Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
My mutt is a year old, and I am at my breaking point. I at least need reassurance that it will get better. I should preface this by saying that I have had dogs my whole life, and raised my last mutt from 3 months to 12 years old. Did I just block out how terrible the puppy years were? Is this like childbirth, and is that how I managed to convince myself to do it again?
I’ve had my terror for seven months, and every day I regret it. She is good-natured, loves people, loves dogs and cats, loves children, loves me. But she needs constant attention and destroys everything. Constant attention. Everything. She still bites, although there’s no skin breakage. She whines. She only seems to sleep from midnight to 7 in the morning. She is on a steady routine with walks scheduled throughout the day.
During the times she is left alone, which is not very often, she destroys everything: furniture, shoes, curtains, you name it. I tried crate training, but no amount of treats or toys will convince her to spend any time in there. She growls if you even start to lead her into the crate on a leash. I tried blocking off a special room just for her, but she refused to go in once she realized this meant I was leaving for work in the morning. Now she won’t go near the room, even though I tried putting tons of good toys and her food dish in there.
She has tons of toys, puzzles, and chew-things, and I never leave her for more than a few hours, but whenever I am gone she destroys something of mine. I am so stressed I could cry: She lies down on walks if she senses we are heading home; she nips at my body and clothing if I am cooking or changing or brushing my hair; she rips books and sponges and pillows to shreds if she’s left alone.
I have raised well-behaved dogs in the past. I’ve read all the books. I’m issuing positive reinforcement and ignoring bad behavior. I am losing my mind. And all my stuff.
—At the End of My Leash
Dear At the End of My Leash,
I’ll admit this has been an unabashedly pro-dog column. I have described the animals as “infinitely pure and good” in here, which would sound like propaganda were it not true. Nonetheless, allow me to be clear: Dogs are exemplary beings dedicated to kindness and companionship, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be major pains in the ass too.
Raising a puppy is tough. I’d agree that it’s exactly like childbirth were it not for two factors:
1. I have no idea what childbirth is like.
2. A long line of people is currently forming outside my front door, and they all want to beat me over the head for entertaining an ability to comment on this comparison.
Different dogs present different challenges. Your current ordeal sounds miserable, but it is not an unsolvable problem. Things will get better—no postnatal hormones necessary.
Given the extent of your predicament and how it’s affecting your day-to-day life, I strongly suggest finding a trainer to work with you and your dog as she transitions out of puppyhood. It sounds as if you know many of the right tactics—positive reinforcement, sprucing up her crate, etc.—but a little professional guidance can help refine and enhance these proven techniques.
Teaching the dog is important, but trainers provide much-needed advice to us humans as well. Puppies are natural-born button pushers, and after seven months yours has clearly learned all your pressure points. No matter how many books or advice columns you’ve read, it’s hard to be patient when a dog is biting your ankles and devouring your shoes. Sometimes outside help is necessary, and there is no shame in bringing in a ringer.
I understand that one-on-one training sessions might not be an option financially, but it’s definitely worth researching and interviewing licensed trainers near you. You may be pleasantly surprised by their fees. Group classes are a great, cheaper alternative, and they will also provide reassuring evidence that other people are battling similar issues (or worse!) to yours and your pup’s. Jot this down for future reference, but people should always factor in training costs when budgeting for a new dog. It doesn’t matter who you are—there’s no substitute for expert, hands-on help.
Puppies will often grow out of their more annoying habits, but you can’t count on them to fix themselves. Heck, my own adult dog has regressed when it comes to on-leash behavior, and she now oscillates between petulant immobility and Iditarod-level lunging while on walks. She was never a Yohann Diniz by any stretch of the imagination (that’s a race-walking joke, FYI), but it’s gotten bad enough that we’re enrolling her in some training classes for a tuneup.
Despite what you may have read in this very column, no dog is perfect. Still, all dogs want to learn. You will manage to get through this, even if your shoes don’t.