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Home Care for Puppies

The Schedule

Bringing a new puppy into your life can be very stressful for him or her. All your new little friend has ever known is its mother and litter mates. You have now taken him or her out of its comfortable environment and are subjecting it to something completely foreign. For this reason, it is important to help make him or her feel as comfortable as possible.

The first step is to set up a schedule for your puppy. By creating a reliable schedule your puppy learns what to expect and when. Canines have amazing internal clocks; knowing that a potty break is coming soon when they have to urinate helps them hold it just that bit longer. This schedule should be followed until you have a predictable schedule. They are unable to hold urine or feces for very long, as those muscles are not fully developed yet. It is also important to remember that any type of exercise stimulates urination and eating stimulated defecations. Here is a good sample schedule for your little one:

6:00    Take outside
6:15    Feed Breakfast
6:30    Take outside/ morning walk/ training exercises
8:00    Take outside
10:00  Take outside
12:00  Feed Lunch
12:15  Take outside/ midday walk
3:00    Take outside
5:00    Take outside
6:00    Feed Dinner
6:15    Take outside/ evening walk/ training exercises
9:00    Take outside
11:00  Take out/ bedtime

Crate Training
Crate training is beneficial for both you and your puppy. For one, it is a great aid in house breaking. Puppies naturally shy away from soiling their sleeping area. It is also a good idea to get them used to being confined as those are the same type of housing most boarding facilities, groomers, and hospitals use for their clientele. Kennels are great to have around when it is important to keep them quiet and as immobile as possible. This will be handy after your animal has been neutered, if he has a leg injury, or any other issues. Finally, this crate will be considered your puppy’s room. You should teach any children you may have not to bother the puppy when he is in his kennel; this way he can associate his crate as a quiet area to relax when he wants some time to himself.

The crate you purchase for your puppy should be large enough for him to stand up, stretch his legs, turn around and lie down comfortably. You do not want too large of a kennel because he can then distinguish between the sleeping corner and the potty corner. If you have a large breed dog, you can purchase a crate that will be a good size when he is an adult and make it smaller by using Plexiglas “walls.” You can adjust the size as your pup gets bigger.

As long as you are confident your puppy will not chew on it, you can put a towel or blanket on the floor of the kennel for a bed. It might not be a good idea to give your puppy a brand-new bed in his crate until he is fully house trained. Use things that are easy to clean.

It is perfectly natural for a new puppy to be a little anxious when first introduced to a crate; therefore. it is very important to go about it properly. When you bring your puppy home, leave the door of the crate open so he can go in and out and explore it on his own terms. Once he has gone in and out a couple times, you can put some treats in there or toys to make him associate this space with good things. Throughout the day you can give him a treat in his kennel then close the door. Stay with him for five minutes. If he is noisy and whines or barks; you must completely ignore him! Giving him attention when he is misbehaving will encourage the behavior. When he has been quiet for ten seconds, you can open the door and let him out. When you let him out, do not make a big fuss by petting and cuddling him. Go about your business as usual. Do this several times before the end of the night.

When you close your puppy up for the night, it can sometimes help to put a blanket over the kennel so he cannot see out. It makes it more den-like and cozier. Again, do not make a big fuss. Give him a treat when he goes in the crate, then ignore him for the rest of the evening. He may make some noise at the beginning of the evening, but he will soon settle down to sleep over night. If you find that your puppy is waking you up in the middle of the night whining, it may indicate he has to urinate. Help him by adding one more midnight run.

Do not be surprised if your puppy has an accident in their kennel. If you find you are waking up to accidents every morning, you may need to get up in the middle of the night to let your puppy out. If he is whining to indicate the need to eliminate, in this case, take him directly outside, allow him to eliminate, rewards, then place directly back in his kennel. If he does not eliminate after five minutes, do not fuss him, but put him back in his kennel for the night. Remember that the longer a behavior continues, the more habitual it becomes and the harder it is to break. If you find an accident, do not scold your dog. Remember to pay attention to cues he may give that indicate he has to eliminate such as circling, whining, and wandering off to a corner.

