As the expression goes, we needed a puppy like a hole in the head. Two kids starting new schools, an upcoming surgery for Grandpa, two busy careers and tons of volunteer commitments — what were we thinking?
Yet 11 days after our 11-year-old dog, Penny, died unexpectedly, my husband brought home an 8-week-old German shepherd-retriever mix puppy my daughter found at Austin Pets Alive. It was love at first sight. Instantly, we had a new baby — this time, the furry kind.
We launched head on into raising Chewbacca, Chewie for short. It’s our first foray into being puppy parents. Penny was 6 when we brought her home. The dog before, Jet, was almost 2.
Puppies are like 2-year-olds, says Dr. Stacy Mozisek from Firehouse Animal Health Center. They are mobile and get into everything. “Don’t give him a lot of free rein or he’s probably in trouble,” she says.
Eventually a puppy becomes like a preteen or a teenager, says dog trainer Steve Haynes of Fidelio Dog Works. They know what the right thing to do is, but they don’t always do it.
They can’t be left unattended until they’re about 1, they say.
I’ve even written about how a puppy is a horrible idea, especially not for Christmas. You can read that story on austin360.com/raisingaustin. I still stand by the think-before-you-leap wisdom, but who couldn’t love Chewie?
Here’s what we should have done and known before Chewie came home, according to Mozisek and Haynes:
Buy the crate before anything else. Because puppies can’t be trusted, they have to be contained in a safe place whenever you can’t have all eyes on them. That means at night, when you leave home, when you’re eating dinner, etc.
Think of their crate as their den. It should be a happy place with fun toys, not used as punishment. To get them to like going in there, consider throwing their food on the bottom of it or putting treats inside.
Don’t put in anything soft like bedding, because it’s an invitation to urinate on it. Also, it shouldn’t be too big, just big enough for them to stand up and turn around in. Too big means they will find a corner to make their bathroom.
Young puppies also can’t spend more than four to six hours in a crate at once. First, their bladders and bowels will be barking at them. Second, they need a lot of socializing, and they are missing that if they are locked up. If you work full time, have a plan for someone to let them out in the middle of the day. You’ll eventually increase time in the crate as they age. Eventually, you might be able to do time out of the crate and unsupervised, but probably not before their first birthday.
Be ready to spend a lot of time outside. Puppies could have just urinated outside and 20 minutes later urinate inside. They have tiny bladders and no control. When they are out of the crate, plan on visits outside every 20 minutes or so. Don’t leave them unsupervised outside, either.
Block off areas of the house. They don’t need to be in bedrooms, bathrooms or anywhere near the cat litter.
Remove the temptations for urinating. If you have shag carpeting or a sisal rug, it’s an invitation to urinate there. Block off those areas or roll up the rugs for now. Don’t use puppy pads, because even when they are old enough to not use the pad, they’ll still want to go in the place where the pad once was.
Limit food and water intake. They need to eat and drink often, but they also have no regulator on food and water. If water is available, they will keep drinking it and keep urinating. Same thing with food. Plan on feeding them two to three times a day, but not after 5:30 p.m. if you want them to sleep through the night. Water should be removed by about 7:30 p.m.
Puppies don’t do well in bed with you. Sure, they are sweet and cuddly, but they’ll wake up every time you roll over or make a noise. They need to be in their crate in a dark place away from you. Unless you want to have puppy play hour at 2 a.m., which has been a popular activity at our house. Get them to sleep in the crate. You might have a sleepless night at first, but it’s better than a sleepless year. You can put an old shirt that smells like you in the crate to ease the transition.
Puppy activities need to be limited. Until 14 or 16 weeks when they are vaccinated and have built up immunities, they are at risk for serious diseases like parvovirus. Walking around Lady Bird Lake or going to a dog park will have to wait. Plus, they don’t have dog manners yet.
Puppies need to be trained. Start early with teaching sit, stay and shake. There are even puppy training classes, or you can have a trainer come to your house. They learn easily at this age.
Puppies need to experience new things all the time. Expose them to a lot of different noises, including loud ones, and a lot of different people. Play with their ears and feet, because they don’t like it, but it will serve you medically later on.
Puppies chew and chew and chew. Keep a rotating cluster of puppy-approved toys at the ready. Don’t be surprised if they try to eat all the wood in the house, including table legs and window sills, around 16 weeks when the puppy teeth start to make way for adult teeth. To help that teething, you can buy toys that can be frozen or wet a rope and freeze it.
Puppy proof like you baby proof. Consider anything on the floor theirs. As they get bigger, anything on the couch, chair, kitchen table and counter also could be theirs.
Puppies ingest a lot of things, too. And those things can get caught and have to be surgically removed. Socks and underwear as well as stuffed animal stuffing don’t go well with puppy stomachs and intestines.
Keep foods, plants and medications away. Watch out for chocolate, grapes and raisins, and sugar-free gum and candy with xylitol. The ASPCA has a list of toxic plants on its website, but common ones include sago palms and lilies. All medications, including Advil and Tylenol, need to be locked up.