The Perfect Puppy Recipe

by Elisabeth Catalano

This is the time of year when many people consider adding a puppy to their family. I adore puppies, and love raising them, but it is a lot of work! It can drive you crazy, especially, if you are unprepared, or unsure how to do it.

There is so much to know and do and all the conflicting information available today compounds the confusion.  New owners find it difficult to sort it all out, much less do it right. It is enough to make a new puppy owner cry.

The truth is, it is relatively simple to raise a perfect puppy. There is a “special recipe” that involves a delicate balance of five ingredients to create the ‘Perfect Puppy’:

• Socialization
• Physical exercise
• Training/mental stimulation
• Alone time/crate training
• Handling
• Creating a reinforcement rich environment

Each one of these ingredients is incredibly important to your puppy’s development and emotional well-being. They will also play a role in what kind of a dog your puppy will grow into and what type of relationship you will have with him.

Socialization
Socialization is the first ingredient because it is the most important thing for a puppy and the time to do it is limited. Your puppy can be easily socialized between the ages of 3 to 12 weeks but, once that window closes, it becomes more difficult for them to accept new things. Good socialization prepares your puppy for everything he will encounter during his life with you. Puppies that haven’t been exposed to a wide variety of good experiences, may have problems coping in new situations or with new things. They may develop a fear of unfamiliar things or people and can even become aggressive.

Your puppy must be exposed to people, places, things, sights, smells, sounds, and other animals (especially other dogs). For each of these individual things, think variety!

For instance, how many different types of people can your puppy meet, and in how many different places? Tall people, short people, men with beards, people with floppy hats and mirrored sunglasses, people wearing helmets, and uniforms, etc., must all be part of the program.

A good Puppy Kindergarten class is an ideal place to socialize and learn. Take your puppy to visit the local police station or fire department. Sit out in front of Starbucks with your puppy and coffee and see how many people you can meet! But, just exposing puppies to new things isn’t enough; the experiences must be pleasant. Bring treats with you so that people can offer the puppy something yummy to sweeten the deal.

Physical Exercise, Training and Mental Stimulation
There is no question that a tired puppy is a good puppy! Your very young puppy will be sleepy and easily pooped. But, as the puppy ages, his energy level will rise and eventually sky-rocket! You must provide outlets for this energy. This is not a luxury for the dog, it is a need as basic as for food and water.

Most new owners plan on exercising their dogs by walking them several times throughout the day. It is a nice plan, but unfortunately, not a realistic one. Walks for your dog are not exercise as they rarely release enough energy. Dogs need to run and play, the length of time will depend on the type and breed of dog you have. Fetch is a fast and easy way to burn off steam but can become repetitive and boring for some dogs, so don’t be afraid to add hide-and-seek or tug to the mix.

Training is an important mental activity that can tire your dog as well as keeping him nicely behaved. Training should be fun and a bit challenging. Mental stimulation also comes in the form of food puzzles and games like the Kong, the Treat Tornado and the Dog Brick.

Alone Time and Crate Training
Teaching a puppy to be able to cope with time alone is something that is often overlooked. It may be nice to have your pup with you at all times, but there will be times when that is impossible. He must learn how to handle down times and be able to settle without being stressed and anxious. Crate training is an excellent way to safely give your puppy alone time and give him a space in which to relax. Short periods of time away from you with a Kong to enjoy will teach your pup how to amuse himself.

Handling
Being a dog means that human beings will be touching and holding you. Puppies must be taught from an early age that being held and touched is not something to be afraid of. Good breeders provide this to very young puppies in advance of them going to their new homes. But the job doesn’t end there, you need to continue to keep the puppy used to being held and touched by making it relaxing and enjoyable. Pups that don’t have this early exposure, become difficult to manage later on in life for simple things like putting on harnesses, clipping nails or even drying off feet.

Reinforcement Rich Environment
Most puppy problems can be prevented by simply rewarding the puppy for his attempts at good behavior. Manage the environment so that the puppy can’t make mistakes but if he does it is easily solved by redirecting the puppy to a more appropriate behavior. Mistake free learning (rewarding good behavior and preventing bad) will take time but is the best way for your pup to learn.

Many people focus instead on trying to stop or punish behaviors so that they don’t occur again. Unfortunately, what happens is that the puppies are continually exposed to punishment and they become desensitized to it. As a result punishments must get harsher and harsher to be effective. Ultimately, the dog begins to fear the owner.

Above all, raising a perfect puppy requires patience, planning, commitment and persistence. If these are not things that you can afford to do, then a puppy may not be right for you. Yes, there are shortcuts and you can leave out a few of the ingredients, but the end result will not be a dog who is loving, easy to get along with and welcomed everywhere. The next 10-15 years is a long time to live with regret. Start cooking now!

Elisabeth CatalanoElisabeth Catalano, MA, CPDT, CDBC is a professional dog trainer and behavior counselor with more than 12 years of experience in dealing with canine behavior problems. She is the Director of Behavior and Training of The Coventry School, Inc. for Dogs and Their People. Liz is a member of the APDT, the IAABC, and The Animal Behavior Society. To reach Elisabeth Catalano call 410-381-1800, or visit www.thecoventryschool.com.

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