The umbilical cord technique is a good way to prevent accidents during the day. Leash your puppy and have him walk around with you while you go about your daily business. Puppies generally start to sniff intently or circle before they eliminate. Ensure you are paying attention to the cues he may be giving you so you can take him outside at the appropriate time. When you take him outside, take him to the same area every time. Completely ignore your puppy until he eliminates in the yard. While he is eliminating you can help train him by saying “Go Potty” or some other similar command. When he is complete, praise him, give him treats, and let him play as a reward. Going outside to urinate and defecate should be a pleasurable experience. If, during the day, you do not act fast enough and you catch your puppy eliminating inside, make a loud noise to interrupt and distract him from the behavior. Quickly pick him up and carry him outside. There, you will praise him as he eliminates in the proper location.

Going for walks is one of the single most important things you can do for your puppy. Walking your dog daily provides it with attention from you. Perhaps more than anything, our pets simply want our attention. It allows your pet to receive mental stimulation from several different aspects. She gets to smell how the area around her territory has changed, who has been there, when they were there, etc. It allows your dog to become socialized. While you are out are likely to come across other dogs while out and it gives your puppy a chance to meet and greet, appropriately, others of his species. It is not recommended that you take your puppy out on walks around the neighborhood until he has had his first two distemper vaccines, as these diseases we are vaccinating for are very contagious and serious problems for young dogs.

It is important to teach your dog how to walk properly from the very beginning. Dogs that pull are not only a bother to walk, but it is also bad for their necks. Medical studies have shown that dogs that were never taught to walk on a leash properly were much more likely to develop disk problems later in life. The first step to prevent this is finding a properly fitting collar. Start with a simple nylon collar. The collar should sit at the base of the head and be snug enough that you can fit two fingers somewhat comfortably underneath it. Do not use retractable leashes. They are unsafe for dogs and humans, and it is difficult to shorten the lead in a hurry, like traffic or other dogs. Again, using a general-purpose nylon lead, about six feet long is ideal.

When you first start teaching your puppy to walk on a leash, use a lot of positive reinforcement. Use treats to entice them to follow you while on the leash. If your puppy charges in front of you, turn around so that the puppy is now technically “behind” and try again. As they get better at this you can begin to take the treats away and begin actually walking with your puppy. Again, if you find she is pulling ahead of you, just turn around and walk the other way. The idea behind this is that the animal pulls to get at something exciting in the direction you are moving. If you turn and walk the other way, not only are you reasserting that you are in front, but it also pulls them away from what they wanted to investigate. They only get to go investigate if they walk nicely and behave on a leash.

While out on your walk there will be times when your puppy encounters things that are either very exciting or very frightening. First, it is important to stay calm at all times. If you become nervous, your puppy will feed off of this emotion and you will make the situation worse.  If you find yourself in this situation where your dog is barking at a strange object, do not stand there and yell at your dog. If she is already emotional about the object she has noticed, there is little you can do to distract her, so again, walk in the other direction. Let her settle down, and then try again. Praise her when she is quiet around strange things. If she is afraid, do not pet her and tell her she is alright; to a dog, this is the same as being praised for being scared, which is the opposite of what you want.

When you have a puppy you have a very small window of opportunity in which you can make them exceptionally well adjusted to their world. This time frame is between eight and sixteen weeks. This is the time when they are learning what they can and cannot do, how they should react to certain things, etc. Therefore, at this age, it is crucial you take your puppy everywhere: the woods, the city, the park, to a school, by the grocery store, etc. They need to be introduced to dogs on a regular basis. Another good idea is to get in touch with other puppy owners and arrange play dates.

The more things they are comfortable around, the more confident your dog becomes. No one wants to see their dog terrified of everything: it is unhealthy both mentally and physically, not to mention very strenuous for you as the owner. The best way to help with this is to be sure to only positively reinforce calm, relaxed behavior. Do not pet or cuddle your dog if he or she is terrified of something. Wait for them to relax around the object of their fear, then reward. The more confident your puppy is, the more likely they will not be afraid when a new situation arises in the future. They have learned to trust you and themselves. Through exposure and training, your puppy can be confident in any situations.

