Updated: Oct 7, 2019
Puppyhood is an adorable, fun time to enjoy with your family's pet. This is also an incredibly important time for your puppy, who is developing and learning much faster than most people may first think!
There are a LOT of roadmaps out there to help you navigate puppyhood. But, if you're looking for a quick, helpful list from your favorite trainer and behaviorist, then I am here to answer that prayer! Or request. Let's be real, it's maybe not something you've been holding your breath for, but hey--hopefully it'll give a few tips and thoughts you didn't consider before!
1. Always (ALWAYS) have chew toys available. Anywhere. Everywhere.
Puppies explore the world using their mouths. Not only are they gathering information through this kind of exploration, but they are also communicating with you! It's really important that you recognize this behavior as a form of communication, and not just annoying puppy-teething-mouthing-nipping-etc. It's up to you to teach your puppy what is appropriate to chew on, and what isn't. Always provide your puppy with something more fun to mouth and chew on, other than your hands or clothes! But, don't just toss it their direction and go on texting or scrolling your newsfeed.
Dogs, unlike their wolf relatives, are now almost completely reliant on humans to direct them to certain behaviors. When giving your pup a toy to chew on, be sure to spend at least 10 seconds making this toy "alive!" This means wiggling, slinging, bouncing, and doing all kinds of other movements with the toy. You need to make it more interesting than your fingers or toes ("People Nuggets!"). Also, praise your puppy heavily when he or she chooses to chew on a toy instead of you. Which leads us to our next tip...
2. Notice and react to positive behaviors! It's very, very common for families to accidentally spend more time with their dogs when they're being bad, instead of when they're being good.
It's so common because it's within our human nature to do this; we want to immediately respond to a negative behavior, because it needs to be corrected, right? Right. But, when we only respond (or more-often respond) to a pup when he or she is jumping up, chewing on the wrong items, or barking, this can mix up your communication to say, "You get attention for these things!" which will lead your puppy to repeat these behaviors in an effort to get your attention.
It is highly effective to switch this routine on its head; show lots of attention to your puppy when he or she is doing the right things (sitting/laying on his or her bed/crate, chewing on their toys, sitting down or being quiet while you're busy in the kitchen). When you repeat this recognition thoroughly and consistently, I can PROMISE you that you'll see your dog begin to repeat these behaviors instead of those "bad" ones you don't like. It's canine psychology, and it works. The hang-up is usually in the human's psychology and reactivity, not the dog's.
It will take effort on your part to begin noticing quiet, calm behaviors instead of excited, misplaced behaviors. And, as a little note, changing this mentality when dealing with your pup can also be applied to your human and family relationships. Give it a try!
3. Monitor food and water. I'm not sure why this simple and effective duty has become nearly unheard of these days. I think it has something to do with the humanization of dogs; we tend to push our human feelings and wants on them. "Feed a dog just once a day?! Barbaric!"
Yes, I know it seems odd. But, keep in mind that a dog's metabolism is set-up to eat about once every 2 days in large amounts. Their metabolism is extremely different than our own. Not only do they require less frequent feedings, but they require more water per pound of body weight. That being said, note that it is vital that you consider both your dog's age and the size when deciding when and how much a dog will eat and drink.
For small and/or young dogs, at least 2 feedings a day are required. 3 is preferable for very small dogs, or very young pups because it's important to keep their blood sugar level and balanced. But, if your puppy is 12 weeks and older, you can easily feed 2 times a day and slowly begin to phase this down to 1 time a day. Why? This makes it a LOT easier for you to create a potty schedule that is consistent and beneficial for your pup, and for you.
As for water, always make sure your pup is hydrated, but not to an extreme level. Water-belly can cause regurgitation, or a belly ache; plus, a lot of pee! According to your dog's weight and activity level, measure out how much water they need a day, and provide this throughout the day keeping in mind that it will be about 2 hours from ingestion to the time of a waste movement when it's water for pups between the ages of 9 to 18 weeks. No lie. So, brace yourself (and maybe think of training your pup to ring a bell to go out!).
4. Brush up on your veterinary knowledge. For instance, do you know off the top of your head what the normal body temp of a dog is? Hint: It's not the same as our own.*
How do you know if your puppy is sick or how to help him if you don't know some of the basics in pet medical care? I can't stress enough how important it is to know at least some things - like body temp, how to spot dehydration, treating inflamed or strained muscles, how to help an upset stomach - to get through this phase of your dog's life, but also for use throughout his or her life! Keep a list of OTC medications you can use for your pet (if ever concerned, check with your vet! If you're not sure, don't try it! Consult a pro.) like this one.
Always take note of an upset belly, or any loss of appetite as this is the number 1 indication that something's wrong in an animal's body. While upset stomachs are bound to happen, if your dog does not respond to OTC medications like Pepto and continues to have GI issues and loss of appetite for even just 24 hours, you need to see a vet. Like I said, when in doubt, call the vet. Don't wait. Would you wait if it was your child who was not responding to medications? I sure wouldn't!
5. Give him a break! Many times, communication with pets is damaged simply because of a lack of empathy or patience on the human's part.
Yes, I know your puppy has chewed up your Macbook Pro cord for the 3rd time...But, let's be honest here, whose fault is that REALLY? Do you blame a baby for grabbing something - like a toy or whatever else - that isn't his? No. Of course not. Because he doesn't know any better, and he's not even old enough to understand anyway! In the case of a puppy, just one week could mean the difference between being able to understand boundaries and being oblivious...So, focus on being sure you're not only patient, but you're being clear in your redirection and correction of behaviors.
It's important that you keep in mind the age of your puppy is comparable to that of an infant. It seems to me that many families jump very quickly from, "Oh, she's just a little baby!" to "Well, she should know what to do!" You are responsible for teaching your pup about the world around him. If you leave him to his own devices, some of the ways that a dog will translate things is not how us humans would prefer it to be. And then we get mad at the dog for this...That's simply not fair.
My mom always told me that a child is a reflection of their parent. My dad always told me that a dog is a reflection of his handler. You can tell a lot about a person, family, or household based on the behavior and communications skills of both children and dogs...and, sadly in both cases, many times it's these youngsters who are blamed for simply not knowing the correct, polite, or proper response to the environment or stimulus. I think it's about time this backwards thinking began to shuffle up, and reveal who is really responsible here:
The adult. The bigger brain. The conscious individual who, unlike a young child or a dog, can objectively view a situation or response...A child or animal who naturally only responds to impulse should not be faulted or condemned for never being taught what to do! This is your responsibility when you adopt a pet, just as much as when you're raising a child. It's about time we humans stop pointing fingers and take a look - a hard look - how our adult behaviors and responses send vibrations out not only to our fellow humans, but to our pets as well.
Focusing on just these five tips will help you begin to notice smaller details that sometimes get missed in the chaos of puppy-raising and life in general. Look for an additional blog post soon to continue your journey to a better understanding of your pet (and maybe yourself, too, along the way!).