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How to Keep Your Sanity While Raising a Balanced Puppy

In a word, structure, structure, structure, structure. Your life is going to revolve around a schedule broken into one-hour and two hour segments from am to pm. If you don’t have a life that lends itself to that kind of attention, then don’t get a puppy. Harsh, I know. But real. Sure, there are ways of jury-rigging potty training and feeding so we can earn a living, that’s not what I’m talking about. Having the awareness that you need to figure out how to accommodate a puppy’s needs is half the battle. There are a million creative solutions. But that those time-based needs, need to be met, is non-negotiable. NUTRITION: Getting your puppy started on good nutrition is essential. Go to a site like and look at 5 and 6-star puppy formulas. There are a number of terrific ones. I look for formulas with all meat proteins and no or minimal plant proteins, regardless of whether grain-free or not. Don’t necessarily keep your puppy on the food the breeder had the pup on. You only have to feed one puppy. The breeder may be feeding a kennel. Look to upgrade. There is no other cost item that will give you a better bang for your buck than feeding good nutrition. And if it’s got corn in it, it’s not good nutrition. High grain-based diets will cause your puppy to want/need to pee and defecate a huge number of times a day, and thoroughly complicate your potty training and early developmental training. And, I NEVER EVER feed Large Breed Puppy formulas. Whether someone somewhere made a mathematical error in calculations or there is some faulty premise in the logic, I don’t know, but it has been my personal experience that ironically, the Large Breed Puppy formulas exacerbate bone growth issues, not prevent them. Why, I don’t know. Wish I did, but I’ve seen it over and over and over again. So keep it simple. Feed high grade, you won’t regret it. POTTY TRAINING/CRATE TRAINING: I’ve potty trained without crates, living at the ranch in Mexico, and I’ve potty trained with crates. What I have found is that sure you can just have the dog outside or take them outside, but the clarity they get from having a crate and having space divided into my space, their space (you, the owners), and outside space just really cements it faster and more reliably when it comes to protecting your indoor flooring. So, get a crate. Plus, as you will see below, your crate is your best friend, your babysitter, your sanity, and your puppy’s sanity. If finances are an issue, I get one crate, big enough to accommodate the adult dog so that when he stands, there is room above his head, and when he lies down, he can stretch out all the way from nose to tail, and from back to feet. You can always make the crate smaller inside with a bed or dividers that you take out as the puppy grows, and many crates come with a divider when you buy them. STRUCTURE AND TIMING: Easy peasy. Think one hour out, two hours in, from when your puppy comes home at 8 - 12 weeks old (if your puppy is potentially younger than that when it is going to be released to you, you need a different source of puppy....toooooo young) till about 6 months of age. Your puppy needs alternating bouts of potty, play, interaction, and rest, JUST LIKE PRESCHOOL. TOO MUCH TIME OUT RUNNING AROUND JUST LEADS TO CHAOS. I can always tell puppies that haven’t been put on a play, rest schedule. They are the ones who are bouncing off the ceiling, leaping around, dashing hither and yon. I call them the Happy Hooligans. It’s not that it’s such a bad thing, and indeed, we want a pup to be a pup and be a Happy Hooligan but not all the time. All the time literally leads to the pups being addicted to their own adrenalin. It typically takes 5 - 7 days to get these guys calmed down so that they can go out and play and be a normal happy hooligan puppy, but then come inside and rest or lie down and play quietly with a toy. A calm, inside dog starts with SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE. So, early days: divide your pups timeline roughly 1: 2. One hour out, meaning go out, potty, praise, then interact with your pup outside or back inside the house. After an hour, PUT THE PUPPY AWAY, it’s enough for them. If the pup is inside the house, there are two critical details. First, is EYES ON PUPPY. If the puppy is in the house, you need to be able to see them AT ALL TIMES. Baby gates are your friend. Closing doors is your friend. EYES ON PUPPY, 100%. Yup, 100%. That’s why your crate is your friend. Puppies are exhausting. No different than human infants. It’s a lot of