Most people know that raising a puppy requires training. But few are ready for the reality of what it takes to turn a puppy to into a well-mannered family pet, or how long it actually takes.
If you are thinking about getting a puppy, read this first. Print it out, carry it in your pocket and when you go visit that litter of puppies, take a deep breath, step outside, and re-read it. If you still want that puppy, at least you have a sense of what your future holds!
It is against California State law to sell or adopt a puppy under the age of 8 weeks. Do not purchase or take home a puppy under the age of 8 weeks. Doing so greatly jeopardizes the future behavior of the puppy.
Many new puppy owners have been told that they need to socialize their puppy, but very few are given instructions on how, when and where to socialize their puppy. Even worse, some people are told by breeders and veterinarians not to take their puppy outside for up to 6 months!
A good dog breeder starts socializing their puppies long before they leave for their new homes, providing different smells and textures before the puppies have even opened their eyes. Once the puppies can see and hear (3-5 weeks), good breeders take the puppies to safe locations to meet new people and expose their puppies to new sights and sounds.
Between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks is known as the "critical period" for socialization. That is because anything that happens to your puppy during this time will be forever imprinted on his brain. So, if your puppy gets frightened by a man in a cowboy hat at 9 weeks and he doesn't have a positive experience with other men in cowboy hats, he will grow into a dog that is fearful of, or even aggressive towards, men in cowboy hats.
This is why it is inadvisable to take a new puppy to a dog park (aside from the health risk) which is often full of dogs with poor social skills and bully play styles.
Socialization means making sure that your puppy has positive experiences to as many people, places and things for the first 4-6 weeks they are with you - but don't stop there! Your puppy will enter several fear periods during their adolescence, so positive socialization needs to continue through 18 months of age.
Failure to do so is one of the leading causes of behavior problems in dogs, from separation anxiety to aggression.
"Oh, I know puppies are a lot of work. You have to teach puppies not to chew, dig or jump and how to go potty outside."
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? And yet the classifieds are full of ads from people who "don't have enough time" for their puppy, a euphemism for their failure to teach their puppy these basic concepts.
What many new puppy owners fail to understand is that "teaching the puppy" doesn't simply mean teaching them once, or twice, or for a couple of weeks. Mike Bibby's high school basketball coach didn't just show him once or twice how to shoot the ball. It took years for him to master the skills necessary to become a professional basketball player. The same is true when teaching a new puppy skills and concepts, many of which go against his very doggie nature.
The puppy stage (chewing, digging, jumping, etc.) lasts a minimum of two years. Yes, I said TWO years, longer in some breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. That means all of those basic concepts, or at least most of them, are going to have to be practiced over and over again for the first two years of your puppy's life before he is ready to go pro.
There is a reason that the average age of dogs relinquished to shelters and rescues is between 6 and 18 months of age. Adolescence. A time when the cute, roly-poly puppy has been replaced with a lanky, teenage jumping and chewing machine with 50x the energy level of the average Border Collie.
Even if you have never had teenage children, you were a teenager at one time. If you don't remember what you were like back then, ask your parents. That should give you just some idea of what's in store when your puppy hits adolescence.
Independence, failure to obey commands that he previously excelled at...and then there's the chewing. Oh, the chewing. Chewing on furniture, trees, shoes, underwear, your hands and toes, remote controls and anything else within reach. After puppies lose their puppy teeth, all those big, beautiful adult teeth are still settling into the puppy's jaws, causing teething pain. But now, instead of those cute little needle-like 12 week-old puppy teeth, your adolescent has big dog teeth. The kind that can really do some damage to your antique dresser.
When frustrated, owners of adolescent puppies are advised to repeat the following, "When you're 3 years old, you're going to be a great dog." Repeat it until your blood pressure drops and you no longer have the urge to become a cat person.
When you were a baby, your parents did not leave forks lying next to the light sockets and then reprimand you when you electrocuted yourself. Your parents kept you safe by managing your environment. Cribs, playpens, swings, baby gates and socket covers all prevented you from experimenting with metal and electricity until you learned not to.
Managing your puppy's environment requires the same amount of supervision and prevention. But, here's the good news: puppies are full-grown at 2-3 years, whereas human babies aren't fully grown until 18 (at least legally).
Managing your dog's environment also requires you to be physically and mentally present when your dog has access to things that you don't want chewed up, urinated on or buried. Your dog can do a lot of damage in the same room as you if you aren't paying attention. If you cannot be both physically and mentally present with your puppy, confine him with a crate, ex-pen or baby gate.
Does this sound like more work than you were expecting? You're not alone. Raising a puppy is not easy or fast and if you can't fully commit the time and attention necessary to that puppy for at least 2 years, then perhaps an adult dog over the age of 3 will be a better fit for your lifestyle.
If you decide you still want a puppy and are ready for the commitment, congratulations! You are in for an exciting and humbling journey. And at the end, if all goes well, you will have a great companion for many years to come. And don't forget to repeat, "When you're 3 years old, you're going to be a GREAT dog."