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I don’t know about you, but when I’m going to a yard sale, I like to get there early. I’m also one of those people who, if I say I’ll meet you at 7 in the morning, I’ll probably show up at about 6:50 – and never, ever at even 7:01! People who are not on time are really irritating to those of us who are always punctual. So this Saturday didn’t start off all that well.
I’m not even going to bother to change the names to protect the guilty. So, Jill, I know you read my blog, and yes, I am talking about you right now! Anyway, Jill is one of my (few) non-dog-owning friends, and other than her chronic lateness, she’s pretty cool. Janice and Leroy like her, too. So the yard sale is due to start at 8:00, and we’ve got about a half-hour drive to get there. Jill shows up at 7:48 with a ton of excuses – the alarm didn’t go off, traffic was bad, she had to stop for coffee, yada yadayada. And it gets worse.
By the time we get there, the people who managed to arrive on time are already loading up their cars with some pretty cool stuff – I would have killed or died for that vintage 1970s pole lamp! Still, there’s a big crowd around the third table on the right, so I figure there must be some good kitsch. I grab Jill by the hand and drag her along, and what do you suppose I see?
A basket full of puppies. Now, we all know there’s nothing cuter than a puppy, unless it’s a whole basket full, right? No wonder there’s a crowd! Then I hear someone ask the yard sale lady, “How much are they?” and she says, “You can just take one; they’re free.” Well, of course my blood is boiling because she obviously doesn’t care where the puppies end up, and what’s to stop someone who’s involved in dog fighting for taking one for pit bait? Then someone else asks “What breed are they?” and she responds with, “The mother’s a peke-a-poo, but I don’t know anything about the father.”
Okay, before we go any further, you might want to check out How to Get the Right Dog From the Right Breeder,Matching Puppies and People the Right Way, andPurebred or Mutt: Making the Right Decision, if you think you’re going to get a good pet out of a basket full of free puppies. I know Jill read those articles, so I really shouldn’t have had to take hold of her arm (I probably left “grab” marks), and hiss, “We need to talk!” after she said, “Oh, they’re adorable! I want one!”
“Jill,” I told her, “Don’t do this. It’s a recipe for a world of bad. First off, you have no idea what you’re getting. Second, I’m pretty sure these puppies won’t have been vet-checked. And third, you’re not ready! Come on, if you were about to have a baby, you’d probably spend months getting the nursery ready and making sure you had everything you need. You don’t even have puppy chow, and you’re thinking about taking one home? Pull back and re-group!”
Fortunately, Jill is not stupid. I don’t have stupid friends. Probably because I work pretty hard at avoiding stupid people. So, Jill saw reason pretty quickly. She’s still got that “I want a puppy” glow in her eyes, but she’s going to find a good one, with parents that can both be seen, and she’s going to make sure she has everything in place before she brings the puppy home.
I guess that was a pretty long introduction, so let’s get down to business. Just as you wouldn’t think of bringing a baby home without making sure you had all your ducks in a row, you shouldn’t do it with a puppy. You’re taking charge of a small creature who is going to feel a bit bewildered, and the more prepared you are, the easier the transition will be on both of you. Often, when people are unprepared, they end up having to “play catch-up.” Sometimes they never catch up, and then they do what they like to call “re-homing” the puppy because he’s a) a bad fit, b) uncontrollable, or c) “My situation has changed and I don’t have time for him.” It’s what I call “throwing away a potentially wonderful companion because you were stupid,” but hey, po-tay-topo-tah-to, right? So here are the 3 things you need to consider before you bring your puppy home.
