Are your favorite shoes missing? Is your new carpet in the trash? Are you on your third roll of paper towels for the day? Is there, by any chance, a bite mark on those towels?
You, friend, sound like a new puppy parent. As adorable as they are, puppies can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t do your homework. “Puppies are demanding—they need all of you, and you can begin to feel resentful,” says Sarah Hodgson, a trainer, behavior consultant, and bestselling author of numerous books on puppy rearing, including, “Puppies For Dummies.” “But the more you understand their needs, the more empowered you’ll feel.”
Thinking of adding a cuddly four-legged member to the family? Avoid these common mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to making a new best friend.
All Play, No Sleep
Everyone knows that puppies need plenty of exercise to keep them happy, healthy, and stimulated. But what many people don’t know is that puppies need to sleep as hard as they play. “Most often, the biggest overlooked need is sleep,” says Hodgson. “Puppies need so much more sleep and so much less play than people realize.”
How can you tell if your puppy is suffering from a lack of sleep? The signs are similar to those of an overly tired toddler, explains Hodgson: irritability, hyperactivity, and aggression. For puppies under five months, she recommends an early bedtime (no later than 8 p.m.) as well as two quality naps in a quiet, designated sleeping area.
If that sounds similar to your baby’s sleep schedule, it’s no coincidence. “Once you understand puppies better, there are a lot of similarities between them and babies,” says Hodgson. “You want to create good habits early, then foster them for a lifetime.”
Not Budgeting Enough Time
Don’t let those adorable little eyes fool you—puppies are a job. A very cute job, but one requiring a large amount of time and energy. Before you commit to a puppy, take a realistic look at your family’s schedule.
“First-time puppy parents typically underestimate the amount of time they will be spending every day with the puppy on basics chores like housetraining and exercise alone,” says Shelby Semel, a New York City-based trainer and canine behavior expert. “It will take a lot out of you! The first few weeks can be especially challenging as you and the new puppy learn about each other and find a rhythm that works best.”
Infrequent Bathroom Breaks
When it comes to housebreaking, there are plenty of potential pitfalls. But the biggest and most common one also happens to be the easiest to avoid: not taking your puppy out frequently enough. “Puppies have no muscle or bladder control, so you can’t expect them to wait hours between trips outside,” says Hodgson, who recommends intervals as close together as 30 minutes for young pups. “You can’t just let them wander through the house and hope they make it.”
Regardless of the schedule you’ve set, if your puppy takes a break from play or wakes up from a nap, immediately take him outside—chances are, he has some business to attend to.
Housebreaking is closely related to another common mistake: yelling at your puppy.
Although accidents are frustrating, it’s important to remember that your puppy doesn’t understand the words and is confused by your tone. “Yelling is a release for you, but it leads to more problems down the road,” says Hodgson. “If you attempt to discipline after an accident, he’ll be afraid to go to the bathroom in front of you, which you definitely don’t want.”
Another common cause of frustration, chewing, can also be made worse by yelling. If your pup is snacking on your new shoes and you yell at him, he interprets this to mean that the shoes have value and that you have “prize envy,” explains Hodgson, which will make him less likely to let go. Rather than escalate things, reward him when he gives up the shoe, and encourage good chewing habits. “Puppies are going to test-chew everything—at first, they’re exploring, then later, they’re teething,” she says. “Create a comfort station in every room the puppy uses with chew toys, and invest in some bones that he’ll really like to chew.”
Forgetting to Socialize
Establishing a good relationship between you and your new puppy is important. But it’s also crucial to make sure that your pup is comfortable interacting with other dogs, strangers, and unfamiliar situations. The sooner you begin to socialize him, the better.
“Puppy socialization is one of the most important aspects of training for a new puppy,” says Semel. “We can't stress enough of the significance. The interactions the new puppy has in the first three months can determine the dog's future behavior.”
For nervous pups (and parents), a puppy-socialization class can help introduce new environments in a controlled, stress-free way.