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Congratulations on your new puppy!
You’re probably wondering what all you need to know. Lucky you — you’ve found the right place. Keep reading for some expert advice on caring for your first puppy.
First, a quick critical information list:
- Never hit a young puppy.
- Praise exuberantly.
- Be consistent with your dog, rather than harsh.
- Don’t allow biting, but only correct after 14 weeks (yelp and replace hand with toy before that).
- Never correct a dog after the fact.
- Dogs need new experiences with other people, dogs and places, when very young to get socialized.
- Praise exuberantly.
- Dogs need successes and less correction before full maturity so they can develop confidence.
- Train your dog in order to establish communication and give it purpose, and make it tolerable.
- Dogs need to be in a dominance hierarchy with everyone; if you are not above your dog, you will be below it.
- Praise exuberantly.
- Dominance over a dog is achieved with leadership, never harshness.
Age to Separate From Litter
Puppies should not be separated from their mother and littermates before 8 weeks of age. Many recommend 10 weeks minimum. This is related to physical considerations such as weaning and psychological considerations such as the puppy’s readiness to leave the litter.
Many breeders believe it is best to not have two puppies together. They tend to bond to each other and not to you and that can cause serious problems when it comes time to train them. Having two puppies needing housetraining at the same time can make that process go on for much longer. This implies that you would not introduce a second dog before the other six months old and properly trained.
There are always exceptions, of course, and there are many happy dogs dogs that were littermates or otherwise puppies together out there.
Puppy-Proofing Your Home
You should consider that a puppy has an absolute right to chew whatever they can get at in your absence. You must put the puppy where either it cannot do any damage, or you do not care about the possible damage. Puppies can eat kitchen cabinets, destroy furniture, chew on carpet, and damage a wide variety of other things. Besides the destruction, the puppy may well injure itself, even seriously.
A good solution to this is a crate. A crate is any container, made of wire mesh or plastic, that will hold the puppy comfortably, with enough room to stand and curl up and sleep, but not too much that it can eliminate in one corner. See the section on housetraining below. Other solutions include fencing off part of the house, say the kitchen or garage or building an outside run. Be sure the area is puppy-proofed.
Please put your pup in an environment it can’t destroy. Puppies are too immature to handle temptations. Depending on the breed, most dogs begin to gain the maturity to handle short stints with mild temptations when they’re about 6 months old. Consider the analogy with a baby, where you keep it in a crib, stroller, or pen if you are not holding it.
It is essential to puppy-proof your home. You should think of it in the same way as child-proofing your house but be more thorough about it. Puppies are smaller and more active than babies and have sharp teeth and claws. Things of especial concern are electric wires. If you can get through the puppy stages without having your pup get a shock from chewing a wire you are doing a great job! When puppy proofing your home, get down on your hands and knees (or lower if possible) and consider things from this angle. What looks enticing, what is breakable, what is sharp, etc. The most important things are watching the puppy and, of course, crating it or otherwise restraining it when you can’t watch it.
Another step in puppy proofing is house proofing the puppy. Teach it what is and isn’t chewable. The single most effective way to do this is by having a ready supply of chewable items on hand. When the puppy starts to chew on an unacceptable item (be it a chair, rug, or human hand), remove the item from the puppy’s mouth with a stern, “NO!” and replace it with a chew toy and praise the puppy for playing with the toy. If you are consistent about this, the puppy will get the idea that only the things you give it are to be chewed on! Don’t stint on the praise, and keep the “No!” to a single calm, sharp noise — don’t yell or scream the word.
There are some products that can help make items unpalatable and thus aid in your training. Bitter Apple and Bitter Orange (available at most pet stores) impart a bitter taste to many things without staining, etc. You should not depend on these products to keep your puppy safe, but use them as a training aid.
A short checklist:
- Put breakables up out of reach.
- Put all wiring and cords out of reach behind furniture, or encased in hard plastic flexible tubing (available at hardware stores, can be cut to size) to slow the puppy down.
