adopters, dog rescue, Dogs with Issues, fostering, owner responsibility, puppies, returned dogs, training, Uncategorized

CAUTION: Puppies

Everyone wants a puppy.

I get that.

Puppies are cute and fun and at least at this age (seven weeks) they are highly entertaining.

pup with tongue out
photo by Ian Achterberg


These puppies are no exception and already, eight of nine have approved adopters waiting to take them home in just another week!

With every litter there are people who wait until they see the puppies on the site to apply, most times they are too late, but not always. There is an inevitable shifting around as people re-think the idea of a puppy. Which they should – puppies are a LOT of work. (They aren’t cheap, either.)

pup picture perfect


What they require more than anything is time and commitment. If you don’t put the time in while a puppy is young, it will grow up to be a difficult dog.

At the rescue every year we get a few returned dogs who were adopted out as puppies and now are somewhere between one and two years old. Their adopters can no longer deal with their lack of manners, their destructive habits, their reactivity to other dogs or people or any number of issues that should have been dealt with while the dog was a puppy. Remember Bugs?

While, yes, just like people, dogs are individuals and there are some inherently challenging dogs; many of the issues for which dogs are returned could have been averted if the adopters had put in the time to raise their puppy well.

After the puppies are fully vaccinated (two weeks after their third set of shots), socialization is critical. With the current conditions, new adopters will have to get creative. These puppies are tiny, so you could literally carry them everywhere with you. Home Depot is a great place to take dogs for socialization (Tractor Supply too), visiting other families, and walking dogs in public areas, parks, and trails are great ways to work on socialization despite the pandemic. Praise and treats should be used copiously on these adventures.

New experiences and challenges help puppies grow into confident dogs. I try to expose puppies to lots of new noises – the vacuum cleaner, music on my phone, the nail Dremel, dropping loud objects nearby, popping plastic packaging, pretty much anything I can think of. We definitely don’t tiptoe around the puppy pen. These puppies were raised while Nick installed a hardwood floor next door to them – they heard the nailer, the compressor, and lots of hammering.

Over the weekend, the puppies met our foster cat, Neville. They met our dogs, Fanny and Gracie. They also got to race through the agility tunnel, learn to go up and down stairs, and pounce on a noisy, crinkly, empty feed bag that smelled like the barn.

[Side note: These are experiences that puppies raised in puppy mills do not have and likely account for some of the anxiety issues they may have down the road. If you decide to buy a puppy for personal or health reasons, be sure to find a breeder who raises their puppies intentionally.]

There is so much that puppy adopters can do now, while their pups are young and impressionable.

For example, if you don’t want your puppy to react negatively when someone comes to the door, ring the doorbell or knock on the door and give them treats and praise. Do this every day, multiple times. Eventually, you can teach them to go to their ‘place’ (like a crate, mat, or dog bed) when they hear those sounds to receive their treats and praise.

You can also do this with your older dogs. Whenever my dog Fanny hears a work truck or delivery truck in our driveway, she runs to me because she knows that if she sits quietly now she will get rewards. I can then leash her and put her in one of her ‘safe zones’ before dealing with the visitor.

Training doesn’t end with the puppy phase. It is even more critical during the teenage phase (6 months – 2 years). That’s when doubling down and perhaps enlisting professional help is important. Taking your pup to classes – manners, obedience, agility, nosework, even frisbee or dock-diving will challenge them and give you opportunities to reinforce their good behaviors.

Consistency and commitment are absolutely vital. I tell my adopters to use positive reinforcement methods of training. Too many people are quick to resort to negative reinforcement because it can get an immediate reaction, but it is the wrong approach and can backfire creating an anxious or aggressive dog. I learned this lesson in the most heart-breaking way possible and it haunts me every day, so now I am passionate about positive and force-free training methods.

Science has proven that dogs do not need an ‘alpha’ to lead them. Now that we know better, we should do better.

Instead of punishing a dog that is ‘misbehaving,’ redirect them to something else or get their attention with an impromptu manners lesson reinforcing what they know like ‘sit’ or ‘down’. A horse trainer told me once that you should help the animal by making the right the decision, the easy decision.

