In times of uncertainty, a soft, cuddly, innocent puppy can be a heartwarming much-welcomed presence in your home. But when that puppy causes more chaos and destruction in your house than all of the year 2020 combined it really can seem like the end of the world. Between razor-sharp teeth, oceans of pee on the kitchen floor, and the rubble piles of chewed socks and children’s toys, you've got to make sure you've prepared for the worst, or else you better go bunk up with the guy you considered a wack job down the road all these years in his bomb shelter. But don't fret, a wizard will be coming to you in a dream right away to guide you on your quest to restore order and save the human race.
When the survival of the world, or at least your home, is at stake we want to make sure we can stack the deck in your favor. That means choosing an adversary that is of an appropriate caliber. You want to make sure you are going to get a puppy that will be suitable for your family, lifestyle, and living situation. This will mean doing some research on breed groups (hound, terrier, toy, guardian, etc) as well as the individual breed within those groups. Some breeds such as hounds have been bred for a long time to be independent and perform a job that they can do on their own without human intervention, while others such as herding dogs have been selected for their biddability and desire to please. With that in mind, a coonhound or beagle may be more difficult to train in distracting situations and will find scenting and tracking that rabbit that crossed the path two weeks ago (although tracking may be a highly sought after skill at the end of the world) far more interesting and rewarding than the pocket full of chicken you've brought with you. Meanwhile, the border collie will climb mountains and fight giant one-eyed mutants to reclaim his tennis ball. When it comes to choosing a dog to bring home to your family trainability can be a deal-breaker for some people. If you want an easy dog, toy breeds, retrievers or herding dogs may be up your alley. If you're skilled with a clicker and reinforcement strategies then the hound group or a guardian breed may be suitable.
You are also going to want to keep in mind a dog’s grooming needs. Some dogs may cost anywhere from $80 - $200 per month to groom, while others may never see a groomer in their lives. What is your activity level like? Do you live a more sedentary life where a toy breed that you can exhaust with a game of fetch in the house suitable for you? Or are you out climbing Mount Everest every weekend and you need a pack mule of a dog who will be asking to do it all again when you finally get back down? What is your lifestyle like? Do you travel frequently? You will need to consider whether you can bring your dog with you or are you going to need to find someone to watch it while you’re out of town. Sometimes a friend or family member may be willing to do this for free but you may also need to pay a pet sitter or boarding facility. While many high drive working dogs can thrive in an apartment, it is usually not ideal. Having a backyard or the ability to take them on frequent walks where they can meet their needs will be necessary. The American Kennel Club has a breed selector on their website that can help you find a few breeds that might be right for you https://www.akc.org/dog-breed-selector/
Now that you've gotten your puppy picked, it’s time to choose your apocalyptic all-star team, starting with your cleric - the veterinarian. Of all the dog professionals you could be researching before you bring your puppy home, finding a vet you can trust is going to be the priority. When you bring your dog home, they are going to need a round of shots just a few weeks after and that will creep up on you faster than you think. Finding a vet is not something you want to do when you need it, it’s best to have it chosen before an emergency happens. With most professionals, there are certifications or accreditations specific to each aspect of your dog’s life. Vets can be accredited by The American Animal Hospital Association as well as a certification that certifies them as Fear Free. Groomers and trainers can also get the Fear Free certification and Trainers may also have the letters KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, and/or CDBC. Now no one is saying that because a professional doesn't have these certifications doesn't mean they aren't skilled or educated but for the most part, it does show a higher level of care for you and your dog. Having a solid team to back you up will be crucial to your success with your dog.
The launch codes have been entered and hands are hovering over the big red buttons to drop the bombs. It’s time to start stocking up on supplies and boarding up the windows. It's time to start puppy proofing. Baby gates and x-pens are going to be your best friends in the coming weeks. X-pens are a great way to keep your puppy safe and occupied while you do the dishes or pluck the stick and twigs from your hair. Baby gates will be useful for keeping the puppy contained to a particular area of the house or away from areas you don't want them to go. You will need to make sure that the children are getting in the habit of picking up toys and you will need to make sure any forbidden objects are well out of reach (shoes and a shoe rack come to mind). Ensure that any cables that the puppy may chew are tucked away and can't be accessed by the puppy. We don't want to be making use of our medical team before you expected to.
Check your routine. Some people like to take a week or two off work when you first bring the puppy home. This will help them adjust to the sudden environmental change and as well as bond with you. Start thinking and maybe adjusting to some abnormally early mornings. Your puppy is more than likely going to want to get up early to start the day before your ready. Most of your days will likely involve feeding, taking them outside, play, and then nap time or some version of those events. If your not going to take time off work you'll need to ensure that you can come home from work to let the puppy out for lunch or if you will need to hire someone to come to do daytime visits for you.
It's D-Day and you’re on the way to pick up your puppy and you've got a crate strapped down in the back or a seat belt to transport the new puppy home because you would never let them roam around the car by themselves. But you may be a little nervous, unsure of what to expect in the next few days. The first few days will likely be the hardest, and the nights may be harder. When you bring a puppy home you are removing them from the only home they have ever known as well as thier mother and their siblings. At night, when you want to sleep and aren't there to keep them distracted, is when they are going to realize this the most. Many people will want them sleeping in a crate or maybe in the living room by themselves. Those situations are likely the first time in their lives they have ever been truly alone. At 8 weeks old that will likely be a pretty scary experience. The easiest way for you to resolve this will to be with them. If your going to let your dog sleep in the bed with you, then this may not be an issue, but for those who don't want the dog getting used to sleeping in your bed. You can always go sleep on the couch with them or even on the floor. They may not be the most comfortable but if they will allow you a couple of hours sleep, compared to listening to them cry all night this is the more humane and logical solution. If you insist they sleep in a crate, try keeping it right beside your bed so you can at least poke your fingers through the bars to let them know you are still there with them.
