The arrival of a new puppy should be both a fun and enjoyable adventure, but for some people things don't go exactly to plan.
By avoiding the top 10 mistakes new puppy owners make, you can ensure that your pup grows into the canine best friend you always dreamed of.
1. Choosing the wrong breed or type for your lifestyle
Many people still think it doesn't matter what breed or type of dog they get, and choose their puppy purely on looks. While it is important that the dog you choose makes your heart melt, it is far more important that you pick wisely based on more than just that.
Each breed of dog has been designed to do a certain job - and what that job is will largely determine what they are like to live with. Not only that, but it will also dictate the amount of exercise they need, what kind of exercise and games they enjoy, how much grooming they require, how affectionate or aloof they are, and much more besides.
Some dogs have been designed to work all day, every day; some work with humans while others work independently; and some have been developed as companions. And don't kid yourself - this isn't what they like to do, it is what they are hardwired to need to do.
2. Thinking that it doesn't matter where puppies come from
Despite what seems like years of campaigns against puppy farms, people still think it is OK to buy puppies from pet shops, superstores, and a whole host of other places where what they are actually buying is probably heartache.
Make sure your puppy comes from a reputable breeder. Sometimes it is hard to spot a puppy farm - they aren't always filthy barns packed full of obviously battery-farmed dogs, although many are.
Often they have a very respectable front designed to attract buyers.
Warning signs include:
- Having several breeds of dogs.
- Excuses for why you can't see the puppies with their mother.
- Not being able to see where the puppies have been reared.
- Puppies seeming nervous or worried about being handled.
- Being offered a choice of puppies of different ages.
- The breeder offering to deliver the puppy to you without you having seen the dog.
Make sure you see the puppy with his mum and his littermates, that they look content, that he is reared in the house so he is already used to family life and routine, and that the breeder is happy to give you advice, and indeed take the puppy back if there is a need.
3. Not making sure the puppies are health tested
So why is it so important to buy from a reliable source? First of all, there are a lot of health tests that should be done for different breeds, and a reputable breeder will make sure they are done. This way they are breeding the healthiest dogs possible and their puppies are far less likely to suffer from inherited health problems.
A breeder who doesn't do these health tests, or who suggests they aren't necessary, is one you should stay well away from, as it is often a money-saving exercise for the unscrupulous. Many puppies who come from puppy farms or from less reputable sources will suffer from some dreadful conditions that may seriously affect their quality and length of life, and lead to huge vets' bills and give you even larger heartache.
Find out from the Kennel Club which tests should be done on your chosen breed. The KC (or the breed clubs) can also give you a list of some breeders who have committed to doing these tests.
4. Not realising how important the early weeks are
The first few weeks of a dog's life are a very special time when he is learning new skills and what things make up the world around him. His brain is growing, and every single thing he sees, hears, smells, tastes, and experiences in this time will affect the way he will behave in the future.
There are two parts to this process: socialisation - introductions to all the things you want him to be friendly with - and habituation - getting him used to all the things you want him to accept as normal and ignore as just being part of life, such as strange noises, sights, experiences, and situations.
The majority of this learning happens in the first seven weeks (this varies with different breeds and types). Things that a puppy hasn't met in these weeks will generally be met with suspicion in his later life. The vast majority of behaviour problems people have with their dogs could be prevented through good early socialisation.
The KC and Dogs Trust have been working together on the Puppy Plan, a programme designed to ensure more puppies get this vitally important start in life; visit www.thepuppyplan.com for more information.
5. Not starting as you mean to go on
From the very start of his time with you, your puppy needs to be learning what his new life will be all about. Far too often people let their puppy do things that seem cute when performed by a tiny ball of fluff - but then suddenly he becomes a big hairy adult dog, and the rules change. This isn't fair on the dog, and can so often lead to problems.
If you want to have a ‘no jumping up' rule (which is very important, especially with larger dogs - you might not mind, but people you meet out and about will), a ‘no getting on the furniture' rule, a ‘no begging at the table' rule, or any others, you need to start these from day one.
