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How To Prepare For A New Puppy

Is it weird to begin a “help blog” with a disclaimer?

Probably. But stating the obvious, not all dogs are the same and your experience may vary from mine based on type of dog, size of dog, age of dog, personality and other circumstances. However many of the following in-depth tips, methods, common mistakes, and learning lessons may apply to you. And I hope they do, because DOG GONNIT I wish I had known these ahead of time.

Our German Shepherd Puppy:

For Christmas, my husband surprised me with a purebred, AKC registered, 8-week old female German Shepherd puppy. Best Christmas ever. I had been wanting a German Shepherd puppy for awhile but we were “waiting” to get several things checked-off-the-list before we considered getting a puppy, including a new fence for our backyard. The fence issue kept getting put off, which is why I was surprised that my husband decided to get me a puppy before that “big item” was checked off. He's a ducks-in-a-row kind of guy. He already knew what I wanted to name our future puppy, and knew we wanted a girl since we would breed her at least once. So the puppy came with a cute collar and personalized dog tag with “Bailey” engraved on the front, and our phone number on the back. She was so adorable!



Since we weren’t technically “ready” for a puppy at the time we got Bailey for Christmas, we realized we were much less prepared than we expected to be. Even with my husband’s dad being a veterinarian and both of us growing up with dogs, we were still not prepared for raising an 8-week old pup.

Hence, the blog.

Because you might be getting yourself into the same situation or just got yourself a new puppy and need some solid advice. For sanity.

Our dog is currently 7 months old at the time of writing this blog, so I’m going to walk you through some valuable learning lessons, tips, advice that made life easier, and much more that I hope you will benefit from. Here's our puppy at 5 months - she's growing like a weed! 



How To Find A Low Temperament Puppy

If you haven’t gotten a puppy yet but looking for a low-temperament personality (especially if you will be getting a more protective or aggressive breed), here are a few things you can consider doing to increase your luck -- and I say “luck” because it can be hit or miss on knowing a puppy’s personality at a very young age! And keep in mind that adequate training can always be incorporated to help effectively raise a pup to become more “low temperament.”


  • Rattle and drop keys next to puppy to see reaction. If they are mostly unphased by it, then they are probably pretty chill and less likely to be reactive with “surprises” (loud noises, getting scared by something, intimidated, etc) which is a good sign of a low temperament.
  • Hold them like a baby on it’s back. If they are chill about it and don’t try to bite you or get fidgety, then that could be a good sign of a low temperament.
  • See how they play and interact with the other pups. Are they dominant over other pups or “aggressively” playing? Do they bark a lot? Those could be potential signs of a non-low temperament personality.


Puppy Training

The earlier you start training, the better. You may or may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but it’ll be much easier and much quicker if you start training as early as possible.

Leash Training Tips

We learned quickly that larger breeds gain their strength (and keep getting stronger) at a very young age. At just 3 months, our German Shepherd was already pulling me pretty strongly on a leash. At 7 months, we can hardly hold her back without literally choking her the entire time. We were desperate for help because she was getting stronger and stronger and harder to hold back. She wanted to run (not walk) the entire time (man... puppies and their endless energy!). So we found out some tricks from a connection we had who trained German Shepherds for dog shows, who was also a petite old lady. We knew she had to have some effective tricks up her sleeve!


  • If your dog is strong and tends to pull you when you walk, DO NOT use a body harness / leash during training. Instead, consider a choke or pinch leash. I know it might sound cruel, but it could be one of the most effective methods for training purposes. It’s better to not wait until they are near their full grown size to start training them on a choke or pinch leash because they have developed more of a pain/discomfort tolerance. Body harnesses are not good for training on dogs who are strong and who pull too much, as it does not provide any negative reinforcement on disobeying your commands, and it allows them to gain more strength/endurance to continue pulling you.
  • Zig-zag walk the dog on the leash (regardless of type of leash you use). It will force them to slow down and not rush straight forward as they pull you. You take the control back by pulling them where you want to go, instead of the other way around. A dog who pulls you is trying to be the one in control and if you let them, they will continue to do so and it may leak into their belief of dominance and authority over you. Show ‘em who’s really boss!
  • Use the same keyword when you want them to slow down, such as “heel!” and pulling them back or making them come to a complete stop each time you say it. When they do slow down or do what you ask, give them a treat and/or praise them with positive reinforcement. Do this often and the better they get at it, start slowing removing the treats or only giving every once in awhile after they prove they will listen to you each time.
  • If you are wanting to train your dog as a running/jogging companion, a short leash is necessary, or a choke/pinch leash will also work. You’ll want a short leash to keep the dog near your side, and to keep them from crossing in front of you (or stopping to smell the roses) as you try to jog. You don't want a tight choke on them often as they are trying to run and need plenty of air to breath, but you also don't want a loose slack on the leash if they keep getting tempted to abruptly stop or cross your path. The better they get at staying to your side as you jog, you can start using a normal leash if you wish.


