So, You Want a Puppy?
This is one of a series of blogs about living with your puppy.
GOALS BEFORE YOUR PUPPY ARRIVES
· Choose a breed or mix
· Choose a breeder or rescue organization
· Prepare your house
· Prepare your yard
· Have all of the puppy items purchased and set up
· Get your library ready
CHOOSING A BREED
Small or large? Short coat or long? Energetic or couch potato? Puppy or adult?
Dogs really are available in all shapes and sizes. In my experience, people seem to do a good job deciding what they want in regards to age, size or shape and finding suitable breeds or breed mixes to meet those needs. What a lot of people forget to consider is the adult dog’s activity needs based on the breed’s energy level. For example, a Labrador retriever is a great size for those who want a large dog, but (in general) completely inappropriate if you want a dog that needs minimal exercise and will lie on the couch all day. (There are, of course, exceptions to the general rules of thumb for any breed, but don’t go to a breeder expecting the exception.) On the other hand, a greyhound, also a large breed, is all about snoozing the day away. So really think about what your goals are.
Remember, individuals from all breeds are pretty active as puppies and will require some effort on your part when it comes to exercise.
CHOOSING A BREEDER OR RESCUE ORGANIZATION
Once you’ve chosen the breed (or general breed type if mixes are your bent), then it’s time to research where to go for that special four-legged family member.
For rescue organizations, choose one that’s well respected in your area. Look at their website, check out their requirements, talk to them and visit their facility or adoption events. There are many breed-specific rescues if you want to adopt an adult of a certain breed. A little Google sleuthing will help you find your options.
When adopting an adult dog, make sure the rescue has done their due diligence not only about the health of the dog, but the behavioral assessments as well. Ensure that you inquire what brought the dog into the rescue in the first place. The last thing you want is to rescue a dog that has behavioral challenges you’re unprepared to address.
When choosing a breeder, ask her as many questions as she asks you. Do your research about your chosen breed. Ask about the prospective parents and their temperaments. Ask how she raises her puppies. A good breeder has a whole puppy-raising program that includes early socialization, exposure to many surfaces, objects, environments, and people as well as early training. A veterinarian should evaluate the puppies before they go to their new homes at about 8 weeks of age. Breeders worth their salt will ask you a lot of questions as well. In fact, expect to fill out an extensive questionnaire and, in some cases, even have an interview with the breeder. If your adopting from a rescue organization they may want a veterinary reference as well.
PREPARING THE HOUSE
Before you go to pick up your puppy, your house should be ready for him. This is advantageous for several reasons – first off, you’re going to be busier than you expect from the moment you bring your puppy in the door. Secondly, it will give the whole family – canine, feline and human – a chance to get used to the new set up. Finally, if you’re anything like me, even with the best planning something is going to be missing.
Here are some guidelines to help you get organized:
· Safe area for the day - crating spot in the family area
· Sleeping area for the night - crating spot in the bedroom
· Outside play area
· Potty area outside – consider an ex pen
· Food and water - bowls, buckets, food puzzles
· Jewelry J – collar, harness, leash
· Entertainment – toys and fine climbables
Let’s go through each of these individually.
DAY TIME AREA
There’s a whole blog on crating for your puppy. Check that out for details. Click here to read!
Set up a crate in the living area. Ideally the crate will have a bed to lie on (soft is fine for non chewers, consider Primo Pads (www.primopads.com) for breeds or individuals who chew a lot). If you’re going to be away for more than a few hours at a time, consider an exercise pen attached to the crate.
Crates in the living area are valuable because your puppy won’t always be out and about even when you’re home. He needs a safe place to call his own where he can be comfortable and still be part of the family but take a nap or a rest or be out from under foot. This is also the crate I recommend using when you leave the house and need your puppy (and your books, electric cords, shoes) to be safe.
Ideally, consider setting up an ex-pen (exercise pen) around the crate and using a double door crate. One door of the crate opens to the exercise area, the other to you. Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy a large piece of vinyl flooring to place under the crate and exercise pen. Voila, safe place for the puppy, and the carpet or hardwood floor is protected!
I really like to have a puppy crate in the bedroom with me. Puppies are used to being with their litter. It’s really tough on them to come to a new home and have no family members to sleep with. However, sleeping on the bed isn’t practical or wise – accidents happen. And while urine is easy to clean up, a puppy falling from the bed and breaking a leg is scary, overwhelming and preventable.
Consider setting up a crate right on your bedside table. Really! Most puppies are small enough that when they’re first home with you, this is reasonable. And it’s only for a few days. Think of it this way, the puppy feels like she’s sleeping with the pack, but she’s also protected. Believe me, this is the best way to prevent nighttime crying as well. So move the lamp, the stack of books, and the alarm clock and tuck that crate right there by your pillow.
As outlined in our crating blog, once your puppy is sleeping well with no whimpering, you’ll be moving the crate incrementally to its final location. (Though I do still recommend considering having the crate in the bedroom with you. Dogs are pack animals and want to sleep together in the same room.)
OUTSIDE PLAY AREA
Play is a huge part of being a puppy – it’s part of how they learn to use their bodies (just like kids). The puppy’s early experience with her littermates was eating, sleeping, and playing-playing-playing. That’s a big part of what will help your puppy be tired as well.