You’re going to need a ton of stuff. Next to food, and dishes for food and water, I’d put a crate at the very top of the list. I know a lot of people hate crating – they want their dog to have the run of the house. And this can be just fine as your puppy begins to grow up, but in the early months, there’s a lot to be said for having a place where your puppy can stay safe when you’re not around to look after him. It’s also pretty convenient to be able to sit down to dinner, or relax with a movie, without having to constantly be on watch to make sure the new arrival isn’t wreaking havoc. It’s also very helpful when it comes to house training (see Your Puppy Crate Training Schedule). Most dogs dislike eliminating where they sleep, so if you feed and water on a regular schedule, and make sure to give your new arrival regular potty breaks, using the crate can be another very valuable tool in your house training arsenal. Other things you will need include:
(a) An Exercise Pen
This gives your puppy a bit of room to play, while still keeping him safely confined. You can even place the crate inside the pen. If you’re paper-training, put the papers outside the crate, in the “play” area, to further reinforce the concept of places that are okay to pee and poo, and places where it should not be done.
(b) A Tether
This is a short leash, about four feet long, and it has snaps at either end. A tether is not a substitute for a regular leash like you would use for walking. Instead, it’s a temporary means of restraint – for instance, if you need to leave your puppy alone for a few minutes, like to go to the mailbox, or if he’s misbehaving and you want to give him a brief “time out.” It shouldn’t be used for punishment, or to restrain the puppy while you are out of the house – if you need to go out for more than a few minutes, and you can’t take the puppy with you, that’s what the crate is for.
(c) A Long Leash
You’ll use this mainly to teach your puppy to come when called. Your long leash should be no shorter than 10 feet, and no longer than 50 feet.
(d) A Seat Belt
This is every bit as important for a puppy as a car seat is for a child. It’s the best way to keep your puppy safe when on a drive. Never use a lead attached to a collar and tied to any part of your car’s interior – if you should be in an accident, your puppy could easily strangle to death. The seat belt also keeps the puppy from distracting you while you are driving.
(e) A Collar and ID Tag
If your puppy should become lost, the best way of ensuring that he finds his way home to you is by attaching an ID tag to his collar. Most jurisdictions require you to license your dog, and the number that is issued will be tied to your name and address. However, some people refuse to license their dogs for various reasons. My friend Neila has Rottweilers, and she worries about the possibility of a breed ban (see Should I License My Dog?), but she still dresses her pack up in durable collars, with tags showing her name, address and phone number.
Of course you’re going to want to train your puppy, and one of the most effective ways is by using rewards, so be sure to stock up on treats. Avoid dollar store products, though – there have been more than a few instances of dogs becoming sick because of cheap treats.
This isn’t absolutely required, but a click when offering a treat can reinforce the behavior you want your puppy to learn. Eventually, you will be able to dispense with the clicker if you like, and offer treats as rewards, or for no reason at all. The goal is to get your puppy to respond to your commands even if there’s no reward or reinforcement.
Of course you must have toys! Every dog loves a ball that he can chase, or a squeaky to throw around. Again, try to avoid going “on the cheap.” You might be able to buy a ton of dollar store toys for what you’d pay for just one quality toy, but most are made of cheap plastic, and if your puppy chews up and swallows a toy, you could be in for an expensive visit to the vet. I’m really partial to Kong toys – they’re not chew-proof, but they are chew-resistant, and you can use them on their own or fill them with a healthy treat like peanut butter.
(i) Cleaning Products
Okay, you’re puppy’s gonna mess. It goes without saying. No puppy ever comes fully house-broken. So get yourself some rubber gloves, a good bucket, and some non-toxic cleaner. Don’t use anything ammonia-based – it smells like urine, so even once you’ve cleaned up, your puppy is going to think, “This smells like where I’m supposed to go!” Make sure that anything you use is non-toxic – read the label carefully.
(j) Grooming Tools
You could take your puppy to a professional groomer from time to time, but I’m a big fan of home grooming. I really think doing my own grooming helped me to form a stronger bond with Janice and Leroy. I use a short-bristle brush and don’t bother with a comb, because Boxers are short-haired dogs. Depending on our puppy’s breed, you might need a comb, or a brush with long bristles. For a dog with a long coat, you might need scissors to carefully trim the hair away from his eyes. Everyone will need nail clippers, and you should also get toothbrush that’s sized to your dog’s mouth, along with an appropriate toothpaste. Human toothpastes are too strong, but you can get doggie toothpaste at your pet supply store or from our veterinarian.