Potty Training Tips

This one can be a real stinker. More than likely your puppy will be living inside the house with you while it’s young, if not permanently. Potty training can be one of the more frustrating and complicated phases of training, but it’s obviously a necessary one. Boy, my husband and I were so glad we had mostly tile and wood floors in our house during this phase!

Here are some tips you might want to know:


  • If possible, keep doors closed to all rooms with carpet at all times. If your whole house is carpet or the main living areas are carpet, then you may want to consider getting a gated/fenced-in play area with waterproof material on the floor for them to stay in (or a puppy door gate for the kitchen or bathroom) while you are unable to watch them constantly. And yes, I said CONSTANTLY. If you plan on watching a movie, cooking dinner, taking a shower, etc., the puppy will somehow slip away and go pee or poop somewhere. It’s a 24/7 dog watch party. And you’re not allowed to be a party pooper.
  • Use the same keywords when you take them outside to go potty, such as “Go potty!”
  • Treat them each time they go to the bathroom (#1 or #2) outside or on their designated puppy pads, and praise them with words and a treat. Positive reinforcement is the way to a puppy’s heart and long-term loyalty/obedience/etc.
  • You can also train your dog to let you know when they need to go to the bathroom and need to be let outside. One of our friends hung a bell on a string by the door and would ring it anytime they would let the dog go outside to potty, and the dog learned to ring the bell when it needed to go outside. The power of association! Other dogs might scratch at the door and you can reinforce their actions by saying your keywords, like “Need to go potty?” For us, our German Shepherd would start getting really antsy and walk around the house (as if snooping for a place to go to the bathroom) and that’s when I learned that she needed to go outside. Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night multiple times and jump off the bed, which I also learned was a sign that she needed to go potty. Because when I ignored those signs, she had an accident that I got to clean up.
    • FYI: Puppies/dogs do not want to go potty where they sleep, so they will typically leave their sleeping spot to go do business in a less familiar area. That’s why kenneling is a good potty training method for many dogs, because they will usually hold their bladders if possible until they are let out. If a dog cannot stay outside in the yard while you are gone, consider kennel training your dog.


Kennel Training Tips

Kennel training feels cruel at first and can break your heart, but it’s a necessary method of training your dog if they must stay in your home while you are gone. It is common among puppies due to their age and need for almost constant supervision, and puppies should be kennel trained until they get to an appropriate age where you can take them to a puppy daycare or hire a dog sitter (if budget allows), or leave them outside in the backyard (if it’s an available option).

Kennel training also has a big impact on potty training because your puppy will learn to hold their bladder (if possible) until they are let out, which can be hours at a time. Over time they will get good at holding their bladder for extended hours at a time if necessary. Kenneling also helps them learn to manage their “separation anxiety” as they are limited to a designated space and dont have the opportunity to tear up your place out of spite.

Your dog will hate it at first, and maybe even for months. They’ll potentially bark non-stop for hours while locked in a kennel, and you will feel the agonizing desire of wanting to let them out. But be carefully hesitant when kennel training. Just like a new parent has to learn to let their baby/toddler cry for an hour or two (to teach them that crying will not make momma come every time), they will learn to get over it and stop crying for no reason at all. Puppies cry mainly because they want their owners to be there constantly in their presence at their demand, like babies sometimes do with their parents. It’s not necessarily that they need something all the time or truly hate being in the kennel. They just hate being alone. Nobody wants to be alone. Over time they will learn that crying/barking non-stop will do them no good and they will learn to tolerate being alone in the kennel.


