A 9-week-old English shepherd puppy, Hero, recently joined my family. The adorable dark brown-and-white little guy with freckles on his nose immediately stole my heart. At the same time, my brain kicked into “puppy-raising” gear. Having raised a number of puppies over the years, I’ve learned some skills that make the process easier. Here are eight tips that have helped me be successful.
1. Buy lots of inexpensive towels. When I knew Hero was going to be joining my family, I immediately ran to the nearest store for a stack of cheap towels. I don’t think most puppy-raising sources express how important towels are for raising a puppy, but I think they are invaluable. Towels can serve as bedding for your puppy (as long as he doesn’t try to eat them), for cleaning up spills or other accidents and for bathing and drying the puppy. I always have a clean stack ready for use. You can find them new at discount or big-box stores, or even purchase them used at stores such as Goodwill. Just wash them well before using them.
2. Choose toys carefully. Everything goes into a puppy’s mouth, so it’s important to have appropriate toys ready for him to sniff, taste, chew and sometimes destroy. If a toy has hard eyes, a button nose or other parts a puppy could chew off and swallow, remove them. Make sure the toy itself can’t be swallowed.
3. Provide a variety of toys. I like to give some chew toys to gnaw on, toys that can be shaken and tossed, balls of various kinds and toys with different smells and textures. Every puppy tends to develop his own likes and dislikes, but a variety in puppyhood can be great fun.
4. Your puppy is a baby. Puppies grow and develop so quickly it’s hard to remember that they are babies. I consider a puppy younger than four months a baby, although that’s an arbitrary line; many puppies develop faster or slower than others.
5. Baby puppies need extra meals. Hungry puppies get antsy, fussy and grumpy, and they will cry and whine. Toy and small-breed puppies need four to six feedings a day for the first few months, while larger puppies should eat at least three times a day. When you take your puppy in for his first veterinary exam, you can ask the vet for a specific recommendation for your pup.
6. Puppies know no fear. As with most babies, young puppies don’t consider their own safety and will do things that cause themselves harm. They need to be protected from jumping, climbing or getting stuck. Baby gates, exercise pens and crates can help you keep your puppy safe when you can’t supervise him.
7. Puppies need help with temperature regulation. I quickly discovered that Hero’s fluffy puppy coat kept him warm. It was difficult for him to get comfortable in a crate as he quickly became too hot. I wrapped a frozen water bottle in a towel (another use for those towels!) and he would cuddle up to it, immediately becoming more comfortable. Make sure your puppy can also move away from the water bottle so he doesn’t get chilled.
8. Teach independence. It’s important for puppies to learn to spend some time alone. Although it’s our nature to cuddle a puppy -- and we should -- puppies also need to learn to be OK when left alone. I started by putting Hero in his crate with a toy for 15 minutes, then half an hour, then while I ran errands. This is an important life skill for dogs, so start it when they’re young.
Guest columnist Liz Palika is an award-winning writer and certified dog trainer. For more information, go to kindredspiritsk9.com.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.