Obedience Training
Obedience training is extremely important. There is the obvious: obedience training makes my dog do what I want, but there is also much more to it than that. A lot of the dogs we have as household pets still have a strong drive to do what they were bred for: work. Yet most of us have no need for working dogs anymore. It is still important to give our dogs the mental stimulation they need to remain healthy, happy pets. Obedience training is their job. Their job is to sit when you tell them, go fetch their ball, their stuffed rabbit, (the remote), or any other command you teach them. Pleasing you pleases them, and it makes both of you happier.

Before you start training your dog formally, your family should get together for a meeting. Everyone needs to be absolutely clear on what each command is. Write down what each word is, what it means, and the hand signal associated with it. The hand signal is the most important part; it is the most difficult to keep the same between people, but it is the cue your dog will use most in deciphering what you are requesting. One command that is often interchanged, and shouldn’t be, is the “down” and “off” commands. “Down” means “lie with your belly on the ground” and “off” means “remove yourself from whatever your feet are on.” Yet people use these interchangeably for “get off the couch.” It is important to ensure clear communication with your dog as much as possible.

The next step is to make sure your puppy has burned off some steam. If you have a puppy that just woke up from a nap, they have no interest in paying attention to you, but in burning off some energy. Therefore, it is important to exercise before playing.

There are many different schools of training available to the public today. One of the most successful is called clicker training. Clicker training involves the use a small device, that when pressed, makes a very unique clicking noise. You teach your dog to associate that clicking noise with something good: a treat, a toy, cuddles; anything positive that your dog loves. You can then use the clicker to pinpoint exactly when your animal performed a movement properly. Sometimes it can be difficult to treat your pet fast enough for good behavior, but by having the clicker, you can tell your dog “this is what I want” even if it takes you a few seconds to dig a treat out of your pocket.

Even if you feel you are making great strides with your puppy, obedience classes are still recommended. At these formal classes you can gain advice on how your training technique is as well as have someone to ask specific questions to. Puppy classes are also a great place for socialization with other dogs the same age.

Almost all puppies will mouth. Just like human babies, puppies put things in their mouths to help them understand what a new object is and otherwise explore their new world. During play, puppies often mouth and bite at each other. Puppies also tend to chew on things when they are teething. Because there are so many different times when, in his mind, it is appropriate for your puppy to chew on things, it is important to set ground rules from day one.

First of all, it is important to invest in some highly durable toys. It is perfectly natural and healthy for a dog to chew on things. That does not mean he has to chew on your expensive Persian rug. Good toys include Kongs or Nylabones, that are made of material meant to withstand gnawing teeth. Make chewing on these toys a good thing. They can be used as rewards to a behavior well done. They can be used as distraction objects when you need him to settle down and entertain himself for a while. Kongs are really good toys because you can fill them with kibble and keep your puppy occupied for hours. Toys and chews such as pig’s feet, raw hides, and bones are not recommended, as it is not uncommon for them to cause obstructions in the intestines or stomach.

When you begin to teach your puppy not to chew on particular objects, make sure you always have an “appropriate” toy on you. If you catch your puppy chewing on a chair leg, make a loud distracting noise (ex: clapping your hands and saying “No”, using a tin can full of coins, or any other similar objects) to make him stop what he is doing. Once he has stopped and has your attention, you now need to praise him, by telling him he’s a good boy and giving him the appropriate toy. This is not only a form of praise, but it also lets him know it is ok to chew on this toy, not that very expensive wooden one. Keep in mind the most important part of this training is to ensure he ceases his misbehaving. If he has not completely stopped chewing and you try and give him the toy, now you are reinforcing the behavior. Remember, in this instance, the chew toy you give him is the reward for a behavior, not a distraction device. Therefore, it is important to not reveal the toy until you have his attention; do not bribe your puppy with it.

Another common problem associated with a puppy’s mouth is when it is gnawing on your fingers. Owners frequently consider this behavior “cute” and “endearing.” Mouthing becomes a problem when they learn no inhibition. They keep mouthing until they draw blood and now the owner considers it a problem. Again, it is very important to set ground rules from day one. The puppy can either chew on you, or it cannot. Keep in mind, that if it can mouth on your hand, there is nothing stopping it from mouthing on the hand of a child. To stop mouthing, make a high-pitched squeal when he puts his teeth on you. This is the same thing a litter mate would do if the puppy had hurt them. Most puppies at this point will remove his mouth from your hand. This is when you praise and continue playing. The puppy that does not is over stimulated. At that point, stop playing, slowly remove your hand, cross your arms and very calmly walk away from your puppy. Ensure you are giving your puppy absolutely no attention; even negative attention is attention.

