You may think the biggest problem you’ll have with a new puppy is being too overwhelmed with all that cuteness to appropriately correct bad behavior. In a way, yes, that is your biggest challenge. You have to get past all the fluffy, floppy, big-eyed, clumsy cuteness to create and enforce rules and training that create a happy, balanced dog once all that puppy cuteness fades away.Once puppy hits the “teenage” stage around 9-12 months, trouble begins if the owners didn’t really buy into how much attention, exercise, training and patience a puppy would require – especially as that ball of fluff quickly grows into a dog with the size and intelligence and creativity of a Standard Poodle! It’s up to you to set the correct foundation from the time puppy comes home with you so the transition from puppyhood to fabulous adult companion will go as smoothly as possible. Below are the areas requiring particular attention and strategies. The intent is to give you a basic understanding of what you need to consider – and plan for in advance – in order to raise a healthy, happy puppy and maintain your sanity (at least most of the time) in the process:
Socialization and Basic Training
Basic commands and leash training can (and should) begin the moment you bring your puppy home. Nipping, barking, basics for sit, stay, lie down and recall, reigning in the prey drive, getting enough exercise, learning to interact appropriately with other dogs including reading and responding to social cues and not getting into fights or being reactive … you get the idea. There’s a long, long list of things that puppy owners need to tackle to help puppy develop into a great companion. That’s why one of the first and most important things to do, once vaccinations are accomplished, is to sign up for a puppy socialization class. Not only will your puppy have a chance to interact with other young dogs in a supervised setting — making sure that no one gets bullied and shy dogs can build up their confidence — but also you as the owner will learn a lot about reading dog body language so you can understand and predict what’s going on in the play group. You’ll be able to “hear” what your puppy is telling you all by how he moves around. You’ll also learn what play cues look like versus bullying behavior, and how to help guide your puppy through social situations. Ultimately, a puppy socialization class sets up both of you for success when you’re out in public. And hen you take the role of responsible dog owner to heart, by the end of puppy socialization classes you’ll be ready and excited to move into basic obedience classes. It’s in these classes that you’ll learn all sorts of things like using positive reinforcement to get your dog to perform basic commands like sit, stay, and come. These, along with commands like leave it, drop it, stand and stay, lie down can be life saving. If you want your dog to be a great companion, then be prepared to spend at least as much time training yourself as you will spend on socializing and training your puppy.
Vaccinations, Boosters, Vet Bills
Puppies need a lot of care in their first months of life, so plan on a few trips to the vet.Puppies leave our home after their first puppy shot and worming. They will require two more puppy shots followed by a rabies vaccination [following Dr. Jean Dodds’ protocol] several weeks after puppy shot #3. The basic immunizations cover diseases like distemper, parvovirus and rabies, but there are a lot of other issues that puppies can have, including worms, hernias (which sometimes need surgery to fix), retained baby teeth, and other issues. In short, if you’re taking on a puppy, be prepared to give the time and money it takes to make frequent trips to the vet during the puppy’s first several months of life. It’s a great idea to also get puppy insurance. You pay a small monthly fee so that if anything big happens — like the puppy breaks a leg, swallows something, or (heaven forbid) gets attacked at the dog park — you don’t get hit with the giant vet bill. There are several pet insurance companies to choose from and with a little research or a recommendation from your vet, you can sign up and be covered for those just-in-case moments.
Housebreaking and Crate Training
Housebreaking and crate training are two of the most important things you can teach your dog, and they both take patience. Everyone wants a dog who is housebroken, so potty training is a top priority. Depending on the dog, housebreaking can be relatively easy, or it may take months of diligent effort, patience, and plenty of carpet spot remover. Puppies seem to regress with each growth spurt, adding an additional challenge. Figuring out a strategy that works for your dog, having the time and energy to take frequent breaks, and enforcing the rules will all be part of successfully housebreaking your puppy. Along with housebreaking comes crate training. Having a quiet place for a dog to go when the household is busy and it’s not safe to have a puppy underfoot, or when the puppy just needs a break, or whenever people will be gone is vital to keeping everyone’s sanity — the puppy’s included! Crate training is all about providing a relaxing, secure, comforting place for a dog to be. It keeps the pup out of trouble, helps ease or even cure separation anxiety, and gives humans space when they need it. But crate training is tough work. A long-term strategy and consistency are both musts.
