6 things I wish I’d been told about puppy raising

All tuckered out
Georgia, my in-laws’ puppy.

There’s a wealth of information out there about how to raise a puppy. How to pick the right puppy from a litter, how to house train, how to crate train, how to teach basic obedience commands, how to avoid bad behaviors: You name it, there’s an article or a book or a blog post about it.

Before we adopted Pyrrha, I did tons of reading about raising puppies and dogs. But it wasn’t until we started raising foster puppies myself — and now, having adopted an adolescent of our own — that I really learned what raising a puppy was all about. This, of course, is true for everyone.

Being his adorable self
Our former foster puppy Laszlo!

But here are 6 things I wish someone had told me about puppy raising in advance, 6 things that I didn’t find in all of those books:

  1. Feed your puppy out of food toys. This is a tip I first heard from our trainer, Deven Gaston. Essentially, feeding time is a wasted opportunity for stimulation and exercise if we just plunk a bowl of kibble on the floor. We now feed Pyrrha and Eden out of food toys, and it takes them about 15 to 25 minutes to eat each meal (depending on the difficulty of the toy). They have fun, they use their brains, and they get a little bit tired! We like toys from Busy Buddy, especially the Magic Mushroom. I also like the XX-large extreme Kong to start puppies out on; it’s not as intimidating as some of the more advanced toys. The only complication with food toys is that you’ll need to feed your dog in a room that doesn’t have a ton of furniture (or walls/baseboards that you mind being scratched up). We feed Pyrrha and Eden in our basement and in our large master bathroom, which have concrete and tile floors and few things that they can destroy in their urge to get their food.
  2. Have lots of old towels on hand. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that raising dogs would be really messy. Go to your local thrift store and buy up an armful of cheap, old towels before you bring your puppy home; you’ll use them all. They serve a variety of purposes: crate bedding (personally, I’m all for not continuing to waste money on expensive crate beds that my dogs are just going to turn into confetti); outdoor clean-up; drying off after baths; DIY tug ropes (rip/cut them into long strips and braid them together), etc. Stock up on old towels; you won’t regret it.
  3. Rotate their toys. I’ve written about this before, but rotating dog toys is a great strategy for both your housekeeping sanity and your puppy’s interest levels. Puppies are like little kids: Anything new is the MOST exciting! Puppies are also like little kids in that they have short memories. Putting toys away for a few weeks at a time, and then bringing them out (and rotating the old ones) will keep your puppy engaged — and keep you from spending hundreds at the pet store for more toys to keep your puppy interested.
  4. Clear the floor! (And the coffee table and the low shelves…) Puppies, like babies, like to explore with their mouths, so ensuring that they can’t get anything hazardous or breakable is essential. Don’t want your puppy to chew up your new shoes? Don’t leave your shoes lying around. Despite being general mess-makers, puppies can also encourage orderliness and organization by forcing us to put our things up and away!
  5. If you have carpet or a rug anywhere, that’s the first place a puppy is going to pee in the house. I don’t know why this is, but every puppy (and dog) that I’ve house-trained has much preferred urinating on carpet or rugs than on hardwood or tile. Maybe it simulates grass? Maybe it just feels better on their paws? But if you have an expensive Persian rug that you don’t want ruined, I’d roll it up and put it away until your puppy is reliably house-trained.
  6. For socialization, host a puppy play-date at your house. Every puppy-raising manual stresses socialization, but finding appropriate socialization for your puppy can be stressful in itself. Dog parks are overwhelming and not recommended for pups, especially if they haven’t had their full rounds of vaccines. And even just meeting other dogs out on walks isn’t ideal, since leashed greetings are difficult to negotiate properly. Instead, host a play-date at your house and invite a dog or two that you know well and trust. I’ve found this to be the great way to teach proper play, and it’s also one of the best ways to wear out your bundle of joy! We’re big advocates of hosting play-dates over here.
Sweet Vera
Vera, a foster for one day!

What are some things you wish someone had told YOU about raising a puppy? I’d love to hear what you’d say to someone who had just gotten a pup!

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11 thoughts on “6 things I wish I’d been told about puppy raising

  1. Ruby, at eight months old when I adopted her, was the youngest dog I’ve had on my own, but she was not housetrained and didn’t even know sit, so we were starting from scratch. The food toys are a life-saver! We have the Magic Mushroom, the small Nina Ottosen maze and the Kyjen star. Ruby also loves to play chase/catch the kibble, and scurrying all over the kitchen for each morsel definitely puts a dent in her energy!

  2. Good tips! I would also recommend a well-run puppy class with a positive-reinforcement trainer for socialization and basic manners. It is a much safer environment than the dog park or even meeting dogs on a walk. All puppies must have their first round of vaccines and the off-leash play is supervised so no one gets bullied or overwhelmed. The first 3 months of a puppy’s life is the most critical for socialization. (My classes are for puppies 10 weeks to 5 months and I bring my dog, Max, who is 4 yrs. old and great with the puppies.) Feeding with food puzzles and rotating toys are great ideas and not always mentioned in some resources.

  3. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

    We started Honey on food toys at 8 weeks old and it’s great mental stimulation. The downside is that she can empty a tightly stuffed Kong in only slightly less time than most dogs can empty a bowl of kibble. She picks it up and spikes it on the ground until the food comes out.

    We started her out by filling a water bottle with her food and balancing it on the mouth. She’d dump it over until kibble spilled out and we’d set it up again. Many toys are tough for a very tiny pup. But this one was easy and cheap.

    I’d also add get the puppy used to a crate immediately.

    Terrific list!

  4. Great post!!! I like the tip about feeding with food toys. Pepper inhales her food so quickly I’ve been trying out different strategies to get her to slow down. I food toy is a perfect idea!

  5. I wish someone would have told me about how much they sleep so that we could capitalize on that – blogging, laundry, house cleaning, and more. I really don’t remember Rodrigo and Sydney sleeping so much, but they obviously did. It’s been heaven. I’m catching up on blog reading, while two puppies sleep behind me.

  6. I wish someone had warned us to beware of incidental training. Küster learned early on that if he pooped in the ex-pen, then we took him out to clean up the mess. After a couple of days of taking him outside, then bringing him back in to the ex pen only to turn around and find he’d pooped in there, I learned to frog march his little tookus back to his crate while I cleaned things up. The stubborn little devil took about a month to give it up completely!

  7. Great points! I wish someone warned me not to go to the dog park with my puppy. I assumed it would be a great place to socialize but we learned the hard way how unruly so many dogs are and how little their people care.

  8. I’m so glad someone made me read Ian Dunbar’s books, which in turn made me take Silas to puppy class. It really (and I am not even kidding) probably saved his life. He was *terrified* of the other dogs, and stayed that way through the entire four weeks of puppy class. He didn’t come out of his shell until we put him in an additional four weeks of once-a-week puppy daycare. I shudder to imagine how impossible he would have been to handle if he’d kept the dog fear on top of everything else.

    I wish someone had told us that meeting friendly strangers in public IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE for meeting people in your own house. (Which, Ian Dunbar kind of did, but he was so extreme about it that I brushed him off–“I could never do *that*, so I guess I won’t bother.”) We were new to town and didn’t know people well enough to invite them over. If I’d realized the fallout, I would have bought my family plane tickets, invited people in off the streets, and made my neighbors come over whether I knew them or now. Signed, the lady who has hidden in the garage with her dog while people were in the living room.

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