Humans are strange creatures. Although the most advanced animal to walk this Earth, we can make anything complicated—even adopting a puppy. Will the carpets be OK? What about the yard? What if the kids don’t walk the puppy like they promised? Can we talk about the carpets again?
While you may need a lifetime of training, here’s the good news: Puppies are much, much less difficult than humans. “Once you understand them, puppies are pretty simple—they eat, they drink, they sleep, they play, they poop,” says Sarah Hodgson, a trainer, behavior consultant, and the author of “Puppies For Dummies.”
Not a bad life, right? In the spirit of puppies, we’re taking things back to basics with this no-fuss, stress-free primer.
Take a walk down the pet food aisle of any big box store, and you could easily become overwhelmed. There’s no shortage of options, but what you’re looking for at this stage in your dog’s life is actually pretty simple: puppy food.
Just as you wouldn’t feed your newborn baby a cheeseburger, you shouldn’t feed your pup standard kibble. Look for food specially formulated for puppies, who need extra nutrients and calories to fuel all that playtime. The American Kennel Club recommends four daily feedings to keep up with nutritional demands; as for the amount of food, that depends on the size of your puppy and should be determined by your veterinarian.
You’ll also want to have small treats on hand as rewards to use during training. However, be careful not to be too generous or share table scraps—as persuasive as puppy eyes can be, obesity is a serious concern for modern pets. According to a recent study by Banfield Pet Hospitals, one in three pets are overweight, putting them at increased risk for more than 20 different diseases.
Housebreaking causes enormous amounts of anxiety for puppy owners. But from the puppy’s point of view, it’s actually pretty simple. “With housebreaking, your dog needs to understand two things: where his den is, and where his territory is,” explains Hodgson. “It’s up to you to teach him the difference between your house and your yard.”
The key, she says, is committing to frequent bathroom breaks and following a rigid routine. While potty training, restrict your puppy to a small free space in your house. Then, when it’s time to go outside, use the same door, and direct him to the same spot each time. After he goes, offer plenty of praise for a job well done.
One common mistake while housebreaking: Leaving a giant bowl of water in the kitchen at all times. “A good general rule to remember is ‘what goes in, must come out,’” says New York City-based trainer Shelby Semel. “During the housetraining phase, make sure you closely monitor your puppy’s water intake.”
Consult with your veterinarian about how much water your puppy should be drinking. As for intervals, Semel recommends offering water six times per day: after waking up in the morning, after meals, after exercise, and prior to walks.
Puppies are almost synonymous with play, so it’s no surprise that your family will be spending quite a bit of time entertaining your new addition.
One of puppies’ favorite activities? Chewing everything and anything. While a confusing behavior for owners, it’s simple from a puppy’s perspective—chewing is a good time. “For them, chewing is an energetic and fun activity, even though it's a horrible experience for owners,” says Semel. “The most common way to deter them from chewing is exercise. They have their fun outdoors instead of chewing up the entire house.”
When teething, puppies need to chew, notes Semel, so be prepared with a stash of rotating chew toys and bones that are more interesting than your couch. Like babies, some teething puppies find comfort in cold chew toys, so try putting a few in the freezer or offering ice cubes.
Although puppies seem to have near limitless energy, it’s possible to over exercise your little Energizer bunny. Too much activity can lead to injuries and long-term health problems, and it’s important to consult your veterinarian about your breed’s unique exercise needs.
It’s also important to remember that, to balance out the playtime, your puppy needs a significant amount of sleep. “I can’t stress enough the importance of sleep to puppies,” says Hodgson, who recommends an early bedtime and multiple naps. “Most puppies are getting too much play and not enough sleep.”
For puppy parents interested in sleep-training, Hodgson offers a free step-by-step download.
Puppies are simple, yes. But communication is difficult in any relationship, especially an interspecies one.
With this in mind, begin basic obedience training as soon as possible, and consider working with a professional who has experience with young dogs. In many ways, puppies are like children—the sooner you start teaching them manners, the less likely they’ll be to steal an ice cream cone at the park.
“You don’t want to encourage bad behavior without knowing,” says Semel. “The new puppy is your new housemate, so you want to make sure they have the proper socialization and behavior to adapt to their new life with you.”