Written by Anna Hollisey
We’ve had our new puppy for one month. He’s pulled up our plants, bitten our backsides, and pooped on our new rug. He’s also the cuddliest dog we’ve ever known. Here’s how it’s going with Louie!
“I don’t really like puppies,” declared our youngest daughter one morning. “I really mostly like bigger dogs.”
I know what she means. I think we’re all looking forward to Louie’s non-bitey phase. His teeth may be small, but they really hurt. His favorite game is tug-of-war because he gets to grab things with his crocodile jaws – although he tends to cheat and leap for the hand-end. Ouch.
It was distressing for a few days, but we worked out that Louie jumps and bites when he’s trying to instigate play, not because he wants to cause pain. We need patience to see him through this phase. And, of course, Google.
Here’s what we learned about preventing unauthorized biting:
I’ve read all the research which proves that using punishments can cause your dog to become nervous or defensive. Instead we are supposed to encourage good behaviors with rewards. This means that when they do something undesirable, we are not going to punish them. So what can we do?
Most of the online advice says that we should yelp “ow” (like a sibling) when the puppy bites too hard. Then we should turn our backs and stop playing. We tried it. In practice, the yelp entertains our mischievous pup. And turning around just gives him something that’s even more fun to bite. It’s not been great for us. (Have you had any success? Let us know!)
Modern dog training focuses on creating ‘alternative behaviors’. When our daughter runs, she’s real puppy-bait. The trainer says we should teach Louie to sit or lie calmly (using treats) while our daughter runs and plays – “desensitize him”, she instructs. But we can’t sit with him all day long: we still need a technique to use when he does it. For now, we say a firm “no” and put a toy into his mouth (distraction). We’ve had one success: we have taught Louie to pick up a toy and bring it to us when we come downstairs in the morning. It prevents him from becoming over excited and chewing on our pajamas!
We visited our local independent pet shop, which was stacked to the ceiling with toys and treats. I think the range must have quadrupled since we shopped for our last dog (15 years ago). Did you know that you can get a Kong in any size and color now? Here’s what Louie thinks about the latest toys:
Stuffed with treats or smeared with peanut butter, it provides entertainment for at least 4 minutes! Ah, long enough to have three sips of coffee.
Another Kong plush toy seems to have been partly-lined with plastic bags. Louie loves stealing plastic bags, so this one’s his new favorite toy (especially because I check on him every time I hear him chewing it, and he loves to be chased).
The chicken-flavor bone was interesting for two or three days. Then Louie looked at it with disdain. Well, would you chew gum after it stopped tasting of anything?
The bin still holds irresistible appeal. Before I throw anything out for recycling, I wonder if Louie could get 5 minutes of (safe) fun from it! He shreds junk mail and rips up cardboard packaging.
Our previous dog didn’t pull up plants, but Louie does – especially the long wavy ones. He loves ferns and towering gladioli. Unfortunately some garden plants are toxic for dogs. So I try to accompany Louie when he goes outside.
The rope toy that I made (from strips of old denim) is still going strong after a month! It’s probably his favorite.
We found a local dog-trainer on social media. As well as puppy courses she runs Stand-up Paddle Boarding and ‘Household Helper’ classes for dogs. Louie’s signed up for puppy class when he’s 15 weeks old, but the trainer told us about a Puppy Social she was running. Obviously Louie wanted to attend!
The Puppy Social was held in a private field, so it was safe for pups who’d received their second vaccinations. There was plenty of interesting stuff for the puppies to explore: a skateboard, a crate filled with colorful balls, agility equipment, a play-tunnel, mini trampoline, and some reusable shopping bags (a familiar foe to many dogs!).
The trainer explained that the puppies were free to wander around and explore at their own pace. “It’s okay if they don’t want to interact with everything,” she said. Like Louie, most of the puppies were shy and timid to begin with (with some exceptions), but after ten minutes there were balls of fur rolling around!
Louie wasn’t phased by the stuff or even people, but other dogs were a bit more nerve-wracking. He approached with extreme caution. “Puppy fear is a totally normal phase!” assured the trainer.
It didn’t take long for him to make a friend. Off-lead, he rolled and rumbled with a little Labrador puppy (“They can get married!” exclaimed my daughter). Being around all those puppies was a great experience – some ignored him and some jumped on him, and Louie has to learn how to handle both!
After his second vaccination our vet told us that Louie could walk “but avoid rivers and puddles for a week... they might harbor rat urine and disease”. So on the weekend we drove him to the promenade beside the sea. It was busy with passing cars and dogs on leads – perfect for our rurally-reared puppy.
Socializing is really important for puppies, especially during their early weeks. We wanted to get Louie out as soon as possible to learn about crowds, shops, dogs and traffic. The more he sees in the next month, the calmer he’ll be as an adult.
We knew it would be a slow walk along the sea-front, but every other person stopped to meet Louie, so it took twice as long as it should have done. Louie didn’t mind: he loves people. In fact, he is quite indignant if anyone passes without greeting him (which is sometimes socially awkward). At the moment he’s showing quiet interest in other dogs, but mainly from his viewpoint between my ankles.
We love Louie! Here’s what we have learned during his very first month:
This daily routine means he needs a lot of our time! Louie can entertain himself for a short while (especially if there’s a good chair-leg which needs chewing) but he really needs attention and play. The school holiday was a good time to tackle this. There are always people around to play tug-of-war.
Because our old dog was obsessed with fetch, I am keen to teach the game to Louie. So I watched YouTube videos to learn how to do it! We are using a tough rubbery ball sold especially for dogs. I say “ready?” to get his attention and then throw it a short distance. Louie runs to it and I cheer and clap to encourage him to bring it back. When he gets back to me, I give him lots of praise and stroke him. I don’t try to take it off him. I wait for him to drop it and see if he wants to go again. I know he will learn to give me the ball when he wants to play.
That’s the internet’s wisdom, and you can tell he’s tired after that – he flops on the ground and slows down. As he’s a spaniel, he is energetic: he can easily manage 15 minutes twice a day. We will increase it very gradually. (The general advice is 5 minutes per month of age.)
We ignored him. It was difficult. But after a week, Louie doesn’t cry when we say goodnight and close the door.
Dogs can have all kinds of allergies so I knew it was important to introduce different foods one by one. Louie was bored with his puppy food. He tried sausage, yogurt and cucumber during the first month (but not our scraps – I don’t want him to beg under the table). He loved the cucumber so much that he’s even brought one in from the garden.
The biting is so off-putting! At first they screamed and ran (big mistake). Now they’ve all learned how to handle him. Stay calm, say ‘no’, and put a toy in his mouth. We hope his teeth stop bothering him soon.
Like having a baby, new puppy ownership can be tiring. I recommend that you enjoy the quiet periods and the cuddles. The vacuuming can wait!