- Anything small enough to be swallowed (pennies, bounce balls, shoelaces, bits of paper, socks, nuts, bolts, wire) should be removed from the floor.
- Block access behind furniture wherever possible.
- Put children’s toys and stuffed animals away.
Puppies and Small Children
Keep puppies and very small children apart or under close supervision. Small children do not understand the need for keeping fingers out of puppies’ eyes or refraining from pulling painfully on their tails, among other problems. So keep children 6 years or so and younger away from the puppy until it is grown, for the safety of the puppy.
Teach your children how to approach a puppy or dog, to prevent being jumped on. They should understand that they should put out their hands below the pup’s chin, to keep it from jumping at a hand above its head. They should not scream or run away, as the puppy will then chase the child.
Acclimatization and Socialization
Accustom your puppy to many things at a young age. Baths, brushing, clipping nails, cleaning ears, having teeth examined, and so on. Taking the time to make these things matter of fact and pleasant for your puppy will save you a world of time and trouble later in its life.
For example, every evening before the dog eats (but after you have put its bowl down), check its ears by peeking in the ear and touching it with your fingers. Do this every evening until the dog stops fussing about it. Continue to do it and you’ll always know if your dog’s ears are okay.
Brushing is important, especially for double coated or long-haired dogs when they begin to shed. A little effort now to get your puppy to enjoy brushing will save you a lot of trouble later when it begins to shed and shed and shed…
During your puppy’s first year, it is very important that it be exposed to a variety of social situations. After the puppy has had all its shots, carefully expose it to the outside world. Take it to different places: parks, shopping centers, schools, different neighborhoods, dog shows, obedience classes–just about anywhere you can think of that would be different for a little puppy. If the puppy seems afraid, then let it explore by itself. Encourage the puppy, but be firm, not coaxing. If you want to take the pup in an elevator, let it try it on its own, but firmly insist that it have the experience. Your favorite dog food and supply store (unless it’s a pet store) is a good place; dog shows are another. You want the pup to learn about the world so that it doesn’t react fearfully to new situations when it is an adult. You also want it to learn that you will not ask it to do anything dangerous or harmful. Socializing your dog can be much fun for you and the dog!
Do not commit the classic mistake made by many owners when their dogs exhibit fear or aggression on meeting strangers. DO NOT “soothe” them, or say things like “easy, boy/girl,” “it’s OK…” This serves as REINFORCEMENT and ENCOURAGES the fear or growling! Instead, say “no!” sharply and praise it WHEN IT STOPS. Praise it even more when it allows its head to be petted. If it starts growling or backing up again, say “no!” Be a little more gentle with the “no” if the dog exhibits fear, but do be firm. With a growling dog, be much more emphatic and stern with your “no!”
If you are planning to attend a puppy class (and you should, they are not expensive) ask the instructor about her/his views before you sign up. If socialization is not part of the class, look elsewhere.
Don’t Be Surprised When…
- Your puppy doesn’t seem to pick up the idea of whining at or going to the door to tell you it needs to go to the bathroom. Many puppies do not begin this behavior until they are four or five months old.
- Your puppy does not seem to pick its name up quickly. Sometimes it takes several weeks before you consistently get a reaction when you say its name. (Be careful not to use its name in a negative sense! Clap or shout instead.)
- Your puppy does not seem to be particularly happy with verbal praise. You need to pair verbal praise with physical praise for a few months before your puppy understands and appreciates verbal praise.
- Your puppy falls asleep in the middle of some other activity. Puppies need lots of sleep but since they are easily distracted, they sometimes forget to go to sleep and so will fall asleep at bizarre times: while eating, chewing, or even running.
- Your puppy twitches while sleeping. This indicates healthy neural development. Twitching will be most pronounced for the first few months of the puppy’s life, and slowly diminish thereafter. There are many adult dogs that continue some twitching. Expect muffled woofs and snuffling noises, too.
- Your puppy hiccups. Many puppies hiccup. The only thing to do is wait for them to pass. Don’t worry about it, they will outgrow it.