Not everybody has the time (or the commitment) for a puppy. They are cute and tempting, but if you are not ready to make the effort, adopt a dog instead. There are so many good dogs deserving of a good home. I am not saying they will not also require time and effort, they will, but it is exponentially less than with a puppy. Plus, if you adopt from a foster home, many times we can tell you what your new dog’s needs are and where you will need to focus your training.

Okay, enough puppy lecture. You have been warned. All of that said, it is incredibly rewarding to adopt a puppy and raise it well.

These puppies are thriving and getting bigger every day. It remains to be seen whether they will ‘catch up’ after their hookworm episode. The smallest puppy is just over four pounds and the largest is seven and a half pounds! The puppy charts put them all between 18 and 36 pounds, which is larger than the first calculation I made two weeks ago, so they are definitely jumping their curve now that we’ve rid them of the hookworms. I hope their adopters will let us know how big they ultimately get.

Their little personalities are blooming. They are bonded with me and follow me everywhere when I’m out in the puppy yard with them. To a pup, they are loving and people-centered. When they get too crazy, I scoop one up and snuggle it and it immediately calms right down.

Even Millie, one of the most outgoing pups (and the one still available for adoption!) is putty in my arms. I’ve been watching her lately because she has so much energy and I want to start channeling it in the right way, and I’ve come to realize that yes she does have a lot of energy, but so do some of the others. The difference with Millie is that she is vocal. She communicates with the other puppies (and me) with her voice more than they do.

pup looking between posts

All of them are starting to find their big dog voices, though, and it is no longer possible for my kids to sleep through the ruckus when the pups are ready for breakfast. (Which is a good thing since all three still need to ‘go’ to school and work virtually.)

In just over a week, we will be foster-free at this house. Rockee left with his adopter on Sunday. He was smitten from the moment they met and jumped in her car without a backward glance. Here’s hoping the third time is the charm. I’m pretty certain it is. Check out these pictures his new mom sent:


Thanks for reading!

Cara Sue Achterberg with pupCara

If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

For information on me, my writing, and books, visit I have a new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, coming out in July. If it sounds like something you’d like to read, I’d be beyond grateful if you’d consider preordering it. Preorders contribute to the success of the book, not only giving me and my publisher some peace of mind but hopefully attracting media attention.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

Another Good Dog coverIf you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact:




8 thoughts on “CAUTION: Puppies”

    1. I am also a dog person, despite the number of puppies that come through this house! I think adopting a puppy is always a gamble and while dogs may have issues, you usually have a better idea of what you are getting when you adopt one.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There are three boys and yes they are all spoken for!!! All of my puppies were adopted quickly via our Puppy Waiting List adopters (approved adopters who have been through the application process and are just waiting for the right puppy).


  1. So glad to hear Rockee found a home!!! Makes my heart smile. I prefer more mature dogs over puppies but I have raised one from 8 weeks and one from six months. But my boys right now were adopted around the age of two. They still have residual issues from whence they came but they are so happy to “Belong” to someone. The love and devotion are worth the little bumps in the road.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this post. A good reminder for me concerning my own interactions with man’s best friend… it’s so easy to go from praise to scolding when puppies or grown dogs bother you. In the moment, you want the misbehavior to stop and stop right then, just as it is with children who misbehave. I’ve heard about research that says that dogs in general have the cognitive functioning of a two or three year old, and with children in that age group, those caring for them are advised not to be overly hard on them as well. I suppose there are times when one needs to come down hard on a dog or child if they’re behaving particularly badly and you need to get their attention immediately. I remember you saying in response to another of my comments that you do have a firm “don’t mess with me” voice that you’ll use with the dogs when they really push the boundaries. I guess it’s not as useful with puppies? And I like how you’re introducing the puppies to different sounds from the start. Do you intentionally drop loud objects near them to get them used to loud noise? I ask this because my former sister-in-law would take her dogs to obedience class, and one of the exercises the instructor did during one class was to drop a chair loudly in the room on purpose, presumably to get the dogs used to being around sudden noises. Keep doing your part for man’s best friend.


    1. I do just about anything I can think of, including dropping things around them, to help prepare them to be calm, confident dogs in the future. hopefully, their adopters will continue to introduce them to new sights and sounds, even if they have to stay at home.


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