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Learning Fast at 12 Weeks

By the end of Willy's first week with us, he was learning his name and was having a lot of fun playing with us. I would roll the ball and he would chase it. Sometimes he'd pick it up and chew on it. To keep his interest high, I kept him chasing the ball and calling his name and praising him for everything he did except for leaving a puddle or pile on the carpet. Then it was up and outside and hopefully, I saw what was coming before there was an accident.

By the time he was 12 weeks old, he definitely knew his name and was just beginning to understand that bringing me the ball instead of running with it was infinitely more fun than keeping it to himself.

You could easily tell Willy's mood by his tail and his ears. Happy, his tail was tightly curled and the tip almost touched his back. It would wag back and forth fast. When he was very excited his tail would almost straighten out and wag hard. Chastised for chewing something he wasn't supposed to chew, he would let it droop just enough to look absolutely pathetic and make you feel bad. He was growing so fast that you could see a difference in his size every day.

I started teaching him the basics. Come, Sit, Stay. We worked on them constantly and I kept it fun. He loved to play and he loved the games we invented to teach him. I could see how smart he was, but I still kept it simple enough for him to grasp, and yet challenge him at the same time.

Let me digress a moment. Researchers have proven that environment at a young age is a key variable for future problem solving and intelligence. Genes are important too, but environment is very important. My mother used to say "talk to that dog in sentences, he's smart enough to understand." I did it with my first dog, and she was pretty smart. I did it more with Willy and many people who knew him would tell you he was the smartest dog they ever knew.

So many things I wish I had a chance to video. A moment and it was over and done with and no chance to get it. I would not trade those moments away for anything.

I had this little puppy sized throwing dummy and we'd play with it in the yard. Willy loved it and loved chasing it. When I'd take it from him, he'd jump on me, trying to get me to throw it again. If I had a dime for every time I threw that dummy or other dummies...

Weekdays I had to work and we had a place made for him downstairs. I'd come home and clean up his space and take him outside. We'd eat dinner and then I'd take him for a walk after he was fed. Weekends we often spent at the marsh, the family cabin on the lake, or walks in the woods.

I build a crate for him. A place to call his own and feel safe and sleep at night instead of finding something to chew on that he wasn't supposed to chew.

Sure, I know I could have bought one. But I'm not the kind of guy who goes out and buys something just because it's easier to do that. I do things for myself, and that means building things and teaching a puppy to become part of the family.

And that is what dogs and any other pet should be—a part of the family. They are so much smarter than people think they are. I won't argue that they think like people. They don't. They think like dogs. And if you understand that and try to understand how a dog thinks, you will gain a much deeper understanding of your best friend.

At 12 weeks, Willy was already finding his place as a part of our family. He had figured out how to win the heart of my wife, that his name was Willy, and to come when he was called. Playtime was a very important part of his life, and so were our adventures in the outdoors. As winter came upon us, the games and the learning continued.