Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New (dog) mom's guide to dealing with a new pup

Since we're taking a bit of a break from renovating, I figured I would touch on a few other parts of our life. As you've read, right now we're really focused on our new puppy, Auron. He's a little ball of mischief, but he's so sweet and really is trying very hard to be a good dog. However, even puppies with the best of intentions can grate on our last nerve sometimes - especially if it's been a while since you've had a dog in your household (like Garry and I). Here's a few tips I've picked up along the way that have helped me deal with having a new puppy.

  • Before picking up your puppy, take some time to write out what your daily routine will be. If you were like me and slept in until the last possible second before getting up to get ready for work, you'll be in for a huge adjustment in your morning routine. Also make sure that you (or someone else) can take the little guy or girl out potty during the middle of the day. Any puppy is going to have to "go" every 3-4 hours (sometimes more than that even) and leaving him/her that long without a potty break will always end in you cleaning up after them.
  • Don't scold them if they go in the house. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but when they are very little (under 10 weeks) chances are they have no, or very little, concept that they are supposed to "go" outside. Try your best to anticipate when he/she will have to go outside. The best rule of thumb is:
    • First thing in the morning.
    • Right after breakfast
    • Middle of the day
    • Late afternoon
    • After dinner 
    • Right before bedtime 
    • After they take a "big" drink - to keep your sanity though, limit their water so they aren't drinking just for "something to do" otherwise they'll have to pee every 20 minutes. 
  • Once the puppy is over 10 weeks or you have a "routine" established (this can take a week or two) you can "scold" him/her for going in the house (if it isn't your fault for not getting them out fast enough or not paying attention to them) just by using your voice. Dogs understand tone of voice really well and will understand that if you speaking disapprovingly that they weren't supposed to do that, but you have to "catch" them in the act, otherwise it won't work. You don't have to scream or yell - and don't hit or rub their nose in it. It only tells the dog that "going" is bad and that can cause problems down the road. Also make sure to clean up after every "accident" and use an odor-neutralizing cleaner (we use Nature's Miracle) so your puppy doesn't think that it's "okay" to go in the house. 
  • Crate-training your dog is not cruel. Dogs are descendants of wolves and are, by nature, denning animals, meaning they like smallish, enclosed spaces to rest. Also, don't use the crate as "punishment." The best way to crate-train your dog is to always feed him/her in their crate and when you can't watch him/her or when you go to bed, give them a treat when they go in their crate to reward them. This will give the dog a positive association with the crate. 
  • Chances are your puppy will whine and cry the first few nights away from his/her litter-mates. Lots of folks put the puppy's crate next to their bed so they feel reassured and leave the radio on. It also helps to have something (a toy, blanket or whatever) that all their litter-mates played with. If you don't have that option, just do the best you can to keep the puppy comfortable. A warm, soft, blanket in their crate (that can be washed easily) will help. Leaving the radio on (like an NPR station) is helpful. If you're a really light sleeper (like me) you may want to consider putting the crate in another room depending on how quickly your puppy adjusts. Chances are though, the dog will whine more if put in another room. They see you as their mom or dad now and just want to be with you, so separating them from you at night might not be a good idea. Again, dogs are denning animals, they all sleep together. Other than being a light sleeper, another thing you want to consider is that your puppy is also probably a light sleeper. If you or someone else in your household snores REALLY loud at night, you may want to consider putting the puppy in a different room. Otherwise, the snoring can wake the puppy up in the middle of the night and he/she will have to go and will end up going in their crate. That's not a fun surprise in the morning. 
  • Puppies "feel" the world around them with their mouths, especially retriever breeds. Just like toddlers they want to put EVERYTHING in their mouths. Make sure that cords, small objects and other "hazards" are taken care of before bringing your puppy home. Essentially, you need to "baby proof" your home. Also find out what types of plants or other items are poisonous to dogs to make sure those are kept out of the way. Puppies especially love to try and eat small rocks. Do your best to ensure they don't eat them (it can hurt their stomachs and intestines pretty badly). We have to take our puppy on a leash when we take him out to potty (even though our yard is fenced in) so he doesn't eat stones or small sticks (we can get after him quickly to get it out of his mouth). 
