As with baby humans, baby dogs need some special handling and training, and this includes situations that you may not even realize as being training. For example, when you take a young child to play with other children you are actually teaching that child socialization or interpersonal skills, even though you may not think of this as a lesson being taught. Puppies are much the same – there are things they need to be taught or trained even if you don’t necessarily realize that this is a training session.
Let’s take a look at some important factors when it comes to a puppy’s care and training.
Much of a dog’s temperament is going to be inborn, but much of it can be formed by how well a puppy is taught to socialize with other dogs and how soon it starts learning this lesson.
As soon as the vet tells you that it’s appropriate, you need to begin introducing your puppy to the outside world and other dogs and people as well.
This actually begins with you. It’s good to interact regularly with your puppy as much as it’s physically safe from the time they’re born. The first few days mean just standing nearby as the mother cares for the pups, but within the first week you should be stroking the dogs and calling them by their name. This makes them used to human interaction and touch right away. As they get bigger they can be introduced in a safe and controlled way to others, such as children, the mail carrier, and visitors. Puppies that are very young are still insecure and vulnerable so they need to be respected in who handles them and how, just as you would a newborn baby. They are not toys and while young children may find them irresistible, they need to be monitored carefully so they are not rough with them.
When they are strong enough to venture outdoors it may not be a good idea to just let them run free in the yard as they are again still vulnerable. In the wild the mother and other members of the pack keep a careful eye on young pups, but with domesticated dogs you and your family now need to take the place of that pack.
TIP FROM THE EXPERTS: Stay very close to them when they go outside so they do not get hurt on shrubbery or by other animals. It may seem unlikely but puppies can actually be attacked and hurt by animals as small and seemingly harmless as squirrels, rabbits, and even cats. It’s also easy for them to wander off or into trouble spots, and since their bond with the family is not completely developed they may not know how to get back home.
With other people.
Animals need to learn to be comfortable with other humans but this introduction needs to be controlled as well.
Invite people over to see the puppy but don’t simply pass it around. While the puppy should be allowed to explore and sniff out these new visitors, it can be gently steered away from places it doesn’t belong such as purses, coats, and anyone that’s not comfortable around the animal.
Probably one of the biggest problems families have with puppies is their interaction with children. While it’s easy to blame the puppy as being aggressive or misbehaving, remember that animals don’t have reasoning ability. They act on instinct and react to certain treatment that is directed their way.
Puppies of course need to learn to “play nice” with children but most pet experts will tell you that many problems between puppies and children are caused by improper treatment of the pup at the hands of the child. Toddlers see puppies as toys and grab at them, pull their tails or ears, and so on. Younger children too don’t realize how frightening it is for puppies to be picked up roughly; imagine if someone twice your size just grabbed you by your middle and roughly yanked you around the room! This is not just frightening for the puppies but often downright painful.
And of course any dog’s only recourse for this type of treatment is to nip at what it perceives as being an attacker; in the wild animals nip at each other as warnings that something is unappreciated. Humans often misinterpret these nips as being attacks and chastise the dog rather than teach the children to treat the animals appropriately.
On the other hand, dogs do tend to try to assert their dominance over other animals including children. Dogs that are a bit older may try to dominate children by pushing them or even sitting on them! Threatening behavior by dogs should not be tolerated around children, and any that seem aggressive should be separated from them, especially when it comes to helpless infants.
Socializing a puppy with children is not very difficult if you start early and do it properly. Young puppies should be treated the same way you would have a child treat a newborn baby. This means no pinching, grabbing, dragging, pulling of the ears, tail or fur, or anything else that you would not allow with a new baby. If the child is big enough, he or she can sit still and have the puppy in his or her lap and pet it very gently, being sure to avoid the eyes or any part of the face. As the dogs get older and can handle more interaction, it’s still important for children to understand what is and is not proper treatment of the dog.
HANDLING THE DOG
Dogs typically socialize better with people and other animals if they are cared for and interacted with from an early age. Handling them physically, if done properly, can go a long way toward making your dog gentler, calmer, and more social with people and animals.
Brushing the puppy.
Having one’s coat brushed is very relaxing for dogs if it’s done firmly but gently. This can be a daily or weekly routine for the owner once the puppy is old enough and strong enough for this, and should be done with reassuring words so that the dogs enjoys this activity and is not defensive.
The type of brush you will use will depend on the length of hair for your particular breed. Long-hair breeds need longer bristles whereas short-hair breeds need shorter and softer bristles.
Avoid wire brushes as these can be very uncomfortable, unless your vet has given you specific instructions for this type of brush.
Handling their paws.
Dog’s paws get very sore from all the pressure they put on them constantly, so handling your puppy’s paws when they’re still growing up is not only soothing for them but will get them used to being handled as well.
Handling their face.
Older dogs often need their teeth brushed and to have their mouths checked regularly by the vet for good oral health. Typically dogs hate having their face touched for the same reason that most humans do – it’s perceived as a threat.
One good thing that a puppy owner can do is to get it used to having its face touched by doing this gently as the dog grows up. As you gently stroke the puppy you can move your hands very gently over the front of its mouth and run your thumbs over its teeth, being careful to avoid its eyes and nose.
NUTRITIONAL NEEDS OF PUPPIES
As with human infants, the nutritional needs and abilities of a puppy are different than that of an adult dog. Their bodies need more of certain nutrients in order to help them grow and develop while their delicate systems need to be respected also.
Most dogs remain “puppies” for the first year of life; for larger breeds it may be two years. During this time they need food especially designed for them at this stage. Their need for calcium and fatty acids is increased during this time as their bones and joints are developing. They also need far more protein than adult dogs as their muscles are also growing during this time.
What to avoid.
As much as you love your puppy and want to spoil or indulge it, feeding it table scraps is a very unhealthy habit. This adds a lot of unnecessary calories to her diet and can lead to her being overweight and even obese, which in turn leads to greater problems later in life.
A puppy can also learn to be a very finicky eater, turning up its nose at the healthy dog food you give it in favor of those calorie-packed treats. In addition to weight problems you will then probably also have nutritional deficiencies in your dog as well.
Treats are also something that should be given out sparingly, even when training. A dog should never get used to having these items on a daily basis, much like how humans should avoid having junk food every single day.
Changing foods is a difficult thing for a puppy to accept; when you do this, add some of the old food in with the new for about two weeks so she can gradually adjust.
TIP FROM THE EXPERTS: Feed your puppy three modest meals per day; your vet can give you an exact amount depending on the breed but puppies are like adult dogs in that they rarely overeat. The danger in giving them more food than this is that they may think you “want” them to eat more and so they’ll do it as a way of gaining your approval.