I get a call from a gentleman that has just adopted a puppy. He tells me he has had many dogs throughout his life and that he is well-versed in “all things dogs,” but he feels that this time around he needs some help because he is not sure how to handle his young keep’s energy.
I had to chuckle a bit over the phone because I know exactly what he is going through. It is easy for someone to have had the pleasure of having dogs around when they were younger, but fail to recognized that today they are a lot older which makes a huge difference in their ability to keep up with a young puppy. Puppies are a lot of work. As the saying goes: Young animals are so cute because otherwise we would not put up with their antics!
So having said all this, is it a bad idea for older folks to get a young puppy? The answer is that it depends. One of the best recommendations I can make to folks considering a new puppy is to be realistic (and on board) with the amount of time and consistency that it will require to end up with a puppy that is a pleasure to live with because it has been very well socialized. They might have to re-organize their schedule and be really “zen” about having the time to give to their puppy in the form of socialization, ample play time and the like. This, of course, applies to anyone considering a puppy – regardless of their age or stamina.
Besides having realistic expectations about what this will entail, there are other considerations that can make living with a young puppy a much easier endeavor – one that benefits both parties. Here are some suggestions for anyone contemplating getting a new puppy.
1. Before your puppy arrives, make sure you have figured out where your puppy will so that she is safe when you cannot interact with her or keep her from getting into trouble. This should be a room or a partial room that is right in the middle of home activity so that the puppy does not feel complete isolated. Kitchens are really good places for this as people tend to hang out at their kitchen. The use of an X-pen is a great way to keep the puppy contained and safe while not completely isolated. You also want an area that is easy to clean should the puppy miss the training pad while she is in her “containment area.”
2. When the puppy is in her “containment area” make sure she has chew toys that are sterile and appropriate for the puppy’s size. We want to make sure your puppy has ample opportunity to have chew toys so that she can re-direct her natural chewing tendency to something that is ok for her to chew on. In addition, train your puppy now to work for her food. There are tons of really great food-dispensing toys for this effect. This will teach your puppy to relax while semi-alone or all together alone when you are not at home, and to get some very much needed mental stimulation. She should be fed via food dispensing toys as much as possible. Ideally every meal is “served” this way. It’s okay to try a few toys first to see what the puppy likes as well as teaching her how to use the toy. Some puppies will take to this like a pro and other will need encouragement so take the time to teach your puppy how the toy works and praise her when she interacts with the toy to make the food come out.
3. If your puppy is crate trained (she enjoys being in her crate) you are ahead of the game. If she is not, begin to crate train her so that you can use the crate as part of house training.
4. Keep your puppy in as much of a schedule as possible. This is very important when it comes to elimination. A young puppy (any age under 5 months, and of course depending on the size of the dog, as smaller dogs have smaller bladders and less capability to hold it for too long) should be given an opportunity to eliminate EVERY hour! If you do this you will quickly learn when your puppy has to go to eliminate and avoid any accidents in the home. The typical times when dogs eliminate are after waking up, feeding and play. Of course, your puppy needs more than that. So taking her out every hour is a good place to start until she has gained some control over her bladder and has learned where to eliminate.
When you are gone, you can leave a pee pad inside your puppy’s containment area. The containment area should be big enough to contain a bed and/or a bed in a crate, a bowl with a bit of water and chew toys. At the other end of the containment are, you should place the pee pad. Pee pads give us some room to breathe when we are not around to take the puppy out or at night but they can also confuse the puppy about where to eliminate, so being very good about taking the puppy out as explained AND reinforcing the puppy with a treat should make it clear to the puppy where the appropriate elimination site is. The more you adhere to this schedule the faster your puppy will be house trained.
5. Engage with your puppy in play and some very basic obedience such as sits and coming when called. This should be fun for both parties. Also, important at this stage to make sure your puppy learns about bite inhibition.
6. Give your puppy ample rest between play sessions and interactions with the family. Puppies are babies and as such they can get super stimulated very easily and become out of control. They need time to sleep and to consolidate via sleep all that they are learning. If you teach your puppy to be comfortable being alone you are helping your puppy gain the confidence about being left behind. This applies to you being at home and having the puppy resting or engage with an appropriate toy, in her containment area. Practice daily.
Note that dogs are crepuscular creatures; meaning that they are most active in the morning (dawn) and evenings (sunset). So plan ahead as best you can to be around with ample time and enthusiasm to hang out with your pup around these times.
Last, make sure your puppy has access to other puppies. Adults dogs seldom enjoy puppies for more than a few minutes so it is not the same to have your puppy around other puppies than with an adult dog. Besides, they need to play with other dogs their age to learn valuable lessons the most important one: bite inhibition. I realize this post just mentioned some techniques but it does not supply with the “how” to. Feel free to email me if you need more guidance so that I can share some of my handouts.