Everyone loves puppies. They are cute, bouncy, playful and lots of fun! And did I mention that they're soooo cuuuute? I have yet to meet a puppy who wasn't just the most adorable thing ever. But before you make that commitment based on a hormonal reaction to cuteness, ask yourself if you have what it takes.
PUPPY MYTH: IF I RAISE A PUPPY, IT WON'T HAVE BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
In order to raise a puppy into a well-behaved adult dog, one needs to prepare for a variety of factors, including:
- Recognizing and finding quality breeders who breed for phenomenal temperaments for pet homes, not looks or titles, AND who understand the importance of socialization before the puppies go to their new homes.
- Learning common breed tendencies and how those tendencies will compliment or conflict with owner's lifestyle.
- Understanding and recognition of canine body language to spot stress, fear or early warning signs for aggression, even in puppies as young as 6-8 weeks of age.
- Developmental stages for the first 18 months and what needs must be met during those stages.
- Proper socialization techniques to ensure positive experiences with all people, places and things encountered.
- Training methods and techniques that prevent problem behaviors.
- Ability to prevent traumatic events (as perceived by the puppy) during developmental fear stages.
- Cooperation of all family members for clear, consistent training.
Raising a puppy is not for beginners. One needs to have an excess of energy and commitment to learn how to do it right and enough time to do it!
BAD COMBINATION: PUPPIES AND SMALL CHILDREN
What child doesn't want a puppy? Puppies are cute for a reason - their infant-like features invoke caretaking instincts in all of us.
However, the reality of raising a puppy with small children is never the idyllic scenario that kids and their parents imagine. Puppies will nip and bite, there is no way around it. The behavior will decrease as the puppy matures, but only if it is not reinforced - and children who run and scream and cry when puppies nip are lots of fun to playful puppies! Puppies soon learn that nipping makes kids run and running kids are fun to chase.
Puppies also don't "know" which toys are theirs and which belong to the children, so if your young children have trouble keeping their toys picked up, you may be facing a lot of tears as favorite teddy bears are happily eviscerated.
Puppies do not mature until they are 2 years old. This means that for two years, you will have the equivalent of an additional child in the house. One who doesn't speak, doesn't understand English, and needs significant guidance from you to learn human rules. On the upside, unlike children, you can teach your puppy to enjoy their crate when you go out to dinner at night - no sitter needed!
Parents should understand that the goal of teaching dogs to "obey" younger children is difficult to achieve, even for the most committed owner. Younger children under the age of 10 can have trouble with the motor skills necessary to teach dogs and puppies new behaviors, not to mention the consistency necessary to prevent or solve problem behaviors.
If you're unsure of whether or not your child is ready to take on the role of dog trainer and caretaker, ask yourself if your child is capable of doing the dishes after dinner without assistance. If your answer is "no," then your child is likely not ready for a significant role in raising your puppy.
HOW MUCH WORK COULD IT REALLY BE?
Once the puppy is in your home, they have multiple needs that must be met in the first month, including:
Safe socialization. A good dog breeder starts socializing their puppies long before they leave for their new homes, providing different smells and textures before the puppies have even opened their eyes. Once the puppies can see and hear (3-5 weeks), good breeders take the puppies to safe locations to meet new people and expose their puppies to new sights and sounds.
Between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks is known as the "critical period" for socialization. That is because anything that happens to your puppy during this time will be forever imprinted on his brain. So, if your puppy gets frightened by a man in a cowboy hat at 9 weeks and he doesn't have a positive experience with other men in cowboy hats, he will grow into a dog that is fearful of, or even aggressive towards, men in cowboy hats.
This is why it is inadvisable to take a new puppy to a dog park (aside from the health risk) which is often full of dogs with poor social skills and bully play styles.
Socialization means making sure that your puppy has positive experiences to as many people, places and things for the first 4-6 weeks they are with you - but don't stop there! Your puppy will enter several fear periods during their adolescence, so positive socialization needs to continue through 18 months of age.
Failure to do so is one of the leading causes of behavior problems in dogs, from separation anxiety to aggression. Learn about safe socialization.
Housetraining/Crate training. Responsible breeders start this process, as well.
Management. When you were a baby, your parents did not leave forks lying next to the light sockets and then reprimand you when you electrocuted yourself. Your parents kept you safe by managing your environment. Cribs, playpens, swings, baby gates and socket covers all prevented you from experimenting with metal and electricity until you learned not to.