Ensuring your puppy gets lots of exercise is imperative, and a great way to avoid destructive behavior. A good puppy is a tired puppy! Gnawing, digging, shredding, scratching … puppies create havoc everywhere they go with their boundless energy, curiosity, and their desire to test the durability and edibility of practically everything in their environment. One of the biggest frustrations new puppy owners should be ready for is not knowing what clothing, furniture, plants and other household items are going to last through the first months or year of having a new puppy. This is perhaps where your patience will be tested the most. There are ways to avoid the majority of destruction, and this includes giving your puppy PLENTY of exercise and a structured, consistent environment for training. Having hardly any energy left to wreak havoc as well as clearly knowing what the household rules are (including, perhaps, only being allowed in certain rooms or having certain toys to play with) gives puppy little need or desire to eat a slipper or tear into the laundry basket. It is a proven fact that exercising puppy’s mind is often more physically tiring than a walk or romp. When puppy exhibits boundless energy, work with him on sits, downs, whatever skills you’ve taught him. Yet another reason to get him enrolled in obedience classes!
Separation Anxiety and Developmental Fear Phases
Puppies go through periods when they’re more fearful than usual, often when they have experienced a growth spurt, and some puppies are more affected than others. Recognizing and helping them through these times is critical. Having a dog who is comfortable being alone and isn’t dependent on you is a great thing. You may like the idea of being needed, and it may feel impossible to ignore the whimpers and cries of a puppy learning to be alone, but your dog is more mentally stable when he knows how to be alone for a few hours at a time and doesn’t panic when you leave the house or even go into another room. Putting in the work to know what separation anxiety is, recognizing the degree to which your puppy has it (most dogs have it to some degree), and figuring out how to help him get over it will be one of the biggest gifts you can give your dog (and you) — and it will last their entire life. Another thing to be prepared for is the developmental fears your puppy will experience as he grows up. These are normal stages in a puppy’s life that usually happen at around 8-11 weeks and again around 6-14 months. These are periods where your dog is seeing the world in a new way and figuring out what is and isn’t dangerous. It is also a time when life-long phobias or triggers can be created. It’s important to know how to recognize and respond to the behaviors your dog has during these periods to keep him calm and balanced (but not coddled, either). Read everything you can find on the critical developmental stages of your puppy’s life so you can be ready for how to respond and to know what social situations are and aren’t helpful for your dog during these times.
Differences in Training Styles
Everyone in the family needs to know what the rules are and agree to enforce them in order to have a happy home and a happy puppy. Getting the whole family on the same page with training is perhaps the biggest challenge your household will face. Every member of the household needs to “be on the same page” and follow the same rules and routines with a puppy. The only way dogs really learn rules is through consistency. It is easy for a puppy to never quite get the training down when he is treated differently by each family member. For example, if the rule is no feeding from the table, or no getting up on furniture, everyone has to abide by it. The hard part is keeping up the rules when your new puppy is just so darn cute and really wants a nibble from the dinner plate, or really wants to come sit on someone’s lap. Big problems start small, and that includes allowing a little leeway here and there on rules as the puppy is learning the ropes. Once you give in – just once – to something puppy wants (but heretofore was against house rules), to puppy this becomes The Way Things Are. It is also a challenge to get everyone on board with consistent ways of training. Having the same words or signals for commands helps a puppy to understand what is being asked of him, yet making sure everyone in the household provides those same words or signals when asking for something is a bigger challenge than you might expect. When you know what you’re in for, when you are able and willing to accept the challenges, and when you plan in advance before puppy comes home, you and your puppy will both have a much easier, most joyful time together!