A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

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How to Not Screw Up Your New Puppy

People never adopt puppies with the intention of turning them into screwed-up dogs. But it happens all the time.

Imagine this scenario:

A family visits an animal shelter and takes home an eight week old puppy. They’ve got this perfect little baby dog, a totally innocent little creature. No bad habits yet. This little pup just wants to learn and explore the world. Properly raised, this puppy could turn into an amazing dog.

Fast forward six months. The family brings the pup back to the shelter and says, “This dog is out of control. We can’t handle her anymore. You’ve got to take her.”

Now the puppy is a Shelter Dog. She’s damaged goods. She is going to have a very hard time finding a home, because very few people want to adopt an out of control teenage dog. This puppy will probably die in the shelter.

This is not a rare occurrence. It happens all the time and it really sucks.

The people who adopt and “break” these puppies are not evil villains. They’re just normal people excited about sharing their lives with a new bundle of furry joy. They end up making some very common mistakes – mistakes that you can avoid, with a little work.

So how do you keep your perfect puppy from turning into a shelter dog?

Socialize, socialize, socialize. Did I mention socialize?

Proper socialization is even more important than proper training. A well-socialized, poorly trained dog is going to have a much better life than a poorly socialized, well-trained one.

Socialization is the process by which you introduce your puppy to the world, and teach her how to handle tough, scary, or strange situations. Socialization teaches your puppy how to appropriately interact with people and dogs. It turns her into a confident, friendly, happy dog. If your puppy is between the ages of two months and five months, this is a great opportunity. This age is known as the “critical socialization window.” The things she experiences during this impressionable time are going to affect her personality and behavior for the rest of her life.

  • Socialize, don’t traumatize – a bad experience with a new situation is worse than no experience at all. Introduce new things slowly and never let Marley get overwhelmed.
  • Let your puppy meet at least two new friendly people every day – People of all ages, genders and personalities. Quiet people and loud people. People wearing funny hats. People with facial hair. The more variety the better. Have these people feed Marley treats or throw a ball for her.
  • Introduce Marley to all kinds of novel situations – Remote control cars. Cats. Water fountains. Balloons. Agility equipment. Car rides. Shopping cart rides at the pet store.
  • Introduce her to well-behaved adult dogs and other puppies – Take her to visit your friend with the mellow old lab. Arrange play dates with other puppy owners. Enroll in a puppy class. You need to be able to control the situation, so avoid the dog park until she’s older.

Don’t take obnoxious puppy behavior personally

Many frazzled new puppy owners talk about their puppies as if they were the worst behaved dog in the world. Upon closer investigation, you realize that these terrible puppies are just being… puppies. See, puppies bite (and it really hurts! Those needle sharp teeth are nothing to mess around with). Puppies chew (on everything). Puppies whine all night long and keep you awake. Puppies pee and poop everywhere until potty trained.

So before you get angry or upset, realize that you are just experiencing a bit of culture shock. Remember to breathe. Work on teaching better bite inhibition. Manage Marley better to keep her from getting into trouble when no one can supervise.

Don’t expect too much too soon

Your puppy is just a baby after all. This can be hard to remember when she’s ten months old and looks full grown. But even at that age, she’s got a short attention span. She’s easily distracted and excited by the world that is so new and fascinating to her. Give her a break.

Keep training sessions short. Take baby steps, training with low-level distractions and gradually working up to big distractions, like the park (asking a puppy to obey obedience commands at a busy park is like asking a sugar-loaded child to do multiplication problems in Disneyland).

If you’re a new puppy parent (or are planning to be one), you’re at the start of an adventure that will be more challenging, more humbling, and more rewarding than you know. Yes, it may sometimes make you want to pull your hair out. It may sometimes make you wonder what the hell you were thinking. And yeah, it requires a LOT of work to turn your perfect puppy into the perfect adult dog. But this stage doesn’t last very long, and when it’s over you’ll miss it. So have fun, and take lots of pictures.