What to expect when you're expecting ... a new puppy

What to expect when you're expecting ... a new puppy

First things first: I am not turning this into a regular pet column.

However, much has transpired since I wrote last month about the new four-legged addition to our family.

Holes have been dug. Valentines have been shredded. Shoes have been chewed.

So much chewing.

In the interest of helping others who may be considering a doggy adoption, I’ve enlisted the help of Blog Phototwo experts: dog trainer Linda Case of AutumnGold Consulting in Mahomet, and veterinarian and dog behaviorist Jessica Hekman, a University of Illinois doctoral student who also writes the “Dog zombie” blog. (Her tagline: Dogs! Brains! Science!)

My conversations with them immediately pointed out the flaws in our approach to dog ownership.

“One of the frustrations is that people will go get a dog without really recognizing how much you have to learn,” Hekman said. “There’s going to be a learning curve.”

Check, and check.

Case prefers to think of them not as “mistakes” but “a wake-up call.”

Owners tend to have unrealistic expectations for puppies, both in terms of the time it takes to train them and how much supervision is required, Case said. Top on the list are potty-training and chewing.

“Take the amount of time you expect it to be and triple it,” Case said.

And for the first few weeks, she said, “Forget getting anything done other than puppy stuff.”

Choosing a breed is another minefield. The breed you grew up with, or that you’ve always thought was cute, might not be right for your lifestyle. Think about it before you buy, Hekman said.

Goldendoodles (a poodle-golden retriever mix) and Labradoodles (poodle-Labrador retriever) are all the rage, but they’re herding breeds and very high-energy, Case said. If your family is active, that’s fine. If not, don’t get a dog that will require lots of mental and physical activity.

Consider behavior traits. Do you prefer lively or quiet? An affectionate lap dog, or one that’s not so needy? How much grooming are you willing to do?

In our case, we did do some homework, trying to find a breed that doesn’t shed much and is considered hypoallergenic.

Not so fast, Hekman said.

“Different people are allergic to different types of dogs. You need to introduce them and see if it triggers the person’s allergies,” she said.

We also wanted a small dog, because we didn’t have a fence and thought a big, energetic dog would be unhappy indoors.

“A lot of small dogs are high-energy,” Hekman said.

OK. But he’s also smart, which helps, right?

Smart dogs learn fast, but “if you don’t know what you’re doing, they can learn the wrong things very quickly,” Hekman said. “A smart dog is not often the right dog for someone’s first dog.”

There’s a difference between “smart” and “highly trainable.” Some dogs might be the former, but not the latter — perhaps the worst combination, because they figure out how to get around your rules. Or open doors. Or get in the garbage can. And they get bored quickly, which usually spells trouble.

Better, perhaps, for a first-time owner to get a big, loving retriever (if you can handle the size and energy level), who will essentially wake up in the morning trying to figure out how to please you, Hekman said.

“They really want to do what you want them to do,” she said. “For the first-time dog owners, that’s a nice thing to live with.”

Whatever you get, there’s one rule for every dog: Take it to an obedience class.

For new puppies, it’s essentially a socialization class, a way for them to learn about the world and how to interact with other puppies.

For older pups, a class is a great way to exercise their brain and teach them important skills, like how to sit, walk on a leash without pulling, or greet strangers without tackling them. It also gives you things to do with your dog when you practice training.

Perhaps most important, a class gives you regular access to advice from professionals, for those nagging potty-training challenges or other problems — like how to get them to stop gnawing on your hand or why in the world they have an obsession with mulch (is this just our dog?).

“It’s kind of a social support system,” Case said.Blog Photo

It’s also important for your dog to find doggy friends in the neighborhood so they can take walks together or have play dates, Case said.

Our puppy wants to play with every dog he sees (even the giant Rottweiler who didn’t seem so excited about him). We’ve met several sweet dogs that we’re hoping to get together with regularly.

A fenced yard isn’t crucial — and in fact people with fenced yards tend to take their dogs on fewer walks, which are much more enjoyable for dogs, Case said.

