From time to time, while problem solving with a client about their dogs’ current problem behaviors, the person will clearly remember the first time they saw (and encouraged!) this behavior in their dog. Often, if they’ve had the dog since it was a puppy – the “budding problem” was noted way back when; at 9, 12  weeks of age…except – it was not a “problem” then – it was “something cute, something we laughed about”.
Just to name a few of these “cute behaviors”…have you ever seen a totally stick-obsessed dog? One who will run around when loose looking for sticks at every turn, bringing them back to their owner – insistently pushing the stick into the humans’ hands begging for a throw?  Any accidentally kicked stick (or rock/stone!?)  is received like a written invitation to chase; regardless of  where this takes place. Imagine this behavior in the environment we live and with the number of dog-owning active hikers: want to take this dog on a hike high up on a rocky slope. Cute? (I think: dangerous.)
What about the little puppy who protectively growls over his bones or his sleeping area? He’s just 10 weeks old and it is “sooo cute” – everyone just laughs and thinks puppy is pretty special to be guarding already at this cute and tender age. (It won’t be so cute when he is 100lbs and has learned that this is Really a good behavior that works!).
Or what about the dog whose owner thought it was a great idea to exercise the puppy during the cold winter days with a laser beam light in the living room. The dog happily chased the light around; going up and down over couches and chairs, ripping around the room in a frenzy…only to crash later on and have a loooong nap. Convenient?
Cute? When 6 months later, the same dog now cannot tolerate any kind of reflection without going berserk…the dog does not only go ballistic in the presence of any kind of reflection, the behavior has also generalized to shadows, fast moving shade/contrast, leaves falling from trees, and even butterflies. Cute?
There are tons of examples out there. All of these behaviors are perhaps innocent enough when you first see them – but can become huge problems, very annoying, even dangerous and highly problematic for people if they are encouraged and rewarded. As with all of us: habits can be either good or bad. Before encouraging your puppy’s antics – try to think ahead and see what this behavior can become…is the behavior truly a good habit that you love and want to keep – or is it a budding problem – fairly easy to prevent now, but really time-consuming and difficult to fix after months and months of rehearsal?
Have you seen or do you have a dog with a behavior you wish you would have stopped when you first saw it? What are your real-life experiences with “cute puppy antics” that are no longer so cute? Please share in the comments section below.
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