  • If you have a larger home, put their kennel in a room that is furthest away from your bedroom if you don't want the dog to get used to sleeping with you at night, and to ensure the dog’s constant barking isn’t loud enough to keep you up all night long. Been there, done that.
  • Give the dog a treat every time you put them in the kennel so they know it’s not a punishment, and this will help them want to go in the kennel more over time because they know a treat will be given.
  • If you’re like me and always in a rush to get ready in the morning before work (and don’t have time to be intentional with training and being patient with your dog as they get in the way, try to chew your clothes, etc.), it might be better to put them in the kennel during this time so they aren’t being set up for failure. They’d rather be with you but training is ineffective during this time and it’s better to just not.
  • Inside their kennel, make sure there is at least one DURABLE toy that the dog can play with and chew on while sitting in the kennel for hours at a time. This will keep their attention occupied, and they can chew out their distress instead of barking or crying as often. We also learned quickly what “durable” actually meant with a larger breed puppy because several toys we put in the kennel became utterly destroyed. We have resorted to a Kong Ball (basically rubber) or a large bone toy with rough bristles (NOT a rawhide bone). Be careful with anything that can be torn apart, broken, or ingested including bones/rawhide because you don't want them to choke on it with no assistance nearby.
    • Side rant: You should always monitor your dog playing with toys or chewing on rawhide bones (which aren’t super digestible) to ensure they don’t choke or ingest something that can be harmful. Also... never give dogs chicken bones that can splinter in their throat and choke them.
  • After our dog turned 5 months, we found out she earned how to pop the lock and get out of her kennel during the day. We confirmed this after multiple different times of coming home to her being out of the kennel and a room torn to shreds, so we put our Nest camera to the test. And the footage proved her crazy Houdini skills. We ended up having to zip tie the kennel shut every time for awhile until she becomes an outside dog with a dog house. (Soon...very soon).


Other Puppy Training

Commands & Patience

Eating

We don't allow our dog to rush to the bowl when we pour food in it so she can gobble it all down in .5 seconds. We make her wait for our command, “Eat the food!” to eat, so she learns patience and that we are the authority in this house.

We also pet her, pat her, touch her legs and tug her tail lightly while she is eating to get her used to “interference” while she is eating and to not become possessive over her food, which dogs tend to be. It’s important to train them to not act like an “animal” when it comes to food and to learn patience. Possessiveness over food or toys can cause aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs.

Fetch

We taught our dog to wait to go fetch a ball until we said, "Get the ball!" This taught her patience and that we are the authority.

Rules & Consistency

If you make a “rule” - keep the rule and try not to sway from it. Each time you allow a “rule” to be broken, it will become harder to train them to think and do otherwise. This can be applied to anything - licking the dishes in the dishwasher, jumping on the couch, chasing the cat, putting their paws on the kitchen counter top/table, etc. I know sometimes this is hard to keep consistent because sometimes you don’t care and other times you do, or you give up because they still won’t listen after you tell them 3 times not to do that thing. But try your best to stay consistent regardless of these things, because consistency is always crucial to training pets in all phases, especially at young ages

Puppy Training Mistakes:

We did the positive reinforcement thing for every single good behavior for a while and went through a boat load of treats. We started breaking up each treat into smaller pieces because we didn’t want her to get fat. But after a few months, we started to see some progress in our training efforts, so we halted using treats as positive reinforcement for most things… and we also stopped being as intentional with training, play time, etc. We started to get lazy too soon. We actually have a very good, smart dog with a low temperament. But she still has a ton of puppy energy and is super playful, so there are many times when she doesn't listen to our commands or doesn’t adhere to all the things she was trained to do in the past. For example, a fully potty-trained dog at 6 months randomly decides to poop and pee in the house a few different times in a row while we are home with her. What?! Maybe it was out of spite. Maybe it was for attention. Maybe we didn't need stop being intentional with her too soon and continue the training process for the whole year... not just until when she was making a “good enough” progress.

Try not to use the dog’s name when punishing, during negative reinforcement, or when it does something bad. It’s naturally tempting to.. like when your mother uses your middle name, you know it’s not good. The reason you don’t want to use their name when they have bad behavior is because their name becomes a keyword, and if you only say their name when they’re getting in trouble, they will begin to associate it negatively. When you are calling them to come to you or obey a command, saying their name should not ring a negative bell to the dog or else they will be less likely to obey (as they might think they are about to get in trouble and don't want to come to you).

Miscellaneous Tips For Puppy Training

“We have a digger!”

We find out after a few months that our pup was a dirt digger. This was not good for multiple reasons: she was currently an “inside” dog and would get really dirty or muddy before coming inside, we would have gashing holes in our lawn, and we were scared she might dig herself out of the fence.. or to China.

As weird as it sounds, our friend told us to take the dog’s poop (using a doggy bag, of course) and put it in or next to the holes being dug, or by the areas she tends to dig at the most. For some reason, the smell of their own poop made the dog not interested in digging there anymore. So likewise, we have poop all along our fence line to ensure the dog doesn't get out. I guess you gotta pick your battles...

