Last week, we offered some hands-on tips in getting to know your dog, advice that works with dogs of all ages. Now we’re going to provide a little more age-specific advice, and we’ll start at the beginning: puppies.

Really, is there anything better than a puppy? A small, furry ball of energy and wonder that can barely contain his or her enthusiasm when you first meet? A force of nature with a wagging tail so strong it could power a city block? A lap-friendly baby that crawls into your arms, licks your face and snuggles in for a Netflix-binge nap that confirms your very existence? An always-happy scamp that leaves a trail of pee everywhere he goes? That running and jumping boundary-tester that chews on everything within reach?
OK, those last two—not to mention the constant need for attention, the detailed care requirements and more—bring us all back to reality a bit. Sure, puppies are adorable and fun but let’s face it, they’re also a lot of work. But if you put in the time to train them and make sure to observe their habits, you’ll be at the onset of an amazing relationship.

Let puppies be puppies

Like small children, puppies are filled with curiosity and wonderment. Everything is new. They smell everything, hear everything and see everything. Think about the first time your puppy saw himself in a mirror or heard the vacuum cleaner. Now, think about their reaction. Finally, think about your reaction to their reaction. That’s the most important part—how you react to their nervousness or curiosity when they encounter new things. A puppy isn’t naturally scared by fireworks. Sure, the noise may scare her the first time but dogs with long-term fears of noise, whether it’s the kid down the street blowing off M-80s or the thunder from last night’s storm, probably learned that behavior from their owners. If you sealed off the house and baby-talked your dog into a calm state the very first time he hears a little Fourth of July revelry, you’ve established a pattern that loud noises are bad and something to be feared. If you talk your dog through it, reassure her that she’ll be OK and allow her to adapt to the noise without treating her like, well, a puppy, she’ll probably be OK.

And it’s not just loud noises. This approach works with other cliched dog behaviors, too, like non-stop barking at the mail carrier, a strong dislike of people with a certain trait or characteristic, whether it’s children, older men or people wearing hats. Your dog follows your cue so the more you remain calm, the more likely they’ll remain calm as well.

That doesn’t mean they’ll like everything. And it certainly doesn’t mean they have to tolerate everything either. In fact, it’s your responsibility as the owner to make sure others respect your dog’s boundaries. If your friend won’t tell her three-year-old daughter that your dog doesn’t like being held by the nose, go ahead and say something. We all know of the potential bad outcomes when dog’s get scared or annoyed. You’ll be helping your dog, your friend’s daughter and probably your relationship. 

Expected and unexpected behaviors

Some of the things that make puppies so endearing are the same things that can drive you crazy. The small, little love-bites that seem cute and harmless can become a source of annoyance and even pain as they get older. Puppies have sharp teeth so when they chew on things, whether it’s your finger or your iPhone case, they can do some damage. That’s why it’s important to make sure they have something to chew on at all times. Like your own child when she was teething, puppies find comfort in chewing. It helps reduce the pain they feel as their tiny teeth begin emerging in their mouths. In some cases, chewing and biting are natural behaviors. When you puppies and dogs play, you notice the constant nipping at each other’s faces. It’s just what they do. But they should do that to each other, not to you. If you let your puppy get away with it, don’t be surprised when he chews up the shoes you left on the floor.

And don’t be surprised if you see a tooth in their food or stuck in a toy. They lose their baby teeth, just like children. Whether or not you want to provide them with a little spending money via the tooth fairy is entirely up to you.

Puppies can cause some serious damage to your furniture if they have access to all rooms of the house at all times. Like children, they shouldn’t be left unsupervised. We’ll continue our look at puppies next week, starting with what to do with them when you’re not home. Hint: The cage is your friend. Believe it or not, it’s your puppy’s friend, too, but more on that next week.

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.

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