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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Settling in with Eden

She's a weird one
She’s a weird one.

This little puppy is crazy and awesome. I think we love her already!

Eden is settling in beautifully, and even after just a week with us, she’s really adapting to our lifestyle. For an adolescent (she turned 6 months old on Sunday), she has a surprising amount of self-control. But she’s still packed with joyful energy and rambunctiousness!

Goofy girl

She loves playing in the backyard with Pyrrha and exploring. Her retrieving drive is HIGH, and she wants to play fetch with you all day long.

Prancing around the yard

The girls are getting on very well. Pyrrha is very tolerant of her adolescent antics, and I’ve been proud of how Pyrrha has shown patience and restraint. There are occasional times, as with any young dogs, in which we need to enforce some “time outs” during wrestling sessions, but overall, they’re doing a great job coexisting. They eat morning meals side-by-side peaceably, and then at night, they eat out of food toys in separate rooms. (I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to do food toys in the same room; I think Eden would get all of the food!)

The girls

Eden is sleeping well and doesn’t cry anymore when she goes to her crate at night. I’m impressed with how swiftly she’s adapted; she isn’t bothered by anything.

Edie sniffing

She got to experience her first dusting of snow with us, which she thought was a real thrill:

Eden's first snow! #eatingagourd #ournewpuppy #charlottesville
Eden’s first snow! Chewing on a pumpkin stem.

With our previous fosters, most of whom have been shy, we took it easy with the exposure/socialization for the first week, and instead let them get settled with us and our house. Eden, however, has no such compunctions; this girl wants to get out and see the world! Accordingly:

Things we’ve done with Eden in the week that she’s been with us

  • Visited Petco. Everyone was a friend! Nothing was frightening to her.
  • Took a (very cold) walk to the river, where we watched ducks by the shore.
  • Took a long walk around the neighborhood.
  • Took a walk to the downtown mall, which is our Socialization Central (people, babies, kids, dogs, strollers, homeless people, street musicians, etc.), and she was GREAT! We took Pyrrha too, with lots of treats, and followed many of your advice about one reactive dog/one non-reactive dog. Having Eden lead worked well, and Pyrrha did not have any reactions. I was also managing Pyrrha very closely and keeping her far away from any triggers, but Eden didn’t pick up on Pyrrha’s anxiety at all, and Pyrrha even seemed to let her worries slide toward the end of the walk.
  • Ran an errand with Guion in the car.
  • Had a play-date/crazy dinner party with Fiona and her human parents. Fiona and Eden played beautifully together; they both have a similar energy level. Pyrrha was kind of a bully to Fiona, however, so we kept her separate for most of the night. I’m not totally sure what that was about; some of her behavior seemed to be taking advantage of Fiona’s submissiveness, and some of it seemed to be her efforts at “policing” the young’uns. Either way, it’s something for us to watch.
  • Hosted a little gathering at our house with about eight friends; Eden got to meet them all.
  • Introduced her to food toys and given her meals out of them.

What we’re working on with Eden

  • Not jumping on people when they come in the door (instead, sitting or standing while being petted)
  • Not barking to announce her presence to the neighborhood when she goes into the backyard
  • Not jumping on counters
  • Not crying with excitement when we open the crate door in the morning (instead, sitting and waiting as we open the door)

We signed her up for an obedience class with our favorite trainer, which will start in a few weeks. It’ll be really interesting for both Guion and myself to work with a fearless dog. I’m looking forward to this new challenge!

Meet Eden! Our new dog (!!)

Yeah. Best Christmas ever: We totally got a puppy. (!!)

A week before Christmas, I got an e-mail from the rescue VP that made my heart skip a beat. She said she had the perfect puppy for us.

We had a crazy fall and early winter, and so we took a fostering hiatus. But I also wanted us to start thinking seriously about a second dog for our household, and I was really picky about this future dog’s personality. Cassie (the rescue VP) knew that I was looking for a “bombproof” young dog to balance out Pyrrha’s fear issues (see this great post by Nicole Wilde). She said that she’d only met one other puppy who was as solid as this one was, and she kept him for herself. This puppy had been surrendered by her family, who had young children and felt that they could not give her the attention she needed.

So, on a very rainy Sunday, I went to meet Cassie and pick up Eden!

Settling in nicely. #fosterpuppy #gsd
Eden!

We met at Petco, and I was instantly impressed by Eden’s confidence, friendliness, and utter lack of fear. From Pyrrha and our GSD experience so far, I’ve come to expect shyness from every German shepherd I see, and here was a little girl who didn’t have an ounce of it. She greeted everyone who walked in the door with wags and kisses.

