Remember that time over the summer when my wonderful friends from Chaver Kennels brought over NINE adorable nine-week old puppies to photograph?
Granted this is pretty low-lying fruit here, but I LOVE PUPPIES. I was a dog mom long before I had children and I used to train my dogs to run agility courses. All of my “puppies” haven’t been puppies for quite a few years, so I was so excited to get some furry baby cuddles and playtime. I can’t even tell you how hard it was to let them all go home at the end!
In honor of these sweet fur-balls, and for anyone considering bringing home a new puppy (or any dog), here are my 5 top tips for raising an awesome puppy:
- Learn to Communicate with Your Dog. I don’t mean Dr. Doolittle style (though that would be really cool and if you figure it out, definitely let me know). Training is developing a common language whereby you teach your dog that what he or she does can influence your behavior (and vice versa). Dogs are very expressive creatures and highly skilled at communicating through body language. When my dogs want a treat or something else from me, they come up right next to me so I can’t possibly miss them and then sit. It’s their way of saying “look-at-me-I’m-being-good-get-me-food-now” or, if they get up when I move toward them, they know I will follow them to whatever it is they want me to see and resolve. Similarly, my oldest dog has trained me to get up and fill the water bowl when he smacks it against the wall. While this is somewhat obnoxious doggie behavior, I indulge it because he’s my grumpy old man and it totally fits his personality. But the best way I’ve found to teach communication to dogs is through clicker or positive reinforcement training. Basically, it’s like playing a game of Hot Or Cold in which you reward your dogs with treats when his or her behavior gets closer to what you want it to be, and you withhold the treats as they move farther away from that behavior. (This is how we ended up with sit as the universal sign for Good Dog in our house; I’ve rewarded it so many times they know that sitting in front of me will pretty reliably result in treats.) Training and communicating your dog builds your relationship, and it gives your dog a way to get treats and attention from you that is safe for him and for your stuff. If you’re interested in learning more about clicker training, here’s a link to Karen Pryor’s site. Or reach out to your local kennel club to ask about classes.
- Puppy-proof your house and yard. Puppy-proofing is very much like baby proofing for an infant or toddler, but you’re looking at it from the point of view of a puppy. Does that set of slippers look like a tasty snack right where your puppy can reach it? Are there special rugs or pieces of furniture that need to disappear for a couple of months until puppy is reliably potty trained? Think of it this way: anything you leave in your puppy’s reach is fair game until he or she is old enough not to be chewing everything in sight. Set yourself up for success by keeping valuables tucked away and out of reach, and supervising puppy carefully anytime he or she is off-leash around potential temptation. (A bonus is that if you teach your puppy that there’s nothing interesting on your countertops or the floor under your bed, he or she is less likely to go looking there for mischief as an adult.) What should be always in reach and available are puppy-appropriate chew toys. If you do find your puppy chewing on something he or she shouldn’t, simply take it away, and give puppy an appropriate chew toy instead.
- Crate train your puppy. Dogs are den animals; they like having a dark cozy place of their own to sleep and eat in. I also like knowing that I could quickly and reliably confine them in the event of an emergency. The added bonus is that it also makes potty training easier; dogs like to keep their dens clean and will naturally try to prevent soiling their crates. Crate training is a pretty simple concept, it just involves creating a very strong positive association with the crate. I do this by feeding my dogs in their crates. Now my dogs love their crates, and even though they are housebroken and long past puppyhood chewing, they love hanging out in their crates (and will nap in them with the door wide open). While most people don’t need to put this much effort into crate training (just feeding and treating your dogs in the crate is probably enough), my favorite resource for teaching it is Susan Garrett’s Crate Games.
- Exercise is your friend. A tired puppy is a happy puppy (and usually a much better behaved puppy).
- Take lots and lots and lots of photos! Puppyhood is wonderful and brief; if you blink you might miss it. Consider scheduling a pet photo session to celebrate your new furry family member!
Enjoy these puppy kisses!