By Vyolet Michaels and Jennifer Lieberman
As 2013 begins, many of us have added or are thinking about adding a new puppy to the household. Whether you are feeling a touch of “puppy fever” or enjoying the puppy you brought home over the holidays, a little planning will go a long way.
If you have not yet brought home your new fuzzy friend, there are a few things to think about beforehand.
Consider adopting your new pup from the local SPCA or rescue group. If you cannot find the breed of puppy you are looking for through rescue, make sure you select a reputable breeder. Avoid supporting puppy store/mill-type places. Research in advance so you can find a dog whose energy level and temperament are compatible with your family and lifestyle. Also for some people, it is better to adopt an older dog that is past the puppy stage.
Once you’ve brought your puppy home, it is normal to feel a little overwhelmed. After all, you have a crying baby animal with a lot of needs to be met. To make matters more intense, your puppy is probably biting you and everyone and everything that moves. If you’ve had puppies previously, you probably never remember it being this tough! The good news is it will get easier, especially if you have a plan.
Between now and 16 weeks of age, your puppy is in what is known as the critical development period. This is the time in your puppy’s life when they are most impressionable. The experiences that they have now will directly affect the dog they grow up to be for the rest of their lives. The most important thing that you can do for your puppy during this stage is to enroll your puppy in a well-run puppy class that includes off-leash dog-dog play. This will allow your puppy to socialize with people and dogs, learn appropriate dog-dog play skills, start basic training and practice training around distractions.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists (AVSAB) recommends that you start socialization classes with your puppy as early as 7-8 weeks of age. They say puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class, with vaccines kept up-to-date throughout the class. Early learning, socialization of puppies and appropriate vaccination should go together in a wellness program designed to protect lives of dogs and improve the bond with families.
Here are 10 tips to get you started in the New Year with your new puppy:
• Never leave home without treats. Anytime your puppy sees unknown people, kids, dogs, garbage trucks, skateboards, motorcycles, joggers or anything that they are unsure of, praise your puppy and give a treat. If your dog refuses treats, they are likely fearful. Give your puppy distance by moving away from that which scares them and try again to give a treat. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Be sure to use small, healthy treats.
• Once your puppy has had the second series of vaccinations for one week, start taking your puppy for at least one leash walk per day preferably in an area where your puppy will meet new people. It is recommended that your puppy meet 10 new people per day. Bring treats and hold the leash short so your puppy isn’t jumping all over everyone.
• Allow your puppy to approach new people and things at their own pace – no forced interactions. Avoid dog parks and having your puppy meet unknown dogs outside of puppy class, except for dogs owned by friends or family who you know are dog friendly and social. Avoid allowing your puppy to annoy older dogs.
• Never use force, fear, shock or startle the pet. It’s tempting to shout “no” or physically push the puppy away from us, but this will almost always cause the puppy to come toward you more intensely. It could also cause fear, aggression and anxiety. Instead, focus on what you prefer your puppy do and reinforce your puppy for good behavior. Use timeouts to punish unwanted behaviors such as jumping on counters and nipping pants.
• Active supervision is key. Puppies often do not know what to chew or where to eliminate. Set them up for success. When you are not actively supervising your puppy, bring your puppy to the crate or other dog-proofed space. Close any extra doors and/or use baby gates. If possible, remove carpet from your puppy’s main area. Never leave dogs and kids together unattended.
• Crate-train your puppy. This will help house-training, chew-training and prepare your dog for overnight boarding and visits to the vet. The metal crates with a divider work best. Make sure your puppy has room to stand up and stretch out but not much more at first. Do not crate for longer than two to four hours during the day. Feed all meals in the crate and consider giving your pup a toy with a treat inside each time you bring your puppy to the crate.
• The keys to house-training include rewarding your puppy for all outdoor elimination and interrupting/redirecting elimination in inappropriate areas. Start praising at the last drop and then give a tasty treat. Avoid praising while your dog is in the middle of elimination. When you catch your puppy eliminating in the wrong place, interrupt them and redirect outside. Give your puppy a treat if he or she finishes while outside. Use an enzymatic cleaner to fully remove scent from indoor accidents.
• A tired puppy is a good puppy. If your puppy sleeps all day, you are in for an active night! Proper physical and mental stimulation are crucial. It is good for puppies to get their heart rates up at least two to three times per day with activities such as fetch, tug (with rules), play with appropriate dogs, etc. Also, provide mental work with work-to-eat toys such as a treat stuffed in a toy.
• Ouch! Puppies have sharp teeth. Hand feed your puppy with food between your fingers and only release the food if he or she takes it gently. If your pup takes it hard, say “Ouch!” and remove the food. Try again. Also allow your puppy to gently mouth your hands (adults only). If your puppy bites too hard – harder than what a 2-year-old would appreciate – say “Ouch!” You can stay if your puppy stops, otherwise walk away from the puppy.
• Feed a healthy diet. Look for a food with human-grade ingredients. Avoid feeding your dog foods or treats with corn, sugar and harmful preservatives (BHA, BHT, Propylene Glycol, etc.). If you are going to home-cook for your puppy, make sure you consult with your vet to make sure your puppy’s nutritional needs are being met. If you are going to switch your puppy’s food, gradually ease your puppy off of the old food and onto the new food so you can monitor and avoid digestive upset.
Raising a puppy can be a fun and rewarding experience for your entire family. Just remember that puppies also require time and legwork (by adults). You also only have a short window of time to teach your puppy vital lessons. By 18 weeks of age, when your puppy’s 28 puppy teeth start falling out, you’ll want to have already started teaching bite inhibition, creating positive associations to people, dogs, etc., and have worked on handling/gentle restraint. By the time the 42 adult teeth start growing in, time is running out. Dogs can still learn after that point, but they are not as easily impressionable.
Vyolet Michaels is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. She and her husband own Urban Dawgs – Red Bank Dog Training. www.urbandawgs.com. Jennifer Lieberman is the owner of a Chihuahua named Nacho who was enrolled in one of Michaels’ puppy classes. She and Michaels have teamed up to offer their experiences and wisdom to other dog lovers.
The training of dogs is not without risk. The services of a competent professional trainer or applied behaviorist should be sought regarding its applicability with respect to your own dog.