So, now that you have all the paraphernalia you need to bring home your puppy, let’s talk about the people who are going to help you throughout your dog’s life.
As your puppy grows up, into adulthood, and up through to old age, you are going to need the support of various people. You’re not a one-man band. So, even before you bring your puppy home, you should start shopping around for the various support people who are going to help you to raise a happy, healthy companion.
(a) Your Veterinarian
This is your most important support person. Your vet is the one who is going to check your puppy over to make sure he’s healthy, give him his shots, see him for his checkup every six months, and finally, on that sad, inevitable day when you outlive your dog, will gently help him to go to the Rainbow Bridge. I have been so fortunate with my vets – I’ve never needed to shop around. Dr. Kim and I clicked instantly, and had a relationship that lasted for years. When he retired, I was devastated. The staff at my vet clinic encouraged me to give Dr. Stephen a chance, and I couldn’t be happier – he’s a wonderful, compassionate vet, and has even become a personal friend.
So I’ve been lucky. Now, here’s the thing – this is your most important relationship. So if anything seems the least bit off, find another vet. You don’t have to love your vet the way I do Stephen, but you have to be able to trust him or her. And you don’t need a reason to bail and find another practitioner if something doesn’t feel right.
Begin with a phone call. Is the clinic staff helpful and pleasant? That’s a good start. If you don’t get a good vibe on the phone call, though, it’s likely that things are going to go south later on. If the staff is surly and unhappy, that’s a pretty good tip-off that there’s something off when it comes to the vet.
Now, if the clinic staff pass your phone test, ask if you can hang out at the clinic for a bit, and watch them at work. Observe how they handle animals and humans as well. Are they respectful? Is the facility clean? Do the dogs seem to be relaxed?
I think you’ll narrow your choices down pretty quickly. You might just “click” with a vet, like I did with Stephen,” or you might decide that something isn’t quite right, and move on to the next candidate on your list.
You should also ask if any of their clients are willing to provide references. But don’t stop with the names that you’re given – you can pretty much take it on faith that no veterinarian is going to tell you, “Call this guy; he says I suck.” When you call the references, ask them if they know of anyone else who has used the same vet and might be willing to speak with you.
(b) Your Groomer
The same thing goes here. First, make a phone call. How do they sound on the phone? Impatient and harassed, or calmly loving their work? Are they forthcoming about the different breeds they’re comfortable working on? I had a hard time finding a groomer for Janice and Leroy. As I’ve said, I like to do my own grooming, but one night I was decorating the Christmas tree, and just as I was putting the star on top, I fell off the ladder and cracked my tailbone.
The Black Russians had nothing to do with it, okay?
Anyway, for a good three months, I was in agony, and that meant that brushing was difficult, and bathing and toenail clipping impossible. I phoned a number of groomers, only to find out that they would work on small dogs. Or, as we “big dog people” like to say, “little foo-foos.” I was outraged. Sweet, gentle Janice and Leroy, rejected in favor of ankle-biters. Go figure.
So, if you’re going to be wanting the services of a groomer, shop around. Not all of them will want to handle your particular breed. And as you would with your vet, check out the facility – it should be clean, not crowded, and the human and animal clients should look as though they feel at home.
(c) Your Family
No, seriously! If you had a human child, you’d probably want Grandma and Grandpa to look after the kids from time to time, right? Why wouldn’t they want to take care of the grand-puppy? But if you’re going to want to use your family as a support system, say if you get sick or have to go out of town for a while, make sure they’re okay with it. If they’re not, then you might need…
(d) …A Boarding Kennel
Here’s another scenario where you need to be careful. There are good boarding kennels, and bad boarding kennels. So check out the facility to make sure it’s clean, and that the dogs have plenty of room to run and play. Take note of whether food and water dishes are full. If your puppy is on medication, will they make sure he gets it? Will he be allowed to play with other puppies or just left in a run? Again, ask for references, and follow up vigilantly.