Eden (fka Eva) was evaluated for police work when she was brought in, but failed the police test for not having high enough drive and being too friendly. Which is totally fine with me! But the evaluator did say that she thought Eden could be perfect for therapy work, owing to her strong orientation to people. I really thrilled to hear that; I’ve always dreamed of having a dog who could do therapy service, and Pyrrha certainly isn’t suited for it.

Sweet little Edie
Eden in the kitchen.

We still have two weeks to make everything official (the rescue’s policy of having a trial period) but… all signs point to this girl being THE ONE. Guion is always more level-headed than I am with puppies, and so I think it’s good that we have this period of being able to decide about her, but I think he’s also smitten with her.

Interactions with Pyrrha

Wrestling

Eden plays with Pyrrha very nicely, and Pyrrha treats her with a mix of joviality and crankiness (which is always her way with puppies; Pyrrha, despite only being 2, has some aspects of old lady grumpiness with the whippersnappers).

Girls

Rainy walk with the new foster puppy! #probablykeepingher #gsd #puppylove

They love romping together in the yard (and sometimes in the house), and I think Pyrrha will really warm to her. Edie is also good about respecting Pyrrha’s space (and Pyrrha is good about letting her know when she’s crossed the line). As with all of the other fosters we’ve had, I have to be conscientious about helping Pyrrha with her jealousy issues regarding me and other dogs, but she’s been good about keeping them in check. Her main tendency is to be the taskmaster/bullying older sibling with young’uns, which is a behavior I myself exhibited as a child, so I’m familiar with the signs. But Eden is very happy and forgiving of Pyrrha’s occasional grumpiness, and she thinks Pyrrha is a delight.

We took them on a 2-mile walk around town on Wednesday, and they were great together. Eden’s happiness and friendliness to everyone seemed to let Pyrrha loosen up. We’re still working patiently on Pyrrha’s leash reactivity issues toward other dogs, and Eden has already shown strong signs of being a great young role model for Pyr.

Settling in nicely
A respectful puppy.

Eden’s Background

From my research and from the existence of Eden’s pink papers, I’ve been able to determine that she came from a Maryland breeder and schutzhund competitor. Eden’s parents were both imported from Germany, and both are titled in schutzhund (her father holding a Sch3 title). Their hips and elbows both passed as “normal” by the German breeding standards, which was good to know. She does have more angulation than Pyrrha, which I hate, but she moves and runs solidly.

Studying Eden's movement

Getting a purebred rescue is always a gamble, so we’re lucky to know this much about Eden. (And can you believe that a puppy of this caliber was turned into a rescue?? It happens!) German shepherds are famous for their health issues, and this is a risk we knew about when we started looking at GSD rescues. We know nothing about Pyrrha’s parents, except that they were from the (weaker, unhealthier) American show/companion lines and not bred well (an unscrupulous backyard breeder who wanted to euthanize all of his dogs because he was tired of them). Despite this, Pyrrha is healthy, and we are blessed. We know more about Eden, but we also have high hopes for her healthy future as well.

Her Personality

Sweet little Edie

She is an absolute doll.

And she’s a funny, playful, floppy bundle of energy! Whew! She wants to play ALL DAY long. I’m really grateful for Pyrrha, who can wear her out in the backyard with games of tag and wrestling matches, because I can’t keep up!

Eden is both food AND toy motivated, which is fun to see, and she’s a very quick learner. This little brown-noser has learned to sit sweetly whenever she wants anything, because it’s clearly a strategy that’s been working well for her. She LOVES toys, and especially toys that she can fetch. She has a retrieving drive like a labrador! But she makes fetching fun for us humans too, because she’s already learned to drop the ball at your feet and wait in a sit or down position for you to throw it. I’m impressed.

We were tempted to keep Trina, our last foster, as you may recall, but I can already tell that Eden has confidence and soundness in ways that exceed little Trina. Trina was awesome, and she’s so happy in her new home, but seeing Eden is also a reminder that Trina wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.

SO. Still anxious to make it official, but I think she’s IT! I can’t believe we found her. We’re SO grateful to Cassie and to Southeast German Shepherd Rescue; what awesome, thoughtful, hard-working people. We’re so thrilled!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

SIDE NOTE: DOGS PICKING UP UNWANTED BEHAVIORS?

