The joys and frustrations of new puppies

It's not ALL fun and games!



"He won't stop whining."
"She chews everything in sight."
"He won't come when he's called."
"She scares the kids when she jumps and nips."
"He doesn't want to be cuddled."
"She's the cutest puppy, but ..."

Visions of fun and frolic dance in our heads when we decide to bring a puppy into the family, but those visions can deteriorate into frustration for those who are unprepared for the potential difficulties of puppy training and adjustment to family life.

There's no doubt that the first few weeks with a new puppy can be exasperating. That tiny bundle of fur that was soooo friendly at the breeder's home, the kennel, the pet store, or the animal shelter has some behaviors that drive people crazy. It's little consolation that these behaviors are normal for dogs; what matters is that the housetraining go smoothly and relatively quickly, that the nipping of children be held to a minimum, and that chewing on furniture and clothing be stopped or prevented.

It's important to remember that puppies are always learning about their environment and their people, but it can take time for learning to crystallize into acceptable behavior patterns. For example, if a 10-week-old puppy doesn't have accidents in the house, it could well be that the owner is trained to read puppy signals and get the little guy outside at the proper time. Most puppies are housetrained by four months of age, but it may take supreme diligence on the part of owners to prevent accidents until that time.

The first 16 weeks of a puppy's life are critical in determining how he will fit into his family. Early socialization from birth to purchase at seven or eight weeks cannot be replaced later; a puppy that misses out on play time with Mom and littermates or early gentle handling by people can develop behavior problems no matter what the family does to prevent them.

Relax. First of all, these days do pass, often with lightening quickness. Second, puppies really are pretty easy to deal with - a couple of square meals, several trips outside, and lots of playtime balanced with lots of sleeping are the general rule for the first few weeks at home.

Socialization is important, but it needn't be a chore. Puppies should be exposed to everyday noises, to a variety of surfaces, and to handling of their bodies by adults and children before going to their new homes. Once in the home, their horizons should be broadened even further, but rather than a task that must be done, socialization is a perfect opportunity for playtime and bonding. Dr. Gary Clemons of Milford Animal Hospital gives details about puppy socialization in "Puppy training techniques."


Children and puppies

Children and dogs are a natural combination, but children should always be taught to be gentle with puppies and parents should always supervise interactions.

All children past crawling stage can participate in puppy care in some fashion. A toddler can pick up puppy toys and put them in a box, help straighten puppy bedding, and learn to keep his own toys out of range of puppy teeth. A pre-school child can do these things and help fix puppy meals and accompany Mom and puppy to the veterinary clinic. A kindergartner can help teach the puppy to sit before he gets a treat and can help with leash training, and an older child can teach puppy tricks and actively participate in good manners training under adult supervision.

A few cautions, however:

From the puppy's point of view, children can be either easy to intimidate or objects of fear. Children who run and scream can excite bold puppies into uncontrolled madness that includes growling and biting or can induce fear in shy puppies. Children who try to dominate puppies can turn a puppy can turn into a biter, and children who are afraid of the puppy can turn it into a bully that growls and nips to get his way.


Same breed, second time around

People often hark back to the dogs of their childhood when choosing a family pet, and so look for another dog of the same breed or type and get a rude awakening when the newcomer isn't a clone of Lassie or Pal. Dealing with a nippy dog when you remember your old family Collie as perfect or teaching a dominant puppy to obey when the Buddy of your early years was a perfect gentleman can definitely put a kink in the relationship.

It helps to remember that, while dog breeds have definite ideal temperaments and behavior patterns, individual dogs fit the patterns in individual ways. Thus a Miniature Poodle can be bright, yappy, and active to the point of hysteria or can be quiet and calm and eager to please. A breed standard may describe breed character as aggressive to other animals, but an individual dog may get along fine with other family pets and with dogs in public. The opposite could be true as well: an individual dog of a generally friendly breed can be either shy or dominant, depending on its genetics and early handling.

In any case, the Collie puppy that joins the family today may resemble the Collie of the owner's youth in appearance and in many other breed characteristics, but it will have an individual personality that may be either bolder or more submissive, calmer or more excitable, or easier or harder to train than the dog he grew up with.


Fun is the key

Puppy training and socialization should be fun for both owner and dog. Puppies can be taught to sit, lie down, and come for rewards. Even eight-week-old puppies can sit for their dinner or treats and lie down to be groomed. Puppies that resist can be taught with persistence and consistency on the part of all family members. It does no good if Mom requires puppy to sit before meals if Dad doesn't follow through or if Susie slips Fluffy a bit of bacon from her breakfast plate.

Physical handling is seldom necessary when teaching puppies to sit or lie down if you use a treat and a gentle voice. Actually, you can teach Sparky to sit without touching him or giving a command; just show him a treat or lure him to his dinner spot and hold the food above his head so he has to look up to see it. If he parks his rear in order to look up, tell him "Good boy!, Good sit!" If you hold the treat too high, he'll jump to get it, so keep it just out of reach. If he backs up instead of sitting, let him sniff the food, then move it a bit higher so he has to look up. If he still backs up, work him against a wall.