Now, finally, we have to talk about rules. This is pretty important, because if you’re going to have a good relationship with your puppy as he grows into adulthood, you and the rest of your family all have to understand the concepts of cooperation, mutual respect, and proper, non-punitive training. You want to keep your puppy out of trouble – you don’t want him to be so afraid of your displeasure that he doesn’t know what’s expected of him, and you don’t want him to have to deal with inconsistency. So you have to agree on the rules. Just as one example, maybe you love having your puppy sleep on the bed with you, but your significant other isn’t in agreement. You’re going to have to come to an accord – on the bed, or off the bed?
Now, I’ve never had much trouble with this, because as I pointed out in a previous post, I’m determinedly single. But I do remember one long-term relationship, where my partner wasn’t all that happy with Janice and Leroy hogging the bed and stealing the pillows. My response was, “They were here long before you were, so get over it.”
If that doesn’t work for you, discuss other measures. Perhaps a crate close to the bed? Or a comfy rug and a firm, “No, you can’t sleep here anymore”? It’s up to you what you decide, but you do have to decide.
There are other rules, too. Are you going to allow the puppy on the furniture? I figure that as long as Janice and Leroy aren’t actually standing atop the kitchen table, it’s all good.
(b) Who Looks After the Puppy?
If you work from home, or if there’s someone there all the time throughout the day, this one is easy. There’s always someone there for potty breaks. If not, though, you’ll have to decide whether to enlist the services of a helpful neighbor, or use a crate.
Some people will tell you that games like “tug of war” build aggression. I disagree. I think tugging games channel aggression in a positive way. If you’re onside with me, then you might have to convince other family members, or you might have to come to some sort of a compromise as to what games are going to be considered acceptable. I would submit, though, that “Bite Mom’s Hand Until It Bleeds” or “Use the Cat as a Chew Toy” are not acceptable games.
You’re going to have to decide who feeds the puppy, and when. And trust me on this, you can never count on your kids to look after the puppy. They may mean well, but they’re just not going to do it. So if you want to make sure that your puppy is properly nourished, accept the fact that you’re on your own.
Here’s another area where you can’t trust your kids. Training the dog seems like fun in the beginning, but kids typically want instant results, and you won’t get that with puppy training – it takes time. You’ll probably have to handle most of the training yourself. What you can do, though, is make sure everyone is onside with terminology and hand signals. For instance, agree that sit means simply a verbal command, “Sit,” and a downward motion with your hand. “Come” means that you say, “Come,” and reinforce the command by touching your right hand to your left shoulder. You get the idea.
You want to train your puppy, not confuse him. So even if your kids aren’t pulling their weight when it comes to training, make sure that they know the right commands and the right signals.
(f) Forming Habits
Remember, the habits that your puppy develops early on are the ones that he will carry into adulthood, so good training early on can save you from a world of heartache e in the later years. Time outs often work well, because your puppy will connect he misbehavior with the time he spends without your companionship. Chewing the carpet, for instance, means that he’s by himself for five minutes. Give him a toy, though, so he doesn’t feel like he’s being punished.
I talked Jill out of taking home that puppy. In retrospect, she’s glad I did, because once she thought about it, she realized that taking home a puppy involves quite a bit of preparation.And if it sounds like you have an awful lot to think about before you bring home a puppy, it’s because you do. You’re committing to at least nine years, and maybe twelve or more, depending on the breed of your puppy. And he doesn’t deserve to be re-homed just because you weren’t ready for him. Every puppy should have a forever home, so make sure that yours does.