Creature Comforts: Report card for a puppy

PHOTO PROVIDED Phyllis did not make high marks for “descending the stairs” on her first puppy report card.

Our newest canine addition, Phyllis, has been growing up fast — at 5 months old and 5 pounds, she has more than doubled in size since she first came to live in the Daverio home. She’s been hard at work learning lots of new things. Perhaps it’s because of her chihuahua and dachshund parentage, but we’re finding that she’s quite precocious and does not shy away from a challenge. She’s threatened all the neighborhood squirrels, she’s remarkably resourceful (for example, having enormous fun with an oak leaf or an acorn found in the yard,) she’s challenged dogs 20 times her size, is willing to taste just about anything, and has become quite the social butterfly. We are very proud of the bright-minded and gregarious puppy she is and have high hopes for more advanced learning as she matures.

For our puppy’s first marking period, we have graded her learning/performance on the following scale:

A = Excellent, exceeds expectations.

B = Satisfactory, meets expectations.

C = Progress demonstrated.

D = Needs improvement.

F = [Frowny-face.]

The leash

Willingness to participate = B

Walking nicely without chewing/tugging leash = C

Avoidance of tripping people = D

House training

Urinating outside = C

Defecating outside = C

Doing business outdoors quickly and efficiently and not goofing off = D

Letting people know it’s time to go outside = FF [double frowny-faces.]

Chewing/eating stuff that’s not food

Indoors = F.

Outdoors = FFF

Stairs, furniture

Going upstairs, unassisted = A

Going down stairs, unassisted = C

Jumping on/off furniture = F (no attempts)

Comments: Barking shrilly, and repeatedly, but then darting backwards and away when attempts are made to help her up shows general disrespect.

Sleeping arrangements

Shares the dog beds nicely = B

Showing respect to the other dogs in the big bed = C

Not messing around and going right to sleep at bedtime = C

Sleeping through the night = A

Comments: Unless Miriam (dachshund, 13 yrs) wakes her up, then F.

The car

Shows no fear of riding in the vehicle = A

Settles quietly and quickly while riding = A

Able to ride for long distances without becoming restless or noisy = A

The crate/carrier

Enters willingly and on command = C

Is quiet, calm until released = C

Does not soil/wet while bedded down in the crate/carrier = A

Going places and doing stuff

Work (8-10 hour days) = A

Road trips = A

Hotels = A

Hospital (to visit Nana) = A

A wedding (outdoors) = A

A football game = A

Shopping outlets (inside carrier) = A

A restaurant (inside carrier) = A

The cat

Respectful interactions = B

Avoidance of chasing (even when he runs for no reason) = B

Avoidance of barking (even when he stares stupidly directly at the dogs) = C

Comments: This is beyond the scope of most puppies, as the difficulty level is off the charts.


Sunny = A

Windy = B

Rainy = D (frowny-faces increase with density of raindrops.)

Warm = A

Cold = C (frowny-faces increase with decreasing temperatures.)

Ice/snow = NA

Comments: Perhaps next marking period.


Eats own food = A

Respectful of others while they are eating = C


Shows creativity in self-play = A

Can distinguish between dog toys and unsanctioned off-limits stuff = C

Shares toys nicely = B

Plays nicely with other dogs = A

Plays nicely with people = C

Comments: Much less bite-y, lately.

Basic grooming

Baths = C

Nail trims = D

Comments: Drama-queen screaming and struggling less with each new attempt.

Ear cleaning = C

Comments: Ditto comments under “nail trims,” above.

Veterinary visits behavior

Physical examinations = A

Vaccinations = C

Responses to new things

Loud/unfamiliar noises = A

Comments: Does not startle easily; tends to investigate unfamiliar noises.

Unfamiliar people = A or F

Comments: Friendly, easygoing with new people, unless they are outside the yard, and then F, one frowny-face.

Unfamiliar animals = C

Comments: Occasionally may default to shrill barking when seeing some strange animals.

All told, not a bad show for a first report card, especially given the peer pressure and bullying Phyllis must endure from the other dogs.

Puppies learn both good and bad things at a prodigious pace — they are learning machines. To become well-rounded, easygoing adult dogs, it is of extreme urgency that puppies be exposed to as many new things as possible, especially during their first 20 weeks of age, when they’re most receptive to social stimuli. It’s equally important to ensure they’re supervised, safe, and that these experiences are not scary for them.

One of the happy circumstances of COVID-19 is that many folks have found space in their hearts and homes for new puppies. My advice to new puppy owners: do lots of stuff with your puppy. Teach it the basics. Take it everywhere you can. If your puppy is tired at bedtime, you’re doing things right.

— Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.


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