HOW TO REAR A HAPPY PUPPY
Once you have purchased a puppy from a reputable source the real work starts. Puppies often look adorable at 8 weeks and many people make the mistake of treating them like babies or little fluffy toys. However they are dogs and within 6 months they are virtually full grown so there is a lot of growing, developing and training to be fitted into a short time.
Dogs are pack animals and as such they leadership, hopefully they find this in their owner. If you let the puppy get the upper hand at an early age you will have problems for life. For the purpose of this article we will assume that the puppy is going into a family environment, possibly with other pets present.
PREPARATIONS. Before you collect the puppy there is preparation work to be done. Ensure that your garden is puppy proof, fences and gates need to be secure. Remove any poisonous plants and pieces of rubbish that could damage a puppy. Inside the house decide where your puppy will have his own space. This could be the corner of the kitchen or utility room. Many people make up a pen with a comfortable bed or you could purchase a cage. This is the place where the puppy can sleep, eat and get out of the hurly burly of the household. Also remember that your bed, sofa and chairs are your territory and no go areas for puppies.
FEEDING. A good breeder will provide a diet sheet and probably some food to start the puppy off. A puppy will need 4 meals a day at 8 weeks and 3 meals a day at 12 weeks. By 6 months their food can be fed twice a day. Stick to the meal times as well as possible, puppies like a routine. Allow about 10 minutes for the puppy to eat his fill and then remove the bowl. Puppies eat to appetite so a good rule of thumb is that there should be about a mouthful left in the dish at the end of the meal. Puppies coming away from a litter may be indifferent to food at first, try mixing some little tasty bits of chicken in with the normal food to stimulate appetite. Get your puppy used to you going near his food bowl by dropping nice pieces into the dish occasionally. Never feed the puppy from the table and don’t allow children to share snacks with the puppy.
Puppies grow very rapidly, by the time they are 6 months old most breeds will have almost reached their adult height. The amount of food they need will increase dramatically as they grow, so feeding to appetite is by far the best method unless you have an exceptionally greedy pup. Good brands of dog food have a feeding guide on the back of the pack. You will need to know the weight of an adult dog or bitch of your pup's breed before you can work out what he needs. So for example a cocker spaniel will weigh around about 12 to 15 kilos as an adult so use the table to find out how many grams of food your puppy needs per day at the different ages. When you decrease the number of meals don't decrease the total amount of food.
Once the pup has finished growing keep an eye on his weight. This is difficult in a fluffy breed so run your hands along his back and rib cage to make sure his backbone and ribs are not prominent (dog too thin) or covered in rolls of fat (too fat) and adjust his food accordingly. Neutering will tend to make a dog or bitch put on weight.
BEING CLEAN. Toilet training is a first priority but don’t expect it to be a quick process. Young puppies have very little control and great patience is required. Take the puppy outside to a designated spot on waking, after meals and frequently during the puppy’s active times. You can use a special word or phrase like ‘hurry up’. Watch carefully and really praise the required result. If the puppy has an accident in the house, don’t scold him (he won’t have a memory of what he has done), take him outside as soon as possible and be quicker next time. It will be a long time before the puppy is clean at night, so you can use newspaper as an allowed spot.
LEAVING. From the outset get your puppy used to being left in his space for short periods of time. There is nothing worse than having a dog which cannot be left at home for a few hours. Puppies need lots of sleep so it should be possible to leave the pup while you are working upstairs, doing the school run or shopping.
HANDLING. A puppy should get used to being handled. This does not mean being picked up all the time. Never allow children to pick the puppy up – remember in 4 months time he will be nearly fully grown. It is better to sit the child on the floor and allow the puppy to approach in his own time. Once a day stand the puppy on a table or floor (depending on the size of the puppy) and spend 5 minutes gently brushing and combing, looking at his teeth, ears and feet. Make sure that you decide when this should finish and give lots of praise. This will mean trips to the vet will be a pleasure in future years.
EARLY SOCIALISATION. Puppies cannot mix with other dogs until they have completed their course of vaccinations but you can familiarise them with common household noises, friends coming to the house and short trips in the car. Dogs are best kept in a crate or behind a dog guard in the car, but never leave a dog in a hot car. Once the puppy is fully immunised it can have very short walks on the lead and can start training classes. If the puppy shows any nervousness don’t pick him up and make a fuss of him, let him cope on his own and praise afterwards.
PLAYTIME. Toys should be purchased with care. Many dogs love to fetch things so get the puppy used to bringing you his toys to throw for him (you can encourage this by having the puppy on a lead or by trading a very tasty titbit for his favourite toy). Never have tug of war games with puppies this can make them possessive and develop a 'hard' mouth.
When you are playing with a puppy always give lots of praise or titbits when he comes to you. When you start having longer walks with the puppy, flexi leads allow freedom at a safe distance and you are able to get the puppy back to you very quickly if you need to.
If you watch litter mates playing together you will see them play fighting and biting. They might well try this with you, try to discourage them from biting you by playing with a toy and not flapping your hand around in front of a puppy. If the puppy inadvertently gets your hand make a noise and finish the game so the puppy knows this is not acceptable to you. If games ever get out of hand calm things down and put the puppy back in his space.
THE LAST WORD. Get your puppy used to the ‘no’ word – he won’t know the difference between his rope toy and your expensive curtains to start with. When he stops doing the wrong thing give lots of praise. Rewarding good behaviour is much more effective than punishing the wrong behaviour.
Following these simple guidelines should ensure that you have a happy, well adjusted dog for life.