Raising a puppy is some exhausting business, let me tell you. Haruka has officially been part of the family now for about a month, and I am tired, constantly smell like puppy kibble, and am covered in itty bitty puppy bites. It is as demanding as it is rewarding, but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a wake-up call for me. I’ve helped raise puppies before, and so I thought I knew what to expect. However, while this may not be my first puppy rodeo, I don’t think I ever realized exactly how challenging it is when you’re doing it relatively on your own. All my puppy experiences before this have been in a household of 4 people (so lots of help and the ability to switch off duties) and all but one in a house with another grown dog (which helps more than you’d think with behavioral stuff).
So doing it in a household of two, with no other dog? Whole other ballgame. Because really, since Jim works normal-person hours, I’m mostly on my own with puppers all day – and as it turns out, there’s just simply a lot of stuff that I didn’t realize. Stuff that with Rusalka, and Hilde, and Linde, my mom just sort of made *happen* over the course of that first month without us really realizing or recognizing.
And so, first and foremost – a huge shoutout to my Mom for being amazing like that. But secondly, today I’ve compiled a little list of things that have been immensely helpful to me over the last four weeks of this new experience in the hopes that someone else might find them beneficial.
Have a variety of toys on hand with varied textures and hardness.
A lot of the problematic puppy chewing comes not from them just being brats (although that does account for some of it), but from teething. They will target things they’re not supposed to, and they will keep coming back to some of the same things again and again – much to your frustration – because that’s what feels good on their little sore puppy gums. So having a variety of textures in your toy collection can really help redirect their behavior.
When you catch them going after something they’re not supposed to, immediately redirect them to one of their toys – and trying to match texture as closely as possible really helps. Haruka has a fondness for chewing on the flaps of our couch, and so when I catch her going after that I redirect her to the canvas tailflaps of her Kong Wubba, since the texture is very similar. Chewing on a blanket? Replace it with her soft terry whale toy. Chewing on her cage? Redirect to her hard rubber teething rings. We even have an alternative for clothing, as my mom gave us one of her old tees that her dogs used to carry around as a security blanket so that we could introduce Haruka to their smells. So when she starts chewing on our clothing on our bodies, she gets immediately redirected to grandma’s teeshirt.
Now sometimes, it’s not teething related. Sometimes the chewing is really just them being a brat and wanting attention. So when redirecting fails – because it will sometimes…
Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray is a GODSEND.
Grannick’s Bitter Apple Original Spray is my number-one go-to when the chewing is just brattitude as opposed to teething, and it doubles as a great deterrent for things that are downright dangerous for her to go after (like electrical cords – obviously it’s liquid so use carefully and don’t spray on or near the outlet). It’s a harmless spray that dogs just REALLY don’t like the taste of. Spray a little on your finger and stick it in their mouth so they associate the taste with the bottle, and then with them watching, spray the item you need them to stay away from. Works like a charm with most dogs, and it’s been a staple in our puppy toolbelt for every dog we’ve ever had my whole life. I’ve even sprayed it all over my feet when the going got desperate, and have used it on all sorts of surfaces (wood, fabric, carpet) without any problem. (Note: it does work better when wet, so you’ll probably have to respray some things a few times as they forget.)
If you’ve got carpet, invest in an empty spray bottle, a gallon of white vinegar, some Dawn dishsoap, (I use the orange kind bc I prefer the smell) and a stiff bristle cleaning brush.
It’s a great alternative to commercial pet stain cleaners – and a lot less of a big deal if you’re unable to keep your squirmy puppy away from the site of their accident until it’s all the way dried and vacuumed. The vinegar kills the pee smell so that they won’t soil in the same place again, and the brush makes sure the carpet gets cleaned down to the root.
The process: I mix mine about 75% vinegar, 25% water, and then a few squirts of dish soap. When puppy pees, I go in with paper towels (or these Shout pads if I have any on hand – they work super well for puppy accidents but are probably a little small for a full-grown dog) to soak up the urine. Then I saturate the area well with the vinegar mix, and do a bit of scrubbing. I then let it sit for a couple minutes if I can, and then go back with paper towels to get up as much of the cleaning liquid as possible (stepping on the paper towels until they’re no longer coming up wet helps). I then go in with another brush to get the nap of the carpet back up, and follow up with a quick vacuum if I get the chance.
This said, we also own a carpet shampooer for well, non-urine related accidents. Haruka had some GI reactions to her dewormer – and I just got really sick of scrubbing puppy diarrhea out of the carpet. Additionally, while the vinegar and antibacterial dish soap is probably fine in terms of disinfecting and cleaning for solid messes (since they don’t soak into the carpet), I just always feel the need for something a little more heavy duty with poop. Particularly liquidy poop. The shampooer is just soooo much easier for those big messes that we just decided we’d rather spend the money – we got ours off Amazon for about $80.
Make sure you’re touching the puppy’s ears, paws, nails, teeth and belly routinely to get them used to it early.
