A Puppy Primer

A high school friend of mine just got her very first puppy. Judging from her Facebook posts, she’s already head over heels in love with the pup and perhaps a tad bit overwhelmed. I can so relate. Especially if you’ve never raised a child (the ultimate commitment), taking on a puppy is a big responsibility.

Having a dog in the house is also incredibly rewarding. We have two long-haired chihuahuas. We got Tico first, and at three-and-a-half, he is a nearly perfect little dog. He’s friendly, well-behaved, and a joy to be around. His little sister, Toodles, is far from perfect, but no less adored because most of her flaws revolve around her unnaturally close attachment to me. They enrich my life in countless ways each and every day.

I hope my friend’s puppy raising experience is even half as pleasant and enjoyable as mine has been. I feel certain it will be. She and her partner show every sign of being wonderful puppy parents. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t offer my sage advice. Here are a few tips for them and anyone else with a new puppy.

Crate training is the only way to go. I was initially opposed to the idea but came around pretty fast. We have a large kennel for each dog with food, water, and a bed. We put them in the kennels whenever we’re not home and at night. When I announce “time to kennel up,” both dogs make a mad dash for their beds and are sitting, waiting for a treat when I arrive. We don’t have to worry about them tearing anything up, going to the bathroom on the carpet, or hurting themselves when they are secure in their kennels.

Going to the bathroom inside is never okay. Designating an area with pee pads or putting down newspapers just confuses the dog. Put a timer on the door and set it to go off every thirty minutes. When the timer goes off, take the dog out and reset the timer. As the pup gets older, gradually increase the time between visits outside. This method works best with crate training.

People food is not for dogs. Begging at the table is kind of cute–at first. Then it’s just annoying. After we’ve eaten, we sometimes give the dogs a green bean, a few peas, or a small bite of chicken or turkey. We might even add a teaspoon of leftover rice or scrambled eggs to their dish. They don’t pay any attention to us when we’re eating, but gather at our feet while we’re cleaning up the kitchen.

Acclimate to grooming procedures. Start brushing your puppy right away, preferably as he or she is drifting off to sleep in your lap. Make it a pleasurable experience. Handle his or her paws a lot (like you’re going to clip the nails), brush their teeth, and otherwise get them used to routine grooming. Both our dogs love taking baths, being blow dried, and getting brushed.

A tired dog is a happy dog. A bored dog is annoying. Our dogs get rambunctious if they haven’t been walked. With two, they often chase each other around the house enough to wear themselves out. But walking is more effective and has other benefits, too. Toodles will always pee and poop on a walk, usually within the first five minutes.

The more time you invest in training, the better. Sure, an obedient dog with a few tricks in his or her repertoire is nice. But the greater benefit of training time is the resulting relationship with the dog. Fifteen minutes at a time once or twice a day is fine, especially for a young puppy. The daily walk is also a great opportunity for training. Teach your pup to come when called, sit, stay, and lay down. When we’re outside, our dogs sit when we say “car.” Tico sits when he hears a car coming.

Socialize, socialize, socialize. Take your pup with you whenever you can as soon as possible. Introduce them to people of all ages, other dogs, and even cats. The more they experience as a puppy, the better. Tico is extremely well socialized which is a big part of the reason he’s so friendly and outgoing. Toodles had many of the same experiences, but Tico was always with her. Consequently, she acts better in strange situations when he’s around than when she’s on her own.

Puppies grow up fast. The first month or two are the most difficult and also the most important. The bottom line is that you, the owner, will love the dog whether it’s good or bad. But life with a good dog is easier and more enjoyable. Our philosophy has always been that if our dogs act up, it’s our fault. The dogs don’t know any better.

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be, but for me, training has been a two-way street. The dogs teach me things, too. In fact, if you’re not careful, your dog might do a better job training you than you do training it! Toodles has me very well trained. I don’t care. I still love her, even if she pretty much runs things here in…

My Glass House