How to Ensure That Your New Puppy Becomes The Dog of Your Dreams
By Tracy Rowswell RVT
So you have a new puppy? Congratulations, your household just got a lot busier, and noisier. But more importantly, a puppy will bring more smiles, more joy and an amount of unconditional love that is immeasurable! Your new puppy has quickly become a much loved member of your family and we want to help you to keep it that way! We’ve made up a list that will help you to make sure that your pup has the best chance of becoming the dog of your dreams for many years to come.
It’s important to remember that although you might overlook the odd ‘accident’ in the house now; you might think that chewing everything and biting everyone is cute; you might not mind that he or she jumps up (you might even be encouraging it); and maybe you find begging for people food to be endearing; you need to remember that as your puppy grows up and becomes a dog, you will likely not appreciate those behaviours any longer! It is REALLY very confusing if you allow your pup to jump all over you when he/she is little and then when he/she is all grown up, you start to yell for what used to be acceptable behaviour because you don’t like being knocked over at the front door when you come home. This is where consistent training comes in. You can do it! And trust us, your puppy will thank you for making your desires and your rules clear from the start!
- The single most important thing that you can do for your puppy is to socialize him/her!!! The importance of socializing cannot be stressed enough! Your puppy needs to be exposed to as many sights, sounds, people, environments and experiences as possible within the first 16-18 weeks of his/her life. Obviously socializing your pup should be a lifelong commitment, however there are certain fear periods that puppies will have to get through during these early weeks of life, that can make or break his future behaviour. The most important thing when socializing your pup is to be sure that this is done in a controlled manner, and your puppy is never forced into any interaction. Any new person, pet, object, experience or environment must result in good things and be a positive experience for your pup. If your pup is forced and unsure and he or she perceives the situation to be frightening, and the experience isn't a positive one then that is where the term 'Fear Period' comes from. And now your pup has a fear that can stay with him/her for life. So you need to run interference during this time. Your only goal is for your dog to meet other dogs, and people and to be exposed to new and different situations in which the pup is guaranteed a happy outcome. You take him to visit known friendly dogs and watch all interactions like a hawk and intervene if play gets too rough or exuberant. You want your pup to meet people who will allow the pup to come to them on his own time. No forcing cuddling! We allow the pup to become comfortable with the new person's smell and the sound of their voice before that person scoops them up and squishes the puppy's adorable little cheeks! And we encourage the pup to play with polite and respectful children only at first. If your neighbour's kids are wild little hooligans, they don't get to play with the pup until he's 6 months or older. They can sit quietly and pet him, but they can't run wild through the house or yard potentially traumatizing the pup with their squeals and running. There is nothing wrong with a puppy playing fetch or running and playing with one or two polite children who know how to behave with a puppy! In fact, we highly encourage that! But remember, we want the puppy to have a positive experience, and not to run and hide under the bed every time a child comes to your house because he is afraid that his tail will be pulled while listening to this scary small human scream in a high pitched voice. Our perception of a situation might be VERY different from the puppy's perception and we need to think of all of the things that could go wrong and make sure that those things don't go wrong! Your pup needs to be able to deal with some stressors in life; however, he also needs to understand, that if he is in an uncomfortable situation, that you have his back and will observe and create distance and safety whenever needed. Socializing isn't all about taking the pup to the dog park and turning him loose to run wild with the other dogs every once in awhile, and then going home where everything is the same old, same old. It's about actively searching out new experiences for your puppy that will expand his horizons and will become a happy experience for the pup. It is a simple as this: If you don't want a fear biter, SOCIALIZE your puppy! If you don't want a pup that barks like a lunatic at every new thing that he/she experiences or every new person who comes to your door, SOCIALIZE your puppy (and train that barking isn't appropriate). If you want a dog that is great with kids, SOCIALIZE! If you want a dog that doesn't run from, or conversely, try to attack dogs that you meet while out for a walk; then SOCIALIZE! If you want a dog that isn't afraid of the Vet clinic, SOCIALIZE! (Yes we absolutely want you to bring your puppy back for visits and treats when we aren't going to be giving him a needle! These unscheduled trips to the clinic make a HUGE impact on your dog's feelings about the clinic long term.) You get the drift...
There is simply no other tip that we can give you that can have a bigger impact on your puppy's future than stressing the importance of socialization! And your window of time is short for this. Although you will continue to have new experiences with your pup, it is known that the most critical time for socializing is up to 12-16 weeks (but 16 weeks is stretching it in a lot of cases). If you got your pup at 8 weeks of age, then that leaves you only 4-6 weeks to meet many new people, and dogs, visit lots of new places, hear lots of new sounds, etc. That is A LOT of planning and time that you'll need to invest. But you brought this puppy into your home and into your family; you want a wonderful lifelong companion; you owe yourself, your family and most importantly, you owe your puppy this commitment!