Teething

If you don't have plenty of toys that the dog loves to chew on during teething (until about 6 months for larger breeds), then they will find something else to chew on... like furniture or shoes.

Anytime you see your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t be, simple say “no” and replace that thing with a chew toy, and then praise them for chewing on the toy instead. Over time they will learn which things they can chew on and what things they cannot.

Good teething toys will include anything that is durable, like rubber, tennis balls, or solid plastic toys. But they will also want things to tug on, like ropes or squeaky toys. We hate the squeaky toys so we have gotten a few others that worked well for our dog instead. We also allowed our dog to chew on tasty rawhide bones, but keep in mind - never leave them alone with rawhide bones/sticks because it doesn't really digest well if they eat the whole thing and they could potentially choke on it. We always threw it away once it got about half way chewed/soggy. It’s pretty gross when they flop a soggy rawhide on your couch while you’re watching a TV show.

Prepare to get at least one pair of shoes ruined, one piece of furniture characterized with chew marks, and a few holes in some of your favorite clothing items. At least. No matter how diligent you are with “puppy proofing” everything, keeping an eye on the puppy, and keeping your items stored away out of reach…. It will happen.

Biting

Along with teething, most puppies bite. Not out of anger or aggression, but their mouths are the only thing they really know how to use well and it can be their way of showing affection for you. But sometimes it just dang hurts. Like teething methods, replace your arm, your fingers, your shoe, etc. with a chew toy that they can bite on instead.

It will be at least 6 months before they start to get over puppy biting.

Play

Playtime is difficult for those who aren’t super active or super energetic. A.k.a. most adults. But playtime is necessary for a pup. If nothing else, think of playtime as the fastest way for your pup to get rid of some of that crazy energy and sleep longer through the night (or while you are gone at work during the day). Playing with your puppy can take an equal amount of energy out of you, but your puppy’s endless energy needs to get out SOMEHOW… so it’s either play with them, or they will play with you.

Playtime can be as simple as tugging on a toy with them, to as active as playing tag and running around the yard. But the more active the dog is, the more energy will be released at a quicker amount of time.

Fetch is one of the best methods for people like me - the quickest way to burn their energy and preserve mine. If they learn how to actually fetch the ball and bring it back to you, it’s a win-win situation. They get all of their energy out by running fast both ways, and all you have to do is sit there and throw a ball. Boom. So train your dog how to play fetch.

Etiquette

For some cities, it’s the law to pick up your dog poop after they do their business. For everywhere else (except a field out in the boonies), you are just expected to pick it up. You could get mean mugged or even cussed out if you don’t. I’ve literally seen someone hold their hand under a dog’s butt to catch the poop because they didn’t have a bag. So in order to maintain your dignity and reputation, always bring at least 1-2 doggy bags with you anytime you take your dog places… even if they “just went” before you left. There’s always room for more.

If your dog is aggressive and not yet socialized, work on slowly socializing them with one or two animals at a time before you bring them to a public event. You could be reliable and reap consequences if your dog chooses to flip and harm someone or someone’s dog.

Socializing & Maintaining Low-Temperament

Touch, tug, pull, hold, etc. Do it all! And often! Your dog needs to become used to being held, touched, grabbed, having it’s tail and ears pulled, etc. This will help eliminate the element of “surprise” and becoming scared or feeling attacked… and this is important mainly for the sake of children, because they are most likely to go up to a dog and pull its tail or hug its neck.

Your dog needs to become socialized, which means you also have to be social. However, wait to take your puppy to a dog park until AFTER they’ve already become socialized with other dogs on a smaller ratio basis, i.e. one-to-one puppy play dates or bringing your dog to a family reunion where other dogs will also be present. A dog park can be filled with many dogs at once, which can be overwhelming if your pup isn’t used to being around that, and this can cause feelings of fear or intimidation that could cause a negative experience. That’s why you should try easing them into socializing and the public sphere (but often) until they are ready to be around several dogs at once.

Socializing isn’t just interacting with people, kids, and other animals on a regular basis. It’s also getting them accumulated to a variety of circumstances, sights, sounds, smells and distractions. At first they will be very distracted and maybe a little tense when you take them into a popular downtown area with passing people and loud cars driving by, but don’t forget the power of treats to draw their attention back to you... and keep introducing them to new experiences, smells, sights and sounds until they become accumulated to it all. Take them downtown, to an outdoor restaurant or bar patio that allows dogs, to an outdoor live music event, to a local fair or farmer’s market, walk down the sidewalk next to a busy street or intersection, go to a playground with screaming children, etc. The more they get used to all the different smells, sights, sounds, and other distractions they encounter, the more they will learn to block it out or not become phased by it, and you will have an easier time taking them to public places, including a dog park, travel destination, or social outing.

