Month: January 2018

Top tips for new puppy owners

A friend of mine recently got her first puppy. It got me to thinking, looking back, what do I wish someone had told me? What are those hints and tips that you learn along the way? I put the question to my friends and these are the top tips for new puppy owners we came up with.

Carrots are fun!

The cheapest, most unsuspecting objects can be a source of entertainment. Something as simple as a carrot can be a great item for them to chew, and can also help with their teething. Freezing a carrot and giving it to them to chew can help cool their gums and help with teething pain, along with providing a more durable toy.

Sheltie puppy playing with a carrot

Have fun, build a bond, play!

Is there any easier way to have fun than with a puppy? They have an ability to put a smile on our faces like little else. Playing with your puppy is THE best way to build a bond with them. Lots of smiles, happy faces, silly voices, just be careful not to over excite them as they can find this overwhelming and, in all likelihood, it'll end up with them being told off for doing something “naughty”. Interactive games between the two of you will build a bond that will last a lifetime.

Your puppy is smarter than you think!

So you've bought your fluffy bundle of joy home, they've settled in and come out of their shell and started their quest to wrap you round their little paw. They may be young, they may be small, they're definitely cute, but don't mistake any of that for a lack of intelligence! Your puppy is smarter than you think!

At 8 weeks old your puppy will be looking for your love, attention, and guidance. You'll be surprised at the amount they learn at this young age, like children, they are sponges and eager to please you. If you make training a fun and rewarding game, then a few short sessions a day will reward you with a puppy that is willing and eager to do as you ask.

Using gentle correction on a young puppy

Choose your trainer well

Puppy classes can be a great experience if you choose the right class. An environment that is relaxed with a trainer that is gentle, that guides a puppy rather than forcing it, that rewards good behaviour but doesn't punish ‘bad’ behaviour, will set your puppy up with the best start. A good puppy training class allows your puppy to learn at their own pace and isn't an environment where commands are drilled into them one after the other.

Not too much exercise!

Exercises is a subject you’ll hear spoken about quite a lot when you have a puppy. Puppy's bones are obviously still growing, and their bones grow from areas called growth plates. These are zones of cartilage where new bone is formed as the puppy grows. As they hit adulthood, these growth plates start to close and the dog stops growing. Until all growth plates are closed, over exercising your puppy can cause long term damage to their skeleton.

Puppy growth plates closure timing

The recommended amount of time for exercising a puppy, i.e. formal lead walking, is 5 minutes per month of age, once a day. That means that an 8 week old puppy should have no more than 10 minutes of walking on a lead each day, and a 6 month old puppy should have no more than 30 minutes of walking on lead each day. I've seen people taking their 4 month old Labradors out for a run with them for half an hour with the attitude of “ they've got so much energy, they'll be fine!” How could they possibly know how this will affect their dog in the future? Will they still be thinking their dog is fine when they have early onset arthritis…... truth be told they probably wouldn't think to link the two.

At this point you might be asking yourself, well how on earth am I supposed to get the energy off this crazy, crazy puppy!?!?!? The answer…... use their brains. Of course the puppy needs to play, and this informal exercise will wear some energy off, but stimulating your dog mentally would wear them out quicker and for longer than any amount of physical exertion. For ideas on brain games, like the toilet roll tube game, you can find a link to my free eBook here.  The games in the eBook are just as applicable to puppies as they are fully grown dogs, just remember to scale down when necessary.

Socialisation is key!

Proper socialization of your puppy is the key to a healthy, balanced adult dog. The earlier you can get your puppy out and about, and experiencing the world, the better. Beware when you take them out that a lot of the socialising will be done in your arms, bear in mind the previous point that they can only have so much exercise. If you decide to take them out to the shops with you, the walking that they do will be their formal exercise for the day, so don't get too carried away and leave them walking for hours. When you take a puppy round the shops everybody wants to stop you to stroke your puppy, it really is very difficult to do any amount of shopping when you have a puppy in your arms!! I would suggest, it is better to go out with the specific intent of socialising them, rather than taking them to the shops with you. While you're socialising your puppy do be aware that they may find the situation fearful, do keep an eye out and notice how they’re communicating with you, notice if they are overwhelmed with the situation. See last week's blog here for more information on calming signals. Please, if your puppy is telling you they are scared when a stranger reaches out to them, listen. Don’t let strangers touch your puppy if it is really that scared. If they feel like you are not there to back them up and protect them when they’re scared, then they are likely to work out how to defend themselves….and we know where that road leads. So when you’re out socialising your puppy, remember you are their protector and guardian, if they’re scared you need to help them and protect them, don’t just tell them to get on with it.

