, by that definition, Ozzy certainly lived up to his name.
Now we are not talking about a boy and his dog here. We are talking about more—much more. We are talking about what it actually means to have a meaningful relationship with your dog. What does it look like to keep that puppy experience alive after he gets fully grown? Or after you walk into your house and find toilet paper rolls and your favorite high dollar shoes laying in the middle of the living room floor. As a dog trainer, I see the transition happening with my clients all the time. Holding their dog’s leash for dear life as their dog drags his owner down the neighborhood sidewalk.
“Rover, stop! Halt Boy! Rover!! I don’t understand what I’m going to do with this dog.”
The overwhelming feeling of concern sometimes fades the love that we once had for this puppy and we are left feeling like we have no other option other than either turning him into another roommate we secretly despise but still do everything for, or we release the dog to a shelter in hopes that he finds someone that can put up with him.
I’m here solely to challenge both of those options; I’m here to show you that there is actually a way to fire that relationship up again, and it doesn’t take candles and a romantic dinner.
Understand your breed: Have you heard the phrase, “You can take the Husky out of the arctic, but you can’t take the arctic out of the Husky?” Neither have I, but it is probably the realist phrase you will hear all day. Certain breeds need more exercise than others. You will want to figure out what your dog was originally bred for, and what lifestyle they really thrive in. A Husky in a two-bedroom apartment with no yard is a terrible idea, and if you’re stuck in this predicament, you need your dog to have access to receive daily exercise. Even dogs that have big yards need more exercise. Having your dog sunbathe in your 5-acre yard is not exercise and running the fence-line with the neighbor’s dog for 10 minutes is not enough exercise and leads to bad habits. Really get tuned-in with what they require, which brings us to our next point.
Get involved: Go out and play fetch with your pup. Take him for a long walk. If you want to stay inside, you can play games like hide-and-seek (which is super fun for hound dogs or any type of scent dog), or make use of a food puzzle to exercise their brain. Outside activities involve more scent work—finding a treat, going to a dog park (be cautious of your dogs and others), hiking or running, or even taking your dog to a dog-friendly restaurant. Allow yourself to get creative.
Input structure to your household and life: There are rules that the dog must abide by. If he is not allowed on the couch, keep him off the couch. If he’s not giving you space, send him away. Give him something else to do. Remember, you are his teacher, his mentor, his leader, and his best friend. Without structure, these relationships tend to disappear. These rules apply everywhere. If he’s not allowed to jump on you inside your house, he shouldn’t be allowed to jump on you outside.
Management: Management is one of the single, most important things you can do for your dog. If your dog has a habit of getting into things when you are away, secure him in a crate. If you’re worried that he is stuck in there too long, hire a dog walker. Really set him up for success and save your shoes!
Train for Success: Training your dog is also a great way to build a solid relationship with him. The most effective training is called positive reinforcement training where you actually find what motivates him to work for you. Think of this as a paycheck. This doesn’t have to take up half your day. Dedicate 15-30 minutes a day to doing it and break it up. 10 minutes for breakfast, 10 for lunch, and 10 for dinner. Hiring a positive reinforcement trainer would also do wonders in this area for extra guidance. After all the problems he would give my family, Ozzy would sit on the couch, chewing on his toy, and it almost seemed like he was plotting how much trouble he could get into the next day. My mom and sister ended up gaining their emotional distance from him and left me to work with him throughout the day. Of course, he went everywhere with me—to the dog park, out to eat, car rides around the block, anywhere I could possibly take him. And, at night, as Ozzy grew older, he would always jump on my bed and wind down with sleeping in my arms at night. This continued until two nights before we lost him. My family ended up in desperate need of help and ended up releasing him to find a better home. And until this day, Ozzy’s legacy has continued to inspire me to teach owners how to bring happiness and partnership to their dog’s relationship. And my message is always the same. Get lost in ultimately, and passionately, playing full out with your best friend.