Simple Tips for “Playing the Long Game”

by Beth McEwen

The day a new fuzzy puppy or adopted pooch comes home is a momentous occasion—excitement, hope, love and laughter fills our hearts as we dream of taking long leisurely walks down the beach with Fifi. We envision the children playing catch in the yard with Fido faithfully frolicking along. Memories of our “perfect” furry childhood companion beckon our hearts, and we look forward to our new addition picking up right where our most cherished family pet left off.

Then reality hits.

Accidents in the house. Barking. Pulling on the leash. Destroying shoes/furniture/etc. Jumping on guests and not staying in the yard… the list goes on and on. Suddenly, excitement and hope turns into frustration and self-doubt. Where did we go wrong?

This roller-coaster journey is one that all pet-parents go through. Similar to the pain of childbirth, these frustrations fade over time and eventually pale in comparison to the bond that grows between our family and our new pet. The challenges we face with our new addition can be overcome, and that bond that we remember so fondly is the result of overcoming these obstacles together. Remember: This too shall pass.

Meanwhile, try these simple tips to help Fido or Fifi become a valued part of the family without losing your cool in the process!

Reality Check

Memories of our beloved family pets tend to be a little skewed. We don our rose-colored glasses and reminisce about “That time when…” The reality is that our best-behaved pets were once new as well. They also experienced the harsh transition away from their mother and littermates. They made mistakes, grew and tested their boundaries as they tried to figure out their place in the family. We frequently remember the “Golden Years” of our favorite four-legged pals, which is a stark comparison with the new furry bundle of energy we are currently facing. Remember — you were young and misguided once too!

Structure and Boundaries

Similar to young children, pets need consistent boundaries and structure. Just as we wouldn’t leave a toddler unsupervised and diaper-free, we shouldn’t expect a young pup to know that relieving themselves in the house is a no-no, or that the electrical cords are not a chew toy. Restrict access to your home by closing doors or utilizing baby gates, and supervise new pets any time they are out of their kennel. Even a newly adopted adult dog will need time to learn the cultural norms of his new home. Who knew urinating on the houseplants was frowned upon?

Point of View

Dog language and behavior is very different from that of humans, creating the potential for a culture clash. All our chattering at our dogs sounds to them very much like the adults in Peanuts cartoons (“wah-wah, wah-wah-wah…”). Learning a second language takes time, and it’s no different for our furry friends. When encountering an unwanted behavior from Fido, try to see the world from his point of view to determine what it is that he’s trying to accomplish. If we can uncover the motivation for his behavior, we are better equipped to redirect him into a more appropriate way of getting what he wants.

Hindsight is 20/20

Mistakes will be made. It is inevitable. When things don’t go quite as planned, take a mental inventory of the situation and how it happened. Getting upset rarely produces any positive outcomes, so think about what you might do differently instead to help Fido or Fifi be more successful in the given situation. As we learn how to set our pets up for success, they are learning how to make good choices that will eventually become good habits. Rather than repeating the same mistakes over and over again, take time to look back so you can make adjustments moving forward.

Pet ownership can be a challenging and rewarding endeavor for those who are willing to work at it. Whether you go it alone or capitalize on an experienced trainer, plan on putting in some time. People and pets are all individuals with their own personalities and quirks, and learning to live together in harmony is a process. Navigate this journey with regular reality checks, consistency and boundaries, remembering their point of view is different from ours, and allowing your mistakes to be lessons. Keep the long game in mind, and 20 years from now you will find yourself reminiscing about what a wonderful addition your current pet became!

Beth McEwen

Beth McEwen, owner of Mind Your Manners Dog Training, has been working with dogs and their families for almost 20 years. Learn more at



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