Having a puppy is a special, but usually rare event in most people’s lives and because of that, it is easy to forget how much work they can be. Puppies conjure a unique mixture of emotions that range from total delight to abject exasperation, all while simply being themselves. I’ve had the privilege to work with numerous families and their puppies, and over time, I’ve noticed a trend in common questions or concerns when people call me for help. Here are the top 4.
Where does all this energy come from? This question is usually followed up with “What was I thinking?” Make no bones about it…puppies are work. And if it feels like you are hitting the ground running when you get one, it’s because you are. One day you are enjoying a peaceful morning, quietly drinking your coffee…the next day you have a very persistent puppy ready to take on the world and blow up your Instagram feed (see my other blog post about the persistent nature of dogs). It doesn’t matter if they were free (by the way, there’s no such thing as a “free puppy”) or if they come from the most touted bloodlines, they all require a lot of consistent effort and time on your part to give them the best possible foundation in life. I still marvel at how a little ball of fluff (with teeth) can turn our lives upside down AND it’s only been on the planet for a few months!
While there are countless writings on how to puppy proof your home, I think the most important thing is to prepare yourself mentally. Puppy development is a marathon not a sprint. While we can easily get caught up in cuteness, we must remember that a puppy is only a puppy for a relatively short period of time. Some behaviors may be cute at 10 pounds, but will it still be cute at 80 pounds? In the end, we are creating a well developed ADULT dog. The adult dog is what you will be living with for a very long time. When it comes to puppy development I consider both the physical and mental needs of your puppy while building it’s character and strengthening the bond between you. The time and effort you put in with your puppy will pay dividends for the rest of its life.
When do I start basic obedience? First, we should differentiate between obedience training and socialization and conditioning. Obedience training is mechanical, in that you give a command to perform a certain action and the dog “obeys.” Socialization and conditioning are providing safe and positive experiences, both natural and manmade, so they are less reactive to the world at large. Given a choice, most people simply want a calm, non-reactive, easy going dog and can forgive not having a perfect sit/down/stay. Overly structured “obedience training” during a young pup’s life can even risk setting a puppy back during key developmental stages. This is why I am pro socialization and conditioning.
When it comes to socialization, anything and everything is an experience: people, dogs, turtles, cars, trash, pinecones, statues, trees, different kinds of foods, bikes,you name it. Every experience provides another valuable piece towards shaping your dog. Many experiences are not planned. You may be on a walk and something surprises you and your puppy. Learning how to correctly communicate with your puppy during moments of stress helps build trust and rapport between you both, which in the end, helps build your puppy’s character. My daily motto for a puppy is “What new thing can my puppy experience today?” Keeping in mind that while something may not be new to us, it is VERY new to them. Allow your puppy’s curiosity to be the guide to new things, on their terms, and you will both be richer for it.
Why so many teeth and when does the chewing stop? Before there were dog toys, there were sticks, feathers, animal skins, bones, and other puppies to chew on. Anything and everything was up for grabs. However, in our modern, indoor worlds, puppies have to learn that we humans see things differently. We have expensive furniture, rugs, hardwood floors, pillows, TV remotes, clothing, shoes, and Roombas, and all of it is off limits for chewing. So we must remain mindful of this, be vigilant, and practice patient redirection of this very innate behavior towards more appropriate items. Once the baby teeth are out, around 8 to 9 months of age, much of the irritation that drives a puppy to chew will have dissipated. That said if a dog is chewing in a more destructive manner, we must look for the cause of this behavior and make adjustments where necessary.
When will my puppy stop using my house as a toilet? You will feel like you are going outside with your puppy all the time. Puppies and adult dogs prefer a companion to be near them when pooping because they are vulnerable in the pooping position. You are basically their lookout. So it is better to go outside with them rather than waiting at the door to let them back in. Puppies also have small bladders which may not be proportional to their size as they grow up, so it takes time for everything to sync up.
It is worth noting that before living in houses, dogs could “go” anywhere outside, but inside they can’t do any of that. To make it even more confusing, everyone else in the house, including the cat, fish, birds, and hamsters, get to “go” inside the house, but dogs need to take it outside. What’s that all about? So it can take time for puppies to understand the subtleties. Keep in mind that the more your puppy “goes” outside, the more it will want to “go” outside. It is a learning curve for everyone but eventually they do catch on. Be patient and enjoy the fresh air when taking your puppy out.
As I mentioned, these are the four top questions and concerns I seem to have when families welcome a new puppy into their home. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more to discuss on any of these topics, or if you need assistance with anything outside of these issues! I’m always here to help you and your dog.