What better way to start a new year than by doing things that improve life for you and your puppy? Many years ago I started my own dog training business and, in keeping with my happy, goofy and completely direct personality, I decided on Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) Dog Training for the name. In continuing with that theme, I hope the following list of New Year’s resolutions for puppy owners are entertaining and simple and add to the joy of sharing your life with a dog.
1. Consider opening a savings account for your dog.
According to veterinary students from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, the total cost of owning a dog through his lifetime is $23,410. This includes the medical, training, boarding/daycare, grooming and other expenses required to keep that little ball of fur all fabulous and stuff. Trust me, expenses can come fast, furious and when you least expect them, so a little savings will pay off!
2. Look into pet insurance.
OK, even with an established savings account for normal daily expenses, what if your dog blows out a knee? Or if your lovely pooch eats a sock or two, and surgical removal from the intestine is required? Or what if your pup is hit by a car? Medical costs add up quickly, with many of these scenarios costing in the thousands. Pet medical insurance can help in such situations. Investigate the deductible, monthly payments and benefits. Let’s face it, no one wants to make a life-or-death question with a family pet based on money.
3. Make the most of every moment with your puppy.
The average life span of a dog is 13 years. That might not seem like that much to you, but one of my favorite quotes drives home what it means: A dog might only be with you a short time (in comparison to your life), but you will be with them their entire life! Wish I could tell you to whom this quote belongs, but I have never been able to find that out. Let’s just say he or she was incredibly wise (and I bet a great dog owner).
4. Commit to training your puppy now — it will earn you peace in the future.
Owning a dog, raising a child or being married all require one thing — a ton of work up front to set rules and routines and learn to really know someone, how to listen, how to speak or even how to love. My point? Don’t wait for problem behaviors to just show up. It’s easier to spend some time letting everyone know what the rules are beforehand.
With a new pup, around 8 weeks to 20 weeks old is the critical social development period. Beside the weeks spent with their mom or littermates, these are critical months in your pup’s life. This is when he learns if the world is safe and fun, or if it is scary and not to be trusted. You cannot go back or redo this timeframe. If you don’t socialize now and do it right, you risk a fearful, timid or snarky dog. This means that your first two to three months with your pup are really important and that you need to be 100 percent available and ready to work. Your focus needs to be on socializing and setting the rules and routines your pup will follow for a lifetime. I am really not kidding. I actually give my clients a 160-item socialization checklist to have completed with their pup before 20 weeks of age.
5. Love your dog through thick and thin!
Puppies begin as adorable and cute, but at 4 to 12 months old they might begin to destroy items in your home and even ignore you — compare this to a typical pre-teen person. By 12 months to 2 or 3 years of age, they will be testing limits (yours and theirs), basically resembling the behavior of a full-blown human teenager. But around 3 years of age, if you have done everything right, you can expect to have the dog you envisioned when you picked out that cute little puppy. Yes, it really does take that long. Don’t complain. It takes 18 to 20 years with a child (if you are lucky) to get to this point, so relax; a dog is actually pretty easy.
6. Accept that housebreaking mistakes are on you, not the pup!
Look, dogs don’t come out of the box understanding where you want them to go or when. If you do not teach them, manage them and praise them for the right decisions, then it is you who is doing housebreaking wrong, not your puppy. In my humble opinion, it takes approximately 30 days of error-free potty training for a dog to truly begin to understand the ins and outs of potty training.
7. Set a calendar appointment to remind you to take a picture of your puppy weekly.
This one might not make sense right now, but trust me it will when your special furry friend is an adult and when your dog is gone. Being able to relive some moments after they are gone is, well, special.
8. Interview the professionals who are going to be dealing with your puppy.
This resolution is just plain common sense! Are you really going to trust online reviews and websites to pick the vet, groomer, doggy daycare or boarding facility that you end up using for your pup? Hey, I would even include trainers into this, and I am pretty proud of my website and online surveys. However I would never hire a dog trainer without talking to them personally and questioning them about philosophy, prices, certification and insurance. People do this for their children with pediatricians and preschools, and I don’t see why it would be any different with puppies.
9. Never give your puppy freedom unless he earns it.
You cannot just turn a puppy loose and expect him to figure things out on his own. Trust me, it just doesn’t work that way. You have to manage the process until you know the puppy is trustworthy — and then add freedom little bits at a time and keep an eye on the process. So while crate training during housebreaking, for example, don’t let the puppy have free roam of the house while you are taking a conference call. You would not let a 2-year-old child roam the house unattended while you cooked dinner, right?
10. Learn to speak “Dog.”
Dog training is really all about teaching dogs to pay attention to owners, not performing tricks or following commands. A dog who is not paying attention cannot do tricks or follow commands no matter how hard you try. But if you can learn to be a good leader and be the gatekeeper to everything fun and important in your dog’s life, then you have a dog who is paying attention. Once you have that attention, it’s your turn. Ultimately, dog training is about teaching you how to speak Dog As A Second Language (DASL), not the other way around.