  • Make sure to get plenty of sleep. It's hard having a puppy and continue to do everything else that you do. Chances are you'll lose a little bit of sleep here and there. Making sure that you get plenty of sleep will help you be a better puppy parent, by being alert and "present." If you are a single puppy parent and you're feeling a bit ragged, have a friend or two over to watch him/her (preferably if they have or recently had dogs) while you take a solid nap. If you have a partner or spouse, try to work out the schedule so both of you are involved and it's not just one person's responsibility. 
  • Play with your puppy. This is good for a few reasons: it gives the puppy the needed exercise and bonding it needs to have with you and it will tire him/her out and they will (hopefully) sleep better through the night. Don't exercise him/her too much and make sure they are allowed water after playtime. 
  • Teaching basic obedience to a puppy isn't going to happen overnight, but make sure to work on it a little bit each day. Start by working on name recognition. Once the puppy understands his/her name then start adding simple commands like "come" and "sit." Always give your puppy a treat or a piece of their food (which works really well as treats for a little while) when they perform a command correctly. Also keep in mind that while some puppy behaviors are cute, they become not so cute when they are an adult. If your puppy is demonstrating a behavior that isn't acceptable to you if he/she were an adult, tell them a firm "no" and stop the behavior. Biting is particularly a problem when puppies get to about 7 weeks old. What works well for us is to hold the dog's muzzle firmly (but not super hard, just enough so you are in control) and tell them in a low, firm voice "no biting." When the puppy calms down let go and tell them they are a good dog. We also use a similar command when Auron has something in his mouth that he shouldn't. We pry the mouth open (again, not hard, but enough to show we're in control) and say "drop it" when he drops the item we let go and tell him he's a good boy. Even if the initial action is naughty, you want to praise him for performing the command. Eventually, you won't have to put your hands on their muzzle to get them to perform the command. Puppy kindergarten and obedience training classes are really great to go to once your puppy has all of his/her shots (usually around 4 months is the earliest you can take them to a class). It's going to take while before your dog is completely trained, but when he/she is, it will be worth all of the time. 
  • Feed your puppy quality food. It should be specially designed for puppies to give them the correct amount of nutrients for their rapidly growing bodies. Don't feed more than needed otherwise your puppy can grow too fast (especially if it's a large breed dog) and have issues with their joints later on. You also don't want a fat puppy. No matter how cute they are, it's bad for their health. You also want to make sure that the first ingredient in any dog food you buy is a meat-based product. We feed our puppy Bil-Jac (which is pretty expensive, I'll admit), but there are many other brands out there to fit your budget. Also, if you are a vegan/vegetarian, don't make your dog be one too. Dogs need meat to  be healthy. While many humans live perfectly happy, healthy lives on vegan or vegetarian diets, it is very unhealthy for dogs. Also on that note, don't feed your puppy table scraps or "people food" especially when they are young. Not only is it not good for your puppy, but it can teach them bad manners like begging or possibly stealing food from your plate. Teaching them to either play with their toys in another room or to sit or lay down away from the table is a good option. Since we eat (mostly) in the living room. We are teaching Auron to lay down on his bed or play with his toys quietly while we're eating. If we are planning on eating dinner at the table, we put him in his crate. 
    • You will also want to feed your puppy on a regular schedule. Until they are about 6 months old they will need to eat three times a day. Try to space meals out as evenly as possible. Sometimes things come up and you can't feed him before or after a certain amount of time (try your best to anticipate these things, say if you are planning on going out to eat or something like that) so your puppy has plenty of time to eat, digest and potty before you leave. 
  • Keep in mind that your puppy is a baby and they are just learning what it is like to exist in this world. You are their guide and despite all of the naughty behaviors, they look to you for guidance. A lot of folks say that having a puppy is like having a (human) baby, and I totally agree. If you treat your puppy with the same patience, warmth and care that you would a human baby, then everything will be fine.