Let’s be honest with each other, even the most stern efforts to keep your new puppy off the furniture, from begging at the dining table or from getting that extra treat will result in you, the owner, giving in just a little. It’s hard to resist snuggling on the couch with your new puppy. It’s even hard to resist those big eyes putting at you for table scraps. You give in, and you beat yourself up every time because you think spoiling your puppy will ruin her for life.
I’m here to help ease that guilt.
Before I get going, I am not a vet or a certified trainer. I am an owner, a socializer, a teacher and a volunteer who has devoted a lot of time helping other owners to turn their puppies into well-adjusted dogs. My opinions are from the dozens of dogs I have worked with and the interactions I’ve had with their owners. I have spent hours helping owners to understand that sometimes, giving in is okay.
Your first responsibility as a pet owner is to be their parent. You are responsible for teaching a puppy to be well-mannered, obedient, respectful, and ensuring they are loved. You are NOT an overlord, depriving your puppy of all the joys of being alive. A parent does not dominate their children, rather they guide them through life’s twists and turns, and that is your job as a puppy parent.
If you’re going to take the time to raise a puppy, you should probably take some time to enjoy it, right?
This is what I tell new puppy owners: If your dog does something you want them to do (like snuggle in bed), then why is it a bad thing? Lots of dog trainers are on this kick lately that you must be the dominant alpha overlord of your dog in order for them to be good dogs. After spending a year raising my own dog, I can tell you that’s not the case. So don’t fret if you want to treat your puppy. Turns out, you’ll be treating yourself, too.
If you are okay with your dog being in the bed, then let them cuddle with you at night. Pickle is allowed on our furniture, and she crawls into bed every morning with us before starting the day. But as soon as we walk into someone else’s home, she must adopt the rules of THEIR house. If they don’t allow dogs on the furniture, then Pickle stays on the floor, it’s that easy. She is only allowed to do what we tell her, and she has learned to respect that. Are we spoiling her at home? Maybe, but it’s up to her to maintain the boundaries we have set.
When it comes to treats, string cheese is god’s gift to dog training. Puppies can’t get enough of the stuff, and when you are training you must load up on the tastiest treats you can find. Every good deed should be rewarded and praised like it’s Christmas. I know lots of trainers who believe praise is enough to convince a dog to follow your command, and I think that’s a stretch. You must build trust and rapport with your dog. Treats are the best way to maintain their focus, and front loading the treats keeps their attention through hard training sessions. You can taper the treats as your puppy becomes more responsive. And I stand by the string cheese!
And what about table scraps? As long as it’s dog friendly, why not? Avoid certain foods from the table, but as long as the dog is taking them under your supervision and with your permission, I say go for it.
So what do you do when a vet scolds you because you are making your puppy fat? Well, you listen. A puppy with an extra pound or two is not a big deal. I would rather have a chunky puppy who listens and trains well then a slim dog that won’t come to me when called. When your dog reaches full size, and is developed enough to exercise extensively, you can easily adapt their diet and increase the exercise. They can shed the weight in a healthy way, and you still get a happy dog!
In the end, spoiling your puppy means you are building a strong and loving relationship. Don’t mistake this for saying your dog is in charge. You are the parent, it is your responsibility to act the part. But while you are spending all that time training and cleaning up after your pup, you should be able to enjoy a cuddle once in a while! If you want to throw your pup an extra piece of bacon from the breakfast table, then do it! Keep things on your terms, train your pup to respect your voice, and treating them will become a reward. You will both be happier for it!