By: Cate Burnette

National Puppy Day is March 23

Are your kids begging you to get a dog? Does your spouse want to add a furry family member to your household? Whatever the reason, bringing a new puppy into your home can be a challenging undertaking, filled with ups and downs and all the joys and worries that new pet parenthood brings.

You can make the transition easier by preparing yourself, your family and your environment for bringing this new life into your home and by looking at solutions to possible problems before you get in over your head.

How to Pick the Right Breed

All puppies are adorable, but what breed of puppy best suits you and your family?

A physically active family that loves the outdoor life will probably want to look at energetic, athletic dogs like the Boxer or the Labrador retriever. Families that prefer watching television or playing on the computer may want to consider smaller, quieter lap dogs like the Yorkshire terrier or the Bichon Frise.

Whatever your preference, you’ll want to carefully check your favorite breed’s temperament and physical characteristics, and ask yourself 3 important questions to help you decide which dog is the right one for your family.

1. How does your housing situation fit with the dog you want?

Where, and how, your family lives should be a priority when choosing what dog to bring into your home.

Some apartment complexes have both weight and breed restrictions that affect what dogs are allowed to live in their apartments. You’ll need to check with your management to see if those restrictions apply to you. If you’re city dwellers, you should know that some larger breeds – and some more energetic small breeds – prefer to be outside and active, rather than constrained in a small apartment. On the other hand, dogs like the Greyhound – a large, calm breed – don’t mind lying around all day and living in an apartment can work for them.

Suburbia with its big yards and fencing may be sufficient room for some animals, but you’ll need to watch out for “escape artists” like the Siberian Husky and the Parson’s Russell terrier. Both breeds are known for either jumping fences or digging out from under to take a turn out in the neighborhood. Country living requires that you take on an easily trained dog that comes when called and responds well to commands. Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, super intelligent herding dogs, do well on farms and large suburban plots, often taking care of sheep, cattle, and children.

2. Do you have the time available to take care of a dog?

As a family, you’ll need to determine who is going to have the main responsibility of your new pup, and if every member actually has the available time to participate in the everyday care of a pet. Making a chore list and setting down some rules can help you determine if your family is really ready for a dog. Children and parents both need to be involved in feeding, exercising, training, playing with and cleaning up after your new family member.

For this reason, particularly large and energetic dog breeds – Boxers, German Shepherds, Huskies – may not be suitable for families with small children that can easily be knocked over during play. Small, sensitive, nervous breeds – the Yorkie or the Chihuahua – can be a bit snappish around toddlers and may not make the best pet for your growing family.

3. Can you afford a new dog?

Dogs require food, training, toys, treats and veterinary care – all of which add expenses to a household budget. The best dog food for your dog often costs more money, so the kind of food your pet will be eating needs to be taken into account. Larger dog breeds must have more food than smaller breeds and, if your new puppy eats a veterinary-prescribed food, those brands are typically more expensive than store-bought. Bedding, food bowls, leashes or halters, and training classes are all expenditures that many new dog owners overlook in their excitement of getting a new pup.

Different breeds are predisposed to medical issues that can be difficult – and expensive – to treat. Large breed puppies like Rottweilers and Labrador Retrievers are known to be prone to hip dysplasia, an orthopedic problem that requires extensive pain meds and possible surgeries to keep the afflicted dog up and moving. Small and toy breeds, the Pomeranian, Yorkie, and Maltese, for example, can suffer from a luxating patella. This condition causes the dog’s kneecap to slip away from its base when the animal is moving, causing pain and lameness. Surgery is the only option to fix this issue at this time.

Do your research to determine what breeds are susceptible to what diseases before bringing home a new puppy, and, if you purchase from a reputable breeder or rescue your pup from the local shelter, make sure all the required veterinary tests, vaccinations and procedures have been performed to assure your puppy is healthy.

Getting Your House Ready for a Puppy

When you’ve decided that the time is right for you and your family to finally get the puppy you’ve always wanted, there are a few things that should be done in order to make your place as pet friendly as possible.

The first thing to do is to try to put yourself in your pet’s position and have a look at your surroundings through the eyes of your puppy. If it helps, you can get down on all fours and go through every room of the house to check for any hazards.

Are there sharp corners a puppy can bump into? Are there electrical cords that can accidentally cause electrocution if innocently chewed? Is there any chance of a potentially fatal fall out of a window?

Unplug all electrical cords or cover them up, and make sure that there are no unsafe areas that a puppy might get into, like a dryer or a cabinet containing chemicals or medications. Further ensure that no furniture can act like a ladder for a pet to climb up onto tables or countertops. A new puppy owner should also check that there are no choking, strangulation, or drowning hazards; tie up all chords, and keep toilet seats down.

Check all your houseplants; there are some varieties which can be fatal if ingested by animals with mums, poinsettias, Aloe Vera, amaryllis and lilies being the most harmful. To be certain that a plant is safe, check with the ASPCA’s Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants database before bringing it home.

