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Joshua Smith

Conscious Canine: Navigating Puppyhood in Peace

“Awww, he’s sooo adorable!” “Isn’t he just the cutest thing ever?” “OMG, look at that FACE!” These are just a few of the many comments I receive when I walk my new puppy through my neighborhood. People stop dead in their tracks on the sidewalk so they can come say “hi”. We even receive shout-outs from moving vehicles.

I’d thought about getting a dog for years, and I was sure that being a new dog owner must be so much fun, right? I mean, I knew getting a puppy would be life-changing and a lot of work, especially in a NYC apartment, but what could be better than having a companion by your side who loved you unconditionally? So I went for it, and breezed through the first couple of weeks on pure puppy joy.

After the excitement and newness began wearing off, it became apparent I was dealing with an energetic youngster that desperately needed to be house-broken, trained (in every sense of the word) and on some sort of schedule – for my sake and his. I was overwhelmed, and it was becoming obvious that I needed the expertise of a dog trainer to navigate this transition.

Enter Marc Elias of Pooch Pals. In just one session, we developed a solid game plan, and within the first two weeks I began feeling confident and comfortable. Our training was off to a great start, Crosby was quickly learning new commands and I thought I was charting the course to pet ownership bliss. His energy still required a lot of attention and playtime, which I enjoyed for the most part, but I became so focused on the training, and on sticking to a schedule, and on checking goals off our list, that my new puppy joy began fading.

The inevitable potty-training accidents, chewed up sneakers and attention-seeking barking – not to mention the very early mornings and the midday detours home to let him out . . . it was just so much.  I did my best settling into our newly scheduled routine, and resigned myself to the reality of a mixed-emotions pet ownership rollercoaster. And just as I was accepting this, Crosby gave me a big wake-up call.

One wintery day at the dog park, Crosby was having an extraordinarily good time running, jumping and playing hard, so we stayed longer than we normally would. However I’d soon had enough of the cold, and decided it was time to go. When I approached Crosby with his leash and called his name, he glanced in my direction, but only for a second. So I used our trained “touch” command in the sternest voice I could muster, but I still could not get his attention. He made eye contact, perked his ears and then quickly took off in the other direction; he was clearly having an amazing time and did not want to leave.

Frustrated, I impulsively reached out to grab his harness as he sprinted by me, and then it happened – SNAP! In my attempt to make him behave, make him do what I wanted him to do, my fingertip caught in the harness and bent completely back. I knew it was broken right away, and with my one good hand, I quietly attached his leash, and retreated back to my apartment, mad at my dog and mad at myself.

The next week, after an Urgent Care visit and orthopedic surgeon consult, realizations started pouring in while I was in my morning meditation. I had been desperately trying to control my dog. With unrealistic expectations about puppyhood, I was asserting my will to get my desired outcome: a perfect puppy.  The break in my finger was a physical manifestation of the way I had been managing all aspects of my life, with a blatant attempt to control.
My days were so much more peaceful when I operated with some fluidity and flexibility, and it was time to get back into going with the flow. Then, a truly magical life changing realization hit me: I had not been providing my sweet pup with unconditional love. He was clearly picking up on my inconsistent energy, which in turn, was only creating more of the behaviors I was battling. It was a living example of the phrase, “What we resist, persists.”
Right then I made the decision to let go and love my pup unconditionally, all the time, no matter what. I began approaching him and his training with consistent positive energy, and within a few short weeks, I had a completely different dog. When I finally chilled out, he did too, and I really began enjoying all aspects of my experience.

Now, I’m happy to report that I have a peaceful home once again, even with a 9-month old puppy. I have also truly fallen in love with my little guy. He still has his crazy over-energized puppy moments but instead of reacting with aggravation, I check myself and my energy and then redirect his behavior, remembering that dogs really do begin to resemble their owners.

Marc told me that assuming a leadership role with your dog really superseded dog training and might even, “empower you to become a more assertive, calm and perhaps more patient human being.” I also asked him to share some more wisdom and training tips to help you make the most of your puppy experience and ensure your home stays a peaceful one as you navigate puppyhood.

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Here is what he had to say:

1. While housebreaking certainly impacts most dog owners early on, the single most important part to puppy training is socialization. That means getting your furry kid used to all the sights, sounds, scents and people that they will encounter.

2. Many NYC residents maintain a particularly high mental load living in such a fast-paced environment. Your puppy will undoubtedly become the most convenient and logical place to receive comforting, companionship and well, love. Your attention is your most abundant treat; give it away freely and without limitations or boundaries, and you will undoubtedly find yourself at the bottom of the preverbal totem pole. Something as simple as not giving your dog attention immediately after returning home can go a long way towards establishing your leadership and creating an environment where the dog trusts and listens to you.

3. A tired puppy is a happy puppy. Exercise is not exclusive to walks on leash or a trip to the dog park. Get creative: play fetch in the hallway, practice basic obedience, hide dry kibble around the house for a hunting mission or give your dog a dog puzzle. Mental exercise is just as effective at tiring your four-legged child out.

4. Hiring a professional in the field of canine behavior modification is like working with a physical fitness trainer. You may want to look great naked, but unless you’re willing to put in the work, a coach or trainer will prove fruitless towards achieving your goals. Not willing to put in the time on a consistent basis? Then you might want to rethink that puppy purchase and invest in a plant instead. I say that with peace and love.

5. When it comes to behavior training, prevention is a far more effective approach than waiting to treat an undesired behavior that has manifested for many months, or sometimes years. The latter is generally more extensive and costly to correct.

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