For the most part, your puppy should be pretty happy and easy to get along with as long as you are meeting their needs. There may be some who are skittish and shy, some may be more fearful than others. If your dog is timid at all, give him some space, let him come to you and make sure he has lots of enrichment, and make your home a fun place to be. At this point in their lives, puppies will be going through a fear period soon. This is a time in their lives where they will be more nervous about pretty much everything. This is nothing to worry about, it is a normal part of puppy development and will pass. Just allow your puppy to tell you they are afraid and control how close or far away from something they want to get. Don't pressure them or force them to interact with something they don't want to, it will likely only make it worse.
You've got your puppy home and he is starting to adapt to the changes of leaving his littermates. But now you’re stuck with this wild animal who is constantly trying to destroy your house; this monster who has got you walking on glass and constantly looking over your shoulder. What are you supposed to do with this terror? Well contrary to what you may be thinking, this creature is not your enemy, it’s not trying to take over your house or rule your home with an iron fist. It is actually part of your team, and will likely become one of your most trusted allies. You just need to tame it! In real-life jargon, we call this process, well actually two processes, socialization and training. For now, we are not going too much about training, perhaps with exception of recall and loose leash walking. You’ve got the rest of your dog’s life to teach them to balance a treat on their nose and shake a paw.
When dogs are between the ages of 3-16 weeks of age (give or take) they go through what is known as a critical socialization period. This is the time in a dog’s life where they learn to enjoy things or be afraid of them. When we go out of our way to socialize a puppy we are teaching them the world is a great place and they don't need to be afraid of it. We are teaching them how to cope with new and novel objects. There isn't much we can do to assist the process, but what we can do is act as more of a support team and coach. We can guide them through the process and gradually introduce them to new stimuli at a pace they can deal with. We can ensure they always have an escape route if they feel they need it and help them remain calm and comfortable. In other words, the socialization period is going to happen no matter what so we might as well ensure we are getting the most out of it. We have the most control over what the puppy will experience so we can make sure they are getting exposed to lots of new things and people as well surfaces and environments indoors. Many trainers offer puppy classes that put a strong emphasis on socialization. Good thing you already have a trainer chosen!
While you are taming this rabid beast, what are you supposed to do with it while you are busy? Many people are fond of crate training and I agree that crates can be useful too, but I don't advocate for keeping a dog locked up all day every day. If you are going to use anything like that an x-pen will provide lots more space to move around, you can use pee pads so your puppy can relieve themselves without having to try not to stand in it and there will be lots of room to provide awesome enrichment activities. These could be anything from frozen kongs to snuffle mats to treat balls to an old pop bottle with a hole cut in the side to dispense kibble. Keep lots of different toys and puzzles for your dog to play with. You can also attach a crate to the pen for the dog’s bed and periodically drop new toys and treats in it so that every time your dog checks it out there is something new and awesome in it. This is a very passive but easy way to acclimate your dog to their crate. Crates should never be used as a place to punish your dog. You want them to have a positive association with their crate and it should be a place they enjoy being.
How can you say this creature is on my team when it's constantly trying to sink its teeth into me? Well unless you got yourself a Malinois, I promise the bitting will stop. Again my answer to this is enrichment. Provide your puppy with lots and a variety of appropriate chews and toys for it to destroy and you should curb at least 80-90% of it. For the 10-20% take a close look at what was happening right before and ask yourself if there was something you could have done to prevent it? Were you and your pup playing for 5 minutes before he got too riled up? Maybe end play at 4 minutes then. If your puppy seems to be going on a rampage, they may be tired. Try putting them in their x-pen with something to keep them busy for a bit and they will likely fall asleep in a few minutes. As a final tip on biting, flirt poles and cat teasers can be a great way to allow a puppy to use their teeth but still keep you at a distance where your fingers and hands are safe.
Finally, it’s time to start teaching your mini monster how to behave so you two can work symbiotically as a team. Since your puppy is still in its socialization period this is an ideal time to work on body handling skills. Teaching your dog to enjoy or at the very least tolerate being handled in places and ways they might not normally. This isn't quite as easy as just grabbing their paws and playing with their toes every day for the next two weeks though. We really want to make these sorts of things the best experiences we can. This might mean starting with just lightly touching their toes, following that up with a treat, and slowly working your way up to fully handling their feet. If you take your time and thoughtfully teach your dog to like and accept things such as tooth brushing, grooming, and medical procedures you will be your vet and groomer’s favorite clients.
You've now fortified your stronghold, stocked up on supplies, and assembled your dream team. You're armed with knowledge and enrichment to get you through the biggest battles. You're on your way to turning your biggest adversary into your best friend. Puppies can be a lot of work but they are not the end of the world. They are not a beast to be conquered or a monster to be slain. They are not trying to rule the roost or become your master. You ultimately have control over when they eat, go to the bathroom, play, go on walks. Spend your time building the bond between the two of you and trying to understand each other. Strive towards meeting all their needs and you won't need to worry about many behavior problems. For the odd few that do crop up, focus on the things you would like them to do and the things you don't want them to do will start to fade away. Even at the end of the world, there is always some silver lining. You got a dog :)