Our job, as owners of young dogs, is to get the dog to adulthood safely — which might be easier said than done.
The night before I brought home the first puppy of my adult life, I understood my life was about to change forever. My friends made fun of my efforts to prepare my home. I purchased the same outlet covers and cabinet latches pregnant women buy to ensure their babies don’t hurt themselves.
Perhaps some of my choices were a bit extreme, but taking time to walk through your own home prior to bringing home a new puppy or adolescent dog is essential. We all accumulate lots of “stuff” in our homes. This stuff might be not only interesting, but harmful to a young dog. Puppies, like babies, tend to put everything into their mouths. Cleaning up lost paper clips, picking up pest control traps, putting away breakables that are potentially within reach, and picking up trash cans and/or buying trash cans with secure lids are all pretty easy to do. Doing this is much less expensive than a trip to the emergency vet!
Chewing Dangers For Young Dogs
It is essential to provide your growing dog with good things to chew that will not hurt him. Dogs enjoy exploring with their mouths, and chewing on safe treats and toys will help avoid damage to furniture and other household items as well. Check with your veterinarian on advice about which treats or bones to give your dog; but be sure your young dog regularly has “legal” things to chew.
As you are thinking about things your dog might chew, be sure to think about how to hide or secure power cords in a way your pet cannot get to them. Put away anything your dog shouldn’t chew on. This means putting them behind closed and/or locked doors. Keep medications, batteries, magnets, pennies and other small items out of reach. Of course, training your dog to readily go into a crate for down-time is the very best way to ensure your pet doesn’t get into trouble while you are away from home or while you cannot focus on him.
Don’t Let The Clumsiness Of Youth Turn Into An Injury
Puppies and adolescent dogs grow so quickly that they often go through stages where they seem uncoordinated. That’s understandable when your legs are much longer than they were last week! Because your dog is growing and undergoing such radical changes, you need to remember not to over-exercise or over-extend him. Puppies are not ready for long-distance running, jumping over great heights, or jumping down from tall places. Too much of any of those activities could lead to injuries. Nor do they yet have the coordination to navigate tight corners and stop on a dime.
Some of the best play for puppies is short spurts of running and chasing each other. After a few minutes of this kind of play, most flop over to catch their breath for a while, then pick up and start all over. Dogs less than 6 months old are not yet equipped for half-mile runs. Because their bones are still developing, dogs under a year old shouldn’t be jumping too much either. Always supervise your dog to keep all the activities appropriate for each growth stage. Check with your veterinarian for guidance.
Develop Your Dog’s Mind As Well As His Body
Instead of extensive exercise, work your dog’s brain, develop life-saving basic skills, and teach him impulse control. There are a few basic skills you should work on regularly with your young dog:
1. Come When I Call You! Lay the foundation for this skill by treating your dog for looking at you when you say his name. Using a marker (a short, specific word or a clicking sound) to indicate to your dog “You did it right!” will make it easier for him to grasp. Every time he gets it right (and you mark the correct response), he gets a treat. It is simple, but works very well. Why wouldn’t he look? Start with very few distractions when he’s little, and work up to being able to get his attention away from very enticing things. Over time, ask him to come to you to get the treat. With patience and regular practice, this can save your dog’s life! Being able to call the dog away from a poisonous snake, a busy street or any other dangerous item is well worth the work. It will make your lives easier and better.
2. Break! This is an adjunct to coming when called. Use this to calm rough play and/or break up scuffles. Early on, when your puppy is playing with another dog, come into their space and shout “Break!” (or, really, any short name you want to give it) in a happy voice. When the dogs stop for a moment to look at you, produce two really yummy treats. Ask each puppy for a “sit,” and give them treats. Then say “all done!” — or whatever phrase you like — to signal go back to your playing. Do this often, always giving them a good treat, and a chance to go back to what they were doing. When you notice play getting too rough, or resulting in knocking over things around the house, you will be able to create a “pause” in the play to settle things down.
3. Make The Puppy Love His Crate! Crates are great places for keeping puppies safe while they learn rules about what they shouldn’t chew and can’t play with. To keep your dog thinking the crate is a fun place to go, reward him when he goes in, and do not let him out if he is fussing or barking. (Wait for at least a moment of quiet before you let him out.) Using the crate when you are unable or unwilling to supervise the pup can keep him out of lots of trouble. Of course, the puppy needs lots of love, interaction with you, practice at manners and skills, and chances for fresh air and exercise. Balance is the key in using the crate appropriately.
Safe Travel With Your Dog
When you travel with your pup, be sure he is secured inside your vehicle. Dogs without some restraint may cause danger to the driver if they get in the way of operating the vehicle, or could become projectiles in case of a sudden stop. In an accident, a dog may escape the vehicle if a door opens or emergency crews have to cut into the vehicle. The dog, panicked by the accident and subsequent noise, may escape and run, with little chance of catching him. Look for a product that helps manage your dog’s movement in the car.
When traveling, always carry along veterinarian records for your pup. This practice can save time and money if you have to visit an unfamiliar vet clinic on your way, as well as unnecessary vaccinations or procedures. Make sure you have a photo of yourself with your dog, in case you ever get separated somewhere and need to prove ownership.
Most boarding facilities will have such documents, but if you leave your pup behind when you go on vacation, be sure you have given the temporary caregiver a signed document providing instructions for emergency care and permissions to make whatever decisions you approve, if necessary. Stating that you will take responsibility for the costs of emergency care is also wise to ensure immediate treatment.
Preventing Accidental Strangulation In Dogs
One last but extremely important danger to avoid: strangulation accidents. Major threats include:
- Dog-to-dog interactions: When dogs play, one dog’s teeth can get caught in another’s collar. As the pups struggle to disengage, each may struggle harder, resulting in broken jaws and/or suffocation of one dog as the other panics.
- Dog tags getting caught: Dangling dog tags can get caught in crate wires, floor air vents, shrubbery, fences or decking.
Wherever possible, avoid leaving a collar (especially with dangling tags) on your dog if he is unsupervised. Look for ID tags that slide onto collars, use harnesses instead of collars when your dog plays with others.