But it’s nice just to be able to open the door to let them out during those cold winter months rather than have to bundle up for a walk around the block.

Speaking of winter: I highly advise getting a dog in the spring or summer, when the weather is kinder and the kids will be off school to help out during the day.

“Winter is hard,” Case agreed. “Of all the dogs we’ve had, we’ve had one winter puppy, and I was like, ‘Never again.’”

And remember: This, too, shall pass. When you’re sitting on the couch wishing your dog would sit quietly rather than gnaw on your hand, remember he is the equivalent of a 3-year-old child.

“Imagine asking a 3-year-old to sit on a couch quietly. It is not going to happen. It will happen when he’s older,” Hekman said.

As with children, puppyhood is hard, but “when it’s over you miss it,” Case said.

“They’re puppies for such a short time, and they’re so adorable. Enjoy it, even though it’s time-consuming.”

* * * * *

Training tips
Dog experts Jessica Hekman and Linda Case answer some common training questions:

Why can’t my dog tell me when he has to go to the bathroom?
Some dogs will stand by the door, whine or bark when they have to go. For others, you have to be more intuitive.
They might pace back and forth, or get agitated, or just stare intently at you. You’ll learn the signals eventually, Hekman says.
“Don’t expect them to ask,” Case says. For your own peace of mind, “just take them out regularly and make it a lifelong habit.”

Why doesn’t my dog listen when I say ‘No’?
Focus on the right behavior, not what she’s doing wrong, Hekman says.
“Our instinct as humans is to tell them not to do this thing. Animals really don’t understand that very well,” she says.
Dogs respond much better to being told what TO do. For example: Don’t say “don’t jump on her” or “stop eating the couch,” but rather “sit down” or “come here.”Blog Photo
And keep the treats coming. The biggest mistake people make is being too stingy with rewards, Hekman says.
Measure out how much kibble you want the dog to have during the day, provide small meals and dispense the rest liberally as reinforcements for good behavior, like sitting quietly while you make dinner, she says.
“The second he does something I like I feed him,” she says. “A smart dog like that is always learning, not just when you think you’re teaching.”

Why is my dog so hyper?
He’s probably not getting enough exercise. Young dogs in particular need lots, Hekman says.
“A leash walk around the block doesn’t do it. Be prepared to commit to finding a place for him to run or for much longer walks. Consider dog sports, like agility or frisbee,” she says.

Why does my dog listen in class but ignore commands at home?
Probably because you’re not clear or less consistent about expectations at home, Hekman says. Sometimes “sit” means “sit and I’ll give you a treat,” and sometimes it means “this is just a word I say when you’re jumping up too much.” Your dog will learn that commands mean different things in different contexts, she says.

How can I stop my dog from biting me?
Puppies like to chew, and you have to teach them how to be gentle with you.
If they nip too hard, let out a loud yelp to let them know it hurts, like another puppy would. Then immediately redirect them to another toy or activity.
If that doesn’t work, some trainers suggest walking away, or putting the puppy in a time-out, so she learns that play will stop if she continues “mouthing,” as trainers call it.
But Case suggests a pre-emptive approach: pay attention to when the behavior occurs. The dog might be bored, or want your attention, or just be teething.
Take her outside more frequently and make sure she gets lots of exercise so she doesn’t feel the need to gnaw on you. Or give her a stuffed bone when you sit down on the couch to watch TV at night.
“Keep it from becoming a habit,” Case says.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families (and sometimes dogs) and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.



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Steve_Buckshire wrote on February 15, 2017 at 5:02 pm

We recently got a new puppy, and we definitely underestimated the amount of time it would take to potty-train him. We've had our carpets cleaned for urine stains twice in the last two months (Thanks http://shortstopchemdry.com). Thanks for this article! Very helpful! 

Julie Wurth wrote on February 15, 2017 at 5:02 pm
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Thanks Steve! I learned a lot by talking to them, too. Good luck with your pup!