Ten Mistakes New Puppy Owners Make
From their wolf ancestors, the modern domesticated dog has evolved into a superb companion- the ultimate sidekick. But thousands of years of domestication does not guarantee that life with a puppy will go smoothly. If you've found yourself ensnared by those big, dark eyes and are now scrambling for information, stop here for a minute to read some of the most common mistakes new owners make.
Buying on an Impulse
If you already have a puppy, there's not much you can do about this one. But the greatest cause of strife for new owners is rushing into things unprepared. Dogs are a big commitment- like kids who never get past the toddler stage. While ownership can be deeply rewarding, without some basic knowledge and preparation it can also be the most distressing experience of your life.
Before you seriously consider getting a dog, do your research. Read some books, talk to dog owners, and figure out the breed that is right for you. Find a responsible breeder- one who tests their dogs' hips, elbows, eyes, and breed-specific problem areas. They should be able to give you OFA or PennHip scores quickly upon request. Also make sure your breeder does something with their dogs- whether that be titling them through shows or proving them in the field. Whatever you're looking for in a breed, make sure your breeder can prove their dogs' mettle. This may sound like a lot of work, and it is. It may sound expensive, and it might be. But any added time and money will be paid off tenfold during your dog's life. There is nothing worse than having a genetic defect pop up when your pup is only two or three years old. If they even survive, a badly bred dog can end up costing you thousands of dollars in veterinary care and heartbreak. Better to put the effort in now then to suffer later.
Expecting Too Much
Most puppies go home at eight weeks of age. At that age, they've learned enough bite inhibition from their litter and are sturdy enough to embark on their new lives. But, at that age I would hesitate to compare them even to toddlers. Most of a puppy's day at that age is spent sleeping as they grow at an incredible rate. And they are not easy to live with.
The first nights with a puppy will be noisy and frustrating. They can't go more than two hours without a potty break at eight weeks, and you're going to be up all through the night answering his distress calls. Your puppy will also be lonely. His world is everything within his five senses- if you aren't directly interacting with him, you may as well not exist. Can you imagine spending your whole life surrounded by your mother and siblings, and then suddenly finding yourself alone in a strange place? I bet you'd cry too!
The first few weeks with a puppy can be pure Hell. You will lose sleep, you will get upset, you will wonder what you've gotten yourself into, and you will wonder if there's a return policy. But, the good news is they mature rapidly. Your pup should be sleeping all through the night within a month or two.
Expecting Too Little
On the other hand, it's also easy to mollycoddle your puppy when you shouldn't. If you have just taken your pup out to potty and he cries in his crate, do not let him out until he has settled down. If he wakes you up in the middle of the night, take him out to use the bathroom then bring him right back in. You want to really drive it home that nighttime, and crate time, is the time for sleep. Do not try to negatively reinforce bad behavior- DO positively reinforce good behavior and ignore the bad. Don't tolerate nipping- you should begin working on bite inhibition immediately, and also begin working on basic obedience and leash manners. Puppies may be undeveloped, but they are not stupid. My own puppy is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he had sit down pat within the first few days. Jumping up is very cute in puppies, but very not-cute in adults. Nip it in the bud while they're young and impressionable. The first few months of a puppy's life are his most malleable- teach him as much as you can in this crucial time period.
Dog training methods are a source of lively debate within the dog community, but one thing everyone can agree upon is that consistency is key. If you have more than one person in the household, agree in advance on what will and will not be permitted. How is your puppy going to learn not to jump when one member of the family routinely asks him for hugs?
This section also includes bad training. Try to avoid training methods that rely on outdated pack theories- this includes the teachings of Cesar Milan, who makes very good television but whose methods can be dangerous when applied by most people. When it comes to recommending a trainer, I always bring up Ian Dunbar. Ian's philosophy of treating your dog as a companion provides a healthy and stable relationship between the two of you. Always consider how your interactions with your dog can foster a growth of affection and respect: not fear.
