12 Things Every Puppy Owner Should Know

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The key to a great life with your puppy is getting off to the right start. What should you know about puppies? Here are 10 things that are good to know before you raise one of your own.

  1. Don’t hit or smack your puppy.

    Punishment teaches a dog nothing except how to avoid the punishment. It is far better, and far more humane, to teach a dog what to do by rewarding them rather than punishing them for doing the wrong thing. The use of punishment can be very upsetting for puppies and may encourage them to react defensively by barking, biting, or snarling. In some cases, remote devices can be used to deliver corrections via noise or unpleasant smells (e.g. a motion-detected noisemaker to discourage dogs from stealing food off a counter) but this is the only type of acceptable reinforcement of this type.

    1. Learn how puppies understand their mistakes.

      This is a very important part of the way your puppy’s brain works. Dogs learn when there is a connection between their action and the consequence, so punishment (or a reward) hours after the deed occurs is not a useful training tool. Let’s say your puppy knocks over the trash and has a blast digging in it while you are at work. You get home and see trash all over the kitchen. Your puppy walks in or you drag him in the kitchen and scream at him. Your puppy does not associate the punishment with the fact that he or she did the bad deed. Instead, they associate your reaction with the act of you returning home or the sight of the trash knocked over. If you don’t catch your dog “in the act” of doing something naughty, forget about trying to correct their behavior…it won’t do any good. 

    2. Crates can be an important training tool.

      A crate can be your puppy’s home-away-from-home or a comfortable retreat for when the rest of the family gets to be too much. Crates are also great tools for housetraining because dogs don't like to soil their immediate environment. In addition, inside a crate is probably the safest place for a puppy to ride when traveling by car, and when pups have to fly cargo, crates provide a touch of the familiar on the plane. For more information on crate training go to Crate Training Your Puppy.

    3. Puppy teething is a pain.

      Similar to human babies, teething is the term used when a dog’s adult teeth push out their juvenile or “milk” teeth. This usually occurs between 12 and 20 weeks of age. The process can be painful and puppies often chew on items to soothe themselves. It is critical to have safe chew toys during this time, as unsafe toys are not digestible and, if swallowed, require an expensive surgery.

    4. Learn the signs of puppy illness.

      Puppies can get sick quickly, so early detection is crucial. Learning what symptoms to watch for and what questions your vet may ask can help narrow down the possible causes and determine a diagnosis as quickly as possible.

    5. Calculate how long puppies can hold their urine.

      Young puppies of 2, 3, and even 4 months of age have limitations when it comes how long they can go without using the bathroom. The younger a puppy is, the less control they have over the muscles that start and stop the flow of urine and the more frequent their potty breaks need to be. The usual formula for estimating the number of hours for which a puppy can hold its urine is N + 1, where N is the puppy's age in months. For example, a 3-month-old puppy should be able to hold its urine for approximately 4 hours in a pinch (3 + 1). This means that if you have a properly toilet trained 4-month-old puppy (who theoretically can hold its urine for 5 hours) and you shut that puppy in a crate for 6 or 7 hours, you are courting disaster. Puppies that are crated for longer than they can contain themselves will be forced to soil themselves or potentially develop infections from holding their waste too long. This creates problems down the line as soiling within the crate destroys a valuable instinct to keep the “nest” clean.

    6. Many human medications and foods are toxic to puppies.

      Don’t give your puppy a medication or human food without first checking with your veterinarian. For example, ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, grapes, raisins, and onions are all toxic to dogs and even a small amount can make a tiny puppy very ill.

    7. Know how to socialize your dog.

      Create a happy puppy with good socialization skills so they grow into a friendly, well-behaved adult. Encourage your puppy to have positive experiences with a variety of people and pets. For more tips, go to The Importance of Socializing Pups

    8. Your puppy needs an interactive home.

      Create a trusting relationship between your dog and all family members in your home by providing tons of positive interaction. Puppies are very impressionable and it is up to you to give them a healthy background of positive experiences. Negative experiences such as yelling, punishment, or abuse can cause psychological trauma that will impact them for their entire lives. If you care for your puppy when they need it, have reasonable expectations for their behavior, keep them safe, and gently reinforce good behaviors, all should be well. Here is great information on how to talk to and handle your new puppy, an important part of interacting with your dog. 

    9. You can prevent your puppy’s fears.

      You would not believe how many adult dogs hate to have their nails cut or their owners can’t brush their teeth. I’ve seen dogs who needed more than 6 people to hold them down just for a simple nail trim. Puppyhood is a great time to interact with your dog and prevent this type of problem. Gently massage his paws and help him get used to having his mouth and feet examined. Start by gently looking in the mouth and touching the gums. Show him that this kind of contact is a positive and normal thing. You can also start to gently brush your puppy’s teeth. Give praise when your puppy behaves well and work up to regularly brushing the teeth and trimming his nails.

    10. Separation anxiety in puppies can be prevented.

      Dogs are social animals that form strong bonds with people, but sometimes those attachments can become unhealthy. When this happens, it can cause separation anxiety that manifests as destruction of the owner's property or as other behaviors that may be harmful for the dog or annoying for people sharing the dog's immediate environment. It is important to realize that dogs with separation anxiety are not doing these things to “get even” with the owner for leaving, out of boredom, or due to lack of obedience training. They are not being destructive out of spite or anger, but rather because they are truly distressed when their owner leaves. Thankfully, you can prevent this kind of unhealthy attachment. A great way to do so is to work on creating an independent dog that is able be away from you during the day without stress. (Remember, only reward him if he keeps calm and don’t reinforce behaviors that you don’t want to continue.) 

    11. Good puppy behavior should be reinforced

      When your puppy is behaving appropriately, reinforce the behavior by providing a treat or praise right when they perform the desired behavior. This helps make sure your puppy knows what is expected of him. It can even be as simple as praising your dog for calmly lying at your feet. This technique can really help prevent problem behaviors such as dominance aggression, nipping at children, running to the door, barking, and more.

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