As veterinarians, we tend to be pretty good at remaining somewhat objective towards our patients and their parents. Every so often, I have an experience with one of my own fur babies that reminds me how challenging some pet experiences can be, veterinarian or not!
Enter my most recent eye opener: Skipper, 9.6 lbs of German Shorthair Pointer cuteness. At some point, my husband and I said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to have a puppy?” Have you ever had that thought? And then immediately wondered what in the world you were thinking, 24 hours after bringing said puppy home? Yup. I’m with you. Let me tell you, nature made these things cute for a reason! Skipper, named after the cannon which Virginia Tech fires following each touchdown, happens to be the first puppy my husband and I have (attempted) to raise in our adult lives. I’ll be keeping you up to date on the latest triumphs and tribulations via the Skipper blog, and offering some tips and tricks along our journey.
The first days with your puppy are stressful to you both. His whole world just changed: new surroundings, new humans, new dogs, new food, and maybe even a new furry chase-able thing equipped with daggers (aka cat). This is like dropping a kid off at college, on steroids. The most important thing is to establish consistency and positivity in all aspects of this new world.
Allow your puppy some time to settle before expecting him to learn commands/tricks. You’ll both need to get to know each other a bit before you’ll know the signs your pup is ready to pay attention and learn during training sessions. There are some things, however, which you should start instilling immediately. Puppies are learning every second. Even in the absence of teaching, his brain is learning, so set expectations early. This may include potty training (stay tuned for the next blog!), off limits areas, and refraining from nibbling the humans’ appendages. For example, I don’t particularly look forward to 65 lbs of canine on a new leather sofa. Therefore, 9.6 lbs of tiny Skipper isn’t allowed on it, either. No matter how cute and cuddly he is when he’s sleeping.
If you haven’t noticed, those puppy teeth are SHARP. When the puppy goes to bite, loudly say, “OUCH!” The fun stops abruptly, and briefly. Just enough for the puppy to figure out bite=no play, then give him something he CAN bite. This same “remove and replace” concept applies to all other objects: curtains, couch cushions, shoes, your underwear, leaves on the ground, you name it. Use “Leave it” instead of “Ouch,” for objects. Puppies do better when you preemptively occupy their mind, so replace “Don’t do that,” with “Hey, try this!” This means you should always keep a toy or two in your pocket, and treats as well! If you take the puppy outside, to a friend’s house, etc., the toy goes with! As an added bonus, during play time and snuggle sessions, take some time to touch his toes, tap on the toenails, put fingers in his ears, and lift his lips. This will set you up for success for nail trims, ear cleanings, and teeth brushings! Veterinarians reserve a special place in our hearts for owners like you who teach these things early!
Now is also a time to instill independence and confidence in your pup. When he is playing alone, with HIS toys (not to be confused with your shoes or the cat’s tail), admire, adore, and take all the photos you want, from afar. Allow him to sleep alone in his bed without constant snuggles or interruptions. If you have tiny humans in the house, they’ll need to be instructed to respect his time and space as well. As your puppy’s parent, it’s your responsibility to guide everyone else in how to interact with him. It takes a village to raise a puppy, and it’s ok to recruit others to that cause.
In summary- be consistent and positive! Everyone involved in puppy raising should be on the same page, and use the same processes and commands, to help the puppy learn. If I say, “Leave it” and my husband says, “Drop it,” poor Skipper basically needs to learn English and Spanish all at the same time! You are not alone with all the challenges and joys that go along with puppy parenthood. In fact, Skipper has been home a week now, and brought me at least 5 different shoes this morning, attempted to eat a frozen/petrified frog from the pond, and had 3 accidents on the floor through the day. Apparently, no one told him that his mom is a veterinarian and he should make her look good. Lucky for you, we’re putting all this on the blog for your entertainment, and hopefully some helpful tips!