Sunday, September 29, 2013

Preparing for a New Puppy

Gus, 2002

Puppy Tao has been upgraded, so this post has moved. It will eventually be unavailable at this location.

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times, by both new dog owners and dog veterans, how to prepare for the arrival of a new puppy. The answers to the questions, "what do I need for my new puppy?" or "what should I do before my new puppy arrives?" are complicated, so I decided it was time to stretch my fingers and write all of it down.

If you’re on your first dog, it helps to be ready for the common situations that arise, and even if you’re on your fifth, it’s nice to have a checklist to set your mind at ease. My parents are preparing for their first puppy in many years, and the questions they’ve asked me seemed like a perfect pretext for me to begin the process of setting down my thoughts and experience. A simple checklist of the items follows the explanations if you want to print things out and literally check them off.

The Crate
Before the puppy arrives, you’re going to want to create a couple of the spaces that she’ll live in initially. You don’t want to give a brand new puppy full run of the house, because that can delay housebreaking and expose a chew-prone young pup to all kinds of things that are dangerous on their own, like electrical cords, or dangerous as obstructions if swallowed, like socks. For this reason and others, I am a huge advocate of crate training.

The crate is a invaluable asset in those first few weeks of training and housebreaking. Since pups generally won’t eliminate in the crate, provided the space is small enough, the puppy can spend time in there when you are unable to give your full attention to keeping an eye on her. An ideal crate is large enough for the projected full size of the adult dog, but has a divider that you can use to wall off just the right space for the current size of the puppy. For a Golden, a crate that’s approximately 42” long, 28” wide, and 30” high is typically fairly roomy. Many manufacturers will list a 36” crate as big enough for dogs up to about 70 pounds, but those might be cramped for an adult Golden, even one that’s within the breed standard of 55-75 pounds at adulthood. You want to invest in a crate you can use the dog’s whole life. We have typically used wire crates for our dogs, and those often come with divider panels, but other folks swear by airline-style crates. I recommend against soft crates for new puppies. Until a dog is crate trained, you don’t know if she’ll chew at a soft crate or tear a hole in it to get out.

Wall off a space in the crate that’s big enough for the pup to stand up, turn around, and lie down in, and no bigger. She can’t have enough space to eliminate in one corner and sleep in another until she is housebroken. Drape an old blanket or towel over the crate to make it a darker, more den-like space. We usually sleep with that blanket in the bed for a few days before the puppy comes home so the puppy can associate that warm, safe place with our smell.

Cover the bottom of the crate with an old towel, and roll up other old towels to make bumpers around the interior space, so the puppy can snuggle up and rest her head if she wants to. Old towels are best because even if the puppy is housebroken quickly, there’s still pretty high odds of some kind of accident or sickness, and it’s nice to be able to throw the pile of old towels in the washer. Beds and crate pads can come later if they turn out to be appropriate for your dog.

Play Space
The other space you’ll want to create for your puppy is a play space where you’ll both spend the majority of your time at home. This is the space the puppy will spend time in when you can afford to devote most or all of your attention to her. In our home, we have typically moved coffee tables and couches around a bit to wall off a space between the couch and the TV so we can relax and play with the puppy. You may want to purchase x-pen panels or baby gates to help create a space, and you definitely want to figure it out before the puppy comes home.

The play space should not have any area in which the puppy can go around a corner and be out of sight, even for a moment. During housebreaking, you need to be able to interrupt your pup before she squats to eliminate or during the act so you can bring her immediately outdoors to her spot. The fastest housebreaking I know of is when a puppy never has an uninterrupted accident in the house. Some pups seem to learn in a matter of days or a week.

On the subject of spaces, be sure to have plenty of paper towels around for the inevitable first few accidents. Even in an ideal housebreaking process, there will be a couple of accidents. It’s very important to clean them up quickly and thoroughly, as the smell of urine can be a cue to a pup that it’s an appropriate spot to pee in a second time. An enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle can be a lifesaver.

Jax, 2009
Once you have your spaces prepped, make sure you know what and how you’re feeding your puppy before you bring her home. Food can be a hot-button topic, but my research has led me to believe that many of the passionate arguments about ingredients, while they may have some merit, ultimately miss the point. The clearest correlations between health and food in dogs have to do with amount, not ingredients.