Mush their little floppy ears, play with their paw pads when they’re rolling around for belly rubs, touch each of their little nails – including the dewclaws if they have them. Check their teeth, and if you’ve got a baby toothbrush, practice giving them a little brusha-brush. Sing to them while you do it – make it a little relaxing game. These are areas that tend to be sensitive on dogs as they get older, and so getting them used to it early will will make your life so much easier down the road when you need to trim their nails, or clean out their ears, or dig mud out of their paws.
If puppy (or you) are especially fond of a specific plush or fabric toy – stock up on them, and inspect them regularly for loose strings and tears.
Particularly in the early puppy stages, they’re still learning how to be gentle with the people and things that they love. In the same way sometimes their play mouthiness becomes flat-out biting with you, they’ll be a little rougher than they should with their favorite toys. So if they’ve got a favorite plush toy, or a favorite fabric toy – it’s safe to assume it’s days are probably numbered. Some brands hold up better than others to puppy play, but even the heavy-duty Kong stuffies have a limited lifespan in the mouth of (for example) a lab puppy. So make sure you’re never letting puppy play with them unsupervised, and that you’re inspecting them routinely for rips and tears (or even just loose strings or shredding tags). And ever since that one time our old dog Rusalka lost out on her favorite sheep because they stopped making it (she was sad for literally weeks before we found something she deemed comparable), I like to buy an extra two or three back-ups for any stuffies I get that Haruka takes to.
Its never too early to start learning commands, particularly if you’ve got a breed that’s going to be big.
In my experience (4 dogs in total so far as an adult – 3 in conjunction with my Mom and now Haruka), the earlier you start teaching basic commands, the better their behavior settles in the long run. Even if you bring them home precisely at 8 weeks, you can still start with very simple ones like sit, come, and leave it. They won’t get the hang of them right away, but the time you spend working with them on it gradually serves three very important purposes. First, it’s intellectually stimulating to them and helps them focus in and settle down if they’re getting restless or a little too wild. Secondly, it provides really important bonding time for you and your puppy, and establishes that bond for the rest of their lives. And thirdly, if you’ve got a breed that’s going to be big – the necessity of training is all the more important, since you can’t just pick them up and remove them from the situation if they’re being bad. The earlier you start, the more solid their foundation is.
Additionally, if there are multiple people in your household, make sure everyone is running these training drills with puppy regularly – not just the primary care-taker. Otherwise, you might end up with an issue where your dog will only listen to one person, which is no good once push comes to shove.
Routine is EVERYTHING
As someone who has never really been good at routines, this has honestly been the hardest adjustment for me. With our family dogs, when they were puppies we always had the stalwart support of my Dad, who is ALL ABOUT routines (or was before he retired, anyway). Jim and I – well, we’ve never really been good at that. We’re not morning people, we never really go to bed at the same time, nor do we have set mealtimes thanks to the bizarreness of my own work schedule. But puppies? Puppies need routine. They need that consistency. Up and out at the same time every day, consistent mealtimes, a set bedtime… it’s all so important in terms of teaching them to feel secure, and helping with their behavior settling down. And so if you’re like me, it’ll take a LOT of effort and adjustment – but it really makes all the difference in the world. And as they get older, the routine will become less important and my fellow routine haters can start to function a bit more like they normally would – but for those initial puppy months, it’s pretty much best to suffer though it.
That said… only when it’s not at the cost of your own sanity. Which brings me to my next and last point…
Take deep breaths, and be sure to give yourself a break every once and a while.
You think you’re an exceptionally patient person? Think you’ll have plenty enough patience to weather puppy’s first month home without breaking a sweat?
You’re almost certainly wrong. You will need approximately 80 more buckets of patience than you think you do in those first few weeks of puppy ownership (and yes, we apparently measure patience in buckets now). And even more if you’ve got a large retriever breed like a lab, as they tend to be EXTRA mouthy. You know, since they’ve been bred specifically to love putting things in their mouths.
Puppies are frustrating, and puppies are constant work for those first few months. After all, they’re basically just little furry, bratty toddlers – but with razors for teeth, mobility that is faster and more agile than yours, and absolutely no grasp of human language or emotion. Human toddlers at least usually have a general grasp of your emotions and “no” by the time they’re mobile. Puppies don’t. You need to teach them everything, from understanding the meaning of “no” to where it’s appropriate to go potty – and all while they’re moving at lightning speed and chewing on everything and anything they can get to.
It will not be easy.
It will be infuriating, it will be messy, and you will occasionally just want to sit down, let the puppy keep chewing on that stupid table, and just have a good cry. You will ask yourself multiple times if you’ve made a mistake in bringing puppy home. You will feel like a terrible dogmom/dad because you feel like you don’t love them like you should in that moment. You will ask yourself why in God’s name you did this to yourself.
And it’s okay. It’s completely normal. Just remember to take a deep breath, and be honest with yourself about when you’re at your wits end. It’s okay to do some crate training even though you don’t usually do that at this time of day. It’s okay to ask for some help from a friend or family member so you can get the bathroom cleaned. It’s all okay. Just remember to breathe, and to savor the moments when they’re being sweet and calm all the more. Because those are the moments that make it worth it.
Did you find any of these tips helpful? Do you have any puppy tips of your own? Please share in the comments!
(I am not affiliated with Grannick’s, Shout, or Chewy.com – just a happy customer)