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New Puppy 101

by Debbie DeSantis
CPDT-KA, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist

The holidays are fast approaching and many people will be getting new canine family members. If you are going to get a new puppy, you have to first choose what breed or mix suits your lifestyle. All dogs should receive an appropriate amount of exercise, training, and socialization. However, some breeds and mixes will require more exercise than others.

The working, sporting, and herding breeds were bred to work and, without a “job” to do may become destructive. These include Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds, retrievers, and collies. Some terriers also require a lot of exercise, such as jack Russell terriers. Hounds , such as beagles and greyhounds, also were bred to work and need to be sufficiently exercised. The toy breeds, such as shih tzus and Yorkshire terriers, generally don’t require the same amount of exercise. So it’s crucial to research the breed or mix to ensure that it’s a good fit, and the pup’s needs are met. After all, a dog is a lifetime commitment.

You might even decide that a young puppy is not a good fit. A more mature canine member may fit your needs. An adult or senior dog may have already been trained and just need a refresher.

It’s also important to decide where you’ll get your next canine family member. There are great shelters and rescue groups that have many breeds and mixes, including puppies. If you decide to get your next canine family member from a breeder, it’s important to ensure that it’s not from a puppy mill, which is a mass breeding facility in which the dogs may be inbred and have health and behavioral problems.

It’s important to be prepared prior to bringing the canine bundle of joy home. Puppy-proof your home. Puppies explore the world with their mouths and the world is very exciting to them. They love to explore. All unsafe, tempting items should be put out of the pup’s reach. This includes chemicals such as cleaning products and antifreeze. Antifreeze has a sweet taste to dogs, and they are attracted to it, but it’s very deadly. Electric outlets and cords should also be out of the pup’s reach.

Puppies will try to chew on other items of interest, such as furniture or your personal possessions. As much as possible, try to keep your shoes, socks, and other personal items out of the pup’s reach. He can’t differentiate between his soft toy and your sock. In fact, items with your scent will be very attractive to him. If the puppy chews on an item that he shouldn’t chew on, verbally correct him (say “eh-eh”). Then, redirect the pup to another desirable activity, such as chewing on a safe Kong toy or Nylabone. It’s really important to redirect him, as correction shows only what behavior you don’t want, not the behavior that you do desire.

Keep the puppy in an area where you can observe him. You can use gates in each room to keep him with you. He must earn his freedom as he is able. If you give the pup too much freedom before he’s ready, he will have housebreaking accidents and be destructive outside of your view. You must correct any unwanted behavior during or immediately after the behavior. Then, redirect the pup’s behavior to an acceptable activity. If you wait too long to correct, the pup will associate the correction with what he is doing at the exact time of the correction, which may be a desirable behavior. Safely confine the pup to a crate or exercise pen when you can’t observe him. Just make sure that he’s not over-confined and that he receives a sufficient amount of positive interaction with your family.

Schedule a visit with your veterinarian to check the pup’s health and administer any vaccinations that are necessary. If you don’t have a veterinarian, ask friends who they use and recommend. Have an appropriately-sized crate ready for when the pup arrives home. The crate will be an important tool in his housebreaking. The crate should just be large enough for the pup to stand up in, lie down in comfortably, and turn around in. You can even purchase a crate with a divider which can expand to be large enough for the pup when he is an adult dog.

Have the pup’s food, dishes, and safe toys ready. Part of preparing for the pup also involves teaching everyone how to care for him. A schedule should be made regarding when the pup will eat, sleep, etc., and should include who is responsible for taking care of him. Puppies are creatures of habit, and dogs do best with a regular schedule. It’s important that everyone be committed to taking time with the pup, and everyone should be consistent in working with the pup.

In addition to his basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, a puppy needs regular and ongoing exercise, training, and socialization. Make sure that your pup receives a sufficient amount of exercise, which can be in the form of playing fetch, playing in a safely enclosed yard, or walking. Talk with your veterinarian about what is appropriate for your puppy’s needs. Running on a hard surface is generally not recommended for young pups whose bones are still developing and growing, but a nice walk would be very appropriate for a healthy pup.

Socialize your pup in many different situations. Have him meet a wide variety of friendly people. Get him used to everyday sights and sounds such as the vacuum cleaner, the television, and cars passing by. When he is appropriately vaccinated, take the pup to meet friendly, healthy dogs and puppies. A good dog daycare facility can help socialize your pup when he is old enough. You can also form “puppy play groups” with friends who have friendly, healthy puppies. Just make sure that the puppies have similar play styles and that one is not too strong or large to play with the other. Supervise all interaction and give the pups a time out or rest period when necessary. It’s also crucial that young children learn to respect that the puppy is a living creature, not a toy. Teach them to be gentle with the puppy, and supervise all interactions.

Also, last, but certainly not least, make time for training. Training includes formal commands and even teaching the pup how to greet people and how to be calm during grooming. It’s also crucial that the puppy learn, through positive training, to be handled. Throughout the dog’s life, he will need to be groomed, including having nails cut and ears cleaned. You’ll also need to check the pup over for fleas and ticks as well as take things out of his mouth. It’s important that a puppy be used to being handled for these matters.
Because puppies are sponges who are going to learn something, it’s important that we train them from the beginning. It’s often more difficult to correct a problem after it’s developed than to teach the pup what we want from the beginning. Teaching a puppy his name and to pay attention is part of the foundation of his training. Making coming to you positive can even save his life!

I also recommend enrolling your pup in a class that uses positive reinforcement. Make sure that the trainer has experience and that you feel comfortable with him or her. Training classes are great for socialization. Private training is desirable for individuals who can’t meet during the confined times that classes meet, or if you want more individualized attention than a class can provide. Best of luck with your new pup!

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Debbie DeSantis, CPDT-KA, has been a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist, for over 22 years. Her business is Going to the Dogs Obedience Training, www.topdogtraining.org, (610) 344-7799. She won Channel 17’s Philly Hot List the #1 Dog Trainer of 36 contestants for 2014. Debbie has had nationally ranked obedience dogs, rally obedience dogs, agility dogs, and therapy dogs. Many of her dogs have been rescues. She is also certified to administer the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test.

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