PUPPYHOOD SURVIVAL GUIDE
Raising a puppy can be the most rewarding experience, as well as the most trying experience. Following these 4 tips can help make the road through puppyhood a little less like a roller-coaster ride!
Puppies. There is little else in the world that can bring us such joy as puppies. Their curiosity and innocence is intoxicating, and their enthusiasm and clumsiness can brighten even the darkest of days. Puppies also make me appreciate the adult, mature, well-mannered dogs in my life. Nothing can try my patience more than a puppy who seems to have caught their second wind at 9 o’clock at night. A puppy who seems to only like to chew my most expensive shoes. Or a puppy who is seriously hindering my sleep schedule. So, in the interest of all of us surviving our puppies, here are 4 things you can embrace to help you get through those trying times!
I LOVE food dispensing toys. Many a peaceful hour has been achieved thanks to a well stuffed food toy. We feed our dogs 2 times a day (perhaps 3 for our baby puppies) and we usually dump that food in a bowl and feed them that way. Now imagine if you could take those two or 3 meals, and stuff SEVERAL food toys that they can say busy with during the day. Your puppy will be working away on getting the food from the toy while you are making your meals, getting some chores done, or just taking some time to put your feet up. Food dispensing toys provide mental stimulation for our dogs, which is equally as important as physical exercise and can be just as tiring.
There are several different types of food dispensing toys and several different brands. I love my Kong toys, but you can visit any pet store and they will be able to direct you to their selection of food dispensing toys. I enjoy Kongs because I can stuff a fair amount of food inside them, and they are highly durable. I have Kong toys that are 8 years old and still look good as new. There are toys to stuff food in, or toys that you care put kibble/pieces of food in and your dog has to roll it around for the food to fall out. Play around with several different toys and figure out what your puppy likes best.
You can stuff your food toys with just about anything!! My favorite basic filling is just my dog’s kibble. You can stuff in dry kibble and seal it in with something wet like canned food, raw food or peanut butter. You can also soak your kibble so that it becomes a mush that you can easily squish it in there so that you don’t have to add anything (except maybe a little something for flavour) but your dogs’ daily allotment of food. With the softer, wet fillings that we can put in our food stuffing toys it allows us to be able to FREEZE them! All hail the frozen Kong! Freezing your food dispensing toy will greatly increase the amount of time that it will last with for your dog. With baby puppies I don’t like to start them on frozen Kongs because when something is too difficult, their little puppy brains will just flutter to something else. Having their food toys being fairly easy means that they will be more motivated to interact with them, and we can increase the difficulty (freezing) when they become a little older. The bonus with this method as well is that we can then get a whole bunch of food toys stuffed at once and pop them all in the freezer so that anytime throughout the week where we need some quiet time, we can go into the freezer and grab one of the toys we already prepared for them. For your baby puppy who you aren’t freezing toys for yet, you can pre-stuff the toys and keep them in the fridge. If you have a busy household and children with busy schedules, this can really be a godsend!
Also investigate other options such as bones and other chews. There are many toys specifically designed for chewing, but you can also experiment with bones, antlers, bully sticks, and other consumable chew options. Avoid feeding cooked bones and deer antlers, as they can splinter and cause damage to your dogs’ teeth. Look for smoked or raw bones, and softer antlers such as elk and moose.
Regardless of how many dogs you have raised in the past there are ALWAYS benefits to taking your puppy to puppy class. Dog training has advanced so much over the years, there is always something new to learn! I remember when I got my new puppy when my other dog was a senior. I couldn’t believe how busy he was! I was so used to my sweet, old, fully trained dog. I had somewhat forgotten how much work goes into a puppy! I like to think of puppy class as not only a chance to socialize and train a puppy, but it’s also your support group. When you are exhausted and at your wits end it is nice to be with a group of people who are going through the same thing. Because they are! Your dog is not an anomaly, most puppy owners are struggling with the same things and it feels good to know you are not alone. You can breathe a sigh of relief when you air your grievances to your class instructor, and they tell you that they know how you feel, and then offer some suggestions and tricks you haven’t tried yet.
When looking for a puppy class, I like to seek our trainers who use force free, reward based methods. The best way to survive puppyhood (I want you to also enjoy puppyhood, but let’s get real, you’re also trying to just survive it!) is to be on the same team as your puppy. Your puppy class should be helping you to find out what motivates them and how to use those motivators to your advantage. An excellent puppy class uses food, toys, and play as rewards, and focuses on teaching puppies how to succeed. In puppy class you want to be able to expose your puppy to new people, dogs, objects and scenarios in a safe environment. You want to encourage and empower your puppy to help set them on the path to being that awesome dog you will be sharing your life with in the future. Never force your puppy into any of those scenarios, and if someone asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with its okay to just say no.
CRATES, TETHERS, AND X-PENS ... OH MY!