As many behaviors your new puppy will exhibit, jumping is a very natural thing to do. When a puppy wants attention from his or her mother or other pack members, they jump up to be able to reach them. If you translocate a puppy to a human situation, he will jump up on you, again, to reach for attention. A lot of owners tend to think it adorable when their little fluff ball jumps on them. It turns into problems when the dog comes in with muddy feet and ruins your business suit, when Grandma or little Jimmy comes over the visit. At these times, owners yell at their dogs, yet it is not the dog’s fault, it is the owners. The owner has not taught the dog appropriate manners and the dog is always the one to suffer for it.

Again, it is important to set ground rules from day one. If a puppy will not be allowed to jump up as an adult, it cannot jump up now. There are several different ways to discourage jumping up, both are very simple. As said earlier, puppies jump up for attention. The easiest way to stop jumping is to teach the puppy that the only attention it will ever get, is when it sits for it. This can be difficult for owners to keep track of, however. It is very easy to come home from a day of work and forget to make your puppy sit, or you will be sitting on the couch and the pup comes up and nuzzles your hand for attention. All attention must be given when your puppy is sitting and no other time. Be sure visitors know these rules as well. If you find your puppy is still jumping up, you can body block. You can generally tell right before your puppy is about to jump up by the way she settles on her hind legs and starts to lift her front. By stepping into your puppy’s personal space you set them off balance, and she will stop trying to jump and instead attempt to balance herself again. Once her four feet are back on the floor, put her into a sit, then reward with attention.

Bringing a new puppy into your life is a huge responsibility and it is important to know from the beginning if you are up to the challenge. If you need help with your puppy, you can always contact your breeder (or the shelter), your veterinarian, or call a local dog trainer for advice.

Useful Reading
Here is a list of books that may be useful:
How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin
The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs by Karen Pryor

Training Your Pet to Tolerate Nail Trimming
Some dogs and cats resent having their paws held or their nails trimmed.  This intolerance is partly instinctive in young animals and may also be learned from an unpleasant experience during nail trimming.

The living portion of the nail bed contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels.  If toenails are cut too short, a dog or cat learns that nail trimming is painful.  This negative experience is not easily forgotten.  Once a pet has learned to anticipate discomfort when its feet are touched, its evasive reaction can intensify each time. For the dog who enjoys regular outdoor activity, nail trimming may not be needed.  In many cases, walking on pavement maintains a dog’s nails at an acceptable length.

Training Tips
If your pet is instinctively cautious about having its feet touched, and even if it shows no sign of withdrawing its paw, teach your pet that this interaction is not unpleasant.

–  Before you ever attempt to trim your pet’s nails, begin by touching its legs, feet, and toes, and associate this with an activity it enjoys. When it is resting, begin petting it, gently passing your hands over its back and legs.  If this is well tolerated, you may wish to give it a small food treat. Do not try to do too much the first time.

–  Gradually manipulate your pet’s foot more each time.  Eventually, you should be able to slip your fingers in between each toe, gently squeezing each one to flex the nail, putting gentle pressure as you hold each foot and manipulate the leg.  Do not attempt this exercise when you pet is in an agitated or playful state, as it is most likely to resent any restriction to its movement.

–   Once your pet tolerates having its feet touched during quiet times, you may begin to incorporate this into elements of playtime.  Train your dog to “down/stay” when it retrieves a ball, for example, and “shake” its paw before continuing the game.

Trimming Tips
If you are unsure of how to trim your pet’s toenails, ask your veterinarian or a technician to show you how.  They can show you where the sensitive nerves and blood vessels are likely to be found.  The nail bed is seen as a pinkish triangle at the base of the nail; however, it may not be evident in dark-colored nails.  There is more variety between the shapes of toenails in dogs than in cats.  Some pets’ nails grow in a more curved shape, as compared with those growing more parallel to the ground.  This may determine how short they may be trimmed.  It is also not uncommon for a pet to withdraw a foot while the nail is being clipped, because of pressure on sensitive nail areas.