Now our disclaimer here is that until your puppy is fully vaccinated against Distemper and Parvovirus (usually 3 sets of DA2PP vaccine are given at 8, 12 & 16 weeks of age) your puppy is at risk of contracting these potentially deadly viruses. So be smart about your socializing. Pick your puppy up off of the ground in public areas where many dogs would be. Only visit friends with dogs that you know are vaccinated. No dog parks until your puppy is fully vaccinated as there are bound to be unvaccinated dogs who go to those areas as well. Save visiting those more public and busy places until after your pup's second set of vaccines and you should be fine! You can still socialize with 'safe' people and dogs and kids at your home. You can still make sure that your pup hears the vacuum cleaner and strange noises while getting treats from you. You can practice with loud noises and treats (just don't treat fearful or cowering behaviour... we know... it can get confusing at first). There is a lot that you can do. Just DO IT!!!
- Often the hardest suggestion for some people to get on board with is crate training. Some people look at crating or kenneling their puppy as some sort of punishment. IT ISN’T!!! When you have to go to the grocery store or step out for a few minutes and you are unable to take your puppy with you, you’ll appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that your puppy is safe at home in his/her bed and he/she isn’t getting into mischief, destroying things or even worse, potentially ingesting something toxic or that could cause an intestinal blockage! Almost always as your puppy gets older he will begin to look at his kennel as his safe haven and he will readily seek it out to go and rest and will even use it as a place to get away from the busyness of your home (other pets, visitors or small children can be mentally and physically draining for your dog). We can discuss crate training methods with you in more detail. Of course most puppies will scream and cry the first few nights of being kenneled. You just need to know that there are ways to help to lessen this and more importantly you need to know that this too shall pass!
- Practice leash walking and teach your pup to be respectful and to heel! This should be started right away. And while you are at it, if you have a flexi-lead, BURN IT! (For many reasons we strongly dislike these things, we can have this conversation if you don't believe us!)You don't want to be giving your puppy free rein to run ahead of you and get into mischief when you are way behind and too far away to stop something before it starts. You want a dog that doesn't pull your arm out of its socket while out for a walk, right? Then you start towards that goal right away with a good regular leash and a firm 'NO' or 'OFF' command. And then you teach 'HEEL'. It takes awhile of course! You didn't instantly know how to tie your shoelaces as a kid either, but now it's second nature. The same can be said for teaching a puppy to be polite and to heel while leashed. You can try different types of training collars to help you to get to your desired outcome. We can offer you some ideas about specific collars or harnesses if you have questions.
- TRAIN YOUR PUPPY! If you know a polite and well trained dog, chances are that that dog’s owner spent the time when he was younger to get that desired outcome. And if you know a dog that yanks his owner’s arm when on walks and that jumps on people and perhaps has fear or aggression issues, chances are that dog simply didn’t have enough time spent on proper socializing and training as a pup. It’s as simple as that. But you can train your pup to be the dog that you want! We love positive reinforcement techniques. We can suggest appropriate training treats. Some people really like clicker training too. That works well and gets you away from using a lot of treats in the long run. Either way... reward and reinforce the behaviours that you want from your pup! Punishment is a harder way to end up getting what you want as your pup can easily learn to resent you and it often ends up hurting your bond in the end. We are NOT saying that we want you to 'let the bad behaviours go' or to 'let the pup get away with things'. A firm 'NO' or 'OFF' are both useful at the right times. Never allow biting or 'mouthing'. Don't allow incessant and useless barking (a bark when someone is at the door is an appropriate response, but non-stop barking is not appropriate). Don't allow or encourage jumping up. Sure that's not a big deal when your pup is little, but as he grows up and people in your life get older, we sure don't want Fluffy knocking Grandma over and causing her to break a hip!
And while you are at it, remember to practice handling your puppy’s mouth, feet, toes, ears and tail from the first day that he comes home to you. This practice will make nail trims and ear cleanings so much easier in the long run! Trust us, you will be so thankful that you did this because you have a lot of nail trims ahead of you!
There are a lot of things to think about here so we'll sum it up:
GO TO PUPPY CLASS! Find a good trainer (we can suggest a few) and go to puppy classes! Most training schools can be very accommodating with your busy schedules. That supervised interaction is priceless! Several of our staff members have taken their pups to puppy classes, not because they don't realize the rules and know how to implement those rules at home, but simply because the structure of a class environment sets you and your puppy up for success! And EVERY puppy is different! A good trainer can give you tips and ways to deal with your Lab puppy jumping up on people, when you've already tried what worked for your last 2 Labs and you still have a Mexican Jumping Bean for a pup! Each puppy is an individual and your trainer can help figure your pup out. Going to puppy classes doesn't mean that you can't train your own puppy. You'll still be doing all of the work yourself! You'll just have direction from someone with way more experience in a positive environment that is all about socializing your puppy.
- EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE! A tired puppy is a good puppy! If your puppy is chewing everything in sight or is running wildly around the house like a lunatic and you can't get him/her to listen... That puppy needs to burn off some steam! There is no question that certain breeds need more exercise than others. Sometimes though you will find individual puppies that are particularly active. A 5 minute trip into the yard for a pee break a few times a day isn't going to cut it for most breeds. In fact a 10-15 minute walk around the block twice/day isn't likely enough for most breeds either. You've brought this pup into your family, so you have already committed yourself to providing it a good home. So get outside and get walking! And get playing! Careful with a lot of Frisbee or activities that will have your pup running full out and then stopping quickly, turning on a dime and racing back again. Your puppy's joints are still forming, so you can cause long term damage if you aren't careful. We want to wear our puppy out, not cause lasting joint damage. So play some fetch, but give the puppy some breaks and don't make it a high speed race. Go for a run with your pup, but remember that his short legs will need more breaks than you and he might not be able to go as far as you can until he has fully grown up.
If you are expecting dinner guests, why not take the pup out 30-60 minutes before the guests are due to arrive, and go for a run, or play some fetch? You will have far fewer issues with the pup jumping up and your pup will likely happily have a sleep in his crate while you have a good visit with your company. This idea of wearing the pup out before guests come over can easily be translated into, wear your puppy out before coming to the Vet, or going to puppy class. A pup that isn't buzzing with excitement and frustration from having too much energy, is a pup that can learn better and can accept new experiences and situations much more readily.
6. Feed a quality puppy food. It will have positive long term health impacts on your pup. This pup is a member of your family, so don't feed him discount, bargain basement food. We'll happily give you some ideas about food choices. A quality food will be easily digestible and will cause fewer stomach upsets. You also won't need to feed as much food if you feed a quality food. This means less poop to scoop and fewer trips to the clinic or store to buy more food. The price on the bag isn't an exact indicator of how much your dog food bills will be if your dog needs to eat 2-3 times the amount of the cheaper food in order to grow and thrive. Quality food also means that your dog will have a healthier skin and hair coat and less dander and itching. There are a lot of buzz words and myths about how to choose a good dog food; we'd be happy to explain the science that disproves a lot of those myths.
DON'T FEED PEOPLE FOOD! Or don't encourage your pup to eat by adding some of what you are eating to his food! You will only create a monster! A dog that is a picky eater becomes a problem down the road if he/she becomes ill and we need to encourage him/her to eat. If you've always given people food then the value of the treats now that he is not feeling 100% goes down. Effectively, now he is used to filet mignon so what can we possibly offer that could be better than that? Also, if your dog develops a health problem down the road that a special prescription dog food could help to manage, then having a picky eater becomes a nightmare. You know what he NEEDS, but he knows what he WANTS, and those are two very different things!
Feed quality treats. And give safe chews and dog toys! Again, when in doubt, please ask us! As a rule, don't give your puppy anything hard to chew that doesn't have some sort of 'give' when pressed, before they are 6 months old. At 6 months of age, your pup should have all of his adult teeth and then you can add in those harder chew materials if needed. But no chew toys like the really hard nylon or antlers until after all of those adult teeth are in. Even still, we are reluctant to recommend antlers or really hard plastic chews as they can lead to fractured teeth!
Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or frozen canned dog food can be a great way to help to entertain a puppy for a few hours. Kongs come in varying levels of rubber 'hardness' for different levels of chewers. Some pups love a stuffed toy and will happily carry it around and cuddle it for hours. Other pups will disembowel a stuffed toy in 10 seconds flat! You need to observe your pup when he is playing with his toys, both to figure out what kinds of toys will be appropriate, but also to make sure that he isn't ingesting fabric or stuffing or bits of plastic or rubber.
7. Don’t forget to keep your puppy’s brain active too! Bored puppies are as bad as puppies that desperately need exercise! Bored puppies can become very destructive while trying to find their own games and ideas of fun things to do! They are just looking for something to think about and that might easily become ripping apart couch cushions, chewing up a section of drywall or counter surfing and getting into your medications. Play with your pup. Hide treats and toys. Get interactive toys like tricky treat balls where they have to roll the ball to get it to dispense some kibble or treats. Ask us for ideas! Your pup is inquisitive, so he can get into trouble when bored. Keep them mentally and physically active to prevent problems and destructive behaviour. This will help to keep them safe too.
These are some of the biggest things that you can do for your puppy to help him/her to be happy and healthy and to grow to be the member of your family that you want for many years to come. Throughout puppyhood and the rest of your dog's life, if you ever have any questions or concerns, please ask us! We want to be a part of your journey through puppyhood and into adulthood and ultimately into the 'Golden Years' too. We'll be happy to hear from you, so please stop in or call us anytime at 613-382-2900.
Thousand Islands Veterinary Services Professional Corporation