With regard to Pyrrha’s progress, now is a good time to add another dog to the house. If we had tried to bring in a permanent new dog even six or eight months ago, I’m not sure that Pyrrha would have been ready for it. Pyrrha has gained enough confidence and made enough progress in her other fear areas (Guion, strangers, other dogs) that I think we’re at a point at which Eden can be a good influence on Pyrrha, instead of Pyrrha being a bad influence on Eden.

The main thing I don’t want Eden to pick up is Pyrrha’s leash reactivity toward other dogs. For those of you with multi-dog households that include a reactive dog, has this ever been a problem for you? (The reactive dog making the non-reactive dogs reactive.) If so, what have you done to mitigate such copying behavior?

Foster update: Trina! (Now Kira)

We recently got an update from Kira (formerly Trina) and her family! They say she is doing very well and loving her life with them. The family sent this photo of her in her new dog bed:

Kira (fka Trina) in her new dog bed. It looks like she's wearing a Thundershirt here, and I'm not sure why; they didn't mention it.
Kira (fka Trina) in her new dog bed. It looks like she’s wearing a Thundershirt here, and I’m not sure why; they didn’t mention it.

I can’t believe how big she is now! She almost looks like a full-grown lady.

I love hearing from adopters of our fosters — particularly when it’s about a foster that we were tempted to keep ourselves. But I think we really made the right choice for Kira. I had five different adopters that I had to choose from, and I feel confident that she’s with just the right family. They are young and active; they work with her on training; and they have her practicing agility already. (I got a phone video of her practicing with her agility tunnel in their backyard! So cute. She clearly loves it.)

She’s such a whip-smart puppy — maybe one of the smartest dogs I’ve met — and we’re so happy that she’s in the right place. Warm, fuzzy feelings.

And now back to moving/packing madness!

Do you ever hear from the adopters of your fosters? Does it make your day like it does mine?

Meet Brynn (Trina)! Our tempting new foster puppy

You guys. We are in trouble. I think I really, really want to keep this puppy.

Now that is some well-practiced cuteness. #fosterpuppy #gsd
Brynnie!

Here’s the story: Friday night, this little lady got dropped off with me; I was volunteering with the rescue on our pedestrian mall, where we had a table and were passing out information about the rescue, raising money, etc. Brynn (who is called “Trina” by the rescue, officially) showed up in the back of an SUV with a bunch of kids, just wagging her tail and looking around. I thought that being on the mall would be way too stressful for her, but she hung out there for three hours and was a total rockstar.

We put that cute vest on her and, naturally, drew tons of attention to the booth!

Oh, man. This little lady is a huge temptation. #fosterpuppy #gsd
Wearing her donation vest.

She met tons of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes; children, whom she happily kissed and showed no anxiety about; and other dogs, spending most of her time playing with Titan, the rescue VP’s bombproof sable male.

We wore her out at the event, and then brought her home to meet Pyrrha.

Hard day of play for little baby. #puppy #guionsaysineedtowaitaweekbeforewedecidetokeepher

The introduction went perfectly, and the two of them have been playing beautifully ever since.

Brynn ADORES Pyrrha and wants to be with her every second. Pyrrha tolerates this puppy love with admirable patience, but she also seems to genuinely enjoy playing with her in the backyard.

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

First morning with Brynn (Trina)
On the tail! Killing me with cuteness.

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

As you can see, they also love wrestling together.

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

Based on her size (38 lbs.) and the vet report, we think she’s about 4.5 to 5 months old.

She was dropped off at a shelter in Gastonia, NC, by her owner, citing conflict with his/her insurance policy. And that’s all we know about her. Based on her outgoing personality and general looks, she seems to have been well cared for. Her lack of shyness also makes me think she was somewhat well socialized (although it could also just be that she has a great personality, which she does).

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

Brynn walks beautifully on the leash, and we’ve been taking her out on strolls every night since we got her. Her only (SLIGHT) fear seems to be moving cars (she just trots away from them), but we’ve been practicing some behavior modification to help her with that. (And, frankly, I’m kind of OK if she doesn’t want to get near moving cars!)

She looks very sound to me, and her vet check-ups didn’t show any cause for concern. As with all rescue German shepherds, you’re pretty much not going to get a well-bred animal, but she looks really great, all things considered. I particularly like that she does not have a sloped topline or those exaggerated hocks, and her face is also very nicely proportioned.

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

Why do I care about all of this for the foster puppy? Well, because I want to keep her. As you may recall, our motivation for fostering was to find a great puppy to add to our family. Our qualifications were a happy, outgoing, bright puppy with no shyness (to balance out Pyrrha’s more extreme anxieties). We were also looking for a mixed-breed male, which, clearly, Brynn is not. So.

