In Partnership with Dogs
I’ve had an opportunity to work with or be around quite a few puppies lately and the experience has caused me, once again, to try and get an important message across: Don’t get a puppy without putting some thought and planning into it – a lot of thought and planning.
I really have trouble understanding why so many people either get puppies on the spur of the moment or maybe make plans to get one but put very little planning and organizing into place before puppy comes home. It’s really quite rare to meet someone who has very specifically planned out the entire first 16 (sometimes up to 24 weeks) of puppy’s life in order to get the most of that early imprinting period.
I recently had the great pleasure of following and then participating in some of the socializing experiences of a new puppy belonging to fellow positive trainer, Pamela Murray of Canine Spirit Training. She is taking the best possible advantage of the early imprinting period and has organized her life in order to raise her puppy as well as she can. It’s so great to see someone truly dedicated to the process and someone who recognizes that the payoff of the sacrifice of time early on is a great dog for 13+ years. Of course, Pamela also researched a great breeder, an appropriate breed and was involved early before puppy was even ready to come home.
Yes, it’s easy for us trainers – we know what we’re supposed to do and we know the problems that can occur if we don’t. However, all the same information is available out there for the general public, too, you just might have to do some research. Trainers are also great resources long before you even put plans into motion to acquire your puppy. We don’t just fix problems; we know very well how to prevent them. You’d be surprised how few people call us wanting to know how to choose, prepare for, or plan for their puppy.
In contrast to my experiences with Pamela and her stellar socializing and puppy rearing efforts, I have had clients who: bought a puppy at a charity auction one night without any thought to do so until the spontaneous purchase; got a puppy and then promptly went on vacation for a month leaving puppy rearing to a variety of friends and relatives; who couldn’t resist the “puppies for sale” sign on the side of the highway; who couldn’t resist the “puppy in the window” of a pet store; and those who received puppies as gifts without any previous discussion.
The reality is that, one way or another, a new puppy is going to take up a whole bunch of your time and energy right from day 1. Why not make a plan beforehand so you can make it constructive and useful time instead of playing catch up when your dog is older and now out of control or fearful?
Make a Plan
Plan out what each (24-hour) day in the week will look like with the addition of puppy –who will be doing what and what approximate time things will be done. Make sure you include time every single day for socializing and training. Your puppy is learning every minute he’s awake, so try and make his learning intentional instead of accidental!
The first part of the plan is to know approximately when puppy will be coming home and organize your life so that you have more flexible time available (or people to help you who have flexible time) during that early couple of months – yes months, not just days. It’s not necessary to take all that time off – in fact it can be detrimental if you’re not also working on puppy being able to be left alone when you go back to work. However, you do need to spend time getting puppy used to a new routine and to begin house training right away. You need to keep puppy, fed, emptied, exercised, emptied, occupied, emptied and monitored (and emptied some more!) very frequently throughout the day and night.
You can house train a puppy very quickly if you have a good routine in place, you’re paying attention to how often they need to go out after various activities and if you’re consistent. You will also quickly get a feel for how much activity your particular puppy needs before he is content to have a nap or quietly play on his own while you do other things. (Activity levels of each breed or mix of breeds is something you should know well in advance of choosing your puppy – you don’t want this particular item to be a surprise!)
Everyone in the family should want a dog and then be available and be prepared to step up and take part in puppy raising. If you have children too young to participate, then you have just taken on another young “child”. You need to have the same types of resources available for puppy and his early needs and requirements as you would for a child. You want to raise a great dog that your kids and their friends can enjoy as they all grow up together, right?
Make a List
I give this advice to every dog owner I meet – puppy or adult dog owner. You need to figure out how best to prepare your dog for its life with you and your family and also your friends. The best way to do this is to make a list. The list should be a two-part list:
All the things you currently do and want to include your dog in as well as all the future events that may involve your dog.
All the situations and experiences you can think of that will help your dog navigate our world and all the sights and sounds that we experience on a daily basis – not just in your neighbourhood but outside your normal routes as well.
Make sure the plan is long-term keeping in mind that your dog will hopefully live as long as 13 or more years. If you have kids now, they could conceivably grow up and have kids of their own during your dog’s life time. Better include strollers, babies (sounds and sights), and toddlers on your list!
Consider the second part of the list a socializing list – giving your puppy as many positive experiences with all the items on your list and even some things that may or may not seem relevant now. Is it conceivable that one of your kids might move home with their cat or dog or child? Is it possible that you might have an elderly parent come and live with you?
Here is an example of some of the things on my to-do list that I would need to prepare my puppy for and what that might involve:
being left alone in a trailer
sleeping in a tent/trailer
being tied on a long line in a camp site
learning to be quiet while other people and dogs stroll by or make noise nearby
a good recall
social with people and other dogs
exposure and training around wildlife
building up puppy’s fitness appropriately
entertaining friends and their dogs in my home
sharing their toys and space with random dogs
visiting friends with my dogs
sharing toys and space in a new environment
staying off furniture unless invited
friendly with people
road trips in the car
travelling long distances comfortably in the car
going to seminars and conferences
sleeping in hotels
being in large venues with loudspeakers, strangers and random dogs
Here’s a small sampling of some random things that you should have on the second part of your list – situations and experiences to positively introduce to your dog:
flags flapping on flag stands
walking in the dark (if you adopt puppy in the summer)
stairs (open and closed, carpeted and not, narrow and wide)
people of different ages, shapes, sizes, cultures and those with disabilities or handicaps (wheelchairs, canes, crutches, limps, etc.)
people wearing clothing from different seasons (people can be scary wearing a scarf and gloves with a backpack)
people wearing hats or sunglasses, construction workers
the sounds of the appliances in your home
sirens, car alarms, house alarms, smoke detector alarms, etc.
horses, cows, goats and various farm animals
loud vehicles like buses, farm vehicles, construction vehicles
bikes and skateboards
wildlife sights and smells
all your likely or hopeful modes of travel (airplane, car, truck, boat)
crowded locations, busy city streets
eliminating on multiple types of surfaces
Keep foremost in your mind that in order for socializing and training to benefit your puppy in any way – it MUST be done in a gradual, systematic way that works for your individual puppy and it absolutely MUST be a positive experience.
I’ve met people who thought they had a plan and whisked puppy through a dizzying array of experiences in order to cross items off their list but didn’t stop to monitor the effect on puppy. It’s not about getting the job done, it’s about doing the job for the maximum benefit of everyone. Sometimes the job may be frustratingly slow if you have a shyer puppy but it needs to be done at her speed and done well.
There are a lot of really good resources out there for people looking for help in raising a good puppy:
Puppy Culture by Jane Killion (puppyculture.com)
Susan Garrett’s website, books and DVDs (clickerdogs.com)
Patricia McConnell’s website, books and DVDs (patriciamcconnell.com)
Pat Miller’s website, articles, books and DVDs (peaceablepaws.com)
Control Unleashed Puppy Program by Leslie McDevitt (books and DVDs)
. . . just to name a few
I’m looking forward to watching Pamela’s puppy (whose name we’re still waiting for) grow and mature into a beautifully socialized and skilled dog.
By the way, all these tips don’t just apply to a new puppy. If you’ve recently adopted a young adult or even older adult, they will benefit from the same kind of preparation. Make a list of all the things you do in your life that includes or may include your dog and start working. Remember to work at the speed that is most beneficial to your dog . . . and keep it positive!