Management is the key to surviving puppyhood. A free-range puppy is a recipe for disaster. We all want a puppy who can be an angel and can roam freely through the house without supervision, but that unfortunately is not reality! Puppies are curious and opportunistic, so the odds of them getting into something that they should not be getting into are pretty good! If we are also in the process of house breaking our puppy they should NOT be cruising around the house unsupervised. You have to be actively monitoring your puppy closely so that you can learn the subtle signs that your puppy has to potty, and then quickly whisk them outside and have a puppy party when they potty outside. The more accidents that they have inside, the more the lines will be blurred on where the appropriate place to go to the bathroom is. We really do want error free learning when it comes to house training.
Being able to be crated is an important skill for most dogs to have. Crates come in very handy for house training, traveling, vet visits, as a safe space away from commotion going on in your home, and for puppies with aspirations to do dog sports. Crates should never be used as punishment, and should never be used to extremes. A dog spending most of its day to a crate is not appropriate. Crate training should be a positive experience for both you and your puppy, and should happen outside of the times that you actually need to be utilizing it. So you don’t want to be luring your puppy into a crate and then leaving them in there for a whole work day. Play crate games with your puppy during the time you are home together where if they go in the crate they get something yummy that they really like, and then they also get to come back out of the crate. A double reward! You want to have going in and coming out of the crate to be no big deal, and you want to build a lot of value for being in there. You could start feeding them some of their meals in their crate, and leaving them in there with a yummy stuffed frozen Kong before you leave for any extended period of time. Just remember, it’s all about building up those positive associations!
X-pens are a great confinement option for a space where they will be able to stretch their legs and play a little. An X-Pen is a great, safe option for those times when your puppy doesn’t have your full attention. Instead of your puppy being a holy terror in the morning, they can be with you in the kitchen inside of their pen working on a Kong stuffed with their breakfast while you get the kids lunches ready, or while you have your coffee and peruse your morning paper.
Are you ready to start giving your puppy a bit more freedom in the home? Excellent! So since you are a Proactive Puppy Parent, you are going to be prepared! For this stage of my puppy’s housetraining, I like to utilize a leash or long line, and have a treat pouch or dish of treats. A puppy who is dragging a leash or a long line in the house is giving me a different way to manage their freedom. When you see your puppy watching the cat, and your Proactive Puppy Parent brain tells you that your puppy is going to chase the cat, you can casually step on the leash to prevent that scenario from ever happening. You can also chose to tether your puppy to a piece of furniture or tie a leash around your waist and use those yummy treats you have stashed on a dish on your bookshelf to reward them for making good choices. You’ll be surprised how often your puppy makes good choices when you are preventing the option for them to make some not so good choices!
Life with a puppy does not have to be pandemonium. Use your management tools and set your puppy up for success. Using crates and tethers should not be viewed as being ‘cruel’ to your puppy, as what would really be cruel is letting your puppy get into something they shouldn’t (which they will, because they are curious pups), and then getting mad at them for it.
The most important part of surviving puppyhood is finding your “puppy zen”. So when your puppy streaks through the kitchen with that bra that you forgot to pick up off the floor, you take a deep breath, take another sip of coffee, and then go deal with it. When you almost break your neck in the hallway when you slip on a puddle of pee that happen who knows when, you stand up, take off those gross pee soaked socks you are now wearing, and take your puppy outside to see if they need to go again. When your puppy finds its’ second wind at 10 o’clock at night when you’ve been running off your feet all day, you tuck them into their crate with one of your already prepared frozen stuffed Kongs and pour yourself a very, VERY large glass of wine. Put your feet up, you deserve it. There is a time for training and a time for management. Dealing with life, kids, AND a puppy can be a serious drain on your normal friendly self. So instead of falling victim to your frustration, you are going to become a Super Dog Parent. You are going to manage your puppy’s environment to near perfection so that those “naughty moments” start to fade, and you start to have more opportunities to love that sweet little bundle of fur in your life. When the shoes get put away into their correct place in the closet, you won’t be needing to be getting after a puppy who is ripping out all the insoles of all of your shoes (like my puppy did for the first few months in my home!). Ya catch my drift?
Above all, we just need to stop and love our dogs. We can experience all of that joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, exuberance, and playfulness they exude vicariously through their tiny, growing bodies. Make every task an opportunity to play and embrace the silliness that is puppyhood. Absorb every moment, the good and the bad, and hold on to them. Learn to laugh at the foolishness and mischief your puppy seems to get themselves into. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and celebrate the tiny victories. Our dogs are puppies for such a very short amount of time, and what a waste it would be to spend that time stressing over the mistakes and difficulties that may happen. We do need to achieve a level of training and obedience to be able coexist and communicate effectively with our puppies, however we also have to learn to just shrug off some things as well. We have their whole lives to teach them everything that we want them to learn. Do something that makes them happy daily. In moments of frustration, just grab a toy and go play with them. Let that dose of serotonin help you deal with whatever may have been causing that frustration. When your dog eventually ages, you want to be able to look into those sweet old eyes and know that if nothing else, you and your dog always had the most fun!