In the list of cutest things on Earth, puppies have wriggled their way to the top. With their little pink bellies, too-big paws and shaky legs, they’re pretty darned hard to resist.
But insiders know that puppies are W-O-R-K.
“We always get a little nervous when a first-time owner wants a puppy,” said Ashley Cunningham, founder and president of Barks of Love, a Fullerton-based rescue agency. “(Puppies) have accidents, they tear up your house, you can’t leave them alone for more than three hours, and you have to train them so they won’t have behavioral issues in the future.”
Good thing puppy love is blind. With enough planning, patience and pee pee pads, there’s no doubt you and your little bundle of joy can live a long and happy life together.
It helps to know what you’re in for.
“Getting a puppy is just like getting a new baby,” said Jan Vincent, CPDT-KA, of Four Paws U. “They need constant supervision, and the first 16 weeks from birth is their prime socialization period.” Early bonding, she notes, can eliminate puppy neuroses like digging, chewing, jumping, whining and barking.
“They need human interaction,” agrees Dan Atkinson of Kind to Canines Obedience Training, “so if you’re an 8-to-5 person, it’s not going to work.” Many new owners, he notes, call in reinforcements—neighbors or friends—to check their puppies during the day.
If you don’t have help, or the time and inclination to have a pint-sized Pomeranian attached to your hip, experts agree you should adopt an older dog instead. But if you can’t resist a little guy, understanding puppy development can help you muscle through to a fulfilling future.
When puppies are born, they’re usually surrounded by sisters and brothers and a loving-but-firm mom who provides cozy security and life lessons on when it’s his turn to eat, when he’s biting too hard and when it’s time to settle down for a nap.
Before any formal training from humans, puppies will act just the way they would in the wild. They won’t come when you call them (“huh?”), they’ll tear through your house and they’ll pee wherever they please, thank you very much. Puppies also do a lot of “mouthing,” Vincent explains, because that’s the way they explore the world. In short, your slippers might be shredded.
But two things will help you find peace: pick the right puppy, and train, train, train.
Purse Poodle or Linebacker?
Whether you’re a prize-winning quilter, the next Lance Armstrong or a performance artist living in a converted liquor store, you’ll want a dog that fits your lifestyle.
The best thing you can do, Atkinson said, is study the 124 recognized dog breeds and find out what each was meant to do. Through evolution or breeding, certain types of dogs are known as devoted companions, prime athletes, hunters, herders, protectors or prima donnas and “no matter how much we domesticate them,” he said, “those genes will be there.”
English pointers, for instance, are bred to shoot across a field to retrieve dead ducks, so they’d be miserable living in a 10’ by 10’ patio in Newport Beach, he said.
Some dogs have inherent behavioral, physical or health issues. Pit bulls can be aggressive—a turn-off for young families. Border collies need an owner with plenty of time for extra training. And if you’re a runner, a high-energy dog might trek right along, but that kind of action’s hard on flat-faced dogs, like pugs and bulldogs, which are prone to breathing problems.
Finding Your Puppy
When you’re ready to pick out your new addition, the local animal shelter should be your first stop. Facili
ties like the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village in Long Beach take in pregnant moms and puppies every day that have been reported as strays, dropped at a vet’s office or surrendered by an overwhelmed owner. Stop by your local shelter in person (find a list here) or try sites like www.petharbor.com, www.adoptapet.com and www.petfinder.com.
Another stellar choice is an animal rescue agency. Shelters can’t legally adopt out puppies until they’re eight weeks old, so if space is tight, pregnant moms and very young puppies have a chance of being euthanized. Non-profit rescue agencies work with shelters to save these dogs, placing them with foster families who make sure they receive medical care, socialization and training as they wait for their forever homes.
Cuddly Canines was founded in 1999 with the sole mission of rescuing pregnant moms and unweaned litters (www.cuddlycanines.com). Friends of Orange County Homeless Pets (www.fochp.org) rescues hundreds of pregnant moms and their underage babies from shelters each year, said the agency’s Cindy Dobbins. And Barks of Love has agreements with shelters in every county in the state, offering a wide range of puppies on their website at www.barksoflove.com.
Want to shop in person? Animal Match Rescue Team offers adoptions every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Petco store in Long Beach (www.amrt.net). The Found Animals Foundation tempts shoppers at Lakewood Center Mall with its Adopt & Shop center, open daily (www.foundanimals.org). And the Animal Network of Orange County hosts pet adoptions on weekends from noon to 4 p.m. at Fashion Island in Newport Beach (www.animalnetwork.org).
Pick of the Litter
When it comes time to choose, look for a puppy that was able to stay with Mom for at least eight weeks. Otherwise, underage puppies may have separation anxiety when you leave, Atkinson warns, and they may be a little more demanding as they grow because they didn’t receive early discipline from Mom.
When you’re picking from a litter, “don’t get the puppy over in the corner who isn’t excited to see you and doesn’t acknowledge you’re even there,” he said, “or the one who runs over first and is grabbing your socks. You want something in the middle.” That means a puppy that’s active, friendly and inquisitive.
