I remember my adventures in the early days with Janice and Leroy, my two Boxers. There was so much happiness but also a lot of aggravation. Of course, I suppose I brought a lot of it on myself, basically taking one right after the other out of two separate litters from two different breeders. It was twice as much fun, but I suppose you could also say that it was double the trouble.
It seemed as though what one couldn’t think of, the other could, and between the two of them, it was nothing short of amazing how much damage they were able to cause. I still have furniture that’s short on a leg or two because of chewing, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many pairs of shoes they ruined.
Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. They never destroyed a pair of shoes; it was usually just one shoe out of any given pair. Finally, I pretty much just gave up on the shoe thing, wore a black Reebok on my left foot and a white Adidas on my right and called it a fashion statement. Oh, and the torn sleeves on all my shirts, and torn hems on my pants from Leroy’s incessant grabbing (which I told you about in How to Stop Nipping Before It Turns Into Biting)? Well, that was a fashion statement, too!
Of course, when they were sleeping, I was like parents of human children, looking at them and thinking, “You’d never believe they could do anything wrong.” And when they’d want to get in my lap for snuggles and kisses, whatever they’d done wrong was forgiven anyway.
So, puppies aren’t all fun and games. They’re definitely a mixed bag, so if you’re new to dogs and just now thinking about getting a puppy, you need to be prepared. Knowing what to expect and having an idea of how to handle the ups and downs can help you to focus on the fun and get past the potential difficulties when it comes to introducing a puppy into your family. Here are the things you need to know.
1. The First Weeks Are the Worst
This is something I can definitely vouch for. All that bouncing around that was so adorable when you were visiting your little one at the breeder’s home can get a bit wearing when you’re dealing with it for a long period of time, and the mouthiness (“Aw, that’s so cute; he’s trying to nurse on my fingers!”) soon translates into painful nips from sharp little teeth. Then, of course, there’s the joy of house training.
You probably aren’t going to find much consolation in knowing that eliminating all over the place, chewing and nipping are perfectly normal behaviors in a puppy, so, obviously, you’re going to want to start dealing with these issues early on. Fortunately, by the time your puppy is about four months old, you should be able to have a good handle on the basics. Since a responsible breeder will not allow a puppy to leave the mother before the age of eight weeks, this means that you only have to deal with the worst behaviors for another eight weeks.
They’ll probably be the longest eight weeks of your life, though!
2. This Too Shall Pass
The most important weeks of your puppy’s life are the first 16. This is when socialization takes place. The first phase of socialization occurs from birth to eight weeks, when your puppy will still be with his mother, in the breeder’s home. This is the time when he learns good dog manners from his mother, and starts getting used to humans. If the breeder wants you to take the puppy earlier than eight weeks, you should probably consider looking elsewhere, because puppies that miss out on this very important time with their mothers and their littermates can end up developing behavioral issues later on, no matter what you try to do after the fact.
I hope I’m not scaring you; yes, socialization is vital, but it doesn’t have to be all that difficult. Just make sure that your puppy is handled a lot, by a lot of different people, and gets used to a variety of sounds, sights and smells. This is your bonding time, when the puppy learns to experience a lot of different things knowing that you are there to keep him safe.
3. Kids and Puppies Go Great Together
A lot of people will tell you that there’s nothing better than kids and puppies growing up together. In fact, I’m one of those people. I’ve placed puppies out of Janice and Leroy’s litters in homes where there were newborn children, and the results have always been most pleasing to all concerned. I do warn the adoptive parents, though, that the biggest issue they’re going to have to deal with is their child at some point losing the best friend he’s never been without. I usually suggest that they allow the child time to grieve, point out that the child was very fortunate to have had such a wonderful companion, and, as soon as the child feels ready, get them another dog.
I think I might have been digressing a bit there, so to get back on point, there’s no reason why you can’t raise kids and puppies together, and there are many benefits to doing so. It’s important, though, that the kids begin participating in caring for the puppy right away. In fact, any kid who is able to do more than crawl should be able to help out. Even a toddler can help to pick up and put away toys, make up the puppy’s bed, and learn how to keep his own toys put away so that they’re not vandalized by those sharp little puppy teeth.
Older kids can help with feeding and watering, and even with training. Imagine the satisfaction when your child learns (with a little help from you, of course) how to get the new puppy to sit! Training builds a bond between your child and the puppy, and makes the child feel empowered.