work and a lot of focused attention. But with puppies we can do it for an hour, then take a break. Honestly, you will thank me. Typically, I coordinate with their own biorhythms, so big nap time 10-noon, and 2-4. Remember youngsters under 5 months of age, need to be fed three times a day, not twice. During the day, pups under 6 months of age who are out of their crate interacting will need to go potty every 1.0 - 2.0 hours. By the time they are 6 months of age, they should be able to hold their urine in the daytime, a good couple of hours or more. Remember, just because they can hold their urine longer in the night, doesn’t mean they can do the same in the day. At night their metabolism slows down! Get those darlings out. 3 - 5 months, I usually think every 1.5 for potty. Roughly, (and this will vary with the pup, breed, and individual maturity levels) around 6 months of age, I shift the schedule to a rhythm of 2:2. Two hours out, potty, play, interact, then probably potty again before putting away for a nap. TIMING DETAILS: When you have something else to do, like go put a load of clothes in the washing machine, cook something on the stove or go to the bathroom, either take the puppy with you or PUT THEM AWAY. Remember, 100% eyes on puppy. If you can’t see them, Murphy’s Law states unequivocally, that they will get into trouble. At dinnertime, PUT THEM AWAY. Sure maybe you have the perfect 4 month old puppy who will lie perfectly quietly under the dining room table while your four year old drops peas on the floor, everybody’s clattering and banging, and delicious aromas are happening, but why make it so hard??? Just feed the puppy in the crate and put them away. Their happy, little stuffed bellies will thank you. Your calm, nurturing dinner will feed your soul, not make you want to murder your puppy. It is a mistake to think they need to be with us 100% of the time as a puppy. It is exactly the opposite. They need to learn that life is safe and good when they’re in their crate napping. A puppy who is raised 100% of the time with their owner is a puppy who: has a marked tendency towards separation anxiety, can’t entertain themselves, can’t play well either by themselves or with other puppies, doesn’t settle well, can’t chill out in new circumstances, and ironically in dozens of ways is less developmentally advanced than their brethren with crate naps. Who knew??? And we thought we were doing the right thing by keeping our pups with us all the time.... seriously, I did....geeesh. Balance, it’s all about balance. We’re trying to build a pup, who is both a happy bouncing baby and who is a maturing dog with a shut-off switch, who can relax and chill out and not be on all the time…funny, just like raising a balanced child. Second critical inside detail: DRAG LINE. Buy the cheapest 6' nylon cat leash you can find....just a thin nylon leash, or make your own from a 6' length of clothesline, or 3/8" parachute cord to which you attach a clip. Tie a few knots in either the leash or the line. (I use one for outside as they can/will pee on it (and wash periodically), and one for inside, where hopefully they won’t!) When your pup is out of the crate, clip a drag line on the collar. That way, you won’t be playing chase the puppy, in which the puppy learns that he can easily run away and evade you. Way, way easier to control a puppy by stepping on the leash, than trying to grab a streaking puppy, which can be like trying to catch a greased pig at a county fair. Especially, if you have a small dog puppy, you can find something or make something that only weighs a few ounces that’s size appropriate. The fastest way to create a biting small dog is to chase it around to try and catch it as a baby. SUMMARY: Good food. Crate. 1:2 ratio of time out/time in in the early days from 8 weeks to 6 months, 2:2 from 6 months - 1 year. (Which is pretty much my adult rhythms with the dogs depending on what we’re doing, although by then they might be taking their naps in their dog beds as opposed to the crate.) Eyes on puppy. Drag line. Ah, the joys of puppyhood. Easy peasy, you can do this. [Notice to rehabbers: I start all rehabs back on this basic puppy schedule as if they were 8 weeks old, whether they are young, old, or in between. So, whether the dog is 6 months old, 4 years or 10 years old, I go back to these basics. By doing so, I am creating a core internal biorhythm structure that is profoundly settling to the dog. From a settled body and brain, we can then train and rehab. But core biorhythms come first.]

Copyright Ozuna 2010 Maryna Ozuna


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