Advice for Puppy Parents
To raise a well-adjusted dog, there are some things you should start doing with your puppy as soon as you bring him home, so that he is well on his way by 16 weeks. These are tips on what you can do right away, but also don’t forget to check the resources at the end.
Even if your puppy hasn’t completed all of his vaccinations, it’s important that he meet other dogs and people, and that these be good experiences. Starting Puppy Kindergarten that uses positive methods, as early as possible, can help prevent all sorts of problems later. It allows for socialization in a safe, controlled environment. You will learn how to read your puppy’s body language, so you know when he is excited, anxious, merely tolerant or has had enough. Puppies are like sponges that learn the skills you train easily, and this training helps you teach your puppy what you want him to do, instead of correcting him all the time. In Puppy Kindergarten, common puppy problems and solutions are discussed. And perhaps most important, you and your puppy can build a relationship built on trust right from the start. For more information on why starting early is so important, go to the position statement on puppies by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Get together with friends who have healthy, vaccinated dogs. Have people over – all ages, races, with and without beards, with and without hats and coats, etc. As your puppy gets older, have him on various floor surfaces, in an elevator, around traffic and bicycles. You get the idea. If you have a fearful or timid puppy, don’t force him into a situation that makes him uncomfortable. Whether your puppy hides or lunges, don’t yell, punish or yank at his leash. Think of it as a signal that you’ll need to help him develop good associations with whatever he reacted badly to. So, next time, give him pea-sized treats in rapid succession the entire time that he is around what frightens him. Socialization can only have the desired effect if your puppy has GOOD experiences; bad experiences can create fears and anxiety. So, supervise your pup closely and don’t put him in situations where another dog, stranger or child could bite, scare or harass him.
Puppies have sharp teeth, and they nip. It’s natural. But if you don’t teach bite inhibition now, it could be a problem later when his bite could really hurt someone. Puppies primarily bite to get our attention; they want us to interact with them. So we need to make sure that we aren’t inadvertently rewarding nipping. If attention is the goal, then your attention is the reward. While some people will suggest that you yelp or say “ouch,” it’s important to realize that this doesn’t work very well for many puppies. Most hear that noise and think: “Great! Now we’re playing! Game on!” If you yell, you have unwittingly joined in the fun.
When your puppy nips, keep your cool. Don’t look at your puppy, don’t talk to your puppy, and don’t yell at your puppy. You have a few other options. You can calmly get a toy or BULLY STICK, put it in his mouth, and engage in appropriate play. This says to your puppy: “No, you may not bite my hands (or feet or arms…), but you can chew on this and I’ll give you my attention.” If no toy is nearby, you will want to simply get up and quietly walk away from your puppy to find a toy. Sometimes just walking away by itself will send a clear message.
Some dogs growl or bite when things are taken away from them (toys, food bowls, bones) or when you get in “their” space (on the bed or sofa). They should learn not to guard resources as puppies, so it doesn’t crop up later. When you feed your puppy, go by after a few minutes and put a really good food (maybe chicken) in the bowl. After a while, pick up the bowl before he is finished eating, put chicken in, and return it to him. He will get the idea that if you take something from him, he can expect something even better coming back. If your puppy grabs something you don’t want him to have, don’t chase him. If you do, it’s a game. Instead, trade him for something even better while teaching him the words, “drop it”. I want my shoe, but you can have this yummy chicken.
You will need to touch your puppy all over his body, including in his mouth and between his toes. Puppies can get used to being touched all over, which makes it a lot easier for the vet or groomer or when you give him pills or brush his teeth. It’s much easier to work on it now than to have a touch sensitive dog later. You don’t want him to whip around to snap or bite just because he was touched where he doesn’t like it.
Eight Mistakes My puppy Parents Have Made
Ah, the pitter patter sound of new puppy paws. Couple that with the oh-so-sweet scent a new puppy emits, and top it off with the gentle sounds of puppy snores. These are the moments dog moms and dads love about having a new pooch to call their own.
Doing right by our dogs is of utmost importance, but there are several common mistakes new pet parents make when a puppy enters their life. Here are eight common mistakes and tips for correcting those behaviors:
Car Rides to the Veterinarian
If the only time a puppy knows the car is when it takes him to the veterinarian for scary things like shots or strangers prying and poking, this unknowingly sets up travel fears. Thwart this behavior by nipping it in the bud early on. Take your pooch in the car for visits other than the vet. Go to a park, a pet supply store, a friend’s house, or a doggy play date. Praise your pup for being a good boy and do the same thing when you arrive home.
Ignoring The Paws
Many dogs develop an aversion to having their nails clipped and/or having someone (i.e. a groomer) touch or handle their paws. By touching your puppy’s paws early on, acclimating him to a brush, and using positive reinforcement in association with these behaviors, you teach the pooch a valuable lesson: Paw touching and handling is awesome.
Being a Loner
When I got my very first puppy as an adult, I didn’t spend a lot of time around other pets. She entered my life in December, so the weather was chilly and walks were infrequent. When spring time came, my pooch was less than social, so we had to work on that. Puppies who are introduced to a variety of dogs and situations early on tend to be better socialized and learn to play well with others as they mature.
Yes, puppies are adorable. Yes, big brown dog eyes can mesmerize you to babble like a toddler. Resist the urge to feed a dog table scraps or “people food” of any kind. This is one of the hardest habits to break. I know because my last dog was a beggar and she never “unlearned” this behavior. Puppies learn behaviors early on that can lead to bigger issues later. The bottom line is that people food is generally unhealthy for dogs and can cause a whole host of digestive issues.
Wanting Them to Learn Fast
Most puppies leave their litter-mates at eight weeks of age. The first several weeks with a new puppy means a huge adjustment. Do not get frustrated with your new pooch. Puppies don’t stay young for long and a dog matures quickly. Imagine you are the puppy and suddenly everything you know from your siblings to your mom are gone. I’d cry, too! Learn patience and if you aren’t a patient person, then a puppy is simply not the right choice for you.
House-training a dog and teaching him to do his potty business outside is perhaps the biggest challenge most new pet parents face. Never ever scold a dog for peeing inside the house long after the fact. After a long day of work, returning home to a soiled rug is no fun. Yelling or shouting at your puppy isn’t pleasant for him, either. Your pooch only understands that you came home and got loud. He’s long forgotten about that wet mess he made. Again, patience and correct expectations are essential.
Sadly, I’ve witnessed this behavior in public and have confronted pet parents over the years. Putting your hand(s) on a dog as a form of punishment is not only wrong but also very harmful to your relationship with the dog. In her book, “It’s Me or the Dog,” positive reinforcement dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell, writes, “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the ones who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.” Bullies hit people and pets. Take a class with your dog that teaches positive reinforcement. Hitting is for punching bags, not for pets.
Long Periods Alone
Dogs are pack animals, plain and simple. Crate training is an option for many but so is doggy daycare and pet sitting services. Puppies should not be allowed free reign of the house, as this allows wandering eyes and minds to get into trouble. Have a friend, relative, or trusted colleague check on your dog and allow potty breaks and interaction throughout the day. Never use a crate as a punishment. The puppy should view his crate as a safe haven away from the hectic world. It is truly his place to get away. Never leave a puppy alone for extended periods of time.
One of the greatest rewards in being a new puppy parent is helping him grow into a canine good citizen. Knowing what to expect and doing right by and for your new friend will lead to a lifetime of special memories and moments shared together.