Set up a safe area outside for running, playing with toys, and exploring the world. If you own your home and have a fenced yard, you’re already in great shape! You can also keep your puppy on a leash outside. Your goal is to keep her safe from traffic, other dogs, and running off (which isn’t such a likelihood at 8 weeks but is much more possible when she’s a teenager). Some people will want to put in a fence before getting their puppy home so plan ahead. In short, think through your situation and decide if you need to adjust things at all.
If your puppy will spend her life pottying outside, set that up from day one. Have a family meeting – where is the best location? Is it winter and cold? Set it up close to
the house but off of the walking path and away from stairs. Summer and hot? Consider a shaded area. You want to keep it relatively close to the door as well, of course, because little puppies need to go Right Now!
Consider an exercise pen where your puppy will potty. Puppies are as distractible as 5th graders (or my husband), so helping them focus on the task at hand by confining them to a small area is very helpful. I let my puppy into the exercise pen and stand by quietly until the business is complete then I quietly tell her how good she is, give her a small treat and open the ex pen. That’s the perfect time to explore the yard and play.
FOOD and WATER
Your puppy should have constant access to water - choose a bowl (non-tip) or bucket (clipped to the crate). There should be water in the overnight crate as well. Think about the size of your puppy and make sure the bowl or bucket is low enough that she can drink easily.
Food is a little different. It’s one of the magic ways to tire your puppy. Believe me, you’re going to want to collect all of those magic ways that you can! So get the pretty food bowl that matches the water bowl if you want, but consider leaving it empty for the first year. See the next section for details on the magic of food and puppies!
Food is one of the great ways to entertain as well as train your puppy. Consider taking the daily allotment of food – use it for training and food puzzles throughout the day and if there’s some left over at the end of the day, feed it in a slow feeder (really, just another food puzzle).
Food puzzles come in many styles and difficulty levels. Most people are familiar with the Kong and this is often what I start with. Get one that is appropriate for the size of your puppy. She should be able to get her mouth easily around the small end and be able to roll it around. Put dry kibble in the Kong and place it on the ground. She’ll sniff at it and probably knock it with her nose and kibble will fall out. Magic! Once she’s eager to have the Kong and push it around and then is picking it up to empty it, she’s completely figured out that puzzle and she’s ready for the next most difficult.
Another easy and very helpful food puzzle is the Snuffle Mat. There are various different styles but the general idea is strips of fleece tied close together in a mat. The kibble is hidden amongst the pieces of fleece so the puppy has to hunt for the food. They really love this puzzle.
Once your puppy is proficient at the Kong and the Snuffle Mat, it’s time to consider more difficult puzzles. Most pet stores have many options of food puzzles. Check the
labels for the difficulty level. If your puppy can’t make the puzzle “work”, she’ll give up so you want to make sure you’re escalating the difficulty slowly.
Your puppy also needs some toys to play with, both by herself and with you. Pick a variety of puppy-appropriate toys (not too hard). You’ll want to monitor her with any toy to ensure she’s not ingesting any pieces of the toy. It’s impossible to know ahead of time which puppies will be toy destroyers and which will be toy huggers; you’ll just have to do some exploring. Be careful though. We perform foreign body surgeries every year to retrieve toys (or other items) that a dog (often a teenager) has unexpectedly ingested.
Finally, it’s fun play on different surfaces with your puppy. Providing obstacles can increase confidence and is especially important if your puppy will be doing dog sports with you. Start easy with your baby puppy – a cot appropriately sized for your breed, a cardboard box to go in and out of, maybe a balance disk to climb on or some children’s playground equipment to climb on. Of course, you’ll monitor your puppy closely when he’s on this equipment, but you still want to be safe – choose things based on your puppy’s size.
Some breeders will provide a lot of opportunity for the puppies to play on equipment of various types before they even go to their new homes. Here’s a little video of our teenager when he was still with his breeder and the rest of his litter.
Seeker (Sirius) and his littermates in obstacle course heaven!
Talk about inventive!
COLLARS, HARNESSES, LEASHES
Your puppy will need a collar and leash, of course. Choose something you like, but remember your puppy will very quickly outgrow the puppy collar. Most puppies really don’t like collars at first but they adjust to them quickly. If you have a thick-coated puppy, there are some collars that are less likely to damage the coat. One such company is White Pine Outfitters.
I personally prefer to use a harness with my puppies for walking purposes. It’s less likely to slip off and it’s what I use to walk my adults so I want my puppy to get used to wearing one early. Again, a puppy will outgrow his first harness fairly quickly so save your bling account for when your puppy is older (say 6 or 7 months). In between arriving home at 8 weeks of age and 7 months of age there will be a LOT of change in size so plan to purchase several harnesses or consider one or two that are adjustable.
There are so many books available for puppies and early training that it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few books that I highly recommend adding to your library:
· The Puppy Primer by Pat McConnell
· The Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Sophia Yin
· Cooperative Care: Seven Steps to Stress-free Husbandry by Deborah A Jones
· Beyond the Back Yard: Train Your Dog to Listen Anytime, Anywhere! By Denise Fenzi
· Growing Up FDSA, Surviving Your Dog Sports Puppy by numerous authors (This ebook is available free at https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/18637 )
· Susan Garrett’s Crate Games for Self Control and Motivation by Susan Garret