You also need to teach your puppy to be happy spending time on his own. This can be as simple as having him the other side of a stairgate from you when he has his dinner, or leaving him in another room with a tasty treat while you go for a bath. Use an Adaptil plug-in to make it even easier for your puppy to learn. Adaptil is a synthetic copy of the natural comforting pheromone released by a bitch to reassure her puppies, and has been developed to help support dogs when they are learning about new or challenging situations.
Far too many dogs can't be left alone because they were never taught it at an age when they could develop their home alone coping skills, and separation anxiety problems in dogs are probably the hardest behaviour issues to solve.
6. Getting into a muddle with toilet training
New owners always seem to worry about toilet training far more than anything else. But in reality, it couldn't be easier - although to start with it will give you a few sleepless nights.
Buying from a reputable breeder who rears the puppies in the home will help a lot. If puppies have been brought up in a puppy pen with their mother, she will have taught them to go outside the sleeping area to toilet. It is when puppies have been reared in environments where this is not possible that Mum is unable to give the puppies this vital education.
All you need to do is continue where Mum left off. At night, give your puppy a restricted area to sleep in (crates, if properly introduced, are great). This will encourage him to hang on, so as not to soil his sleeping area. In turn, you need to make sure he gets plenty of opportunity to get it right. This means taking him out as late as possible before bed (and waiting as long as it takes - puppies can get really distracted in the great outdoors and totally forget they need a wee until they get back in). Get up in the middle of the night if needs be and take him out again. Then get up early in the morning and take him out.
During the day, be aware of the times he will need to toilet - when he wakes up, after he has eaten or had a drink, after (or during) playtime, and other times when you see his telltale signs (sniffing, circling, and looking agitated). At these times take him outside and reward him when he gets it right. This means keeping an eye on him all the time - and if you can't do that, have him in his crate, in a small pen, or even attached to you on a lightweight long line so he can't sneak off and wee in a corner while you're not looking.
Never punish your puppy for making a mistake. Instead, every single time he toilets outside, reward him with a tasty treat. Make sure he knows exactly where you want him to toilet and how happy you are when he does.
7. Not continuing socialisation
While it is important to make sure your puppy comes from someone who has prioritised early socialisation and habituation, this has to continue once you take him home. Think of the breeder as having given your puppy his primary school education, but now he is ready for big school.
Spend time getting him used to all the things that are going to be a part of his new life, whatever that might be, and keep them all fun and stress-free for him. You need to teach him that all these things are safe and enjoyable.
Once again, the Puppy Plan gives owners some great information on the best way to do that.
Good socialisation and habituation can help prevent those behaviour problems that arise from fear, as most do. Fear of strange people, fear of strange dogs, fear of strange situations, fear of people taking your stuff, fear of being alone…
Never underestimate the power of socialisation.
8. Not training your puppy
It is a scary statistic that 85 per cent of dogs in the UK don't receive any training. Training is the one thing you can do to improve the bond you have with your dog, keep him safe, and make him easy to live with.
Training isn't about turning out an obedience champion, but instead it is about giving him the life skills he needs to fit easily into your life, and to turn him into a dog who is a joy to live with.
Find a good class that uses reward-based methods and specialises in companion dogs.
9. Not doing the things that he enjoys
What your dog enjoys doing will depend on his breed or type, and his own personality. Many dogs, especially those bred to work all day, every day, do not get the exercise they need - and an under-exercised dog can be a nightmare to live with.
Then there is the type of exercise. Not all dogs will enjoy retrieving balls (in the way most Border Collies or retrievers do), or playing with tuggy toys (the way terriers do).
Think about what your dog was originally bred to do, and make sure you are giving him outlets for that behaviour.
There are plenty of activities you can do with your dog to help keep him healthy, happy, and stimulated.
10. Not taking time to enjoy your puppy
The puppy weeks fly by so fast. Sometimes they are so busy, and you're trying so hard to get everything right, that you forget to just enjoy this really special time when you are building a relationship with your dog - a bond that will last for life.
Savour every moment, take photos, and remember that we have dogs to enrich our lives and to bring us joy.