Puppy Proofing

Anything… I repeat, anything... on the floor will become edible, even if it’s not. You will have to learn how to actually be clean and pick up after yourself for a necessary reason - so your dog doesn't ruin your things or eat something potentially harmful (small item that can risk choking like a bottle cap or bobby pin, will need surgery if indigestible like socks, poisonous to dogs like chocolate or pen ink, sharp like a safety pin, etc). Literally anything goes. Keep your floors cleared. And if they do eat something you are unsure if it is safe, call your veterinarian and/or closely monitor your dog to watch for any unusual signs of sickness or even constipation.

Keep doors shut to any rooms or areas that you don't want potty accidents, teething temptations, or even low-reaching items like a closet with a shoe cubby.

Invest in some good quality pet carpet cleaner because accidents will happen, and you don't want your home to smell like pee when guests come over. Because you’ll get used to the smell and not notice it, but they will. We borrowed a fancy carpet pet cleaner vacuum (Bissell) from a family member several times to help clean the one bedroom we have carpet, and it seemed to work great. But we had to use it several times. And we will keep borrowing it because it’s super expensive to buy one.

Puppy Punishing / Negative Reinforcement

We had to get a shock collar because we got lazy with training after the first few months, and then we saw certain qualities in our German Shepherd that started to concern us. She is a very low temperament, non-aggressive dog, but German Shepherds tend to get “tunnel vision” and focus so much on one thing that they don’t hear or see anything else at that moment. For our dog, she was forgetting the rules and ignoring commands. She sees another dog or person walking across the field and wants to go play and greet them with her cute floppy ears. Which is cute and all at 7 months old, but when she gets to be an adult at 100 pounds, people won’t be thinking “cute” when they see a German Shepherd running towards them. Oh.. I can only imagine. So we had to get a shock collar that we use very sparingly to zap her out of tunnel vision and listen to our commands as we say “No!” or “Come!” or “Heel!”. Some dogs need this kind of negative reinforcement (mostly larger breeds), but some don’t. Again, negative reinforcement should be used only when necessary. And with all negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement needs to be… well, reinforced... as much as possible.

DO NOT use the kennel as a punishment cell to put them away if you use your kennel for anything else, such as keeping them there while you leave the house. You don't want the puppy to associate the kennel as punishment. Instead you might temporarily tie them up to a tree in your backyard or somewhere away from you where they can't destroy anything. If that's not an option, find another way to put them into "time out" for the moment so they know it's punishment, even if it's just taking away their toys. Try not to give them a toy to chew on if they are being bad because you want them to know they are being punished and not rewarded.

Spanking is something you may need to enforce at times if they do something really bad and need to know it is absolutely unacceptable to do that. It should be limited to things that can be very harmful to themselves or to others. Examples might including running out into the street (potentially getting run over by a car), trying to run down and be aggressive with your cat (harm to other animals), being snippy (almost biting) with children, etc. Do not use excessive physical punishment because many dogs do not take it well. Excessive physical punishment for some dogs can cause them to lose respect or loyalty towards you (hence rebellion), cause timidness and debilitating fear towards you, or cause more aggressive behavior in the dog. Remember that positive reinforcement can be one of the mot effective methods for training a puppy into long term obedience and loyalty.

Important Take Away Message

If you learn nothing else from this blog, here are the most important tips that you need to know that will work on almost any dog:

Treats and positive reinforcement always outweigh the negative in training and long term obedience, but negative reinforcement is necessary to establish authority and submission where needed. Always carry treats with you if possible, regardless if you’re just walking down the street or taking them to a public location. Opt for healthy or homemade treats if weight is a concern with your pet.

Always carry at least 1-2 doggy bags with you if you go anywhere in public with your dog. Even if they “just went.”

If you’re a busy person and don’t have the money to pay for a dog sitter / daycare / trainer, then you must block off at least 1-2 hours each day to be intentional with your puppy in both training and playtime. Love the heck out of them during that short time you have.

Make sure they are always up to date in their shots and monthly flea/heartworm medications if you want them to live longer. Their rabies tag should be on their collar - some cities will fine you if you don’t have one. Also, it’s a very good idea to make sure your phone number is engraved on the back of your dog’s name tag in case they ever get lost or run away.

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