It’s happened. That long-cherished dream for you (or your children) has at last come true—you have a dog! Halfway through the first night, as the penetrating whining wakes you again and mysterious ripping sounds are coming from the puppy’s pen, you begin to wonder if this was really such a great idea. Have faith—one day your dog will be your pride and joy, if you can just get through these first months.
Dogs and humans go back a long way, and dogs have transferred onto their human world their pack instincts, which govern their lives. Now you are everything to your puppy.
In the wild, there are limited opportunities for young dogs to get into mischief, and the pack leaders teach them what they need to know. In your home you have to regulate his environment to keep him safe, and teach him about being a member of your pack.
Having a dog is all about building relationship. That is what makes it so rewarding for both dog and owner. From the beginning you are making yourself the center of his world, so that your puppy knows he can trust you, and understands his place within the structure of your home.
Dogs have evolved with a passionate curiosity. In your home there is little they are afraid of, and many things they are curious about. So your first responsibility is to keep your puppy safe.
A crate is the only guaranteed secure place when you are not able to give your puppy your full attention. It will be your best investment over the first weeks. Get one that will be big enough to accommodate her as she grows, and introduce her to it gradually—don’t just throw her in and lock the door! Make it comfortable, tempt her in with treats and rewards, and let her come and go until she chooses to withdraw to it as her own safe place.
As far as possible, remove all dangerous items from her environment. Put chemicals out of reach, leave no clothes or shoes in an accessible area, check your house plants for toxins, and keep all foods beyond her range. Check your garden for escape routes and hazardous plants. For those items that are unavoidable, like electric cables, gently introduce the concept of ‘no,’ and be consistent about it.
Your puppy is a bundle of energy, so he needs to be given the right avenues to release it. He needs both physical and mental exercise.
Just because he seems to have unlimited energy, don’t overdo his exercise. He will run more than is good for him if you let him, so don’t encourage too much racing around for a while. The more you can play with him, the better for both of you. He will also benefit from playing on his own when you run out of steam, and something like a Tether Tug Dog Toy, which comes in indoor and outdoor versions, is an excellent way for him to amuse himself under supervision.
Mental exercise is as important to your puppy as physical. Try hiding treats around the room or garden so that he can sniff them out, or buy puzzle toys where he has to figure out a way to find a treat hidden inside.
The best thing you can do with your puppy is to train her. This combines relationship building with physical and mental exercise in a perfect balance. There are many books written about training, so buy a modern one—training methods have come on vastly in the last few decades. Take your puppy to a training class—excellent for socializing as well as learning to behave.
The two keys to training are to take things slowly, and to focus on rewards. It is hard work for a puppy, so keep it to small doses. You don’t need to set your sights too high, and if after a few months your puppy can come, sit and stay reliably, you are already doing better than most people ever manage and you have laid the foundations for an excellent partnership.
Having a puppy will try your patience to the limit. But use the time well to avoid bad habits, and you will look back in a year’s time and realize that the truly stressful part did not last that long. Then you have, with luck, years of a wonderful trusting and joyful relationship ahead of you.
Matt Price, M.B.A, is the director of marketing for Tether Tug and was part of the founding team for the product and company. Matt graduated summa cum Laude with Honors from Missouri State University in 2005 and completed his MBA at MSU in 2008. He lives in Nixa, MO with his wife and daughter and 2 Cairn Terriers, Penny & Macgregor