Lean puppies grow slowly and appear to have lower rates of joint and bone problems than fast-growing chubby puppies. And the evidence is very clear that lean adult dogs live longer, healthier lives. Some very large longitudinal studies have indicated that lean dogs live, on average, approximately two years longer than dogs who are even moderately overweight. Lean dogs also experience, on average, a two-year delay in the onset of the most common geriatric diseases. That’s two healthy years with your dog! I cannot tell you what I would give to get two more healthy years with any dog I’ve ever loved, and you can accomplish it with a measuring scoop.

Some other research has led me to believe that large breed puppy foods are a good bet for large breed puppies. Goldens are not particularly large, but they are usually in the recommended weight range for large breed puppy (LBP) food, and they do have a fast growth period in their puppyhood, so LBP foods do apply.

While there is no legal definition for LBP foods, they tend to be less calorie-dense and to have lower amounts of calcium and phosphorus. IAMS/Eukanuba has done pretty extensive research into the subject and believes that lower levels of calcium and phosphorus will lower the risk of bone issues in fast-growing breeds. Other companies have followed suit, so regardless of your feelings about a given brand, there is typically an LBP option. Be sure that your food is either AAFCO certified for puppies or for all life stages, and be aware that most grain-free foods are not appropriate for puppies.

You’ll also want training treats waiting at home for your pup so you can work on puppy basics from day one together. Small, soft treats usually make the best training treats, since you want to be able to give your pup lots of teeny rewards to mark good behaviors, but you don’t want to fill her up on treats or give her too many calories. Our dogs seem to dig the Wellness and Zuke’s brand treats. There are puppy-specific training treats, and the larger soft squares for adults can be torn into several rewards each for puppies. You can also get larger cookie-style treats for the pup to crunch through when you’re not training but when you do want to give her a little surprise.

Grooming and Care
While you really don’t need to do much grooming and coat maintenance on a Golden puppy, it’s nice to have the tools before the first day so you can introduce them into her world nice and early. For adult Goldens, a bladeless grooming rake and a slicker brush are absolute essentials. I don’t have any particular brand recommendations here. The single-row, bladeless rakes out there seem pretty identical to each other, regardless of brand, as do slickers.

In the same vein, it’s nice to have a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste early in the pup’s life so she can get acclimated to them. While the set of teeth she comes home with at 8 weeks aren’t the set she’ll be using for most of her life, it’s helpful to get her started early on being handled and gently brushed for very brief, fun periods. Be sure to only use dog toothpaste and never human toothpaste. Dogs will swallow the toothpaste, which isn’t good for people either, and toothpaste can have ingredients that are non-toxic to humans but highly toxic to dogs. Dog toothpaste is flavored with things dogs like and uses enzymatic cleaners instead of flouride.

You’ll also want ear cleanser and cotton balls. Goldens can be prone to ear infections, and even if your pup isn't, regular cleaning every couple of weeks and after swims can help keep her ears healthy. Your pup probably won’t need her ears cleaned right away, but as with the other parts of her grooming and health regimen, it’s nice to expose her to the tools early.

Collars, Leashes, and Toys
Before you get your pup, you’re going to want a collar and a leash. A Golden pup, at least according to my shaky memory, should need at least 10 inches of collar, so an adjustable collar that goes down to about 10” and up as high as possible will last you at least a little while. Also be aware that dogs don’t come pre-conditioned to like collars, so be ready to have it on and off her all day in short spells so she gets used to the idea. A 6-foot leash is great for training classes, and a 4-foot leash is great for starting to learn polite leash behavior on a walk. Lightweight leashes are better because you don’t want a heavy leash pulling down on the collar and confusing the puppy. I like to have several leashes stashed in the car and around the house so I an always put my hands on one when I need it.

Comet, 2008
While you’re still shopping, don’t forget to get some toys. Goldens often like to parade around with a stuffed toy, so having a few of those handy is helpful. We always buy a new puppy his own small stuffed duck, as do many of our fellow Golden owners. Stuffed toys should only be available to a fully supervised puppy, though, so those belong in the play space, not the crate. We also like to get pups a rope toy so they can take out their pulling, tearing urges. These are also for supervised chewing.

For crate toys, we favor Kongs and Nylabones. While those durable chewables should certainly be in the play space too, so the pup can choose to settle down and get some chew time in, a Kong or Nylabone is appropriate to leave with the pup in the create so she has something to occupy herself, since they are very difficult to rip pieces off of. We keep several of each around, since you can fill the Kong with a treat and freeze it. It makes a wonderful distraction in the crate, but Kongs will need to cycle from the crate to the dishwasher to the freezer, so it’s nice to have several. Nylabones can be purchased in puppy strength, which is relatively soft. These are not appropriate for adult dogs, since they can rip off large pieces and swallow them, but they’re great for young puppies. You can upgrade to more durable varieties as the puppy gets older. Be sure not to buy the edible type of Nylabone at this point, as it’s a very different product and should only be given to a puppy during supervised time.

