"Spoiled Puppy Syndrome"

This article first appeared in the April 1999 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. AKC logo
by Mary Lou Cuddy

Good Newfoundland breeders or obedience instructors groan anytime they see a 8-10 month old Newfoundland balking at the end of the leash. Worse, the owner is being pulled forcibly through the door or across the street. The Newf is hanging onto their sleeve with his teeth, is stealing food off the table, insists on lying on the coach or lifts a lip when reprimanded. What is going on here? This is what I call the spoiled puppy syndrome. I and others are seeing much more of this.

Sometimes, our breed’s wonderful reputation is its own worse enemy! Many people see full-grown Newfoundlands behaving as perfect ladies and gentlemen. We tell of their sweet mellow personalities and noted intelligence. The “teddy-bear” expressions and the “don’t stop petting me” eyes wins converts and soon they have their own Newfie puppy, hopefully from a breeder who cares as much about temperament as they do show wins. They think they have the perfect dog.

While all puppies are adorable, Newfy puppies are at the top of the list. Who can resist the fuzzball bodies and the outrageously adorable expressions? When Puppy comes home the new owners are going, “Oh, see how he/she likes to chew my fingers - how cute!”. The kids pick up Puppy and play on the couch. Soon Puppy learns to climb on the coach and decides it is comfortable. Besides, his family sits there all the time, why shouldn’t he? Before anyone realizes, Puppy is now 6 months old, weighs 60 pounds plus and is starting to make the owners’ life difficult. Maybe there has been a quiet growl or just a look. Puppy is starting to become a monster. Oh-Oh! Rescue services - here comes another one!

Our society is growing ever farther from our agricultural roots. More people are growing up with minimal sustained contact with animals. Maybe there’s a dog or a cat in the home, maybe not. Kids are no longer responsible for feeding chickens, helping with the cows, or able to go fishing with the ol’ farm dog. Many people nowadays have never gained the ability to “read” an animal. When a desire for a dog surfaces, the animal is treated as a stuffed toy or a child, not as a dog. Communication is impaired and Puppy figures he’ll be boss because no one else wants the job.

Here is where experienced breeders, obedience trainers or any one else with strong “animal skills‘’ come in. We need to be more vigilant in telling people to start working with the puppy the day it comes home. The old school of thought that “obedience training” shouldn’t start until 6 months is a total fallacy. Establishing ground rules must start immediately!

I say repeatedly, “Don’t let an 8 week old puppy do something that’s unacceptable if it weighs 100 pounds and is a year old!”. If you don’t want Puppy chewing shoes, don’t give old slippers - he can’t tell the difference! If you don’t want an 130 pound Newf on your couch, don’t let him on at 10 weeks. Newfs are retrievers - they like carry things. Give him a chew toy - don’t let him use fingers or sleeves. Start at 8 weeks with a buckle collar, leash, a handful of treats and teach Puppy to walk on leash. Make Puppy wait while you go through doors first. Make Puppy sit or down before it gets fed or you pet it. Teach “leave it” when Puppy sniffs the counter or table - never feed a begging puppy from the table!

Setting common-sense ground rules early with gentle but firm discipline will make a happy respectful puppy that is truly a joy with which to live. Newfies are great dogs, but they are dogs. They need training. Then you will have that gorgeous, well-behaved Newfoundland with the teddy-bear expression that everyone wants to hug and pet.