Puppies are one of life’s most adorable, sweetest and mischievous creatures. They snuggle into your neck and lull you into a sense of security before destroying every pillow in your home. They run around, frolicking in the grass all day, only to pee on your sofa. So let’s explore the best and worst things about having a new puppy, and what you can do to make their transition as smooth as possible.
1. Snuggles Galore! Wait, what are you doing?
Puppies are so soft, they smell so new and their expressions are priceless. And look how they tumble! Roly poly micro-dogs. Who could want anything more? They want snuggles on the bed, who could deny that? And then, as most dog owners have experienced, here comes the pee.
Why urinate on the bed during a tender moment? As one animal behavior expert explains, your bed smells like you. In the wild, a dog will hide their scent to ensure protection. What better place to hide themselves than in something that smells exactly like their guardian? In essence, your dog feels vulnerable, so it pees where it knows it has protection.
The easiest way around this is to train your dog to stay off the bed. However, if you’re intent on having the pup snuggle with you at night, ensure it stops urinating on the bed by eliminating all traces of odor, and housebreak that puppy on the double.
2. Look at him trying to bite my finger, adorable. Wait…ouch!
Puppies have incredibly sharp little teeth, and what can start as hilarious finger gnawing can easily break the skin before you know it. This often happens especially when puppy are teething. One of my puppies loves to bite, practically living for the moment where he can gnaw on your tender flesh. He even started incorporating a lunge-bite attack aimed at my upper arm. Not cool, pups. I tried yelping, which works for some dogs to help realize their bites are causing pain. That didn’t work. I tried squirting him with water, to no avail. He was a biting machine.
Finally I gave up on teaching him NOT to bite and started working on behavior I did want from him. I taught him reward systems, how to sit on command, how to lie down. Almost immediately the biting slowed. He still nips occasionally, but now that he knows what I want from him, spelled out in puppy terms, he’s far more likely to give it to me.
3. He looks so adorable while he’s dragging around your slipper! Oh, look, he’s destroyed the slipper.
A tired puppy is a good puppy. Brand new dogs have itchy teeth and almost limitless energy, which means chews and toys are a great way to keep them occupied and off your stuff. The trick is simple presentation. Your puppy begins chewing on your slipper, remove it and replace it with a toy. Engage in playing. You are then teaching your puppy that chewing on the right thing brings rewards, and chewing on the wrong things becomes far less fun.
4. He eats so much, it’s amazing! Wait, why is he growling at me?
Food guarding is a common problem with puppies due to them spending most of their early life scrambling for resources (their mama’s milk). However, food guarding is a terrible habit that could prove dangerous later in life. Because of this, it’s never too early to remind your puppy that you’re in charge of the food. The experience doesn’t have to be cruel or harsh. Simply start by sitting closer and closer to the puppy while he’s eating. This teaches him to relax when someone is around his food bowl. If he tenses up, move back a bit. Work slowly until he is comfortable.
Then start taking the plate. The puppy may very well be angry, but wait until he’s calm and relaxed before giving back the food. Be an immovable object. Do not give commands and do not try to placate. Simply wait, patiently, like a rock with the food out of reach until he is calm. Then return it. Practicing this exercise a few times a week can help nip food guarding in the bud.
5. What an adorable face. Oh no, he looks guilty!
That sweet sad look he gave you when you walked in the door. For a moment you thought ‘awwww’ and then your next thought was, what has he done? Soon you realize your garbage bin has been tipped over and last week’s leftovers are strewn about the kitchen floor. But it’s a mistake to anthropomorphize dog behavior. Your dog doesn’t feel guilty unless you caught him in the act. That look was likely related to your mood when you walked in the door or something else entirely. You cannot teach a dog not to do something after the fact. Frustrating, but true. They simply won’t get it.
6. She loves being around me, but won’t come when called.
This relates heavily to the previous tip. How many times do you find your dog has done something naughty and then call him to you for punishment? Well, that’s basically teaching him that when he comes when called, he is punished. Dogs are simple — for them, the last action they completed relates to your reaction. So if they do what they’re told, reward them with love, treats, or affection. A positive relation to coming when called will ensure your dog will master this skill.
7. Look, he’s digging! Wait, he’s digging a hole under the fence.
Dogs dig for a myriad of reasons. Some of it is simply instinct, but it can also be related to anxiety and boredom. My male dog had a weird habit as a puppy of trying to dig through the tile floor. Much to his disappointment, he never cracked the surface. But now that we’ve moved to a house with a bigger yard, he thoroughly enjoys digging in the garden.
Exercise and playtimes decrease these actions dramatically. Regular walks and games of fetch that only end when your dog is panting on the floor will almost guarantee that while you’re out, he’ll simply sleep it off. Furthermore, this bonding time lowers anxiety and can put an end to pesky digging.
8. He loves me so much, then cries when I leave the house.
Separation anxiety is one of the biggest reasons people return dogs to a shelter. It is not an easy fix, but with patience it will likely take less than a month to get it under control. Consistency is key. When I got my shelter pup he would scream and throw himself against the door when I left. I needed to make leaving less traumatic. I started by desensitizing him to the ‘ritual’ of leaving. I’d grab my purse, put on my shoes and walk to the door. Then return to the couch. Then return to the door. Meanwhile my face was impassive and I did not try to comfort him. As he relaxed, I escalated my actions. I started going to the door and turning the handle, opening the door, then closing it and returning to the couch. Then I started leaving for seconds at a time, then minutes. This gradual workup all happened in one day.
While it didn’t cure him entirely, this in combination with happy distractions, such as a kong ball filled with peanut butter or treats distracted him long enough to get over me leaving. Within three months, he was fine without the distraction.
9. Loves walks! Loves Pulling!
Walking is important for your dog in terms of exercise and energy reduction. However, many dogs seem to think they are in charge of said excursion and will happily spend their time pulling you along. With puppies it’s easy to head off the behavior by simply stopping every single time they pull. Yes, at first, this is incredibly frustrating. But it’s far more frustrating in the long term to have a full grown dog that drags you around your neighborhood.
If the dog pulls, you either stop or change direction. This teaches him that you are in charge of the walk. It also teaches him that pulling equals an undesirable outcome (you stop) while walking nicely gives them exactly what they want.
10. He’s so energetic, but he doesn’t pay any attention to me.
First, understand that dogs operate on a simple mindset of risk and reward. If you want your dog to pay attention to commands, you have to give him a good reason (sorry, love is not enough). A good exercise for this is to simply hold a treat at arm’s length from your face, and say your dog’s name. When he looks at you, give him the treat.
Try this at first in quiet settings and then escalate the noise level. Take him into the yard or a nearby park and practice it when distractions are around. Then vary the routine. Give treats sometimes, and withhold them at random periods. Once they have it down, take them to a heavily trafficked area with other dogs and people, and practice, practice, practice.
This is not something that will happen overnight, but it will work. You can also do this during feedings, during walks and incorporate it into day to day life. Once you have their undivided attention, you can incorporate commands such as stay, sit and lay down. Meaning you’ll have one happy and well rounded pup, ready to show off to all your friends.