Appointments for Services
Lastly, make your appointments before you get your pup. You’ll want to have a vet selected well before pickup day, and it is a wise practice to have your pup examined by a vet in the first 48 hours you have her. Typical puppy contracts from responsible breeders, as well as the puppy lemon laws in many states, allow you to return puppies with serious health problems if they are discovered in an early enough window. While it may seem cold to return a puppy for having a health problem, a good breeder is often better equipped to handle issues than many families, and it takes a special commitment to raise a dog with a problem like a heart defect. It’s best to know these things right away and to be able to take appropriate action, whether that means returning the puppy, seeking a full or partial return of the purchase price to help cover medical costs, or simply coming to terms with what the puppy's health problems will mean in the long term. Your vet will also want to set up wellness and vaccination appointments that can be scheduled before that first visit or at it.

You should also plan your puppy class and reserve your spot. You can confer with your vet about how old your puppy needs to be before starting class. Some vets have you wait a bit until a certain round of vaccinations, and others will say that it’s relatively safe at a younger age. I tend to side with the second group, in light of some new guidelines from the AVSAB urging us to socialize our puppies earlier. Regardless of how you decide to manage the risk, all puppies should start a puppy kindergarten group class before the age of 20 weeks. It provides invaluable socialization, even if you’re a veteran dog trainer, and regardless of your experience, you can always learn something about what motivates your particular dog and what you’ll struggle with this time around.

Gus, 2008
Don’t forget to charge up that digital camera, buy yourself a journal, or sign up for a website that lets you make a blog. Puppies grow fast, and some day you’ll look at your sugar-faced old Golden and be glad you can turn back the clock and see him as a little puppy again.

The checklist:
  • A crate
  • X-pen panels or baby gates to make a monitored play space 
  • Old towels and a blanket
  • Nature's Miracle
  • Paper towels
  • Large Breed Puppy Food
  • Soft, tearable training treats
  • A grooming rake with a single row of long tines and no blades
  • A slicker brush
  • A dog toothbrush
  • Dog toothpaste (never toothpaste for human children or adults)
  • Ear cleanser and cotton balls
  • An adjustable collar that is 10" at its smallest
  • Several lightweight leashes
  • A small stuffed duck
  • Several Kongs
  • Several puppy-strength nylabones
  • A vet and the first appointment
  • A puppy kindergarten class
  • Someplace to keep your memories

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Puppy Tao has been upgraded, so this post has moved. It will eventually be unavailable at this location.

I spent a good chunk of today working on dog training articles, starting with the Puppy Primer I posted earlier. Afterwards, I took a hike with the dogs today. It was late enough that the woods were dark and photos weren't realistic. However, I managed to partner up with a very cooperative male Monarch Butterfly in the parking area before we got going.

I spent a few minutes playing around with aperture settings and lenses. At first, I thought he'd be skittish and shot him with my 100-400mm lens, but when I realized he was entranced with his goldenrod, I switched to my 24-105 and leaned in really, really close.

Nonetheless, my favorite shot of our little photoshoot was one of the first I took with the 100-400. It turned to be the one with the best composition and depth of field.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sunbeams and Myrtle

Puppy Tao has been upgraded, so this post has moved. It will eventually be unavailable at this location.

Today I went for a short hike in the morning with friends, babies, and dogs, and this afternoon, I went back to the Supply Ponds with the dogs for a longer outing.

As the late afternoon wore on, I posed the dogs in the sunbeams that shoot down to the myrtle in the darkening woods in order to try for some dramatic shots, but I couldn't get the exposure values quite right.

But when I finally let them off their stay, I got a couple of good action shots as they let off their pent-up energy.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Little Blue

Puppy Tao has been upgraded, so this post has moved. It will eventually be unavailable at this location.

After the outing on which we saw all those Tree Swallows, and I had nothing but my phone to take pictures with, I started occasionally bringing my good camera along for Andy and my long walks at Hammonasset. Today we saw this Little Blue Heron fishing among the water weeds. He was shy, and the lighting wasn't wonderful, but we did get a good look for a moment.