So you finally took the plunge and got that puppy you've been wanting...congrats! We LOVE puppies! Now you need to make sure you have all the things that are important in raising a dog!
Fluffy toys! Little toys! Squeaker toys! Cute clothes! Crate beds! Potty pads! All the treats! Special kibble! Fancy leash! Sparkly collar! Special dog bowls! Raised dog bowls! A million tennis balls! Beds...lots of beds that can't go in the wash! Crates with strange door hinges! Cameras with treat dispensers! Automatic ball throwers! Smoked bones that splinter!
All the pet stores would have you thinking that those items are MUST-HAVES if you're going to be a 'responsible' pet owner. Welllll...no. Take that shopping list you have and crumple it up. We're going to start a new list*, the real-deal list, that will actually help you raise a well adjusted pup!
*If you bring this list into a pet store I think you'll have some trouble finding what you need. And that's the point...what your puppy NEEDS can't be bought (well, some things have to be, but you catch my drift).
10 Must-Haves For Your Puppy
THE RIGHT PROFESSIONALS - Find the right people to help you on this journey so you and your dog can spend more time enjoying companionship rather than struggling with ‘problems.’ From your vet to your groomer to the dog walker and of course the trainer, all of these people will influence you and your dog. Whether it’s their physical health, ability to learn and practice skills, or emotional stability, there are people out there that are very talented at helping your dog achieve both. The moment you know you are going to be getting a puppy you should do two things: 1) make an appointment with a veterinarian that you have interviewed and are compatible with; 2) consult with trainers and find one that you connect with. Things you should wait on: hiring a dog walker or dog day care (discuss this with your trainer, the pros/cons). Research groomers as well, especially if your pup will need regular grooming, and begin the grooming process when the puppy is very young so it just becomes a regular part of their life. What you shouldn’t do: expect your puppy to know how to live in a home and abide by our rules; get wrapped up in all the material ‘stuff’; sign up for a puppy class because it’s inexpensive or convenient (those should not be determining factors when choosing a training program…ever!); assume group classes are better than private training just because someone told you so (there are many downsides to group puppy class); wait to seek professional guidance (the pros know more, and can help you through this process with much less turbulence); fail to recognize that your puppy is always learning every moment of the day, not just during formal training sessions. In a nutshell…find pros to get you on track and help you stay there!
PROPER ROLE MODELS - You don't want your pup taking advice from Cujo, your cousin's fearful dog, or your boss' over-the-top-shes-just-happy-out-of-control dog . Your puppy should be interacting with stable adult dogs that can teach them a thing or two about appropriate behavior. People are role models as well...keep calm, be reliable and consistent, be trustworthy. As owners it's also your job to be your dog's ADVOCATE! Educate people how to interact appropriately with your puppy so they have enjoyable experiences with people rather than scary (or overly excitable) ones.
PATIENCE & COMMITMENT - Puppies require both, so be prepared to take a lot of deep breaths. Take the time on the front end to help teach the pup what we consider 'good', rather than from the back end where you end up reacting to the 'bad'. Commit to the time that it takes, and have the patience to do so. Yoga and massages might help you survive puppy-hood! (It's really not that bad...I promise!)
AWARENESS - Self, environmental, puppy...these are all things you need to be paying attention to. How are YOU contributing to your puppy's behavior? How is the environment contributing? What is your puppy's reaction to these? Start making connections by being aware, and work through them to either increase the likelihood of that behavior or to decrease it. Pay attention to the things your puppy does naturally...does he hold things in his mouth? Does he try to play tug with things? Does he like to retrieve things? Work with those natural instincts in productive ways!
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS - You have a puppy. A PUPPPPPPYYYY. They're babies up until about 4 months old. And after that, although their developmental stage changes, they are still lacking in experiences and practice. Expecting your 14 week old puppy to spend time unsupervised and NOT get into trouble is unrealistic. It's your job to set them up for success, and be realistic about what success is at this stage.
PROACTIVE MINDSET - Teaching our puppy what we want them TO DO establishes a way for you to be proactive in addressing/affecting behaviors. Preventing the puppy from practicing behaviors that we DON'T want them to do allows for you to praise more and react less. Win-win!
OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW EXPERIENCES - If your puppy doesn't experience the world in a positive way from a very young age you are going to see some problems arise. Short sessions (10 minutes) with positive novel experiences every day will keep you on track to having a well adjusted pup with coping skills. Provide them with new experiences from sitting in the bathtub to dining al fresco, and everything in between. It's your job to provide these experiences while teaching your dog HOW to behave during them. Proper socialization for dogs is critical in their development. Check out this article for more details on what proper socialization means. (This link is not available on mobile devices).
SENSE: THE COMMON KIND AND THE ONE FOR HUMOR - To raise a puppy without losing your mind, do yourself a favor and if you don't already have a sense of humor, go get one! And sense...common sense...use it. You'll need it and your puppy will need to develop one. In the meantime, the pup will rely on yours! Address problem behaviors, rather than ignore them. As Linda Kaim from Lionheart K9 says, 'dogs don't grow out of behaviors, they grow into them.'
COACH MENTALITY - Coach your puppy! Sometimes they'll need a pep talk, sometimes you'll have to call them out on their BS, sometimes they'll need a little nudge (and occasionally a big one). Show them how to be successful, but don't cheat and do it for them...let them struggle through problems a bit while you encourage them to keep going, and then be the cheering section when they succeed. When failure occurs you deal with it as best you can given the circumstances and you figure out how to overcome the obstacles so you can turn it into a success (a productive learning experience!)
PROPER EQUIPMENT - Here's a hint: if it's heavily advertised you probably don't need it! Click here for the essentials.
BONUS: HAVE FUN! - Take the time to enjoy all the lovely little things only puppies can offer... puppy breath, puppy wiggles, puppy cuddles, puppy fluff, puppy love! You're going to make mistakes, that's just a fact of life, but those mistakes are learning opportunities for everyone!
The experiences during the early months of a dogs life, from 1 month to about 4 months old, have an extraordinary impact on the rest of their lives, so prepare yourself to make use of that time wisely. There's no better time to start working with a trainer than now!