Congratulations on the new addition to your family! We all want the perfect little pup who will housetrain quickly, sit on command, and look adorable on Instagram and YouTube. This month we will concentrate on the first few weeks you have your puppy at home.
Getting to Know Your Puppy
Puppies are bred in a variety of shapes and sizes. Different breeds will have special qualities that influence their reaction to new situations and how they communicate with you. Take some time to read about your puppy’s breed. If you have a crossbred dog, ask your veterinarian about potential lineage and temperament characteristics.
In spite of breed tendencies, every dog has his own individual personality. Observing a puppy at play and during quiet times will help you understand more about his responses to new experiences. Wagging tails, lolling tongues, and forward-facing ears are sure signs that your puppy is having a good time. Tucked tails, downward-cast eyes, and ears tight against the head are typical signs of stress or fear.
Here’s a tough thing to learn. Puppies are way better at reading our body language than we are at reading theirs. The “guilty look” many dogs exhibit when owners are cross comes from this ability. Very smart veterinarians and animal psychologists tell us that this guilty look is not the same as a dog understanding that he did something to cause his human to be angry in the first place.
Pretend we can we read a dog’s mind. You come home to pee on the floor and your puppy sleeping on his bed in the living room. You wake him up by yelling at him for making a mess in the house. Here’s what he’s thinking. “Wow, my human is angry. I better not let her catch me sleeping on my bed again. I’ll go lick her hand and see if I can make her feel better so we can play.” That’s it. There is no connection between the pee on the floor, getting yelled at, and your dog’s guilty look and hand-licking. Trust me on this one.
Quality time spent with your pup every day will help develop a strong bond that lasts for her lifetime. Puppies need plenty of exercise in the form of chasing around and being silly. Hips, shoulders, and other joints are developing at this time; veterinarians recommend avoiding long runs and repetitive jumping up and down until your dog has adequately matured. Ask your doctor about the right kind of exercise based on your dog’s breed and growth curve.
Hands approaching the puppy’s face should always be positive. We want your pup to look to you for encouragement and direction now and as she matures. Gently play with her feet and ears and lips when she is relaxed, so she gets used to being handled for later nail trims and teeth brushing. This is a great time to teach hand targeting or touch targeting with your puppy. Every time she touches your hand, she gets a treat from the other hand. Touch targeting will be helpful if you want her to ring a bell to go outside and as she learns to walk on a leash.
While there may be a place for correction during formal training, this sensitive period during puppyhood should be all about praising the good and ignoring the undesirable. Physical punishment at this stage of life may inadvertently cause your puppy to become fearful or aggressive if she cannot predict whether she is going to be praised or punished.
Foster Confidence: Exploration
The first few months of life allow us the opportunity to show your pup many new wonders and build his confidence. Dogs learn about the world through their senses-touch, vision, smells, tastes, and sounds. Familiarize your puppy with his environment one area at a time and introduce potentially scary situations, such as staircases and busy streets, slowly. Be prepared to remove the pup if he’s showing fearful body language.
Consider introduction to a kennel in order to provide a safe space when you are unable to supervise his activity. Young dogs should have quiet time, but make sure your puppy is not spending all of his time in a crate. Puppies need lots of activity and attention and too much time in a kennel will lead to boredom and frustration. Nobody wants a puppy who chews furniture and barks at everything that moves simply because he’s been confined all day long.
In summary, the official puppy exploration motto is: Smell lots of stuff. Chew on cool stuff. Pee on weird stuff. Sleep on comfy stuff. Repeat.
I hope you have as much fun getting to know your pup at home as I do when you bring her into the clinic for her first examination. Puppies should be checked out by a doctor within the first couple of weeks after adoption to establish a personalized health plan for vaccines, parasite control, and nutritional consultation.
Next month we’ll chat about new puppy manners, socialization, and the joys of puppy classes. See you soon in the waiting room!