Did you recently get a new puppy, or are you planning on one soon? Puppies are so much fun, but they are also a LOT of work. Sometimes you wonder if you’ve brought a little velociraptor into your home as you survey the damage and destruction your innocent little puppy caused. Teeth on your arms and hands cause scratches and scrapes as the puppy insists on using you as a chew toy. As you clean up yet another potty accident, you might start wondering why on earth you thought this was a good idea. It’s a good thing puppies are cute! They are made that way on purpose, so you’re more likely to forgive their transgressions.
This post will give you some practical advice to help your puppy’s growing up time to be slightly less stressful and more enjoyable. I’ve raised lots of puppies, and that along with my 14 years running a dog training business has allowed me to come up with some tips that will make life with your puppy much easier. Learning how to manage your puppy will result in a happy household!
Manage the Environment to Set Your Puppy Up for Success
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your puppy is to manage the environment to prevent the puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors. The more a puppy has an opportunity to chew up off-limit objects, or eat the furniture, or shred your shoes, or get in your garbage, the more the puppy will do it because it serves very important needs for the puppy. Puppies, much like human toddlers, explore the world with their mouths. Lots of joy comes from tearing up an expensive throw pillow! In addition, erupting teeth are pretty painful for little gums and chewing on objects helps ease the pain!
So what can you do about it?
Ex-pens and crates are your best friends! You can also tether the puppy to you with a leash. Any of these methods restrict the puppy’s access to off-limit items. Crates and/or ex-pens allow you to safely leave your puppy if you are not able to supervise.
If your puppy will be loose in a room (with supervision, of course!), make sure it’s puppy proof! There shouldn’t be shoes or remote controls lying around the room. Electrical cords should be covered. Throw pillows should be stored for the duration of your puppy’s growing up time. Make sure kleenex boxes are well out of reach.
Close your doors or use gates to keep your puppy in puppy-proofed rooms. Your puppy should never have the opportunity to go in the bathroom and unwrap the entire roll of toilet paper, dragging it all over your entire house! It is great fun for the puppy, but not so much for you! If the puppy grabs your pillow off the bed and tears it up happily while feathers float down to the ground, it’s not the puppy that should be in trouble! Doors and gates are wonderful inventions – use them!
Another reason to restrict access to unsupervised rooms and kennel if you are unable to watch the puppy is potty training. The more accidents the puppy has in the house, the longer he or she will take to potty train the dog. If you’re watching the pup, you’ll see him or her start to sniff and circle and/or go to the door, so you can immediately take the puppy outside. The fastest way to housetrain a dog is to prevent inside accidents!
Puppies have to pee often. Like a lot. So much! Their bladders are so tiny and can’t hold much urine! In addition to taking your puppy outside every 2-3 hours during the day, take him or her outside after he pup does the following:
- Wakes up
- Plays hard
- Finishes a chew toy
- Sniffs and circles
- Tries to leave the room
The better observer you can be, the fewer times you will have to shampoo your carpet!
Reward the puppy for going potty outside! This doesn’t mean send the dog out in the yard and give a treat when he or she comes back inside. All that does is reward your dog for coming into the house! You need to reward the act of pottying outside. Follow your dog out and the second he or she is done eliminating, give the pup a treat and tell him/her how brilliant he or she is.
Side note: Potty your dog on leash occasionally. Many pups in the country or in fenced yards find it very difficult to potty on leash when they have not been trained to do so. It’s very frustrating when you’re traveling and your dog will not eliminate while on leash!
Ensuring that your dog has adequate physical exercise is important, and especially critical is providing the right type of exercise. Puppies, like children, need lots of safe exercise options. Exercise that is forced or repetitious is not good for puppies that are still growing. Some examples of exercise that would not be good for your growing puppy include: bringing your pup with you while you go jogging or biking, asking your pup to jump anything repetitively, and asking your puppy to do full size agility equipment or weave repetitively. If you’re raising an agility dog, it’s fine to teach your dog to jump a bar on the ground or one set very low, but any higher and repetitive jumping should be avoided. Be cautious with jumping and repetitive exercise until the growth plates are closed, which happens anywhere from 12-18 months.
So what are safe ways to exercise your puppy? Free running is a great way to get your puppy exercise. Allowing the dog to run through the woods or fields, with the pup choosing how fast to go and what obstacles to climb or jump over, is one of the best forms of exercise. Be sure that you are in a safe area or your dog is on a long line. Puppies without solid recalls should not be let off leash in uncontrolled environments.
Leashed walks are great, but don’t provide your puppy much physical exercise. Many dogs are bred to trot or run for long periods of time, so walking doesn’t quite cut it.
Chasing toys or retrieving can be a good form of exercise, as long as caution and good judgment is used to decide the number of repetitions and the type of terrain the dog is asked to navigate. If your puppy is especially excited about picking up the object, sliding to a quick stop or slipping all over the place, try pre-placing an object or just let your pup run around with the toy in his or her mouth.
Physical exercise is important, but it is critical that it is safe for your puppy. If you have any questions about how much physical exercise that your puppy should get, please contact your veterinarian.
Mental Exercise or Enrichment
Every time I have a client with a dog who has a behavior problem, we talk about enrichment. Increasing enrichment will almost always improve the behavior problem. A lot of unwanted behaviors can be prevented if you keep your puppy’s brain busy.
Enrichment fills important needs for the dog. Searching for food or treats by sniffing and licking increases feel-good and calming chemicals in the brain. Dogs, and especially puppies, need to sniff and lick and chew. They need to use their brains to unlock food puzzles or chase around a buster cube. Mental exercise will tire a dog out more than physical exercise and provide a more content puppy.
Enrichment ideas are never ending, but I do have some favorites. Here are a few ideas to help wear your puppy out mentally!
- Buster cubes (my absolute favorite way to feed puppies)
- Kongs stuffed with canned dog food then frozen
- Puzzle toys (lots of options!) Try this one, or this one!
- Any type of safe, appropriate chew toy
If you’re unsure about if something is good for a puppy, consult your veterinarian. All chew toys carry some risk. I personally feel that the benefit provided from chew toys is worth the risk. Some chew toys that I give my dogs are: bully sticks, himalayan yak chews, beef trachea dog chews (for more fun, stuff with canned food and freeze), split elk antlers and moose paddles.
Here are some inexpensive/free enrichment options!
- Doing short frequent training sessions throughout the day will help wear your puppy out mentally! Work on manners, tricks, shaping; it doesn’t matter, just train your dog! Be sure to use positive reinforcement methods and make things fun!
- Scatter kibble down the stairs
- Toss treats or kibble out in the grass or snow and let the puppy find them
- Create a sandbox area for your dog to dig in. Bury some treats for more fun!
- Play find it games with hidden treats around your house and/or yard
I could write a lot more about how to successfully raise a puppy but these are some of the basics that will hopefully help you manage a happy household!