Written by Amie Chapman
It has been a month and a half since we officially started our newest adventure in raising a service dog puppy, another unplanned adventure. Honestly, we were not expecting to be raising a puppy this summer. We have so many other projects we are working on right now personally and for Growing Up Guide Pup.
Raising a service dog puppy takes up a lot time and some puppies require more attention than others. There is the obvious potty training and teaching good house manners, like not climbing on tables, chewing things other than toys, not chasing our cats, and ignoring food that is not theirs. There is basic obedience, like sit, down, come, stay, and waiting for permission to pass through open doors. Learning to walk nicely on a leash without pulling (very important for a puppy that is going to be a large adult dog like Penny). Learning to be calm, well behaved, and confident in public. Learning good social skills with people and other dogs, but also learning when to ignore those other people and dogs. Learning to accept and wear different types of gear like collars, head collars, leashes, puppy coats, and protective footwear. Not every puppy or dog accepts wearing things on their body.
On a scale of easy to hard, I would classify Penny as moderate. She is a great puppy with a great desire to please, but also a puppy who has a little bit of a stubborn streak and a lot to learn. One of our biggest challenges have been just getting a good night’s sleep. When we first came home with Penny after taking her siblings up to Washington, she had a very hard time with being kenneled by herself. She was very dependent on them. There was a lot of crying at first, but with the help of some food rewards and a large stuffed pink bunny (that she snuggles with and even suckles on), and time, she has adapted and will happily go in her kennel for bed every night.
"Using just her regular kibble as a reward during training just isn’t enough to motivate her past basic distractions when out in public. She needs something of higher value, tastier."
But even though she will go in her kennel and sleep without crying, now we are still not sleeping through the night consistently. At first it was her immature bladder that woke her up almost every morning between 5 am and 7 am. Most people would think that 7 am isn’t bad, but I work swing shifts and don’t usually get home from work until midnight or 1 am and in bed between 2 am and 3 am. I’m not exactly bright-eyed and ready to get up at 7 am. More recently, unfortunately, we have discovered that Penny has a bit of a sensitive tummy and let’s just say things have been getting a little messy. Penny doesn’t always give us warning when she needs to poop until after the fact, and then it is waking up to a whining pup who is now unhappy about the mess in her kennel. She is at least consistent about when she needs to go, usually between 4 am and 6 am, so we can set an alarm to wake us up and take her out. But we are still not getting a full uninterrupted night’s sleep most nights. This by no means makes her a bad or difficult dog to train, it is just hard on us.
The sensitive stomach issue makes things hard for potty training but it adds another challenge to other aspects of training as well. Penny isn’t a Labrador or Golden retriever (these breeds usually will choose food over almost anything else in life) and isn’t as food motivated as other dogs we have trained in the past. Using just her regular kibble as a reward during training just isn’t enough to motivate her past basic distractions when out in public. She needs something of higher value, tastier. Don’t get me wrong, she loves to eat and gets very excited at feeding time, but when there is a ball bouncing, child running, or another dog walking by, she would much rather look at those things than pay attention to me, even when I do give her a moment to look at something new to her. Finding treats that will motivate her to refocus on me, but don’t upset her stomach has been a real challenge. Once again, she isn’t being bad, she is just a puppy taking in the world around her, but she needs to learn to look at things briefly and move on.
Another challenge we have had with her is chewing. She wants to chew on everything! She is finally getting better about this now that a good portion on her baby teeth have fallen out. But she will chew the table and chair legs as she lays under the table while we eat. She will chew on shoes and watch bands when we lay with her. Cardboard boxes are another favorite, she like to chew the corners and climb in empty ones (that is a really fun game).
We have also already worked through some separation anxiety issues. The kennel at home was just one. She also had a hard time at first riding in the car by herself. She was so used to having Bernard, Bianca, Ricki, and Ozzy with her in the car that when we first started taking her on solo outings she would cry and pace. Now she is very happy and comfortable to go for special Penny outings. She is still working on being comfortable in a kennel by herself at my work—there is a fair amount of crying involved—but I am going to be bringing her with me more consistently now that she is fully vaccinated.
"I have to admit that there was a part of me that wasn’t sure if Penny was going to have the confidence to be out in public, but she has really come around."
But these challenges are typical puppy behaviors. They just need time, patience, and consistency to work through. She is doing a lot of things very well. Most of the time she is walking very well on leash; she only pulls if we are walking with other dogs and they get in front of her. She is learning her basic obedience skills. She plays well with others, although she does pester other dogs sometimes. Her potty training when we are awake is great and so far no accidents while working out in public. She is very excited to leave to house and go for an adventure. She has gained a lot of confidence. She used to be unsure and wary of new things and places. Her first trips to shopping centers she walked very slowly and at times would refuse food offered to her because she was overwhelmed. We have worked hard on getting Penny more comfortable in public. Just yesterday she took her first trip into one of San Francisco’s busiest tourist spot, Pier 39, and she did amazing. A few times she was a little unsure like walking over a metal crossing around some construction (a suitcase on wheels made it vibrate and noisy) and when we went through a very congested section on the pier. But with some coaxing and the fact that we were with friends and their puppies in training she passed these challenges and was happy to keep exploring with our friends. This is a major improvement for her.
I have to admit that there was a part of me that wasn’t sure if Penny was going to have the confidence to be out in public, but she has really come around. She is really starting to like going out and she tries to leave with me every time I leave the house now. She is even choosing to leave with me and work over playing with her dog friends, a very good sign that she is enjoying what we are doing.
All this work we are doing with Penny has helped her so much, but is does take a lot of time, time away from other things. Growing Up Guide Pup has grown so much that we have been very busy these last few months trying to grow our team. For the most part Matt and I (mostly Matt) have been doing a majority of the work ourselves. We have some amazing volunteers that help run our website, get our blogs edited and up on our site, and graphic artists that make thumbnails and posters for us. Unfortunately between all the GUGP duties (there are a lot of them with more projects in the works), working full time, trying to do home repairs (unfortunately tree roots have done some major damage to our house over the years … and puppies do a fair amount of damage as well), taking care of our own personal animals, and raising Penny have taken up so much of our time that we haven’t had anything left over to film much with Penny and continue the series with her. We have some but not nearly as much as previous puppies. I hope everyone isn’t too disappointed—raising Penny wasn’t in our original plan for us this summer and we are doing our best to give attention to all in our lives right now, but things are coming up short across the board, like the fact that our master bathroom is still mostly in boxes in our dining room a year after we started the project because we just haven’t had the time to put it back together. I wouldn’t change the fact that we kept Penny to raise. She is an amazing puppy with a lot of potential and an absolute joy to work with. She has just added to an already very busy and complex life that Matt and I have and I hope people understand that we are trying our very hard to do the best we can with everything.