Set aside a corner of the household for a puppy bed and some soft toys. With this reserved space, there is no need for your pup to sneak into potentially dangerous areas. This little pet refuge must be free of hazards, have a constant water supply, and ideally be a part of the regular family living area.

For owners who are at work for most of the day, other things must be considered to make the home pet-friendly: leave plenty of fresh water available, a pet fountain can be installed, and if your puppy is not crate-trained, consider making a pet-friendly area for your pup that is closed off with a baby gate to prevent wandering off into other areas of the home or yard.

By observing these simple suggestions, a house can quickly become puppy-friendly and both you and your pet will be healthier and happier for it.

Should I Crate Train My New Puppy?

The answer to this question given by most veterinary experts, including the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the US, is a resounding “Yes!”

To help your puppy adjust, there are a few guidelines that can make your job and her learning curve easier and faster.

  • Make sure and purchase a crate that is large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and sleep in comfortably. Particularly with younger, more active dogs, the ability to move around during crate time keeps their minds alert and developing muscles tuned. Note that a crate that is too large for your dog allows her to eliminate in the kennel away from her bedding and water and contradicts the entire purpose of crate training.
  • You will want to line the crate with old newspapers to absorb any “accidents.” Use only the black newsprint – not the slick ad pages – because newsprint absorbs water, while colored print pages do not.
  • Give your puppy a doggy bed or a pile of old blankets or towels to lie on while she’s in the kennel. You might also want to throw in some of her favorite toys to keep her occupied while she’s there.
  • If she’s only going to be in the crate a short time – maybe an hour or two – you don’t need to leave her any water. A longer stay requires that she have a full water bowl to keep from getting dehydrated. Placing several ice cubes in the bowl so that she can lick them as they melt helps in preventing spills.
  • Knowing the approximate age of your dog tells you how long you can leave her in the crate. The American Animal Hospital Association states that puppies should only be kenneled for one hour per month of life. That means a 2-month-old pup should only be crated for two hours at a stretch. A 6-month-old dog can stay for 6 hours comfortably.
  • Take your dog or puppy outside immediately before she goes in the crate and immediately after she gets out. Praise and pet her when she eliminates outside both times. Consistently doing this teaches her not to “potty” in the house, and to wait until she’s outside to “go.” If you allow her to walk around the house after she gets out of the crate, you need to expect accidents.

Remember, accidents will happen regardless of crate training. Don’t spank your pet with a newspaper or “rub her nose in it.” This only serves to make her fearful and possibly aggressive. Being kind and consistent with any training method teaches her good manners and makes her your loving companion for life.

Socializing Your New Puppy

Because of her instinctive nature as a social being and a pack animal, your puppy needs contact with you, other animals, and other people to learn how to behave properly. Without that social interaction, she can develop bad behaviors that are difficult to correct.

Bring her into your family from the start – keep her with you when you’re at home. If you’re in the process of crate training, leave the crate or playpen in your den or family room so that she can get to know everyone in the household. DO NOT leave your pup tethered or fenced in your yard so that other dogs and people can harass her. This type of isolation can lead to both dog and people aggression as the puppy matures.

Reward all “good” behaviors by redirecting any disruptive energy into something she enjoys doing, and for which you can reward her. For example, if your puppy decides to jump on you, or other people or animals, in her need to get attention, direct her to “sit,” then reward him with a treat or a loving pat. Ignoring this behavior will often cause an untrained dog to continue attention-seeking behavior – without addressing the problem. Determining why your pup is acting this way is the first step in stopping inappropriate behavior.

The best way for your new puppy to learn appropriate canine behavior is through supervised playtime with other dogs. Ask friends with healthy, vaccinated puppies or gentle, older dogs over for a “play date.” If one dog starts bullying the other, separate them for a time until they are calm, then let them resume playing. Don’t smack or yell at the roughhousing dog; that could make things worse. Just pull them apart and reward good behavior when you see it. Vigorous play is fine as long as both dogs are having fun, but be prepared to intervene if one becomes scared or defensive.

When meeting children, your pup needs to be kept on a leash and supervised closely. Don’t allow her to jump on or chase young children, as this can become a habit that leads to possible aggression as she matures. Have your puppy sit quietly and play with her toys while the child is petting her. Once she associates calm behavior with children, you can try letting her off leash. If she becomes excited or hyperactive, pull her away for a “time out” until she calms down. Eventually, your puppy can engage in more active play with children without jumping or chasing them.

Take your leashed dog out in public to meet other dogs and people. When your puppy meets another on-leash dog, keep your leash loose and relaxed. This tells your pup that there is nothing to fear from the other dog, and she will be less tense and more receptive to the other animal’s presence.

Dogs in neighboring yards might be territorial, so introduce them on neutral ground, and NEVER approach another dog without asking permission of the pet parent. If an off-leash dog approaches you, watch for body language and be prepared to pick up your puppy and change direction if you notice any tension or fear from either dog.

Train and teach your new puppy like you would your child – with patience, kindness, and love, and you will get a cherished companion for life.

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Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.

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