First morning with Brynn (Trina)
(She looks like she has a lump under her chest, but that’s just hair from where she was shaved for her spay.)

Here are my internal pros and cons for keeping Brynnie.

PROS

She’s:

  • Outgoing and confident
  • Healthy
  • Gets along wonderfully with Pyrrha
  • Super with children (was briefly fostered with them before us)
  • Great with other dogs
  • Intelligent
  • Active
  • People-oriented
  • Very responsive
  • BEAUTIFUL

CONS

She’s:

  • Purebred
  • Of essentially unknown origin
  • Land-shark-y (but aren’t all GSD puppies at this age??)
  • Not “bombproof” necessarily (e.g., was a bit wary of a toddler on our walk last night but was fine with tons of little kids coming up to her on the pedestrian mall)

First morning with Brynn (Trina)

(As you can see, my “cons” side is weak!)

Guion (husband) wants to spend more time making this decision (because he is rational and not as swayed by puppy breath as I am), so we’re going to give it another week before we make the final call.

But what do you think? Should we keep her?? Or should we keep waiting?

Hike in Pen Park, in which I almost have a heart attack

Afternoon at Pen Park
Pen Park trails.

I was cooped up all weekend finishing calligraphy projects, so I was desperate to get outside. I could tell Pyrrha was antsy, too. On Saturday, the three of us took a little excursion to the huge, beautiful park in town, Pen Park, which runs along the river and has miles of wooded trails.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Come back and play!

The only dog we saw all afternoon was a sweet little German shepherd puppy. Interestingly enough, she was even more shy about Pyrrha than Pyrrha was about her. Pyrrha went right up to her for a sniff, and the puppy hid behind her human’s legs. We moved away, but as you can see from the photo above, Pyrrha wasn’t quite ready to leave that interaction. I’ll consider that minor progress in the dog-fear department, at least on Pyr’s end. (*Side note: It did make me think, however, about how many poorly bred German shepherds there are and how many are prone to fear, just like our backyard-bred girl. I have met so many fearful shepherds, more than almost any other breed. It’s also interesting to think about the relationship between fear and the perceived inherent aggression of shepherds. Just some tangential wondering.)

Afternoon at Pen Park
Hurry up, humans.

Half an hour later, a trio of white-tailed deer came crashing through the trail in front of us. This was VERY exciting to Pyrrha, although I don’t think she could decide whether to be afraid or to start the chase. She did “track” them for a good while afterward, following their path very closely, nose to the ground for a long ways.

Aside from the deer, the trail was very empty for a Saturday. So, I decided to make a big mistake.

“You want to try her off-leash?” I asked Guion. “She did so well with me a few weeks ago. I think she’d be great.” He agreed and off the leash came.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Off leash!
Afternoon at Pen Park
This was a good idea for about 30 seconds.

Yeah. That was a good idea for about 30 seconds. Turns out I vastly overestimated little Pyrrha’s recall abilities. About a minute after that photo was taken above, she took off after the scent of something in the woods.

At first, I thought, “Ah, she’ll loop back around to us once she sees that we’re moving.” So, we walked a little ways, and I could still see her crashing through the woods. But she didn’t loop back.

My heart started pounding. I started yelling her name. Nothing. I could still see her, but she was running in wide circles through the woods, getting deeper and deeper in. Then I really started to panic. Guion and I both broke into the brush, getting our faces full of spider webs, crying out her name. She was still in sight of us, and would look at us occasionally, and then start looping around us, just having a great time.

At one moment, she broke away even further and I couldn’t see her anymore. Shit, shit, shit, shit, we just lost our dog. Oh, my gosh, we just lost our dog. This was the mantra running through my brain.

Thankfully, Guion was faster than I was and when she came around for another loop, he was right there in front of her. And she ran right up to him, her eyes wide, and panting. This was unusual in itself, because she doesn’t normally come to Guion. We both thought she looked a little frightened herself, as if she wasn’t sure how to get back to us or what to do in the thick woods.

Back on the leash she went. I nearly cried from relief. I felt really guilty the rest of the afternoon, for being so foolishly overconfident. But I guess that’s what having your first dog is for, right? Making lots of mistakes and then learning from them.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Back on the leash.

I’m just really, really thankful that this mistake had a happy ending. We went home, all very tired, and drank lots of water. Now, we’ll be working on actually teaching her recall, instead of assuming that she just gets it. No more off-leash time for you, Pyr. Not for a while anyway.

Make me feel a little better. Have you ever made a mistake like this, thinking your dog could do something that he or she really couldn’t? Hope it has a happy ending, too!