Baby Comes Home
Once you’ve found your match, stock up on basics at the local pet shop. (Find a list of retailers, here) Rover Rescue recommends bowls with broad bases that are harder for clumsy puppies to spill. Get a baby gate (or several) to keep Junior out of trouble, and pick out a collar, ID tag and leash. Throw in a few rubber bones and balls for puppy play time, and don’t forget the chew toys—puppies start teething at three to six months. Several trainers (click here), including Kind to Canines, offer puppy-proofing services.
When introducing Junior to an older dog for the first time, beware of turf battles. Invite your older dog to a park where he’s never been before, and let him meet the puppy on a picnic blanket. “Let the older dog check the puppy’s ‘last name’ first,” Vincent advised, describing the old rear-end sniff.
You’ll know if they’re getting along, notes Atkinson, if your older dog has a nice posture and relaxed ears, wags his tail, and doesn’t seem afraid, aggressive, aloof or overbearing. Once the two are simpatico, “it won’t be as much of a shock when you all drive home together.”
If you have kids at home, be sure to prep them on puppy etiquette in advance; find good tips at www.perfectpuppycare.com.
While it’s tempting to just rub your puppy’s belly all day long, experts agree the training should start now. Invest the time and effort, and you’ll end up with a loving, well-rounded dog that can go anywhere with you, stay by your side on walks, respect your stuff and impress your guests.
According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, puppies can join a socialization class as early as 7 to 8 weeks old, notes Kelli Knowles, CPDT-KA, of DogPACT in Long Beach.
“It’s important to get the communication going so your puppy learns to trust you and respect you,” agrees Patty Thurner, whose company, Dog Services Unlimited, runs dog-training classes for city recreation departments throughout the Southland (see the list here).
Thurner’s Puppy Kindergarten classes, designed for puppies two to five months, are a low-cost way to give your pooch impeccable manners. The six-week class covers housebreaking, jumping, teething, health care and basic commands, including heel, sit, stay, come and down. Best of all, “puppies get that experience of being around other people and dogs in a safe setting where they can build confidence,” Thurner said.
At home, show your puppy the right spot to pee, and lead him there every 30 to 45 minutes, Vincent said. “And if your puppy makes a mistake, get a rolled up newspaper and bonk yourself on the head” to remind yourself to keep practicing. If you resort to smacks, she said, your puppy “just won’t go in front of you, he’ll go behind the couch.”
If you need him to stay in a crate while you’re away, introduce it as a fun game, Vincent advised. Set it in the middle of his play area with the door wide open and a nice bed and a bunch of old towels to chew on inside. Over time (and treats!), the crate will seem cozy.
Need extra help? Agencies like Peaceful Pooch Dog Training dispatch trainers to your home for one-on-one attention (see more here). Some shelters and rescue agencies also have animal behaviorists and volunteer trainers on staff to coach you through the rough spots—often for free or a nominal fee—with the goal of preventing “returns.”
If you’ve picked up your pooch from a shelter or rescue agency, most likely she’s already been spayed (or neutered), vaccinated and micro-chipped. If not, here’s the scoop.
Just like newborns, puppies need a series of basic vaccines to protect them against common diseases, including rabies, DHP and bordatella. Services like Vaccination Station (www.vaccinationstation.com) and vets like Dr. Jose Arambula of Bloomfield Animal Hospital argue that puppies shouldn’t be over-vaccinated, and they only offer additional shots based on your puppy’s risk of exposure. Outdoor dogs, for instance, should be protected against Lyme disease, Dr. Arambula said, and larger breeds should receive the Parvo vaccine.
Puppies should also have a fecal exam and deworming, and at eight weeks outdoor dogs should receive protection against fleas, heartworm and roundworm.
Your newbie should be spayed or neutered at five weeks old, not only to control pet overpopulation but to prevent health and behavioral problems, like breast cancer in females and aggression in males. After that, your puppy should get a yearly check-up and rabies shot.
You’ll need proof of the rabies shot to get your puppy a license, which is required by law. See our “Identification & Licensing” section here for details. A GPS collar or a microchip implanted under your puppy’s skin will also help you find him if he’s lost.
These bills can add up, but there are tons of low-cost options. Many local cities, vet offices, pet stores and mobile companies offer low-cost vaccine clinics. Several animal welfare agencies offer low-cost spaying and neutering, including Golden State Humane Society, which charges just $39.50. And Vaccination Station will hook your puppy up with a microchip, including lifetime registration, for just $15.
Check out our “Pet Assistance” section on page 22 for even more deals and referrals.
If you’re considering vet insurance, now’s a great time to buy, when your puppy can’t be rejected or overcharged for “preexisting conditions,” Dr. Arambula said. See our “Insurance” section on page 20 to compare rates. But if you can’t afford monthly premiums of $20 to $40, don’t worry. Companies like www.carecredit.com will help you spread out the payments for unexpected bills, and many agencies listed on pages 22 and 23 will offer financial help if you’re in a pinch.
There’s no doubt that puppies can be an expense and a handful and a half, but they’ll also fill your heart. “Do your research and be sure you’re willing to spend the time and money to give your dog a good start in life,” Thurner said. If you do, “you’ll have a very enjoyable family member for many years to come.”