While I've fostered homeless pets transitioning to new families for more than 30 years, only in the last decade have I been raising puppies for other people. I'm good at it, my house is set up for it (no carpets, easy-clean surfaces), and most of all, I love it!
It isn't a "job," and no money changes hands. But I work from home with a flexible schedule, and that makes it easier to do the early training and house-training. I love having puppies around, and since I know what I'm doing, the friends I do this for now and then end up with a pretty nice youngster in a few months' time. There's still a lot of growing and training to do, but a good foundation has been laid.
What do I get out of it? Puppy breath, and lots of it.
I'll soon be starting with another 10-week-old puppy, so I'm getting the house puppy-proofed and dragging the crates and pens out of the shed to help with the house-training. After a couple of months, the retriever pup will go home with friends for good, and I'll let my own pets recover for a while before I start another puppy project.
While it's unusual for most puppies to be given a head start with an experienced puppy raiser, the practice has long been part of the lives of service dogs, such as those who assist wheelchair users or the vision-impaired. The advantages of a loving, consistent and structured upbringing are many.
While the chances are that you'll be raising your own puppy – most people do, after all – making the most of those first few months is the key to a great start.
Your puppy wants to be part of your family, and he craves loving leadership. So if you're starting with a puppy, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Bond with your puppy: Dogs are social animals. Don't throw your pup into the backyard, however nice the doghouse you've put there. Make your pup a member of your family.
Socialize your puppy: Be careful with this until all the puppy shots are done – stay out of parks or areas where other dogs frequent. You don't want your puppy getting sick. But after the veterinarian gives the go-ahead, pull out all the stops. Expose your pup to all the sights, sounds, smells, people and other animals that you can.
Never let your puppy do anything you wouldn't want a grown dog to do. Puppies jumping up are cute. Dogs doing the same are not. It's always easier to prevent a problem than to try to fix it later.
Teach your puppy using positive methods, and make training fun. The dog-training world has made great strides in developing positive training techniques. Find a book, a tape, a class – or all three – that will help you make the most of these exciting new ways to train. And don't overlook puppy classes – they're great for socialization.
Realize your puppy will make mistakes, and don't get angry when he does. Puppies are babies! Don't expect perfection and don't be heavy-handed. It's better to distract and redirect puppies than to punish them.
Love your puppy, play with your puppy, enjoy your puppy. But you should always, always be thinking of how you're molding this little baby into the confident, obedient dog of your dreams. Time passes all too quickly in the life a puppy.
The great life you want with your dog starts with the effort you put into a puppy. Keep your attitude positive, and enjoy every minute. I know I do.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.