WHAT IS PUPPY PARENTING REALLY ABOUT?
When we think of puppies, we might think cute, fun, adorable, constant playmate and new cuddle partner. In reality, what comes with caring for a puppy is hard work, a lot of responsibility and unfortunately, with many… very little option for cuddling! Puppies are not for everyone and that’s perfectly ok. Bringing an adult or older dog into your family instead, or temporary parenting such as fostering is a wonderful alternative.
Of course, it is true that puppies ARE cute AND adorable and I know from my own now senior dogs that having a long-term relationship with an animal that began when they were itty bitty has been one of the very best things in my life.
My goal here however is to give pet parents as much support as possible in preparing them with what to expect from having a puppy so that you can make the best decision for you and your family, as well as understand what’s involved. Let’s talk about some of the most significant areas.
1. Breeder or Rescue?
Coming from a shelter background, my heart goes out to all the homeless animals that come through the doors of these facilities each year, each one of them desperately in need of a forever home, so this is a very worthy choice and, in some respect getting a ‘mutt’ prevents you from fixating on breed stereotypes.
Good breeders however protect the integrity of a breed and have a valuable position within the pet industry. So often though I have heard people say that their puppy is from a breeder and yet I very quickly realize that it was an accidental litter or some guy on craigslist experimenting in his back yard. It is vital that research is conducted into the reputability of a breeder and that the puppy does not leave its litter until at least 8 weeks of age.
· Don’t forget that neither option will give you a dog with a ‘clean slate’ and that individual genetics will always play a part in their ultimate long-term health and behavior, in addition to how you raise them.
· Make sure you have a true understanding of the breed history, probable traits, possible health conditions and common behavioral needs if selecting a pure bred, particularly with guarding and herding breeds.
2. Puppy Biting
Puppy teeth are sharp! Don’t be personally offended, this is how they explore and gain feedback from the world around them… they literally can’t help themselves and anything is fair game as far as what they will decide to put in their mouth. Puppy biting is a natural part of development and requires constant management. In addition, some breeds may also have higher arousal levels or a ‘harder’ mouth attached to this. Reprimands are not useful in teaching puppies how to make good decisions. This part of parenting should be a huge consideration when deciding whether to bring a puppy into a home with small children or other animals.
3. Potty Training
Yep, another biggie. There can be sleepless nights involved here and if you are not naturally an early bird, you may find this one tough! Many parts of caring for a puppy are like caring for a human infant… ok but with teeth, claws, the ability to run and no option for diapers…. This is the one area of training I like to have a schedule for and I always advise my clients to (safely) get puppy started on pottying outdoors as early as possible. (Yes, you do have to supervise them when doing so, otherwise they may get distracted by a leaf blowing in the wind and then forget why they went outside in the first place.)
I would also never assume my puppy to be fully potty trained and discontinue guidance before 6 months of age. Gates, pens, crates, oh and alarms are life savers in this regard!
This is so typically a subject matter that puts puppy parents under a lot of pressure, either from their vet in regard to vaccines, or from behavioral resources telling you to get your pup out and about as early as possible and it can leave people feeling confused and stressed. You must, must without a doubt follow the vaccine protocol that your vet recommends for you and there ARE going to be environments that are not safe for an unvaccinated puppy, such as public parks, dog parks, trails and beaches. There is however a very important balance to be struck.
Here are my top tips for socialization:
· Direct interactions are not always necessary.
Puppies are very sensitive to over-stimulation and their natural optimism and willingness to explore in those early months should be protected. Don’t put your puppy in a position where the nature or unpredictability of a situation could give them a bad experience, but DO make sure they are having experiences. Exposure should be about quality not quantity.
· Never feel socially obligated.
Everyone wants to pet the cute puppy, but this level of interaction is often unconsented. Young pups can become overwhelmed with greetings and those prone to excitement often learn that jumping all over people is fun.
· Novelty is the winning ticket.
All the things that behavior experts tell you to expose your puppy to at a young age (people, other animals, moving objects, sounds etc.) all have one thing in common – they are novel – new, unfamiliar, unexpected, out of the norm, presented in a different context.... You can’t possibly cover everything that may ever happen in life, so when thinking about socialization in these terms, it can take off the pressure and allow you to get creative both in and out of the home. When a puppy understands novelty, this is what equips them for being a stable adult dog.
Ah training… believe it or not there is no cookie cutter formula here and it is not about checking off the traditional sit, down and stay. What’s important is that puppy parents think realistically about their lifestyle and the ultimate relationship and experiences they would like to have with their dog. For some, it may be to eventually hike, camp and go to the beach off-leash a lot. For others, an urban life of shopping and brunching. For many, a dog that can simply hang out in the house calmly, be appropriate around people and be well-mannered on walks.
Regardless, all of these areas require a LOT of learning for your pup, building the right skills and giving them the opportunity to show how they feel about it each step of the way so that you can both be successful. Puppy training is basically preparation for adolescence and early adulthood. Don’t forget, they don’t come out of the womb understanding all of these things and verbal directives do not come naturally to them.
One of my biggest pieces of advice to clients when training a puppy is, “make it smaller!”
Puppies are like human toddlers. They need building blocks before complex equations and their attention spans are short. The good news is that anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes at a time on something focused is enough. But hold on, isn’t your puppy learning all day long? The answer is yes. Training opportunities take place 24/7 for the lifespan of your dog and through all the many life changes that may take place. Prepare for a journey and know that while there will be trials and tribulations just like any other relationship, you can enjoy it and evolve with it every step of the way!