Managing your puppy's environment requires the same amount of supervision and prevention. But, here's the good news: puppies are full-grown at 2-3 years, whereas human babies aren't fully grown until 18 (at least legally).
Managing your dog's environment also requires you to be physically and mentally present when your dog has access to things that you don't want chewed up, urinated on or buried. Your dog can do a lot of damage in the same room as you if you aren't paying attention. If you cannot be both physically and mentally present with your puppy, confine him with a crate, ex-pen or baby gate.
With this being just a general overview of the factors involved in raising a safe, friendly, well-behaved dog, what could possibly go wrong? Considering most of the dogs relinquished to shelters are between 6-18 months of age, it is clear that plenty of things can go wrong when a puppy owner is unprepared.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE ADOLESCENT STAGE
There is a reason that the average age of dogs relinquished to shelters and rescues is between 6 and 18 months of age. Adolescence. A time when the cute, roly-poly puppy has been replaced with a lanky, teenage jumping and chewing machine with 50x the energy level of the average Border Collie.
Even if you have never had teenage children, you were a teenager at one time. If you don't remember what you were like back then, ask your parents. That should give you just some idea of what's in store when your puppy hits adolescence.
Independence, failure to obey commands that he previously excelled at...and then there's the chewing. Oh, the chewing. Chewing on furniture, trees, shoes, underwear, your hands and toes, remote controls and anything else within reach. After puppies lose their puppy teeth, all those big, beautiful adult teeth are still settling into the puppy's jaws, causing teething pain. But now, instead of those cute little needle-like 12 week-old puppy teeth, your adolescent has big dog teeth. The kind that can really do some damage to your antique dresser.
When frustrated, owners of adolescent puppies are advised to repeat the following, "When you're 3 years old, you're going to be a great dog." Repeat it until your blood pressure drops and you no longer have the urge to become a cat person.
Raising a puppy is not a beginner's task. Sure, many people manage to do just fine and raise happy, healthy, well-mannered pets. But the shelters are full of puppies who did not meet the Disney-induced image their new family had in mind.
If this sounds like more time than you're ready for, an adult dog (over 3 years) from the local shelter may very well require less training and time and can still give you 10-15 years of companionship.
If you really want a wonderful companion who enjoys spending quiet time with you and your family, consider adopting a senior dog! If your goal is to teach children responsibility through pet ownership, there's no better lesson than teaching them that adopting a senior dog is far more responsible than giving into the impulse of cute puppy-ness.
If you have read this and still want to raise a puppy, CONGRATULATIONS! You are embarking on a 10-15 year journey that I hope will provide more joy than frustration. Be sure to do your research to avoid common mistakes new puppy adopters/buyers make when choosing their new companion. NEVER buy puppies online or from pet stores...unless you are prepared to set aside extra time and money for the multitude of health and behavior problems that accompany them.
And please, PLEASE learn about puppy training from before your puppy comes home.
VIDEO: SHOULD YOU GET A PUPPY?
We love this humorous, but realistic look at the realities of living with a puppy.
POSITION STATEMENT ON PUPPY SOCIALIZATION
From the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). Give a copy to your puppy's veterinarian!
Rethinking Puppy Socialization
Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park
What to Look For In a Puppy Class (1)
What to Look For In a Puppy Class (2)
Pupquest.org - Guide for finding the right puppy
PUPPY START RIGHT, Kenneth Martin, DVM and Debbie Martin, RVT
For puppies and dogs of all ages, this book is the ideal resource for all dog parents, dog trainers, puppy socialization class instructors, shelters and adoption agencies.
With almost 200 pages, corresponding photos, and step-by-step instructions, Puppy Start Right is the book for fostering and enhancing a parenting relationship among people and their dogs.
LIFE SKILLS FOR PUPPIES, Helen Zulch & Daniel Mills
Every year millions of puppies enter homes, carrying their new family’s expectation of a wonderful relationship. Sadly, many are re-homed or lose their lives as the result of behaviours which their owners find difficult to live with. This book aims to simplify puppy education by presenting the skills that are required to achieve these goals within the context of everyday life.
PUPPY PRIMER, 2ND EDITION - Patricia McConnell
Engaging, humorous and easy to follow, the updated Puppy Primer is packed with positive reinforcement tips and tricks, special topics and more. This updated and expanded version of our best-selling Puppy Primer provides clear and concise information that makes training effective and fun.