It is better to cut less than to cut more than necessary!  Trim off small sections at a time and stop well short of the sensitive part of the nail.  Cutting the nail too short results in a painful experience for your pet.  Cut your pet’s nails frequently, a little at a time, rather than occasionally when toenails are uncomfortable to both your pet and to you.  In this way, nail trimming will become a routine event, rather than a periodic wrestling match.  Continue to manipulate your pet’s feet and toes between nail trims so that it remains a familiar sensation.

Problem Pedicures
If your dog or cat has already had an unpleasant experience with nail trimming, you can train it to tolerate it by starting from the beginning.  Even if you have followed the preliminary training steps above, start over as if its feet had never been conditioned to manipulation and gradually desensitize your pet to this interaction once again.  Your veterinarian may recommend a small dose of a mild anti-anxiety medication to facilitate retraining in extreme cases.

If your pet overreacts to nail trimming at the veterinarian’s office during its annual examination and vaccination, you may wish to schedule a separate appointment for nail trimming.  In some cases, a dog or cat’s reaction to nail trimming is so extreme that retraining is difficult and may not be worthwhile.  For these unhappy pets, nail trimming is best avoided.  When it cannot be avoided, however, your veterinarian can safely do a pedicure on a sedated or anesthetized pet.

Training Your Pet to Tolerate Petting and Grooming

Reasons for Intolerance
Most dogs and cats enjoy human contact, but many animals have areas of their body that are sensitive to touch. Animals instinctively guard some body areas because these are more vulnerable.  They often protect the abdomen, or belly, and the throat area.  The “sensitive” areas vary with individual animals; for example, some animals resent having their tail touched.

Certain body areas may also become sensitive because of previous injury.  If an animal is sensitive to touch because of past injury or illness, ask your veterinarian how to avoid causing your pet discomfort.  It is probably worthwhile to discuss the possibility of an underlying medical problem with your veterinarian whenever your pet seems uncomfortable when touched.  If your pet naturally resents having certain body areas touched, you may decide to simply avoid touching those areas.  If these areas must be manipulated for routine grooming, work slowly to gradually increase your pet’s tolerance by offering a reward at each training session.

Tolerance Training
To improve your pet’s tolerance of being petted or groomed, withhold all petting or grooming for several weeks.  When you resume grooming and petting, identify the circumstances most often related to your pet’s intolerance.  How long does it take for your pet to reach the limit of its tolerance and react negatively to grooming or petting?

Once you know at what point your pet becomes predictably irritable, stop well short of the limit.  If you discover that your pet resents these activities at certain times of day, you may wish to reschedule them.  If your cat is most playful and agitated in the evening, as many are, it might be best to brush it in the afternoon, just before its nap.

Practice with minimal grooming and petting for a very brief time.  Over a period of days and weeks, increase the duration of the interaction.  Stop well before your pet shows any sign of intolerance or irritability.  Keep a record of the length of each session to give you a clear idea of your progress.  Lack of further improvement may suggest that more training may not be productive.

Reward your pet’s tolerance of your handling with a small food treat.  Scheduling the interaction before meals can form a positive connection between petting or brushing and eating.  Your cat may enjoy gnawing on the comb for a few seconds in between brush strokes.  You may alternate a stroke of the brush with a caress of your hand.

Choice of Brush or Comb
Although you may not believe you are exerting excessive pressure while brushing your pet, your pet may not agree.  Some of the brushes recommended for your pet’s coat type may cause discomfort. Although a particular comb may be effective in removing knots from your cat’s long coat, it may also scratch the skin and pull the hair.  Make sure that the comb or brush used to groom your pet is comfortable. Though a certain type of brush or comb is recommended for specific coat types, it is of no use if your pet won’t allow you to use it.  Find a grooming device that is both effective and accepted by your pet.  Be careful not exert undue pressure while grooming your pet, particularly in naturally sensitive areas.