Whippet puppy in a bag being socialised

Puppies have two fear stages in their lives, the first one is at 8 to 12 weeks, and the second is at 6 to 14 months. During these periods, a puppy is more likely to see a situation as threatening, and if they encounter a trauma at this age they are more likely to be affected by it for the rest of their lives. This can be anything from a fear of the hoover to the fear of an entire sex (i.e. fear if men or women). The best thing to do is keep everything fun, happy and take treats with you EVERYWHERE. Experiences with new people should be relaxed, friendly, and taken at the puppy’s own pace with nothing forced upon them.

Don't spend a fortune on dog beds

The one thing that your puppy is guaranteed to do is chew! That beautiful bed that you've just bought them, you know the nice snuggly soft one, is likely to be confetti the next morning! There is absolutely no point spending a fortune and a dog bed for a puppy until they're past the chewing phase. from past experience I find a sturdy cardboard box, with a gap cut out at the front, and a comfy, fluffy blanket (or towel) go a long way until you know they're not going to destroy that beautiful soft squishy bed that you desperately want to give them ‘because they deserve it’ 😉

Cardboard box bed for young puppy

Ignore the crazy and redirect

Puppies to do things we consider crazy, this means they'll be getting themselves into situations that we will have an issue with. The best thing to do is to ignore the crazy. Don’t punish it, don't give it too much attention, but calmly and quietly redirect their attention to something more appropriate. For example, if you find puppy chewing on your favourite pair of slippers, find their chew toy and calmly swap one for the other. don't let removing the slipper become a session of tug-of-war, because it will just become a game (and that slipper will become a great way to get your attention and a game at the same time!) Once puppy is happily chewing on an appropriate toy give them lots of praise……... and remind yourself to put the slippers somewhere puppy can't reach them!

Baby gates are your friend!

If you have an area that you don't want puppy to be, maybe it's the kitchen, maybe it's your bedroom when left unattended, then baby gates are your friend. They allow life to continue as normal whilst keeping puppy safe from any hazards, and you don't have to have the doors shut around the house. I still find baby gates very useful with an adult dog; it stops her sneaking into the cat food when I'm not looking! Talking of cats, if you do have cats in the same house as your puppy, and you want to use a baby gate, they do make gates with cat doors in them. They may not be appropriate for very small puppies that would likely to be smaller than your cat, but they do work well with the larger breeds and most adult dogs.

Whippet standing behind a baby gate

They need A LOT of sleep!

It really is quite amazing how much a puppy needs to sleep! Most of them seem like Duracell bunnies and will just keep going on, and on, and on….. they do have a habit of becoming hyperactive when they're sleepy. I have no idea why, but I do know but when gentle puppy play becomes a crazy, shark like biting game then it's time for puppy to take a nap! Yes, you might put them in their bed or their cage, and they’ll scream blue murder, but give them a short while and they’ll calm down and go to sleep for a few hours. They need surprisingly more sleep than they'll lead you to believe. Puppies need to sleep for 18 to 20 hours a day - so if you find your puppy is getting significantly less than that, then I would suggest a few more naps are in order. You may find their behaviour, when they're awake, more appropriate along with it.

Did I mention carrots are fun?

shetland sheepdog puppy playing with carrot

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Dog Communication – your dog is talking to you.…are you listening?

Anyone who’s ever looked into their dog’s adoring eyes knows that they love us, that much is easy to read, but how much are you missing? Did you know that dogs communicate with us, and each other, all the time? Here are some ways your dog communicates with you; some are more obvious than others.

Play Bow

The play bow is a fairly unmistakable invitation to play. The front legs out in front, chest to the ground whilst the rear end remains in the air.

It’s not uncommon to see a play bow between dogs when they meet to let the other dog know they’re not a threat and their intentions are friendly.

Have you tried communication with your dog like this? How about the next time they do this to you, you get on all fours (if your knees allow it) and mirror their bow. Be prepared though, you’re likely to instigate a fab play time and there’s a distinct possibility you’ll be jumped on!

