I’m a dog trainer, and a damned good one at that. I’m so good that I get to do some fascinating projects and I had an interesting this year. A very good client of mine hired me to find a certain type of puppy for them. This usually involves talking to the person in charge of the breed for the AKC initially and then working out from there. I’ll talk to the different breeders and ask them “who would you buy a dog from if you could get it from anyone?” When I hear the same name pop up three or four times then I’ll start trying to get in contact with that person. Rarely is that an easy thing though. Breeders are an ‘odd’ bunch and most of the good ones have very little interest in those of us in the human race. Whatever, I eventually go in touch with this breeder, negotiated a puppy for my client and away we went, or so I thought.
Puppies come with due dates. Most breeders want to be rid of them by the time they are about 8 weeks old and that’s when I normally fly out on my clients plane and pick them up, bring them home, and deliver them to their new owners. This time things were different. The problem was that the puppy was going to be available 2 days after this client was leaving on vacation for three months. No problem, we agreed, I would keep this little guy and train and raise him like he was my own until they get back from vacation. I’ve done it before for clients and it is DEFINITELY something I would do myself if I could
afford my rates, which I can’t. I mean, someone else potty training your puppy for you! Crate training! Oh yeah, sign me up NOW! Here is the check.
I’ve raised puppies before and I’ve board and trained so many dogs I can’t remember them all, but this long term board and train of a brand new puppy is something a bit….shall we say, different, it’s neither fish nor fowl. He’s a puppy and he’s living with me as my personal puppy, but he isn’t mine. I can’t give him all the leeway he needs to learn things in a time frame without a deadline….right? I mean, this puppy has got to be ready to go to his real new owner in a few months and he has to be able to preform his commands pretty darn well or the client will be asking what the hell he spent all that money for. Right? My dog would get time to develop in a more leisurely fashion, but this puppy, well, we’re going to have to be working hard, fast and on a schedule to get him ready and that worried me.
The conundrum for me as a trainer is that I know this puppy has to be “ready” for his owner when they arrive back in town. He MUST master certain skills and display certain abilities by the day I turn him over to his owner. The issue is, he is a PUPPY and learns things at his own rate. He’s smart, no question. He learns things fast fast fast, without a doubt. But I’ve got a constant fear that wakes me up in the middle of the night most nights that he “won’t be ready” in time to go home. We have a program, a path, a plan, but still….the clock is ticking down steadily.
Then, just this week, I realized something. This puppy is what he is. He’s not perfect (though he’s better than your puppy I pretty much guarantee you), he doesn’t perform 100% in chaotic situations yet (no dog does ever), and he still chews on shoes if you leave them on the floor in front of him (every puppy will). He is a puppy pure and simple, but a very well trained, obedient, and well socialized, confident puppy. However, he still is a pup and will absolutely remain one on the day I turn him over to his owner. It just is what it is and you cant take the pup out of puppy.
While fretting out loud about the situation the other day, my wife reminded me to deliver a note with this puppy when I turn him over. The note she said should be:
“This is a puppy. If you leave shoes out on the floor, he will eat them. If you play with him for too long before taking him outside to pee, he WILL have an accident in the house. And, if you run from him in the house, he will chase you and tear your pant leg.”
That pretty much sums it up. This puppy will heel on leash, come when called, sit and stay for a reasonable amount of time for a dog his age, go to his place and into his kennel on command, jump up and get off of things on command, back away from something when you tell him to, high five, shake, roll over, play dead, fist bump, retrieve, leave it, and wait on command, wipe his whiskers after he drinks water automatically, but he’s still a puppy and he damned sure will chew up your Manolos if you leave them on the floor in front of him.
I’ve loved this puppy raising project for this client, and am supremely grateful I’ve gotten paid to raise and train this puppy. Ownership by proxy I suppose one might call it. This is the sort of long-term project I would like to do move of in the future. My only worry is how to make people understand that despite the hundreds, or dare I say thousand(s) of hours I spent training him, he is still a puppy and not a machine. He’s going to eat something valuable at some point. I’m just glad he didn’t go for my wife’s Manolos while he was with us.