Now, having pointed out the benefits of having kids and puppies together, let me point out a few things that you will have to do if they’re going to coexist properly:
- Teach the kids to be gentle. In other words, make sure that they know the new puppy is not a toy, and should not be dragged around like one.
- No hitting. If your kid thinks that it’s okay to spank the puppy, I have to wonder where they learned that behavior. Of course, that’s a whole other issue, and I’m only here for the dogs, not to judge how you discipline your kids. Just, please, don’t let your kids hit the puppy. And don’t you do it, either.
- No table feeding. Let your kids know that sneaking food to the puppy while at the table is just going to lead to undesirable behavior later on. Also, no teasing; offering and then withholding a scrap of food is just mean. If your kids do this, ask them how they’d feel if you did the same thing to them. Kids aren’t stupid, and the teasing will probably stop in short order.
- No hugging – at least not right away. Puppies are squirmy little things, and don’t typically enjoy being hugged. A puppy that feels confined could become frightened, and might scratch or nip. Then you have the dual problem of a puppy who’s afraid of the kid, and a kid who’s afraid of the puppy.
- Watch the dynamic. Some puppies are naturally very dominant, and as they begin to develop confidence, might see a child as someone who can be intimidated. On the other side of the equation, a puppy who is very shy can be frightened by running, screaming children, and his reaction could be to nip or even bite. Again, you have two problems on your hands: a puppy who thinks he can get the better of a child, and might bite when challenged, and a child who fears the puppy even more as it grows bigger.
This is mostly just common sense. You don’t have to over-think it; just remember that you’re all family, and proceed accordingly.
4. Don’t Leave Kids and Puppies Alone – For Now
This is something that I cannot overemphasize: never, ever, under any circumstances, leave a child alone with a dog – even a puppy – until you know beyond all shadow of a doubt that the child is the dominant party in the relationship. Most children over the age of five can safely be left alone with a puppy that has been raised in your household, but only if they have participated in training and you are fully confident that the child is in control. Even then, err on the side of caution.
I’m not one of those people who says, “You can never leave a child alone with a dog.” We’re far too much into protecting our little snowflakes against any and every potential danger, and playing the “What if” game. You know, “What if the dog suddenly goes nuts and decides my kid is a chew toy? What if the dog is suddenly possessed by demons? What if the dog has been drugged by an evil passerby and is hallucinating and thinks my child is food?” etc. Just use some commonsense. Most parents will know when the child and the puppy no longer need to be constantly supervised.
5. Puppy Redux
So, back to talking about fun and frustration. One of the things that can take the fun out of getting a new puppy and lead to a great deal of frustration is trying to relive the past. I know a man who had an English Bulldog as a child, and always swore up and down that if he was ever going to have another dog, it would have to be an English Bulldog. That man is now 44 years old and still waiting for an English Bulldog. Do you suppose he’s missing out? I think he is.
More to the point, though, disappointment can occur when we actually do get another dog of the type that pleased us so much back in the day. Usually, what pleases us about the dogs we’ve had has little to do with the breed, and much to do with the individual dog. Remember me telling you about Jackie, and the Rottweiler, Emil, who ended up being pretty much the love of her life? (If you don’t know the story, see Is It Time to Let Go?). Jackie says she needs another Rottie. But will the new one be the perfect dog Emil was? Probably not. Emil left huge paw prints on Jackie’s heart, and it’s too much to ask another dog to be what Emil was.
I guess what I’m saying is, don’t get stuck on a breed. The characteristics you loved in that English Bulldog, or Rottweiler, or whatever, may not be apparent in the new puppy. Sure, certain breeds have certain characteristics and certain temperaments, but you have to factor in individuality. The dog you choose might look just like the one you loved all those years ago, but could have a very different personality.
Back to Fun
So, these are just a few things that you need to think about if you’re gearing up to bring home a new puppy. Yes, it can be frustrating, but it will be a lot of fun, too. Once you get past the initial 16 weeks, and most of the training issues are worked out, you’re over the worst.
Of course the first year is still going to give you a few ups and downs, as your puppy grows and becomes more confident. Just remember: there are two really wonderful things about puppies. The first is that… well, it’s that they’re puppies! The second is that they will, if properly socialized and trained, pretty much always grow into wonderful dogs.
Bringing a puppy home is so exciting; it opens up such a special new chapter in your life, one filled with joy, love, and the best companionship you’ll ever know. As to the frustrations, just roll with them; you’ll be glad you did.