Lip/Nose Licking

If a dog is licking their lips and there’s no food around then they’re trying to tell you something. Lip, or nose licking in this instance is an appeasement gesture and they’re trying to tell you that they are not a threat. This behaviour is usually as a result of them feeling stresses, threatened or uncomfortable with a situation. The best thing to do, if possible (i.e. not in with the vet) is to try and calmly take them out of the situation and relieve the stress.

calming signals lip licking

Body Shake

There are many occasions when your dog may do a whole body shake. You know the one, it’s a bit like they’re shaking off water but they’re completely dry. This is a bit like a reset for the dog. It can be the signal at the end of a game to say, game over let’s do something else, or as a stress relief when they’ve been taken away from a stressful situation. Sometimes they’ll do it after meeting a new dog, or maybe when they come in from a w.a.l.k (shhh don’t say it, you have to spell it out!) 😉 Basically a full body shake says “OK that’s done, what’s next?”

In the video below the two dogs know each other very well and the body shake is signalling the end of the game.

Whale eyes

Whale eyes is a term used when a dog shows the whites of their eyes. For some dogs with a short muzzle, like pugs, this can be a little more subtle, but generally you’ll see the whites on just one side of the eyes or all the way round. This is a sign of anxiety and is invariably linked with other signals including turning the head away (but keeping the eyes looking at the thing making them uncomfortable), or maybe their hackles are up. When a dog is this anxious and their hackles are up, then it's a sure sign they are likely to be aggressive! This is a very important time to be aware of your dog's surroundings, you can help them by removing them from the situation if possible using positive rewards.

Whale eye can be a very subtle way of your dog telling you that they are uncomfortable with the situation. It may be as simple as you ruffling their head or playing with their ears.

Turning their head away

I think it's fair to say that this behaviour is one that humans miss quite a lot of the time! The amount of photos I see posted online with people hugging dogs and the dog has its head turned away, whale eyes and ears pinned back. These dogs are very clearly asking for some space and telling their humans, in a non-aggressive way, that they are uncomfortable with the situation and “get them off me!!” In this situation, if some dogs aren't listened to, they can feel so uncomfortable that they result to biting, so please be very aware that dogs aren't as keen on hugs as we are. That's not to say that every dog doesn't like hugs from certain people, on occasion, but like us there is a time and a place. Pay attention to them, what are they telling you?

There are times I can go over to Layla when she's on the sofa and as I bend down to her she turns her head away, these are the occasions I know she's not up for a hug and I walk away. On other occasions I can go over to her and she'll look up at me and smile with her eyes and as I bend down to her she puts her head over my shoulder, then I know she wants a hug. It's just a matter of watching and listening to what they're saying.

dog calming signals, hug avoidance, head turn

source: psychology today


Sniffing for dogs isn't always about checking out the environment, sometimes it can be used as a method of defusing a situation. You may find your dog starts sniffing when you ask them to do something that they are either uncomfortable with, or they are not quite sure what you're asking of them. When they get stressed or confused they can use sniffing to try and diffuse the stress. This happens both with dog/human and dog/dog interactions. With dog / human interactions you usually find this behaviour when you've asked them to do something, for example during a training session. If you're asking for a behaviour that they don't fully understand you may find they starts sniffing. Try not to get angry or frustrated with them, they're explaining to you that they don't understand, try and break it down and make it clearer for them.

Body Posture

One of the best ways to see if your dog is relaxed or alert is to look at how they're holding their body.

A relaxed dog will have fluid movement from relaxed muscles, a relaxed facial expression (soft eyes, relax jaw possibly with tongue hanging out, ears are in a neutral position) the tail is held in a neutral position.

A dog that is alert/defensive and may react will have a very stiff body and be standing still, the facial expression will be taut (hard staring eyes, closed mouth, With ears forward and alert (generally more agressive) or pinned back (generally more fearful), the tail will usually be held stiff.

Dog calming signals - a defensive, uncomfortable dog


The Sigh

This is one of my favourites. When you dog is relaxed beside you and you put your hand down and give them a stroke, they take a deep breathe in and practically deflate! That is the most contented sigh you'll ever hear - you have a happy, relaxed furry friend beside you!

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