The last thing anyone wants is a maladjusted dog that pulls at the leash and barks at everything that moves. A dog who can't react to people and other animals properly is a danger to everyone around him. Exposing your puppy to a wide variety of people, animals, and stimuli is crucial to development. Take him for car rides, puppy classes, anything that will have him out and seeing things. Before his vaccines are complete, hold puppy parties in your house where friends and family can come play with the new arrival. If you think he'll run into it as an adult, show it to him as a puppy. Remember that thing about the first few months being the most important for training? This is doubly so for socializing.
Socializing also includes baths, clipping nails, and general handling. Get him used to having his teeth examined, ears and paws handled, and getting wet. You'll thank yourself later when your dog acts like a perfect angel at the Vet.
Exposing to Disease
This is a big one. Puppies should not be allowed on the ground anywhere another dog might have been before their vaccines are complete. There are a number of things puppies can pick up, but the most serious is Parvo. Parvo will, best case scenario, ravage your puppy for days or weeks while your vet bill goes sky high. Worst case, it will kill your puppy, and deaths are extremely common. Parvo is transmitted through the fecal matter of other dogs, and can linger on grass for months.
But, you may ask, if I can't bring my puppy out and about until he's at least 16 weeks old, how will I socialize him? The best solution is to bring the world to him. Hold those puppy parties I was talking about. Let him sit in the cart at pet stores. Carry him where you can. Parvo is certainly a big deal, but don't become so terrified of it that you teach your pup to whiz indoors. Remember, socialization is paramount.
Feeding the Wrong Foods
Dog food is important. What you feed your dog can determine his muscle definition, coat shine, stool size, consistency, and smelliness, and longevity. A high quality food, though more expensive, will actually require less kibble to keep your dog healthier than any amount of grocery-store brands. Some brands that I have personally tried and would recommend would be Acana, Orijen, Taste of the Wild, and Blue Buffalo. I currently use Taste of the Wild as a good blend of affordability and quality.
Should you feed puppy food? If you have a large or giant breed dog, the answer is no. Puppy food, even the kind marketed to large puppies, causes bones to grow too rapidly, leading to an unstable and fragile dog. If you have a giant breed dog such as a Great Dane, you will want to look for a specialty food or carefully consider the nutritional values of foods in your price range. For large breeds and smaller, a good All Lifes Stages formula will be perfectly fine to raise a puppy on.
One day, when he was around four months old, I took Colt for a walk. It wasn't a particularly hot day, and it wasn't a particularly long walk, but when we got inside, he sprawled out on the floor panting for an hour. Then he got up, vomited, and went about like nothing had happened. I learned the hard way that puppies are not hardy athletes. Most of their energy is consumed by the process of growing.
Puppies should avoid staircases, and excessive jumping, to protect their young and unfinished joints. Too much shock to their bones at this age can lead to hip and elbow problems later on in life.
Leaving the Puppy Alone Too Long
Sometimes its unavoidable- the puppy will have to home alone for an extended amount of time. Leaving the puppy for more than a few hours is not a mistake- but setting him up for failure is. This is where crate training really shines. The crate is a safe, contained place for a puppy. Not only is it comforting, but it keeps him out of trouble. Puppies should not be trusted with loose reign in the house until they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. This can take a few weeks, a few months, a few years, or never. A crate is not punishment, it's an invaluable tool for dog owners.
The general rule is that a puppy can hold his bladder one hour per month he's been alive. So, if you leave your four month old pup alone for six hours, don't be surprised when you come home to a mess. If possible, have a friend, relative, neighbor, or petsitter come in to look after him while you are away. Give him a toy such as a Kong to keep him occupied while you are gone.
Puppies can be exasperating little beasts. Whether he's just chewed up your most expensive pair of shoes or refuses to come when called, there are times when you will want to scream every awful thing you can think of at your puppy. Don't do it. Your dog is the product of what you put into him, so avoid as much fear as possible. Puppies go through multiple difficult stages. There are several fear stages, teething, and the 'teenaged months.' All come with their own unique challenges and needs.
The good news is, things do get better! If you care for your puppy, he will blossom into a wonderful, mature dog with great manners. The greatest joy of owning a puppy is watching him grow up. By avoiding these common mistakes, hopefully you too can have a rewarding companion by your side for years to come.