Puppy Boot Camp: Dom, Day 1 – Retch and Ralph!

Dom is a German shepherd pup going on 5 months. His owners had already hired one of the best behaviorists out there, my biologist friend Beth. She called me because she knows I have a long history with German shepherds. A fearful puppy is a problem. A fearful German shepherd puppy can become a liability.

With puppies, early socialization is crucial because when they hit about four and a half months of age, the early learning window closes and then it becomes much harder to get them over fear-based issues.

We are right at the tail end of that phase.

Dom’s owners are concerned about a number of things. These include:

  • Lying down, “checking out”, not engaging.
  • Resorting to collapsing when he doesn’t want to do something.
  • Hiding in crate instead of going outside to potty.
  • Fear of traffic and engine noises.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Car sickness/fear of riding in the car.
  • Overall air of sadness/depression.
  • Peeing at seemingly random times: Not peeing outside, submissive peeing, or peeing a gallon on their shoes. Peeing in crate. Peeing over spilled milk.
  • Does not come when called.

When I picked up Dom we had to hoist him into the back of the van. He is a big puppy; about fifty pounds and expected to double in size.

On the hour drive home, I decided to stop and walk him around in the farm store and see what he would do. I had Til with me, my reluctant mentor in the form of an eight-year-old border collie.

I was so pleased (not) to see that Dom had ralphed a pile of undigested kibble in the back of the van. My own fault for not instructing the owners to not feed him that morning. Yippee.

As soon as we got in the store, Dom decided to drop a row of big, foul-smelling turds in aisle 4. Woohoo.


But otherwise he was fine in the store, and I was especially happy to see him very friendly with most people who approached. He was worried about the wheels on the shopping cart, but with Til walking alongside he realized he didn’t have a whole lot of choices. The presence of an older, trained dog can provide a calming element for an anxious pup.

There was a guy with a hat in the checkout line, and Dom didn’t like the looks of that guy. He opted to bark, his big, scary German shepherd RooRooRooRooRoo bark. Hackles up and all. I just shrugged. The guy smiled, but did not approach, thankfully. We walked out of the store, and Dom saw that nothing bad happened. HE DID NOT HAVE TO MEET THE GUY.

Sometimes it’s better not to make a big deal out of episodes like this. Cooing and coddling, “let’s meet the bad man, see he won’t hurt you”, generally escalates the emotional response in the dog. Walk away, forget it. Nothing bad happens. Next.

In the parking lot, I rattled and bumped the cart as loud as I could, and Dom lurched away from the wheels, leaning on the lead to give himself as much distance as possible. When a couple of cars passed us, he shrank away from them, pressing against my legs.

He loaded into the van with no problem, jumping in with a running start because Til did.

When I got home, I hooked Til up to the pup in a brace while I unloaded the car. This ensured that the puppy would not run off, and Til’s calm, patient energy was physically linked to him.


My Jr. horse was very interested in the newcomer, and Dom told him to back off! “ROOroorooroo!”

Nothing bad happened. The horse just stood there.


I dumped all that nasty kibble vomit out on the ground for the birds to eat. Upon inspecting the bag of kibble that they had sent home with me, I noticed that the ingredients contained: Yes, you guessed it. A lot of corn, and corn meal.


Corn is a cheap filler that a lot of companies use, and it is about the worst thing you can give to your dog. They can’t digest it, so it leads to a high volume of stool that smells really bad, and the dog has to consume a lot of food but doesn’t really gain weight.
I think this might be part of the reason Dom seems to be feeling punky. Dogs with a sensitive stomach can quickly develop allergies to corn-based foods. I also noticed when he vomited in the car that the food had changed color when it came back up.
I offered a couple of the dry kibbles to my dogs just to see what they would do, and even Este the Chihuahua, my piglet, just looked at it and walked away.

By this time Dom had already latched on to Til as his guide and he followed him around in the yard trying to play. He didn’t come when I called his name or even look up.

The puppy threw up again as soon as we got in the house.

So, here’s the thing. I believe a lot of this puppy’s problems could be nutrition based. His depression, his reluctance to eat (the food is nasty, even Este didn’t want it), his overall nervousness… A good diet will undoubtedly help with this. If a dog is feeling better physically, his brain will follow.

So my first order of business is to change his diet. Since he has had an upset stomach, I decided to cook for him on his first day, offering him palatable meals and encouraging him to get more excited about the process of eating. Enabling some healthy food drive will increase his trainability, too.


Today he’s getting a mix of brown rice, hamburger, spinach with some ground flax seed added. This should be easy on his tummy.

Onward and upward. And hopefully, no more upchuck.

For more info about pet nutrition, check out Beth’s site: SuperPetFood.info

Or: The Truth About Pet Food

Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy


About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
This entry was posted in behavior, dog, dog food, dogs, empathy, puppy, training and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Puppy Boot Camp: Dom, Day 1 – Retch and Ralph!

  1. Pingback: Puppy Boot Camp – Dom, Day 2: The Courage Meal | Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog

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