Soon Sparky will sit when he sees you fix his dinner or get a treat out of the cookie jar. Then you can add the command "sit" and use it when you want to clip his leash to his collar, go in or out the door, get in or out of the car, or any other appropriate occasion.

Once he knows sit on command, you can also teach Sparky to lie down without touching him. When he's sitting, let him sniff the reward, then move it straight down to the floor. When he follows it with his nose, pull it along the floor between his front legs so he has to lie down to reach it. If he stands up, start over. When he lies down (elbows on the floor), praise him with "Good boy! Good down!" and give him the treat.


Puppies and holidays

If you bring a pup home for the holidays ...

Advice from several dog breeders ...

Good breeders send puppies home with more than a smile and good wishes. Along with contracts and assurances that they will be available to answer questions and help with training problems, they give advice for getting things off on the right paw.

Here are the top two pieces of advice a few good breeders give to puppy buyers.

Gale Snoddy; Borzoi breeder, Milford, Ohio
What one or two things do I stress to new puppy buyers? Two things, both of which will hopefully help the dog live a long, healthy and happy life.

First: the new owners must maintain proper health care. This includes spaying or neutering non-show dogs, getting regular vaccinations and check-ups, and maintaining heartworm protection. I don't think there is any reason to explain why these things are important and need to be stressed.

When talking about health care, I also ask that they contact me if any unusual problems arise throughout the dogs life. This is important for several reasons. One, if it is a genetic problem, future breeding plans may be affected. Also, owners of related dogs should be notified, so they can be aware of the potential that their dog could develop the problem. Secondly, the Borzoi Club of America's Health Study likes to keep track of problems that occur within our breed so we can better understand and care for our dogs.

The second thing I stress to new owners is the need to train their puppy. I do not require this in my contracts, but I do strongly recommend it. Puppy kindergarten for the younger dogs and at least a basic obedience class for all. The socialization the dog receives in a group class is important for future relationships with people and dogs. It also serves to build the dog's self-confidence and understanding of what is expected of it, and where in the pack order it falls. For owners who have not done basic training with a dog before, it is important for them to learn how to work with their dog for best results and to understand how the dog will interpret the things people do. This will result in a dog that is a pleasure to be around, and can live happily forever-after with its family.

Paula Drake; Akita breeder, Cincinnati, Ohio
First, be consistent with your puppy. Your puppy is like a sponge, waiting to soak up all you teach him, both good and bad. Be firm, be steady, and make sure you show your puppy what you want. Praise, praise, praise when any good behavior is displayed. When your puppy is naughty, direct the behavior towards good behavior so you can praise. It is so much easier to encourage good behavior in the beginning, than it is to undo bad behavior habits. Make sure your puppy understands what you want. Be a loving teacher.

Second, crate train your puppy. I know, it is hard to hear your puppy cry. You feel cruel, but let me assure you, you are not! Just like children need time-outs and naps, so do puppies. Putting a puppy in a confined space like a crate is no different than putting a child in a crib. Your puppy will learn that his crate is his own private secure safe place. There are lots of educational materials about crate training your dog, so I won't go through all the steps here.

A crate-trained dog is a well-behaved dog. You never know when you might need to confine your dog for an extended period of time. A crated dog can go anywhere safely. You can take your dog on vacations and leave your dog in its crate in the hotel room while you shop or go out to eat. You can travel by air and take your dog, knowing he is trusting of all the airport and jet commotion because he feels safe in his crate. And if your dog ever has to have surgery and be confined afterwards, he will do so without protest and risk of additional injury.

Personally, as a dog breeder, I believe crate training is the most important thing an owner can teach a dog. It teaches security, patience, trust, and understanding.

Congratulations again on your new puppy. I wish you many happy years together.

Tracy Leonard; Basenji breeder, Beavercreek, Ohio
Number one is if you have any questions, do not hesitate to call or email me. Often there is so much excitement that the new owners miss advice I am giving them. When I give them their copy of the contract, I place it and handouts in a nice two-pocket folder so all the important papers can stay together.

Number two is this puppy must have obedience training. If the family is local, I refer them to my dog training club, Dayton Dog Training and recommend the puppy kindergarten classes after puppy vaccines are finished. If they are from a different area, I recommend they contact local dog groups to find a class. I have in my sales contract that the lack of obedience training nullifies my guarantee of temperament. I honestly feel that whatever breed a puppy is, it needs to become a good canine citizen and this is best done in group classes at a local reputable dog training club.

Melody Greba, German Shepherd Dog breeder, Verona, Kentucky
Best advice for new puppy owners... give your puppy a routine and he'll fit in; teach your puppy and he'll respond and learn; socialize your puppy and he'll be secure around people; expose your puppy and he'll be comfortable regardless of what's around him. And save the "spoiling" until after his emotionally and developmental years are past ... which is usually around three years of age. Spoiling should not be considered a term of endearment. (PS: Spoiling keeps my training business, in business!)

Norma Bennett Woolf

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